I grew up camping in a tent. So did just about every one of you reading this right now - if you went camping and it wasn’t in a cabin or an RV, you slept in a tent. A tent is the universal symbol of camping as much as a rod is for fishing.
And then one day I discovered hammock camping and my life changed.
The important thing for many people to realise is that leaving the tent behind and switching to a hammock isn’t about roughing it more or sacrificing comfort for the sake of minimalism - in fact, it’s just the opposite.
Hammock camping is more comfortable, more enjoyable and even easier to setup and take down, without the sacrifices often associated with ultralight or minimalist gear.
But, convincing yourself to head out into the woods without the one thing that has always been a part of your camping experience is no easy task. To get there, you’ll need to understand the WHY behind hammock camping and that’s exactly why I’m writing this post.
1 - You’ll sleep better. A LOT better.
The bottom line is that once you know how to setup your hammock and sleep in it properly you’re going to sleep better than you ever have camping and likely even get a better night’s sleep than you do at home.
You’ll fall asleep with a smile on your face and you’ll wake up happy, refreshed, and comfortable.
Most people I speak to associate camping trips with the feeling of coming home happy but exhausted – that familiar feeling of “I can’t wait to sleep in my own bed” is almost universal after a camping trip, yet it shouldn’t be that way.
When I discovered hammock camping I found that I was finally coming home from each trip with the feeling that we all crave from a camping experience – the feeling of being recharged and energised.
Now, like so many who have begun camping with hammocks, when I climb into my bed after a weekend in the woods I actually find myself wishing I was back in the hammock instead.
I can’t stress enough how incredible of a feeling that is and how much it changes something that I had simply taken for granted about camping. By switching out one piece of gear you have the ability to completely transform your camping experience.
2 - The ground is unforgiving, floating wins every time.
How many times have you tossed and turned at night in a tent because of a badly placed rock or tree root that you didn’t realise was there when you set your tent up?
With a hammock you’ll never again care what the ground looks like underneath you.
You can camp on a hill. You can camp over rocks, roots, stumps, and even snow and wet ground and have the exact same comfort every single night no matter what’s beneath you.
People always ask if it’s harder to find a spot to setup a hammock than a tent. The answer is an easy NO. Because the ground no longer matters, I’ve often got my hammock setup long before my tent companions have even finished looking for a perfect patch of ground to place their tent.
3 - Breathe deep, you’re OUTSIDE.
This is one of my favourite benefits to being in a hammock and sometimes the hardest to convey until you experience it for yourself.
If you’re a tent camper you’ll often feel a strong sense of pride when you see someone camping in an RV. “What’s the point?” you think, “Aren’t you supposed to be out here to get outside?” Real campers use tents, not big trucks with kitchens and bathrooms and beds, right?
But, the first night you fall asleep and wake up in a hammock you’ll realise something instantly - you’ve been shutting yourself in a lighter, thinner, and more cramped ‘mobile home’ every time you’ve camped in a tent.
In a tent you lose the air flow (even with the windows open), you lose the stars, you can’t stand up to do anything and you can’t easily see what’s around you. You often fall asleep in a cold box and wake up in a hot and stuffy box and, if you’re lucky, you didn’t roll over into that puddle that’s somehow accumulated in the corner even though your tent’s supposed to be waterproof.
Back in my tent days I remember going through a similar routine every summer: I’d wake up in the morning and feel like I needed to get up and out of the tent as quickly as possible even if I was still tired. The sun would quickly be turning my tent into a sauna and I’d find myself moving into a camping chair by the fire pit, waiting for other people to wake up and go through the same process so we could all sit around and talk about what rock or root had kept us up during the night (or marvel at the one person in the group who slept great and seemed to possess an almost superhuman ability to sleep through, and on, anything).
When you fall asleep in your hammock you’ll fall asleep breathing fresh air that’s flowing freely around you and it’s almost impossible to truly appreciate the difference it makes until you experience it yourself.
When you wake up you’ll feel the breeze on your face instead of the tent’s sauna effect and you’ll realise that you’re exactly where you want to be.
You’ll spend the first 20 minutes of your day listening and actually watching the wind rustle the leaves around you. You’ll watch clouds filter by, birds hop from tree to tree and maybe even see a beautiful sunrise without doing anything but opening an eye.
You’ll be comfortable, relaxed and ready to start your day when you’re ready and not when you feel like you need to escape the tent.
4 - Hammocks now have all the features a tent has
I’ve heard some people ask about privacy for changing clothes - when you setup your tarp around your hammock you not only have privacy, you have something even more precious: the ability to stand up easily and change comfortably without being a hunchback.
Hammocks aren’t just for the beach anymore. Your hammock can be setup to reflect heat just like a tent and if that’s not enough there are plenty of additional options and accessories for hammock camping in cold weather.
As with most outdoor gear, it’s all a question of how committed you are to investing in the gear you need to be comfortable.
With hammock camping, just like tent camping, it’s easy to get all the basics you need at an affordable price. As you go further down the rabbit hole you can always invest in lighter gear and 4-season options - there’s a constantly growing world of great hammock accessories out there to help you camp comfortably in any environment.
All accessories are designed as individual components which adds another great advantage over most tent designs: you can always camp as minimally as possible and just add layers when you need them.
Camping where there’s no bugs? Leave the bug net behind, you don’t need to bring it or set it up. When you don’t have to worry about the rain or the cold you can ditch the tarp and sleep right under the stars in just your hammock or with the hammock bug net alone to keep the bugs out.
Just as you change what clothes you pack depending on where you’re going and what the weather will be, you’ve got layers which you can dress your hammock up with or you can just put the top down and feel the breeze, it’s all up to to you.
5 - It’s a hammock!
You’re either reading that and thinking it sounds like a pretty weak Reason #5 or you’re saying ‘Exactly!’, so let me explain what I mean:
A tent serves only one purpose while camping other than maybe changing your clothes or hiding from the rain - and that’s sleeping. You bring it with you, go to the trouble of picking out a spot and assembling it, and you’ve got something that you’ll likely only use at night while you sleep. Sure that’s an important purpose, but why stop there?
A hammock is your tent, yet it’s so much more than a place to sleep.
When you’ve got a hammock with you, you’ve also got a comfortable camp chair with you at all times, a place to sit and cook your food if necessary, hang out and tell jokes around the campfire, or just to relax and read a book while the day floats by. Not only that, it’s a hammock/chair you can take with you on your day hikes and set up next to that waterfall or after you’ve exhausted yourself on a climb.
You’ve got a place to curl up at night with a friend and count stars and a swing for the kids to play in. In fact, if you’ve got kids, there’s a bonus reason here: Hammocks are way more fun than tents! Having a hammock around the campsite is a sure-fire way to keep kids entertained, well-napped, and happy throughout any camping trip.
A hammock has incredible multi-use abilities on a camp trip, but it’s also after and in between your camp trips where the hammock really shines and blows the tent away.
Your hammock isn’t meant to be stuck in the closet with your other camping gear, it’s a hammock after all. You’ll string your hammock between two cars next time you’re tailgating, you’ll hang out in the backyard for the next BBQ, you’ll take it on vacation, use it indoors during the winter, and you’ll set it up on your next summer lunch break and watch the day’s stress disappear in no time.
Your tent? It’ll be sitting in your camping closet and the next time you come across it you’ll smile and wonder how that RV-in-a-bag ever got into your gear closet at all.
Nothing beats having a hammock around the campsite even if you plan on spending the night in your tent.
Whether reading a book, taking a nap after a hike or just hanging around, you’ll revolutionise your camping experience regardless of where you choose to lay your head at the end of the night.
Better yet, try tossing your sleeping bag (and pad if it’s chilly) in the hammock and falling asleep – if you change your mind at any point in the night you can easily climb back into your tent.
Most importantly, if you do try spending a night in a hammock and have any issues, don’t give up. We hear from people every day that are ‘instant converts’ – like my own experience, one night in the hammock can be all it takes to proclaim it one of the best night’s sleep you’ve ever had and decide to leave the tent behind for good. But for every one of those experiences there are plenty of people who go through a little bit more of a learning curve and adjustment period. You’ve been sleeping in a bed or on the ground your entire life, unless you’re a rock star sleeper your body and mind may just take a night or two to get used to it.
Hammocks are not all created equal by any means, so to avoid a bad first experience make sure you’re using a hammock designed for sleeping and not just grabbing the first backyard hammock you come across.
The phrase ‘hammock camping’ itself has grown in popularity in the last few years - there are now hammock camping books (highly recommended once you take the plunge), entire message forums dedicated to the topic, and even how-to courses popping up at local outdoor stores.
Once you’ve made the switch you’ll wonder why we need to call it ‘hammock camping’ at all.
Me? I’m just going camping - and doing it better, smarter, and more comfortably than I ever have before.
Posted in Trek Life by Seth Haber