A Beginner’s Guide To Hammock Camping
Your equipment needn’t be expensive. We were set a challenge to build our own hammock camping rig for under £45. Not a problem and we could have done it still cheaper. It kept us dry in torrential rain, warm and we slept incredibly well. You can also buy custom camping hammock rigs and tarpaulins. Hammock camping isn’t an expensive pastime, and regardless of your budget, it’s affordable. Even those cheap chinese hammocks can hold 18stone.
DD Hammocks, a UK based manufacturer also sell custom hammock camping equipment (handling up to 20 stones). We mention them because they have good quality, affordable equipment and offer very good service. Their equipment is well designed with features which may not be apparent to inexperienced campers but are worth noting. Built in mosquito nets which stop the netting drooping on you, double layer bottoms to the hammocks for insulation (and/or storage), storage tabs inside the mosquito netting to hold a nightlight or water bottle, and suspension systems aimed at fast set up and take down. They also sell kit which is tailored to hikers who want exceptionally light weight equipment, hammocks for kids, larger tarpaulins which the family can cook under or for greater privacy at night. An alternative to DD Hammocks are ones made by Tenth Wonder which our members like too. Both manufacturers offer affordable, decent quality kit.
The great thing is you don’t have to buy all the equipment at once. Start with a tarpaulin and hammock, and then consider adding adjustable rigging (which mean you can raise or lower the hammock or adjust its lie between two trees without having to untie anything. With this and a sleeping mat to insulate your back, you’ll be set up for camping in summer months.
To extend your camping season, you can then add an under-quilt. An under-quilt is suspended under your hammock, trapping a layer of warm air. People go hammock camping in the snow using these and stay warm. One other great upgrade is a custom hammock sleeping bag or quilt. Most people will climb into their sleeping bag before sitting in the hammock and swinging their legs up and lying down. Custom hammock sleeping bags have a waterproof area around the feet, and zip up the middle. Over quilts have a similar enclosed ‘box’ for your feel, and attach around the neck and are used in conjunction with under quilts.
DD Hammocks’ beginners guide to hammock camping is a good start for anyone who wants a better understanding of setting up, equipment and sleeping positions (yes you can sleep on your side, and lay flat in a custom hammock!):
If you’re heavier than 20 stone, there are still options. Hennessy Hammocks (an American manufacturer) sell a hammock large enough for people 7′ tall and 350lbs! An alternative and cheaper option is the
Hammock width and length: Width is quite important, as a wider hammock gives you the option of lying at a slight angle, which flattens the hammock out and allows you to sleep on your side. The hammock has to be long enough for you to sleep comfortably.
Mosquito nets: Ideally, you want a hammock with an integral mosquito net, and one with mesh fine enough to stop midges. Aside from a cold back, nothing can ruin a night more than being eaten alive, and we live in midge country! Black mesh gives an experience of looking through sunglasses and I prefer this to green netting. Spreader bars which lift the mosquito net away from the hammock (and your face) feel roomier. Tabs inside the mosquito net give you an option of hanging a lamp (meaning there’s no need to hunt for a torch, and if you read, your light is right above your head). While you can hang a lamp from your tarpaulin ridge line, you may not be able to reach this without ‘getting out of bed’. Then you have the difficulty of readjusting your bedding after lying back down, without the benefit of a light!
Storage: While you can hang equipment from the ridge line which supports your tarpaulin, you’ll want pockets in your hammock for your car keys, phone, wallet and book/kindle. Reading in a hammock at night time is incredibly relaxing. The more pockets, the more storage. Some integral mosquito netting has tabs at each end inside, which allow a cord to be tied between them and items such as water bottles to be suspended from them. No hunting about at night for a drink!
Insulation: A double layer bottom to the hammock allows you to use a sleeping mat for insulation (even in the summer, a breeze can leave you feeling chilly unless your back has some insulation). While you can put a sleeping mat in a hammock without this bottom layer, they tend to pop out which is a pain.
Side tabs on the hammock: These are used to ensure an under-quilt (if you’ve bought one or intend to) is nice and snug underneath you. You don’t want this quilt to be compressed (by your weight) as you’ll lose some of the benefit of insulation. Neither do you want a gap as you’ll lose that trapped warm air which insulates you. They’re not essential, as you can attach an under-quilt via elastic cord to your tarpaulin ridge line.
Breathable bottoms: Some hammocks come with waterproof bottoms. It’s tempting to buy one of these to allow the hammock to be used on the ground as a bivi when camping away from trees. A word of caution though. Standard hammocks “breath” while ones with waterproof layers do not. Condensation from breathing and sweating can be a problem in hammocks with waterproof bottoms. I know several hammock campers who’ve traded in their bivi hammocks for this very reason.
Spreader bars: A few brands use spreader bars at the end of their hammocks to give the sleeper a flatter lie. While this may seem a good idea, I really don’t recommend them and wouldn’t buy one myself. These brands then use additional guy lines intended to stop the hammocks tipping over when you get in (or roll about in your sleep).
Spreader bars make hammocks unstable and remove your option of an under-quilt/blanket to insulate your back. While a sleeping mat can go inside the hammock, they slide about. Buy a hammock with gathered ends if you want a hammock you won’t slide about in or fall out of! If you want a flatter sleeping position, buy a wide hammock.
Light weight: If you’re a walker, you may want to sacrifice some of the above options to reduce carry weight. Most manufacturers offer a light or superlight range. Unless you’re camping only in the winter, do make sure you have a mosquito netting (by which we mean midge netting!) and personally, I’d still want a hammock with a double bottom to keep a sleeping mat in place! It is possible to buy detachable mosquito nets, and ones which will go over most hammocks. DD hammocks sell one.
I still don’t know what to buy!!! Well come and join our Facebook group and ask advice. You’ll find lots of experienced and helpful members as well as complete beginners. Regardless of your experience, you’ll still learn something new and they’re a friendly crowd!
Buying a hammock with these options saves you money in the long term, and gives you plenty of options to upgrade your kit which you needn’t buy straight away (or at all). All you really need is a hammock, a tarpaulin, and something to hang them from.
If you’re a serial kit collector don’t despair, you can then focus on camping knives, clothing, rucksacks, camp stoves, fire pits, cooking pots and a whole host of other things.