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 10 reasons to consider hammock camping, according to Derek Hansen, a lightweight backpacker, Scoutmaster and “hammock enthusiast” who wrote The Ultimate Hang: An Illustrated Guide to 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.
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.
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.
Don’t forget to first check with the park ranger or officials to make sure it’s OK to use a hammock in the wilderness in which you’re camping.
Find hammock camping gear at your local Scout shop or at ScoutStuff.org.