To Hammock, to Tent, or Both?
Being about 8 months out from the start of my hike, I’m starting to really think about gear options. What I’m having the most trouble with is whether to hammock camp or use a tent. It seems those who have an opinion about this have very strong ones. A couple of months ago I purchased a Warbonnet Blackbird, a fantastic amazing marvelous creation and I’ve absolutely loved it so far. The craftsmanship is stellar and it’s a breeze to set up and take down.
I did a 4.5 mile stretch of the AT in Grayson Highlands back in May. Hiked up, camped overnight, then hiked back before heading out to Damascus for Trail Days. It rained the whole way up, all night long, and most of the next day. Despite being May, it was cold. Probably in the high 30’s at night and in the 40s and 50s during the day. I took my Blackbird, a 45 degree sleeping bag, and a cheap blue pad from Walmart. I FROZE all night long.
We set up camp about 9pm and I did not sleep a wink. At about 7:30am the next morning, I drug my frozen body out of the hammock and started walking back down the mountain. I spent the next 3 nights at Trail Days sleeping on the ground in a tent. I purchased a NeoAir pad and some long johns at Trail days and was comfortably warm all 3 nights; however the temps never got as low as they did that first night. A few observations about this experience.
In the hammock:
- I was miserably cold
- I was never uncomfortable in regards to sleeping position or pressure points.
- Despite my lack of sleep, I was not stiff or sore the next morning.
- I stayed dry throughout the night
- The shelter was full and campsites were not plentiful; I was easily able to find a spot to set up my hammock while my tent sleeping counterparts had to do a little searching.
- I had no trouble setting up my hammock despite the freezing rain; once the fly was up, it provided shelter while I got settled into the hammock, choked down a granola bar, and changed into dry(ish) clothes.
In the tent:
- I was warm
- I tossed and turned, did not sleep through the night due to pressure points
- I woke up stiff, my hips and legs severely cramped (I’ve always had this problem, even in beds)
- I liked the privacy that the tent offered for changing.
I understand that each method has it’s pros and cons. I understand that being cold is one of the biggest negative arguments against hammock camping, and I experienced first hand what that is like. However, I was dreadfully unprepared (sleeping bag wasn’t warm enough, I was not wearing the right clothes, I didn’t have the proper equipment (no rain coat!) so I went to bed wet, contributing to the cold. Despite being warm, I did not sleep well in the tent. My sleep was restless due to discomfort and pain in my joints (primarily my hips, which I have issues with).
Well, what am I going to do then?
My current plan is one of two options:
- Take my blackbird on my thru-hike, with an appropriate bag and sleeping pad and have proper clothing. The bag and pad will allow me to sleep in shelters many nights, especially if weather is bad, and with proper clothing and preparations should keep me warm enough during nights spent in the hammock.
- Carry a tent through the first part of the hike, probably the first 4-8 weeks, then switch to a hammock set-up for the warmer months. This will cause me to have to spend more money and purchase a tent in addition to my hammock.
So at this point, I still don’t know what I’m going to do. I would LOVE to hear from current or past thru-hikers who have hammocked and what your experience was.
And for your viewing pleasure…
I’m attaching a few photos from my trip to Damascus for Trail Days. It was by and far one of the coolest experiences of my life and if I wasn’t truly convinced I wanted to do this before, I was totally hooked after attending Trail Days. If you have the opportunity, go. If you don’t, make the time and go anyway. You won’t regret it.
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A top quilt and under quilt would serve you well.
I’m considering a hammock for future hikes. My difficulty is similar to that which was written – sore bones in the morning. A friend of mine uses a hammock, and on two separate trips on the Peace River last year he provided me with much insight about hammock camping. The most critical bit of information he provided me was that of having an under quilt. He said his wife made his, but they are also available commercially.
A good underquilt for your hammock will not run cheap, but will keep you warm. I have slept in a hammock in 30 degree weather with and without an underquilt and it makes a world of difference. And you will need a tarp large enough to make sure it stays dry in the rain. I brought a poncho/tarp combo which worked during light rain but during a strong storm my setup got more than a little wet.
I used my neo air in my hammock and surprisingly it didn’t slide around and kept me very warm even though I was just using a quilt instead of a sleeping bag which worked well for a hammock. I am gonna tent the first few months then switch it out for my hammock in the warmer months. There was an issue with the wind blowing in the cold night I took it. See you at Springer next year!
I actually attempted to thru-hike in 2015 and 2016 (this is an older post, not sure why it’s popped back up) BUT both times I took my hammock with UQ and TQ and never regretted it. Best of luck this year! Stop in at Elevations Pizza and see me if you take a break in Franklin 🙂
Hammock Gear has fantastic underquilts and top quilts. Great quality, treated down, low weight, compresses well. After getting Incubator 0 with burrow 40 will get me down to 28 degrees, and I sleep cold . Not cheap but you get what you pay for and you can’t put a price on a great night’s sleep after a long day.
Agreed on HG! I ended up getting an HG under quilt and absolutely love it.
if you want to go all-in on the hammock, yes, get a good underquilt.
If you want to sometimes go to the ground, that gets more complicated. Some folks do a shorter underquilt for the torso + foam pad for the legs so they can use the foam pad for going to the ground.
After spending two summers on the AT (totaling around 1200 miles) and 6 months working in wilderness therapy using my hammock, I agree an UQ is the way to go. I started out with the shorter UQ and hated it.
If you have a Blackbird, as is do, look at the Wooki, made especially for the Blackbird, it’s a no fiddle system. I have a Wooki 0 and it’s amazing.