How to Choose the Best Hammock

Our full test suite this time around included 11 hammocks plus accessories. Shown off to the right here is the Mambajamba tarp and Yeti underquilt for the Blackbird as well as the spreader bars for the Ridgerunner.
Article By:
Penney Garrett
Senior Review Editor
OutdoorGearLab

Last Updated:
Friday

So you want to try camping in a hammock instead of a tent? Maybe you've heard that owning a hammock can lighten your load and provide a unique experience, but you aren't sure if you will like it. Well, have no fear, we're here to help! Below, we have compiled helpful information to aid in your search for the perfect hang. Be sure to also check out our comparative review to see what models we like best.

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 setup.

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 a 6.4oz 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 any time 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.

Our sea of hammocks was a camping and lounging paradise!
Our sea of hammocks was a camping and lounging paradise!

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:

Open Models


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 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, and the Kammok Roo.

Ultralight Models


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, Hennessy Ultralite Backpacker Asym Zip, and the ENO Sub7. However the Sub7 was evaluated as part of the SubLink Shelter System, which fits more appropriately in the next category, expedition models, as does the Hennessy.

Expedition Models


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 day pack. 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.

Getting Pitched


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 your 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.

Suspension


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. Nylon webbing also comes in different widths, so for lighter weight backpacking where trees and anchors are durable, 3/4" webbing works 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.

Carabiners


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.

A few wire gate carabiner options: The Grand Trunk Nano 7 Mad Rock carabiner (left)  a generic wire gate climbing carabiner (center) and the lightest of the three which ENO includes with each of its products (right).
A few wire gate carabiner options: The Grand Trunk Nano 7 Mad Rock carabiner (left), a generic wire gate climbing carabiner (center) and the lightest of the three which ENO includes with each of its products (right).

Ridgelines


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?

A ridgeline can help keep the proper sag in your hammock at all times which means more comfort and consistency in your hanging experience.
A ridgeline can help keep the proper sag in your hammock at all times which means more comfort and consistency in your hanging experience.


Camping Tips



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.

Sleeping diagonally helps keep the body flat and in a comfortable position. Play with the angle until you find the 'sweet spot.'
Sleeping diagonally helps keep the body flat and in a comfortable position. Play with the angle until you find the 'sweet spot.'

Insulation


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 - 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 ENO Sub7 and the 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.

Adding an underquilt to your setup is a fantastic way to insulate yourself and stay noticeably warmer.
Adding an underquilt to your setup is a fantastic way to insulate yourself and stay noticeably warmer.

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!

The Reactor is made with a double layer of fabric in order to give your sleeping pad a contained space so it won't slide around as much.
The Reactor is made with a double layer of fabric in order to give your sleeping pad a contained space so it won't slide around as much.

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 camp site. 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.

A 30° angle is ideal if you plan to sleep in your hammock.
A 30° angle is ideal if you plan to sleep in your hammock.

Indian Creek
Penney Garrett
About the Author
Penney is a seasoned traveler and rock climber currently residing in sunny Colorado. She loves both sport and trad climbing, hiking, backpacking, and camping in the Rocky Mountains. Besides contributing to OutdoorGearLab, Penney does quality control for Ninety Plus Coffee and is an accomplished Paleo chef, certified nutritionist, and clinical herbalist. When she's not climbing rocks outside she loves to use her botany training to identify wild plants, collecting them for medicine or some sort of delicious concoction. Other skills range from home brewing to knitting and she's always ready for the next adventure in the great outdoors.

 
 

Follow Us




Unbiased.


You Might Also Like