Why I Chose a Tent Over a Hammock for my AT Thru Hike

Six months prior to starting my thru hike, I spent at least two hours every day glued to my computer screen, reading various reviews and articles about each sleeping system. Eventually, I pulled the trigger and bought a Warbonnet RidgeRunner Hammock (which I would highly recommend).

My hammock set up next to a friend’s tent

AKA the most comfortable bed I’ve ever had. Honestly, I have zero complaints about the design or use of the hammock. And yet, I’ve chosen to take a tent on my AT journey (my coveted Nemo Hornet 2P). And here’s why:

1. I Have A Small Pack

I purchased a 50 Liter Osprey Aura AG pack shortly after deciding to attempt a thru hike. For summer hikes, it’s the perfect size. Unfortunately, with all my winter gear, space in my pack has become rather coveted. My hammock packs down pretty small, but the rainfly does not. In addition, because it’s a bridge style hammock, it also comes with poles that I have to store somewhere.

 

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With my claw hand for reference. From left to right: poles, rainfly, hammock

For the sake of not having to strap 60% of my belongings to the outside of my pack, I’ve decided to opt with my tent, which packs down into a bundle slightly larger than my hand, plus poles.


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2. Tents Come With Sleeping Pads

I’m pretty confident of my hammock’s ability to stand up to some serious rain and/or snow storms. With that being said, if I know that I’m in a for a night of serious storming, I would much rather be inside a shelter with three walls of wood or stone between me and the elements rather than a thin nylon sheet. If it’s even a little chilly, sleeping in shelters requires a sleeping pad. I happen to use an under quilt for my hammock, which I can’t use to sleep on the ground. Either the hammock has to go, or the option of shelters. I’m choosing the hammock.

3. I’m Lazy

I enjoy hiking. I really do (even the sweating and exerting energy part). That being said, hiking is hard, and I have no desire to try to make it any harder than it already is. Namely, I try to keep my pack as light as possible. My hammock is on the heavier side. The hammock itself only weighs 1 Ib 10.5 oz, but when you add the 12 oz spreader bar set and the 1 Ib 3 oz tarp, the shelter system altogether weighs a hefty 3 Ibs 10.5 oz. Compared to my Nemo Hornet 2P, which comes in at under 2 Ibs, it’s a pretty big difference. One that I’m sure my feet and back alike will thank me for.

4. Side Sleepers Unite

I sleep pretty well in a hammock, especially in my bridge hammock, since I can sleep on my stomach. That being said, it’s just a lot easier and more comfortable to sleep in a hammock if you’re a back sleeper (which I’m not). Enter the inflatable sleeping pad, the lifelong best friend and companion of the side sleeper! I agree hammocks are extremely comfortable. It’s just that my Nemo Vector Insulated sleeping pad is slightly more comfortable (to my hips and shoulders at least- my back might disagree).

5. It’s Getting Hot in Here

I’m starting my thru hike in February. In earlyish/mid February for that matter. Which means there are going to be a lot of cold nights. And I, much to my chagrin, am I horribly cold sleeper. For this reason, my tent gets a gold star because it traps a lot more of my body heat inside its walls than my hammock does. Slightly warmer shelter? Sounds like a winner to me.

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A picture from my four day trip on the AT in January. It was 15 degrees when that picture was taken

6. I Like My Stuff to Stay Dry

I am a bit of a messy person. When I get to camp, I unload everything in my pack and strew it haphazardly around the campsite (mostly because it reassures me that I haven’t lost anything). This is the same for when I go to sleep. I like to be able to put my stuff inside my tent, knowing it will stay dry until it’s time to pack up in the morning. With my hammock, there is unfortunately no footprint or dry floor for me to store my belongings.

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My green tent cocoon

7. I’m Not that Coordinated

Hammocking is nice. Hammocking is fun. However, hammocking requires a fair bit of coordination. Not only to get inside the hammock, but also to change clothes. It is very difficult (at least for me) to de-pant and re-pant, as well as to de-shirt and re-shirt myself while hanging inside a hammock without flipping it over. There is the option of standing under the rainfly and changing, but that requires having shoes on (not conducive to pant changing) and also standing stooped over (which is difficult for me without toppling over). In my tent I can at least sit down and change without worrying about breaking myself or my shelter.

8. I’m Also Broke

I have recently had the privilege of working for REI, and so was able to purchase a new tent at a heavily discounted price. However, discount aside, my tent at regular price comes in significantly cheaper than my entire hammock setup. So if you are considering both, keep in mind that when you combine the cost of the rainfly, hammock, underquilt, and possible spreader poles, hammock setups are definitely more expensive than a one-time tent purchase. All together, I spent close to $850 on my hammock setup, compared to the MSRP price of my tent at $370.

Keep in mind, there are definitely some sacrifices I’m making by taking my tent. Namely, if it’s raining, I still have to put the body of my tent up before I can put up the rainfly. Furthermore, I’m going to have to pay more attention to where I set up camp so I don’t end up in a lake in the morning.

Hammock camping is definitely a great option. I’ve just decided that for me, it’s not the best option out there. Let me know what your preferences are! Hammock or tent?

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Comments 15

  • Greta : Feb 2nd

    So glad you’re doing a blog too!!!!

    Reply
  • Chili : Feb 2nd

    I’m thinking about switching back to a tent from my hammock as well. I’ve been using a Hennessey Hammock, which I absolutely love, but for some of the same reasons you mentioned, will probably get a UL ground shelter instead (for thru-hiking, anyway; I’ll probably still use my hammock for some shorter trips).

    Reply
  • Kate G : Feb 2nd

    Sounds like a well-reasoned decision. I’m going to be hammock camping, but my hammock (Warbonnet Blackbird) and tarp (Hammock Gear Standard Cuben Fiber Tarp with doors) come in under 2 pounds together.

    Reply
    • Olivia Plumb : Feb 2nd

      Yeah that’s a much lighter setup than I’ve got.

      Reply
  • Tasia Kellogg : Feb 2nd

    I completely agree! I chose a tent over my hammock for almost exactly the same reason. I couldn’t pull the trigger on an underquilt and ditch the sleeping pad when I knew I liked to go to ground quite a bit, whether in a shelter or cowboy camping, and I couldn’t have an early March start without more insulation. I also liked the idea of having a more private, enclosed space to change, do field baths, etc., as a solo woman. The final straw was the weight difference, as you mentioned — at almost a lb and a half lighter, the tent simply won out despite how comfortable my hammock is and how much I loved the convenience of throwing up the fly in bad weather.

    Reply
    • Olivia Plumb : Feb 2nd

      Exactly. Underquilts are super expensive and it’s hard to spend so much money on another system when you already have one that works…

      Reply
  • Deane Giordano : Feb 2nd

    What a great post! I’ve been hemming and hawing and generally stuck in limbo on this decision and you’ve helped me make the choice to stick with the tent (even though I love the idea of a hammock). Mostly it’s about the weight and the ability to go to the ground if needed. The tent wins for thru-hiking! I’ll save the WBBB for shorter trips, maybe the NH 4,000 footer project I have planned for 2018. Thanks for sharing. xo Ruby Throat

    Reply
    • Olivia Plumb : Feb 2nd

      Glad I could help out! I’ve spent several weeks debating about it and only recently made the decision. Best of luck for your thru hike (and your NH project)!

      Reply
  • Jon Riordan : Feb 3rd

    I’ve found that my sleeping pad works better for me than an underquilt whilst in the hammock, and is dramatically lighter. Having a pad leaves the option for ground sleeping too, if for some reason lashing up the hammock isn’t feasible. I’ve been testing my setup in the cold and haven’t had any problems…so far. Let’s see what the AT has to say about it….

    Reply
    • Olivia Plumb : Feb 6th

      That sounds like a good compromise. I can’t ever get comfortable with a sleeping pad in my hammock, but that’s awesome if it works for you 🙂

      Reply
  • dwcoyote : Feb 3rd

    Ive been debating between the Nemo Hornet and the Tarptent Double Rainbow. After seeing how small the Nemo packs up I think I just made up my mind. Good luck on your hike.

    Reply
    • Olivia Plumb : Feb 6th

      I love my Nemo tent! No regrets whatsoever

      Reply
  • Tracy : Feb 4th

    Great post! I ruled out a hammock for most of the same reasons but it’s nice to see someone else’s thought process and logic too.

    Reply
  • Katherine : Feb 4th

    Warbonnet Blackbird (non-bridge) is really comfortable for side sleeping and easier for clothes changing.

    Good arguments. Did you weigh in site selection – being able to hang where ever thee are trees?

    Reply
    • Olivia Plumb : Feb 6th

      I haven’t tried out the Blackbird, but I have heard it’s better for side sleeping than the Ridgerunner. I did consider being able to hang wherever there are trees – it’s really nice to not have to worry about flat ground or where water might pool. Even though that is an advantage to the hammock setup, there are so many designated campsites and tent spots on the AT that I’m not too worried about being able to find a place to set up my tent. And bringing my tent also means I can camp on the top of balds on clear nights if desired. Thanks for your input!

      Reply

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