Recreational hammocks are fast becoming “must-haves” for Scouting campouts, and many are small and light enough that folks bring them on day hikes, as well. Some of the primary reasons people like hammocks are because they are fun, comfortable to lounge in and pretty quick to set up. Whether you’re a veteran “hanger” or just starting out, here are some tips to make the most of your hammock.
Hang your hammock with a good sag. Too many people attempt to string up a hammock as tightly as possible between anchor points. This can cause a cocooning effect that can squeeze your shoulders and bow your back uncomfortably. Instead, try hanging your hammock with a good sag, as in a smiley face. If you really want to geek out, a good starting angle is 30-degrees from horizontal. This is the most important tip to make your hammock more comfortable. A deep sag also lowers the center of gravity, making the hammock more stable and harder to fall out of.
Lay diagonally across the hammock. Once you’ve got a good sag (see tip No. 1), you can lay diagonally across the fabric. You’ll be amazed at how comfortable this will feel as your head and feet drop down and your body reclines ergonomically flat across the fabric. This is how hammocks were designed to work.
Raise the foot end higher. In some cases, your body may naturally slide to the middle of your hammock, which can sometimes be uncomfortable. To prevent any sliding, try hanging the foot side of the hammock about 8 to 10 inches higher. This helps keep your heavier torso from sliding into the middle.
Try a knee pillow. Depending on the size of your hammock (and how tall you are), you may feel a tight ridge under your legs when lying diagonally. This can cause hyperextension on your knees. Ouch! To relieve this pressure, place some padding under your knees. Extra clothes or a small pillow would work great. (Remember: Longer, not wider, hammocks are generally more comfortable, allowing you to lie diagonally without leg hyperextension.)
Use a bug net. While some jungle hammocks come with sewn-on bug netting, simple recreational hammocks do not. No one enjoys bugs buzzing around your face, especially if those bugs bite. A full-length bug net can completely surround your hammock and create a roomy pod to read, rest and relax.
Use a sleeping pad (or under quilt). A lot of folks think all you need is a sleeping bag to stay warm in a hammock. After all, you’re off the ground, so you don’t need a pad for comfort. What that pad does help with, however, is warmth. You’ll compress the sleeping bag insulation under your body in a hammock just like you would on the ground, so you’ll feel cold in a hammock without some uncompressed insulation beneath you. To keep the sleeping pad from slipping out from under you, try putting it inside your sleeping bag.
Use a drip line on your suspension. On really rainy days, water can seep down your suspension and get your hammock wet. To prevent this, tie a drip line on your suspension, positioned under your tarp (you are using a tarp, right?). See illustration for more details.
Fold in the edge of the hammock for a more comfortable chair. Sitting in a hammock can feel like a deep bucket seat. This can be comfy, but if you want a chair that doesn’t cut the circulation off your knees and lets you sit up squarely, take the edge of the fabric and fold it toward the center of the hammock. Sit down on this doubled-over area for a nice, flat seat.
Do you have other tips for maximizing the comfort in your hammock? Please share them in the comments below.
Hammock camping can be a fun alternative to pitching a tent. Stay safe by following these safety guidelines, suggested by the BSA Health and Safety team:
- To prevent dangerous falls, hang your hammock no more than 3 feet off the ground.
- Do not hang your hammock over water features, chasms in the ground, or above tables or sharp objects.
- Do not participate in hammock stacking, in which multiple hammocks are stacked vertically.
- Just like a tent, do not keep food in your hammock.
Author Derek Hansen is an Arizona Scoutmaster and hammock-camping enthusiast who first used a hammock at age 14 at the BSA’s Beaver High Adventure Base in Utah. He’s the author of The Ultimate Hang: An Illustrated Guide To Hammock Camping (2011) and the website, The Ultimate Hang.
Great tips! I converted to a hammock 2 years ago and can’t see myself going back. As a Scoutmaster, I’m encouraging all my boys to convert as well. One thing that has really lightened my hammock system is a whoopie sling. I like them so much I’m now trying to make a little business of it. Just getting started, but check out whoopie slings at venngren dot com.
I checked those out at the website. What is shown is very thin. What are you using around the tree? There should be a wide strap to protect the tree, these would cut into the bark.
Always make sure your strap will go around the tree twice, reducing the pressure and eliminating any rub.
Bryan, The whoopie sling is the suspension between the Tree hugger (tree strap) and the hammock – A 1-2″ tree strap is still used.
I’m a mom of a new scout and Don’t understand the whoopie sling pictures on your website. What is it used for? A way to adjust tension on the suspension lines? Sorry I’m new to the hammock camping scene. I grew up tent camping. 🤓
You are so right about the whoopie slings. Here in the pac nw I kept running into trees that were too big for just the tree safe straps, so I added the whoopies and wow talk about a quick and flexible set up.
also, check local regulations and camps about the use of hammocks. For example, hammocks are not allowed at Philmont. Using hammocks on a camp out are a wonderful alternative to tent camping, but you need to be aware of all local rules and policies before using them.
Under hammock safety please add: thoroughly inspect anchor trees and surrounding areas for widow makers, rot, or any other possible dangers from above. Although it wasn’t officially reported to the news media, a scout was killed in the fall of 2016 due to a tree falling (he was in his tent, another boy was getting into the hammock). I’m a member of the rescue team that responded and had to carry his body out of the woods. I’m a hammock camper myself and would recommend it to anyone, just please be aware of all dangers above and below.
Great points for anyone looking to use their hammock for the first time. Although putting up a hammock can be a speedy process, but for the first couple of times, you want to have plenty of time to put it up. And you also may need help from a friend.
Old wool hiking socks make great tree savers. Just cit toe off (ornwiden the hole already in the toe), Slide them up your flat hammock straps to protect tree from rubbing and being damaged
Assistant scoutnmsster, troop 72
A drip line certainly can save the night. Learning to setup a hammock will take more time then learning how to setup a tent.
Thanks for sharing the camping tips, I love hammock sleeping when lying on a hammock, while letting the chilly breeze caress my body is one of the ecstatic feelings