Ten reasons why you should try hammock camping

Hammock camping is taking Scouting by storm. More and more troops are integrating them into regular monthly outings and sightings at high-profile events such as recent world and national jamborees.

But what is hammock camping all about, and should your troop really take it seriously? Are hammocks really that great? Most folks are convinced only after they get a chance to lay in a hammock, but until that opportunity comes, here are my top 10 reasons to consider hammock camping:

10. It’s affordable! Hammocks are some of the simplest shelters around and have been used for centuries. A basic hammock costs as little as $20, and models with integrated bug nets (e.g., “jungle hammocks”), can be found for $60. Our Scout troop chose to make their own hammocks, complete with zippered bug netting and inexpensive tarps, for $30 a piece. High-end commercial camping hammocks, complete with tarp and bug netting, are still reasonable at $100.

9. It’s lightweight. A fully decked-out camping hammock, complete with zippered bug netting and a tarp, can weigh as little as 30 ounces. Creative hangers have gone sub-ultralight with hammock set-ups as light as 13 ounces.

8. It’s packable. Unless you’re tarp camping, most Boy Scout backpacking tents are bulky. Splitting up poles, rain fly, and tent body help distribute the mass, but they still take up a lot of room. Most camping hammocks stuff down to the size of small cantaloupe. An 8-foot by 10-foot tarp can fold down flat and tight, freeing up room and reducing weight.

7. It’s refreshing! At a summer camp in West Virginia, I remember being cooped up in a dome tent desperately seeking ventilation. Even with all the doors, vents, and windows open, there was little I could do to cool off. Hammocks, by comparison, are built specifically for hot, muggy climates. With 360-degree air circulation, hammocks are the perfect summer accommodation with superior ventilation, convective cooling, and air flow. Fast-drying nylon camping hammocks can even be sprayed with water for refreshing evaporative cooling.

A sample of the illustration guide in “The Ultimate Hang.”

6. You can still use your regular sleeping bag and pad. A hammock doesn’t replace the need for adequate insulation, but you don’t need to spend a fortune to stay warm. You can use the same bedding from a tent, including a good sleeping bag and insulated pad (closed-cell foam or self-inflating). With the right insulation, you can hammock camp year round.

5. It reinforces and supports the Youth Protection guidelines. Hammocks are designed for single-occpancy, providing separate accommodations in a private, bug-free enclosure. Privacy for the youth is promoted with a fully-enclosed, individual shelter where the Scout can change clothes and be protected.

4. It’s Leave No Trace friendly. Hammocks can be set up in impact-resistant places where tents cannot comfortably go, such as over boulders and rock fields. Hammocks are also suspended above the ground, which reduces trampling at a camp site. In addition, the ground no longer needs to be cleared of rocks, twigs, or other offending discomforts, leaving a site in a more pristine condition. And with protective webbing straps, trees are protected from strangulation and scarring.

3. It gets you off the rocks, roots, bugs, muck, and slope of the ground. Speaking of discomforts, hammocks hang above them all. You no longer have to find a level spot and you can avoid the unpleasant routine of scraping the tent floor of gunk and drying out the tent before packing. Hammocks can be pitched without ever touching the ground, and mildew-resistant nylon hammock tarps can be packed separately when they get wet.

Image courtesy of Grand Trunk.

2. It makes camping exciting! Scouts love hammock camping—it’s just plain fun! No matter how many times I bring hammocks on camping trips, they seem to maintain their novelty and attraction with the boys. When I started up with a new troop in Arizona, I noticed that several boys and leaders had a certain apathy toward camping, but after introducing hammocks, their interest was piqued. I used a hammock during our 50-mile backpacking trip and afterwards the Scouts were begging to get their own. During subsequent troop meetings, we sewed up hammocks for each Scout. Now, both youth and adult Scouters ask about upcoming camping trips and whether or not we can bring hammocks.

1. It’s incredibly comfortable. The number-one reason Scouts should use hammocks camping is because hammocks are extremely comfortable. No more rocks and roots in your back, and no more sliding on uneven ground. Scientific research confirms that the gentle rocking motion contributes to deeper, more fulfilling sleep. During long-term resident camping, hammocks provide a cozy bed you can look forward to night after night.


Derek Hansen is a lightweight backpacker, Scoutmaster, and “hammock enthusiast” who enjoyed his first hammock hang at age 14 at the BSA Beaver High Adventure base in Utah. He has compiled more than 200 illustrations in his new book, The Ultimate Hang: An Illustrated Guide to Hammock Camping.

Read more about hammock camping (and order Hansen’s book, The Ultimate Hang, $14.95) on his Web site: www.theultimatehang.com. Plus, follow Hansen on Twitter (@TheUltimateHang) for more interesting hammock-camping tips. You can also “like” his Facebook page to follow him on his hammock-camping adventures.

34 thoughts on “Ten reasons why you should try hammock camping

  1. Wow this is good news. Good job Derek for getting a write up in Scouting Mag. I’m also a hanger (and most of my troop) As an older scouter sleeping in a hammock has been the the best thing ever. No more back pain from sleeping on the ground. More info hammockforums.net.

  2. I get how hammocks would work well in warm climates. I napped in hammocks when I was a missionary in the jungles of Venezuela, but now I live in Oregon. It is rarely warm and often wet. Are hammocks still a good alternative to tents in such a climate?

    • @howarthe – YES! Hammocks can be used year-round and especially in wet climates. I use mine throughout the winter in Flagstaff and friends of mine have used hammocks as low as -20°F in Michigan. Hammocks are a wonder in wet climates as they get you off the soggy soil and you’re fully covered from above (and every side with a good tarp). One night when I was a scoutmaster in Virginia, our troop spent the night in a campground that was so impacted that the soil was rock-solid. Several scouts’ tents were under water by morning, but those of us in hammocks hung above it all. We had a lot of hammock converts after that. Check out my book and blog for lots of details on how to stay dry, warm, and bug free year round. http://theultimatehang.com/2012/06/tips-for-pitch-perfect-hammock-camping/

    • Absolutely… You can use the hammock in any climate. There are a lot of people using them in colder climates. Your sleeping pad changes from rock protection on the ground to insulation in the hammock.
      And as SteveS said below, there is more info at hammockforums.net.

    • Yes, Hammocks work well in the wet climates. With little practice you will be able to hang your tarp and then the hammock right underneath it without either ever touching the ground keeping it dry and clean. Then after you sit in the hammock OFF with your muddy shoes and then you lay in your clean, dry hammock. Ripstop also drys fairly quickly so when your hammock does get wet, it just needs to hang out a bit to dry. Luckily, hanging out is it’s normal position.
      When it’s cold, your sleeping pad will insulate your back from the air underneath while you sleep cozy in your sleeping bag. For more comfort you can make an underquilt which is suspended under your hammock from the same suspension and the UQ will keep you warm with more comfort then a pad. If you can make it out of down your underquilt will pack down to just a little bigger then your sleeping bag.

      I sleep in a Hammock every night having abandoned sleeping in a bed over a year ago. When I go camping, I just change my bedroom not my bed.

    • Yup, they sure are. With the addition of an underquilt and a ridgeline to string a tarp overhead, hammocks work great in any climate.

      A bit of web research will net you some great sources of info on YouTube and in internet forums. BushcraftUSA, Blades and Bushcraft and HammockForums are good places to get info on hanging. Shug Emery has a YouTube channel with some of the best info I have found: http://www.youtube.com/user/shugemery

      There is nothing you need for a hammock that you cannot make fairly easily…including the hammock. Enjoy!

      • Except trees :) lack of suitable suspension points at your campsite is the one disadvantage that can bite you. Love my hammock – just saying

    • Yes, absolutely! Hammocks excel in wet and cold climates — just Be Prepared for the elements with a good tarp for rain protection and insulation to stay warm. Friends of mine have hammock camped in Minnesota cold -23°F. BRRR! They were toasty warm and dry.

      In Oregon, you’ll probably want a larger tarp, like a Hex or rectangle tarp. There are hammock tarps with “doors” on the peaks that offer 360° protection and privacy.

      For warmth, adding a sleeping pad and bag inside is often adequate for 3-season camping. And for winter camping, you’ll just need more insulation, just like in a tent.

    • I live in Wisconsin and started “hanging out” last fall. I have used my hammock in sub-freezing weather using a camping using an insulated pad and was just as warm as I would have been in a tent. Our troop attended scout camp last week where we had higher than normal temperatures, so I didn’t use a pad. I found it to be much more comfortable than last year when I was in a tent.
      As for rain, the rain fly that comes standard with the ENO system that I use has kept me dry in several severe thunderstorms.
      A hammock may be more beneficial to you than a tent, as you can set up in wet weather and not have to worry about setting up in a low spot or on damp ground.

  3. Just used my new ( GI jungle style) hammock for the first time last week during the entire week of summer camp. First time I went camping that I didn’t come home with an aching back.

    Every scout wanted to try it out and they all thought it was cool.

    Waiting to see how many scouts buy one now since I was the first in the troop to get one.

  4. My first hammock hang at scout camp was horrible! I froze and my legs went to sleep in the banana position–which I found out later is the WRONG way to sleep. Derek’s book and demonstrations have been a life saver and I’m taking the book with me to the Grand Canyon next week to really enjoy the nights ‘hanging’ right! I love hammocks!

  5. Also forgot to mention, my present hammock is made directly from a 90×132 Crinkled Taffeta Tablecloth I bought online. Merely gather and whip the ends with about a foot of cord on each end and larks head my suspension on. Cost around 20 bucks and took 15 minutes. Camping sized hammocks are right around 10 bucks.

  6. hi, i am a personal friend of Derek, and go by the trail name of “te-wa”
    i encourage any and all hangers to purchase this book, it is simply the a-z of hammock camping and is well suited not just for beginners, but is a reflective resource for veterans as well.

    see the insulation chapter that discusses “underquilts” – you’ll never wanna sleep on the ground again..

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  9. My first attempt in hammock camping at scout camp was horrible! I froze and my legs went to sleep in the banana position. Now I know the comfort of sleeping well on the diagonal, thanks to Derek’s excellent tutorial. I’m off to the Grand Canyon next week with a hammock this time!

    • Perhaps. One of the issues at Philmont is the amount of traffic each site receives. If you’ve been there, you know that each backcountry campsite is extremely compacted. This is good from a LNT perspective as they are channeling the traffic into a small footprint. If enough visitors _don’t_ use tree-saving webbing straps and instead just tied ropes around trees, it is likely there would be a visible impact within a season.

      A viable alternative would be to place hammock stands at each camp site, like they do with bear bag poles. This would eliminate the potential abuse to the trees and help minimize the impact to the ground.

      Check out this photo of a hammock village at the National Jamboree: http://bit.ly/KR1AKs

      I’d personally love to see a hammock village like this at Philmont backcountry camps, and I think it makes great sense.

  10. Got this book a few days before my first attempt at hammock camping (at a scout Campout). Didn’t have enough time to order an under quilt, but at least heard about (in the book) CBS and was able to jury-rig an under quilt at the site. Temps went down to 25F (record low for campsite); was cold but didn’t freeze!

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    • There are some great options out there. Grand Trunk Goods Skeeter Beeter is reasonably priced and has a zippered bug net. Also the Hammock Bliss no-see-um no more hammock is a good value. Send me an email and I’ll give you more options.

  12. I hang in a Grand Truk (400 lber) with a hammock bliss bug net and a rainfly off a old dome tent. My son has the lightweight Grand Truk and a tarp. Just search hammocks or camping hammocks online and you can find them.

    I did 4 nights 5 days on a canoe trip and was able to paddle with da utes in the morning without sucking down a bottle of Alieve. We are planning a 100+ miler and I am taking the hammock.

  13. Yeah, backpacking hammock camping is quite different. Tent camping is all right but camping with a hammock has its definite advantages. It keeps you off the ground so there’s no clearing the area, only finding suitable trees to strap the hammock to.

  14. For the past 5 or 6 years, over half of our troop sleeps in hammocks during summer camp and only use the tents to change in and keep their gear.

  15. I’ve been hanging for 3-4 yrs now and absolutely love it. Between Derek’s book, Shug’s 10 video series for noobs (shugemery on YouTube) & http://www.hammockforums.net you can get information overload but everyone is so helpful.

    I got a friend involved in hanging that spread to at least 2 of his kids and one of my scouts went to sleeping full time in a hammock at home after summer camp last year.

  16. Used my hammock this weekend out with my Boy Scouts. I love it and doubt this fat, old man will ever go back to a tent if I can help it. But, I have a couple of caveats: get a big rain tarp, you’ll be glad you did. Work out where to put your heavy gear: pack, shoes, etc. varies, some times on ground (no food. Mainland bears and Hawaii cats, mongoose love food on ground). Last don’t forget you will be colder in the wind. Great when it’s warm, but about 4:30 AM in a 20 MPH trade wind, your hut gets cold.

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