Hammock Camping Shakedown #1

The trials and tribulations of my first attempt at hammock camping and what I think went wrong/right. This was my third semi-shakedown hike since I only camped and didn’t hike a lot. My camping experience has been extensively tent for about ten years but I have been an avid hammock lounger for the past few years and think the idea of hammock camping sounds awesome.

During my Christmas break I went on a trip with a group of people to an old boy scout camp in North Carolina. As soon as we started getting close to the area we were camping I knew it was going to be the perfect spot to try hammock camping in my newly acquired Hennessy Hyperlight Hammock. I picked a nice spot for my hammock, see cover picture(rain fly setup needs work) ,and set in for the night. I wrote this post to share some of the things I learned that may help you if you are still struggling with the choice of hammock vs. tent.

Things that went wrong

Sleeping position in the hammock

For my entire life I have been a stomach sleeper, this is not ideal for a hammock which you can either be a side sleeper or back sleeper from what I have read. It took me a very long time to fall asleep. I am going try to learn to back/side sleep prior to my hike in case the hammock wins out but I doubt I can adjust that quickly.

External lights

Apparently when I set my hammock up it was in direct view of one of those lights that are super bright and stay on all night. While this wont be an issue on most camp setups since there shouldn’t be any outrageously bright lights in the woods, it was very effective at hindering my sleep. Another author on this site wrote a very interesting post on hostel etiquette that mention sleep masks so I am going to investigate one before my thru hike to remedy this issue. (article)

Angle of sleeping pad

According to much more versed hammock campers the most comfy way to sleep in a hammock is at about 15-20 degrees from being in line with the middle of the hammock, don’t ask how they know the angle, I tried a protractor but it didn’t work well. It seemed like the pad really wanted to be in line with the middle of the hammock but from youtube it seems that its possible to use a normal sleeping pad in a hammock so I am going to keep trying and possibly try using a foam pad.

Things that went right

Warmth

I stayed warm and dry in my hammock. I expected to get cold since the temperature got down to around 40F and I only had my 20F quilt laying over me while I was laying on my thermo rest neo air but this setup worked very well for me.

Comfort

Similar to what others have experienced even though it seemed like I only got 45 minutes of sleep the whole night I woke up with no sore muscles and was able to put in a whole days work roofing with no pains or aches from sleeping in the hammock.

Noise

Not particular to hammock camping but this time as with the past several camping trips I went on I used earplugs. Even though its fun to hear the noise of the woods while you are awake it can get annoying at least for me trying to fall asleep with the symphony of crickets and other things that go bump in the night around me. Several people on this site have mentioned them and I plan on taking them on all my ~180 camping trips in my near thru hike future.

Current Conclusion

As of now the jury is still out on hammock versus tent for me but I have both and will continue to experiment as much as I can since I believe there are benefits to hammock camping and I aim to find them.

As of today there will be less than 70 days until I quit my job and head out on one long unpaid vacation a.k.a. the adventure of a lifetime with some of you fine folks and I can’t wait!

Feel free to tell me why hammock camping is awesome and the error of my rookie ways below.

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Comments 22

  • Deane Giordano : Jan 6th

    I love the idea of hammocking (versus tenting), too, but I’m still trying to figure out how to stay warm and still keep the weight down. (I feel a shakedown overnighter coming on!) Thanks for sharing your experience. I’m starting in April in Grayson Highlands (flip flopping)…hope to see you hanging around out there! Hike Happy…Ruby Throat.

    Reply
    • Chris G. : Jan 6th

      My quilt and sleeping bag handled the warmth deal for me but the weight concern what is pushing me towards tent. If you add all the hammock accessories you need to be warm and comfy you will surpass the weight of a good back packing tent. A tent also gives you a nice wind break so I definitely need some more convincing on the hammock way. Thanks for reading take lots of pictures of the ponies when you see them in April!

      Reply
    • Mark Stanavage : Jan 8th

      Hammock camping for years. Hammock Gear has great underquilts and top quilts. Underquilts wrap up the sides so underneath and sides are toasty. They also don’t slide, roll or bunch like sleeping pads can. Top quilt means you don’t have to fight to get into sleeping bag . Makes those midnight privy runs so much less traumatic. They are light, very compactable, but quality costs. After a long day a good night’s sleep is priceless.
      Happy Hammocking
      Chris G. This should help with your needs. Hammock Gear custom manufactures, quick turnaround time. Worth every $$!

      Reply
      • Chris G. : Jan 8th

        Thanks for the info mark it seems no matter where i start looking at hammock under quilts I get back around to hammock gear and they are made right here in the usa. I actually ordered one of their under quilts recently just to try, if it works well I may be fully converted.

        Reply
  • Kate G : Jan 6th

    I don’t know if you have the budget for a gear change, but having tried both an inflatable sleeping pad in a hammock and an underquilt, I found myself much more comfortable with the underquilt and more easily able to sleep at whatever angle I find comfortable (though still no stomach sleeping). I’ve heard that foam pads in hammocks usually aren’t recommended because of the way they trap condensation, though I have never tried one.

    Reply
    • Chris G. : Jan 6th

      Well yes i did look at under quilts but the method behind my madness of using the inflatable sleeping pad was that if for some reason I wanted to shelter it up one night id have the option. There is a certain level of freezing rain falling horizontal that could convince me to shelter for the night. I wouldn’t get the same option with an under-quilt. I may look at under quilts again even if I don’t hammock it up I can always use them on some outdoor trip down the road. Thanks for reading!

      Reply
      • Kate G : Jan 6th

        I have certainly had my moments of concern over the fact that my underquilt doesn’t give me a lot of options for “going to ground”. I figure if I get desperate, though, I could spend a night sleeping on top of it in a shelter. It wouldn’t be comfortable, to be sure, but since the hammock is where I plan to spend most nights, my primary consideration is for my comfort in it.

        Reply
        • Chris G. : Jan 6th

          I doubt laying on a quilt will do anything for sleeping in a shelter except make you wake up very cold. Once you compress quilts they loose almost all their ability to insulate. I learned this just using a sleeping bag to sleep on the ground one night and woke up cold and with the flu. I wouldn’t worry much though the AT is packed full of trees that will keep you off the shelter floor.

          Reply
          • Kate : Jan 8th

            I wasn’t expecting it would provide any warmth, just a barrier between me and the filthy shelter floor. *laugh*

            Reply
          • Chris G. : Jan 8th

            Ah I understand! Hopefully the weather will cooperate and you want have to make friends with any filthy shelter floors.

            Reply
    • Mark Stanavage : Jan 8th

      Yes, they (foam pads) do capture moisture.

      Reply
  • Dylan : Jan 6th

    If you want to be comfortable and cut down on weight with a hammock and still have a pad for shelter sleeping, consider getting a partial under quilt and a partial foam pad. The under quilt can cover you from shoulders to butt and the pad can cover your legs.

    Reply
    • Chris G. : Jan 7th

      Thanks for the tip!

      Reply
  • David : Jan 7th

    I love the hammock. I use under and upper quilts and sometimes pack an inflatable pad if I think there’s a chance on going to ground. The first option I selected was a bigger rain fly/ tarp; I justified the added weight with building a larger rain shelter to hang, store gear or just rest. The hammock is nice since I can hang anywhere there’s trees, not get dirty or soak my sleep system in the rain, and of course… better support leave no trace.

    For more information on hammock camping check out Derek Hansen’s Ultimate Hang “http://theultimatehang.com/”.

    Reply
    • Chris G. : Jan 7th

      Thanks for the info David. I am definitely looking into the larger rain fly mainly to help block the wind a little. The one I have does a great job keeping you dry but I can see getting wet if it started to rain and the wind started moving the water horizontal. The weight is the thing that keeps pushing me towards my tent but the hammock may win out in the end just based on comfort level if I get the setup pinned down.

      Reply
  • Scott Phillips : Jan 7th

    I was a tent camper my entire life but I decided to go with a hammock for my successful 2016 AT thru hike. I anticipated the flexibility of having a hammock – setting up on off caber terrain, rocky terrain, muddy terrain – you get the idea? I was good as long as I found 2 trees 7 paces apart with enough space for the tarp – I rarely had a problem. My tenting buddies were not always as lucky. Sometimes they would have to stay in the shelters with the mice and snorers. I could set up and take down in the rain without any gear getting wet. I could sit in my hammock like a chair and cook – in the rain. I loved it. I was always a stomach sleeper but I learned very quickly (your exhausted at the end of the day) that I could sleep on my back – and if I moved diagonally (Google it), I could get flat in the hammock (no banana for me). My big three (pack, sleeping bag and hammock/tarp) was 6 lbs. Pack was Zpacks Arc Blast – Upper and lower quilts were Hammock Gear – Cuben tarp with doors (no water ever got in – ever in severe t storms) was from Hammock Gear and the hammock (Halfwit) and ridge line were from Dutchware. At the beginning and end I used the under quilt and switched to a Klymit air mattress for insulation in the summer. The air mattress was a little cooler and was handy when I wanted to stay inside (501 shelter and the dungeon at Lakes of the Clouds) but the under quilt worked best and I slept like a baby when I got it back in the fall.

    Reply
    • Chris G. : Jan 7th

      Thanks for the for the first hand info. For now my plan will be to tent it up until i get to VA and switch out for hammock until i get back into cooler temps since I dont have an under quilt but its good to know theres no shortage of places to put up a hammock if thats all you have.

      Reply
    • Ryan S. : Jan 8th

      Thanks for the info. This recent year I had completely fallen in love with hammocking instead of tenting. I have all the ENO hamock gear and will embarking on the A.T. in early April. I have done some extensive research on how I should pack it and what I will need to stay protected. As 6 months in the woods is much different than a weekend. Thanks again, and congrats on your success.

      Reply
  • Katherine : Jan 8th

    Campsite versatility and dealing with rain are the two biggies for me. Much easier to just keep hiking and stop wherever, and much more transitional space for taking off/putting on rain jacket.

    Reply
  • Duane : Jan 9th

    Stomach sleeper should look into Amok hammocks, they’re the only ones I found that have a design that allow you to sleep comfortably on stomach.

    Reply
  • jonathan stephens : Jan 9th

    Hey Chris…good choice on the Hennessy hammock. Got mine recently and don’t see going back to a tent. 50+ years I’ve been tenting with hardly a good night’s sleep. The hammock solves all (well most of) my complaints. Used my hammock on a recent multi-night trip in the Great Smoky Mts with great success. Agree with all your positive points. I’d recommend the Hennessey insulated pad ($30) rather than a foam pad. Under my sleeping bag, I felt like a baked potato. My bag was very light weight, but the 40′ temps in the mts were fine. Hennessey recommends shifting the pad and bag approx 30 degrees to the ridge line to lay almost completely flat rather then sleeping like a banana. Also, use the little mesh bags hanging on the ridge line for your head lamp, phone, glasses, etc., i.e. anything you don’t want underneath you. (“Lost” my stocking cap under the pad b/c I didn’t hang it on the ridge line.) Use your walking sticks to raise the rain fly for more ventilation. Finally, the Hennessey snake skins for striking and storing the hammock are priceless…happy trails, jonathan

    Reply
    • Chris G. : Jan 9th

      thanks for all the info Jonathan, the more research i do on hammock camping the more comfortable I am in mine. I too spent a few years, probably 16, tenting it up on the ground and when you are younger its great but as I get older my body decides new parts need to hurt after sleeping on the ground regardless of fancy thermarest mattress. The hammock has gotten rid of most of those concerns. Once I get everything figured out I bet ill be in hammock camp for the long haul.

      Reply

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