Why I’m Hammock Camping On The Appalachian Trail

Introduction

When backpacking, a shelter is one of the most essential pieces of gear. I mean, we call it one of the “Big Three”, right? So it must be important. Well, after many years of backpacking, planning, training, and deliberation, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ll be using a hammock as my primary shelter as I thru hike the AT. This post details why I chose to go with a hammock over a tent and will address some of the drawbacks of my choice. If you’re interested in using a hammock on your thru hike, or just want to get into hammock camping in general, this post may be helpful to you. So, enjoy!

(How many times do I say the word ‘hammock’ in this post?!)

Porch Mode is the Best Mode!

 

#1 – Comfort

The number one reason I’m using a hammock is comfort. After many years of sleeping on the ground I was convinced I just couldn’t sleep well while camping. I was always the last one to go to sleep and the first one awake.

That all changed the first time I took out a hammock while backpacking. I slept like a log. I could take a nap at camp! This was a revelation! I discovered that I can sleep well while camping, just not on the ground. Every time I have slept on the ground since getting into hammock camping, I’ve sorely (pun intended) missed my hammock.

So, if you are having trouble getting good sleep while sleeping on the ground, give a hammock a try and see if that doesn’t help.

 

#2 – Cost/Convenience

I put these together because they are kind of the same for me right now. Having some experience hammock camping, I already had some of the gear, knowledge, and skills required to hammock. Because of this, it’s just easier and cheaper to stick with the hammock.

Now, can you get a tent that is cheaper than a hammock system? Of course. In fact, some really nice tents may be cheaper than my hammock set-up. But considering that I already have some of the required gear for a hammock and would have to purchase a whole new tent for this hike, the hammock is cheaper for me.

Don’t be like me. Test your gear before you go out for a four day hike!

 

#3 – Ideal For Environment

Finally, my last reason has more to do with the Appalachian Trail itself than a hammock. Because the AT is so forested, a hammock set-up is almost an ideal shelter for it. With so many trees, finding spots to set up my hammock will be effortless. While some tenters may struggle to find flat or clear ground to set up, I should have few problems finding a space.

It also makes me feel good that hammocks may be a little better for Leave No Trace. Not to say that tents are bad for the environment or go against LNT, but hammocks create less of a footprint and less of an impact on the lands around the trail. As long as they are set up well with the right gear, a hammock set-up will leave little to no impact on the land. And that makes me feel good!

Under quilt. Get one!

 

Drawbacks

Now, I won’t lie to you and tell you that a hammock set-up is perfect. It’s not. There are drawbacks. For one, hammock camping can be complicated. While it’s possible to keep it relatively simple, you will still have a bit of a learning curve to really dialing in your set-up. With tents, it’s pretty easy to just throw it down, set in the poles, and stake it down.

Second, hammock campers have a little less privacy. An advantage of a tent is a private, enclosed space to yourself for changing or just alone time. Hammocks lack that. Hammocks also typically lack a good option for stowing gear like tents often do.

And finally, weight is a bit of a drawback. Can hammock set-ups be pretty lightweight? Absolutely. Will the lightest possible hammock set-up be lighter than the lightest tent option? Probably not. At the end of the day, you can probably find a tent that weighs less. But when you are about to embark on a thru hike where you will be sleeping outdoors almost every single night, sometimes the extra comfort is worth the weight.

 

So, what shelter do you use on long hikes? And what made you choose that shelter?

 

If you are interested in my pack weight and gear list with my hammock system,  here are my detailed gear lists for both cold weather and warm weather on the AT (subject to change):

Cold weather: https://lighterpack.com/r/d7nrmw

Warm weather:  https://lighterpack.com/r/48jdjx

 

(30 times. I said the word ‘hammock’ thirty times.)

 

Please consider a donation to Hike for Mental Health to help fund research and treatment for mental illness:

https://www.hikeformentalhealth.org/hikers/wes-laudemans-at-hike-for-mental-health/

 

 

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Comments 9

  • Avatar
    pearwood : Jan 7th

    Wes,
    Any thoughts on hammock types or brands?

    I have a Lawson Hammock that is wonderful for sleeping but relatively heavy.

    I also have an Eno UL double nest hammock plus bugnet that is certainly light and easy to set up, but I haven’t figured out whether I can get myself diagonal enough to sleep comfortably in it.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Wes Laudeman : Jan 7th

      Pearwood, I previously used the ENO SuperSub but just upgraded to a Hammock Gear hammock. I like the integrated bug net and ridgeline and the longer length gives a more comfortable lay. I haven’t tested it out in full but I’m thinking it will be perfect for me. Thanks for reading!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Tom : Jan 9th

    I disagree that hammocks are better for the environment because the way you have it strapped around the trees there’s no protection for the bark and eventually may kill the trees.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Wes Laudeman : Jan 9th

      Hey Tom, thanks for pointing that out but I actually use webbing straps for my suspension which are designed to not damage the trees as long as they are used correctly. I mention in the article, “As long as they are set up well with the right gear…”. Thanks for the concern for the trees and thanks for reading!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Journeyman : Jan 9th

    Great choice! I hammock camped on my thru in 2017 with minimal impact on the land. The vast majority of my sites likely had never seen a hiker before, and probably won’t ever again.

    I would look on guthooks for potential sites well off trail based on topography. Sometimes I’d strike out and have to keep going, but I was never unable to hang if I wanted.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Wes Laudeman : Jan 10th

      Right on, Journeyman! Thanks for reading!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    David Smith : Jan 9th

    Really nice post. I am an admittedly “hammock curious“ but have never tried. I can’t sleep on my back which is a major concern.

    Looking forward to following you and our fellow 2021 AT bloggers.

    David “Wazo” Smith

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Wes Laudeman : Jan 9th

      Side sleeping is possible in a hammock! Thanks for reading, Wazo!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Zac Hunter : Mar 4th

    Wes,

    Loving the vicarious adventure, so thanks for letting us follow along.

    I’m a novice but enthusiastic hammock camper and I’m looking for inexpensive and versatile upgrades to my kit. I’m curious about the HG Underquilt Protector in your warm weather setup. How much warmth does it add on its own?

    I usually sleep with a closed-cell foam pad inside the hanmock (I found one with reflective coating on one side at some discount store I can’t remember) rather than a whole underquilt, but sometimes that’s not quite enough. I’m wondering if a light and minimal layer underneath like this might be just enough to keep me warm in the 2.5 seasons I’m usually out there.

    Thanks for the insight.

    Reply

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