The decision to leave the tent at home and hike into the hills with a hammock is a tricky one. A camper heading into a winter storm has a completely different set of problems than a desert hiker posted up at a bug-infested watering hole. The simple thing to keep in mind is that a heavy model has more features for weather and bugs, while lighter ones weigh less on your pack.
So how do you choose? First, consider what conditions you will be spending your time in. Do you need a rain fly or a bug net? Or is sleeping in an open model just fine? Second, determine if you will be using your setup as a primary means of sleeping, or mainly just for lounging around. If you have never slept in one, lounging in camp and taking mid-day naps is a great way to get used to it and determine if you could actually get a good night's sleep. If you are starting out, we suggest bringing an ultralight model on your next short backpacking trip along with a lightweight tent or shelter as backup. For those looking to head out on longer trips where weather can't be as easily predicted or changes in elevation can create colder nights, fully-rigged backcountry versions can be brought as a replacement for a tent altogether, helping reduce pack weight and adding comfort and versatility to your camp set-up.
If you plan on sleeping out all night, there are more things to consider than with tent camping. Your preferred sleeping position and body type will play a role in your happiness while hanging. There's no point dragging something out that isn't suited to your body type - you just won't be comfortable. Despite the best tension and body-position adjustments, a narrow, minimalist model likely won't feel good for a broad-shouldered, 195-pound person. Likewise, someone that's petite may feel suffocated by excess fabric in a double-person model that they're using solo. Manufacturer's specifications will give you absolute weight limits and material dimensions, and our testing results will fill in the rest with perspective on suitability for different body types.
Depending on your level of commitment, our tested models range from just $20 for a light starter version to $485 for a serious backcountry setup with added accessories for harsh weather. The contender's weights fluctuate between 5.8 ounces and just over two pounds, substantially lighter than all but the most ultralight tents. However, depending on the style and whether accessories are included or need to be added, some setups with add-ons reached just over three pounds, comparable to many backpacking tents. You will need to determine based on experimentation and sleeping style which shelter makes the most sense for you.
Hammock vs. Tent?
While most people will be content using a hammock as a way to relax during the day, those willing to trade a heavy tent for a hammock in the backcountry will be rewarded with a comfortable, lighter weight, and often less expensive alternative that allows for a unique open view to the world. Of course, it won't be as hardy as a full-blown tent (don't expect to see any perched on Everest anytime soon). Yet for camping in mild weather, hammocks are durable and more than sufficient to keep the cold and bugs at bay. By using a sleeping pad for insulation against drafts below, a bug net, and a rain tarp, a hammock can become a viable alternative to a 3-season tent.
Different Types for Camping
These hanging cocoons have been around for hundreds of years, and come in many different styles. Our review is based on lightweight travel and camping models, made with strong materials and cutting-edge designs. They are sleek, smart, strong, and safe.
There are three general categories that our reviewed models can be broken down into:
These are models with a single- or two-person capacity, an open boat-shaped design, and integrated suspension system attachment points (e.g., S-hooks, carabiners, etc.). The double versions are longer and wider than their single counterparts and are great for couples to sit and lounge in, though they only really comfortably sleep one. Doubles are also an excellent option for larger campers or people who just want more space.
All of these models, whether single or double, tend to be fairly inexpensive, lightweight, and durable. Generally, they do not include a suspension system and you will have to choose and purchase that separately. Our tested models that fall into this category are the ENO Reactor, ENO Doublenest, Grand Trunk OneMade Double TrunkTech, Kammok Roo, and several of the ultralight models mentioned in the next section.
These are extreme weight cutting options for backpackers looking for the lightest setup available in order to shave ounces from their pack. These models are usually less comfortable and less durable than a regular single hammock but are perfect for the right scenario. In this category, we evaluated the Grand Trunk Ultralight Starter, Grand Trunk Nano 7, and the Sea to Summit Ultralight for open models. On the expedition side of things we tested the Hennessy Ultralite Backpacker Asym Zip, and the ENO SubLink Shelter System with Sub7.
These are burly setups designed to withstand a variety of conditions and extended stays. Many of them offer a more comfortable, asymmetrical design. They often come with features like rain flys and bug nets, and will be heavier and more expensive than any open design. In this category, we tried the Warbonnet BlackBird, Warbonnet Ridgerunner, Hennessy Expedition Asym Zip, Hennessy Ultralite Backpacker Asym Zip, and the ENO SubLink Shelter System.
Selecting the Right Model
The first decision you should make when choosing a hammock is to decide where you will most likely be using it. As a general rule, bigger, more featured models are going to be most ideal on camping trips. Usually, these come equipped with a mosquito net to keep insects out and are a bit wider in order to accommodate a sleeping bag. On the other hand, models that are best for lounging at a campsite typically don't need a bug net and are often smaller, making them easier to fit into a daypack. At nearly a fraction of the weight of an average backpacking chair, hammocks are great to add to any outdoor adventure, and if you do find you need or want accessories like a bug net or rain fly, they are readily available from various manufacturers.
Secondly, consider your body type and what will be most comfortable for you. Your height and weight are the best parameters to work with, as bigger, heavier people will want wider, more durable models and smaller users who want to reduce bulk in their pack may want a lightweight option. For those looking to camp or backpack, there are other considerations to keep in mind. Will there be mosquitoes? Is there a chance it will rain? How cold will it get? Look for models that come with bug nets and/or rain tarps, or investigate upgrading your open hammock with one of these accessories if you plan on using it for an extended trip where the conditions may vary.
For some of us, developing the perfect pitch is the most fun part! There are numerous websites and forums dedicated to the best way to rig up your hammock for a variety of uses and scenarios. It is also a great idea to read what the manufacturer has to say regarding the specific model you end up purchasing. There are variations in the recommendations for things like how far apart your trees should be as well as tips and tricks for any and all accessories. As a general rule you will want your suspension system to be about 6 feet high and at a 30° angle; a too-tight suspension puts excessive and sometimes dangerous force on the anchors. You're looking for a nice deep sag like a smiley face - this is steadier, drastically more comfortable, and allows for a nice diagonal lay (a position you will want to master in order to get flat enough to sleep a full night).
Many of the models we tested require the additional purchase of a suspension system, something to keep in mind when considering the price point. Others come fully equipped but may still need a few small additions such as stakes, carabiners, or a ridgeline. Be sure to take a full inventory of your system before heading out.
You have lots of options for how to hang your hammock. If your chosen model doesn't come with a suspension system, you can either purchase one (of which there are plenty to choose from, in varying lengths, materials, and styles), or you can rig up your own system with rope or webbing. Please remember that it is highly discouraged to suspend your setup with rope alone, as it's very hard on the trees. A proper suspension system is preferred, or you will need to pad the rope with foam, towels, etc. to help protect the cambium layer of the tree. When the bark on a tree gets damaged, it can quickly have devastating effects.
If you choose to rig up your own suspension system, the best option is one-inch nylon webbing - it is inexpensive, durable, easy to find, and is wide enough to be safe for trees, though wider will be even safer. Nylon webbing also comes in different widths, so for lighter weight backpacking where trees and anchors are durable, 3/4" webbing can work fine and sheds a few ounces. Regardless of where you are camping or what system you already have, it's never a bad idea to bring a few extra feet of webbing to extend your system in case trees and anchors aren't conveniently close together.
Climbing grade carabiners are ideal for connecting to a suspension system. Most hammocks are built with a short bit of cord at either end where the material is gathered, though some lighter models eschew the extra cord in place of threading a carabiner straight through the fabric, like on the Grand Trunk Nano 7. Consider how your system needs to be hung and who will be using it before buying a carabiner - you don't want to find yourself on the ground due to using a carabiner that wasn't properly weight-rated! Our favorite carabiners, which you can read about here, are lightweight wiregate models.
Ridgelines help keep the proper sag in your hammock. This is helpful when you can't find anchor points at the ideal distance apart for the length of your system. They also take extra pressure off your anchor points, help provide a steadier/less tippy lay, and give you a place to hang pouches or gear. The recommended starting point for the length of your ridgeline is 83% of the length of your hammock and shouldn't be so tight that you can't bend it. Did your eyes just glaze over at the mention of doing math? Don't worry, it's just a one-time thing to give you a measurable starting point. From there, you can experiment and adjust to your personal comfort. Feelings are better than math, right?
The Diagonal Lay
One might assume that the best way to sleep is lengthwise, head and feet in line with the anchor points. While that might be comfortable for a short while, it puts the body at a weird angle and can be uncomfortable during a full night's sleep. The ideal way to sleep is to angle the body at a slight diagonal, with the feet slightly higher than the head. The goal is to keep the body as flat as possible, resulting in a secure, comfortable sleep. In addition, some models like the Warbonnet Blackbird and Hennessy Expedition Asym Zip are built asymmetrically to better accommodate this position. It's easier to achieve this diagonal angle in wider models, which is one of the reasons why roomier designs can be more comfortable.
Because hammocks have you floating in the air above the ground, air naturally circulates underneath you. When it's hot and muggy outside this is a fantastic bonus, but when there's a slight chill in the air, not so much. It really doesn't have to be all that chilly either - as soon as you reach more moderate temperatures, like 65-70°, you will notice a difference in the heat loss below you. This is especially an issue with ultralight models. The Sea to Summit Ultralight, ENO Sub7, and Grand Trunk Nano 7 are fantastic for shedding weight from your camping setup, but be forewarned that you will feel even the most delicate of breezes.
There are several options to combat this issue. The easiest fix is to line the base of your hammock with blankets, a yoga mat, or a sleeping pad. You can double or triple up on these things, too. The only problem with this method is that condensation tends to collect on the hammock bottom overnight, meaning you will wake up with some damp insulation layers.
If you want to get fancier, most manufacturers sell underquilts: insulating sleeping-bag-like blankets (often down-filled) that hang right below you. There is no issue with condensation with these and you can often stay much warmer because your body weight isn't compressing the insulation. Underquilts generally come in full length and torso length. With the torso length models, you will need to insulate your feet inside separately.
Slippery Sleeping Pad?
Sleeping pads are often made of smooth material, which can mean sliding off of them becomes a problem. It's not fun to wake up in the middle of the night cold and with your pad on your face or the ground. Many models come with a double layer of fabric to slide your sleeping pad into, such as the ENO Reactor and the Warbonnet Ridgerunner (the Blackbird can also be ordered this way, but we didn't test that model). However, if you find this is an issue and you don't have that extra layer, you can stuff your pad into your sleeping bag to keep it from sliding around. This can create drafts with wider or larger pads, so make sure to snug up that mummy collar!
Look Out for Widow Makers!
Be cautious with anchors before using them! Old, dead trees and branches, or "widow makers", should always be avoided, not just as an anchor point but above any campsite. Make sure every anchor point is thick and bomber; we prefer trees at least 8" in diameter. If you are not sure if the tree is strong, throw the strap around it and give it a tug — does it sway much? If so, look for a new anchor. Consider how much weight will be stressing the tree before committing to a night hanging off of it.
Camping With Friends
Our favorite way to camp with friends is to find two or three trees that are equal distance apart in the shape of a triangle or rectangle. This allows several hammocks to be set up a few feet from each other, keeping everyone within earshot. It's a great way to design a kitchen in the backcountry as well, as dishes and drinks can be easily passed around!
The Perfect Hang Angle
The consensus for most users is that, when hung, your suspension straps should be at about a 30° angle. This allows for a very flat platform to sleep on diagonally and can be adjusted depending on the type of hammock you have. Stretchier fabrics have more give and should be a bit more taut than firmer models. We also recommend sleeping with your feet slightly higher than your head to keep them from sliding out.