Pros & Cons of Hammock Camping
Photo: Zach Betten

The Pros & Cons of Hammock Camping

Sleeping in a hammock remains an iconic and comfortable way to get a restful night’s slumber in just about any setting. Most beginners generally need a few pointers about how to sleep in a hammock. But with a little guidance or by watching a YouTube video, sleeping in a camping hammock can be a deep, REM-level dream in the great outdoors.

Although there’s little doubt that sleeping in a hammock is a fantastic experience, does it make sense while camping? That’s the question hikers, climbers, hunters, and outdoors lovers alike wonder as they gear up. Hopefully, this discussion about the pros and cons of sleeping in a camping hammock proves insightful.

Benefits of Sleeping in a Camping Hammock

Buddhist monks often explain that you can’t achieve enlightenment by reading a book. The same holds true for sleeping in a hammock. At some point, you will need to lay in a properly strung hammock and get 40 winks to know if this is how you want to spend the remainder of your outdoors nights. But just like the person who cracks open their first Buddhist text to gain knowledge about meditation techniques, these are some written-word benefits of sleeping in a hammock while camping.

It’s an Uplifting Experience

Our sleeping habits are generally uniform at home. We purchase beds that elevate us off the ground. Lying prone on the ground invites a host of creepy crawly things to access our bodies.

Think about going on a picnic to an area park and laying out a blanket. Now think about how long it takes to remove ants and other insects from the blanket or your legs. Not very long, right? That’s the basic issue with camping in a tent or under the tarp. Bugs are inevitably going to be crawling over your face. Sleeping in a camping hammock removes crawling bugs from the equation.

Not only does a hammock lift you away from things that crawl, but today’s state-of-the-art hammocks can also be equipped with mosquito and biting insect netting. Frankly, you are more secure sleeping in a camping hammock than your own bed. That’s why it’s uplifting in more ways than one.

Sleeping in a Camping Hammock is More Comfortable

One of the primary reasons some people prefer not to go camping is the part where you sleep on the ground. The idea of that hard surface conjures up visions of bodily aches and pains. Let’s be honest here. You wouldn’t consider sleeping on your living room floor, right?

To that end, there are all manner of camping products that claim to help achieve a reasonable night’s sleep on the ground. But thick-lined sleeping bags and blow-up mattresses are counterintuitive to how you want to sleep. Again, you wouldn’t use any of these gadgets at home. However, you would set up a hammock in your backyard because they are innately comfortable.

Science Supports Sleeping in a Hammock

A recent sleep study from the University of Geneva in Switzerland took up the question of whether or not sleeping in a hammock provided improved sleep. Researchers started with the fundamental concept that parents cradle and rock infants to sleep. Naturally, this scenario mirrored that of adults sleeping in hammocks.

After constructing a hammock-like station, 12 participants took a 45-minute cat nap each day while swaying gently. The study pointed to participants falling asleep faster. Brain activity measurements also indicated faster REM and prolonged N2 sleep. The study group overwhelmingly agreed that the gentle rocking provided by the hammock-like bed exceeded stationary mattresses. Simply put, sleeping in a camping hammock outpaces the rest everyday people get in their own bedrooms.

Hammocks are More Versatile

For the pragmatic outdoors lover, hammocks provide the flexibility necessary to negotiate a variety of landscapes. When trekking through dense forests, rocky terrain or mountain trails, there’s no guarantee that you will encounter a flat surface to bed down for the night. In many cases, there’s may not even be room to set up a tent.

Hammocks enjoy the versatility of being strung between trees or sturdy natural resources. There are also standalone ways to set up a hammock properly. With the right hammocking gear and a little imagination, your hammock becomes an actionable restful sleep station regardless of unforgiving terrain.

Hammocks Can Save Weight in Your Backpack

Technological and design advancements in the outdoors industry have significantly reduced the weight of many products. It’s true that tents are less cumbersome and sleeping bags are also not nearly as bulky.

That being said, tents still require poles and sleeping bags will likely need some type of cushion such as a camping pad to negotiate the hard ground. If you are all-in using even ultralight gear, expect to lug nearly 10 pounds of stuff. Hammocks, by contrast, reduce the amount of equipment and weight in your backpack considerably.

Slipping a hammock, blanket and insect netting into a backpack reduces the weight of tent-camping gear and accessories. Many ultralight camping hammocks weigh less than 5 pounds with the accessories. They also take up far less backpack space. That’s certainly a win-win.

But let’s not just assume that sleeping in a camping hammock is the perfect way to experience the outdoors for everyone. Like any product, there are some challenges for outdoors enthusiasts to consider.

Drawbacks of Sleeping in a Camping Hammock

The majority of campers know how to pitch a tent or at least they have the basic concept in mind. And, truthfully, today’s user-friendly tents make it as easy as assembling an Ikea coffee table. That being said, these are challenges you will need to overcome in order to utilize a camping hammock.

Steeper Learning Curve

The first challenge for beginners is learning how to sleep in a hammock. The “not knowing” has deterred more than a few outdoors aficionados from utilizing lightweight, comfortable hammocks.

Beginners will probably need to read up on how to properly string a hammock and watch a YouTube video or two. Knowing how to sleep in a hammock also entails finding the best sag and angle for your unique comfort.

You are going to need to string up the hammock and then adjust it a few times. The good news is that once you figure out the best sag for your body, setup will likely become increasingly efficient. The learning curve does require some patience.

Staying Warm Takes More Effort

Being elevated can pose a heightened challenge on particularly cold nights. It’s easy to cozy into a sub-zero rated sleeping bag and put on a knit hat. Cold weather camping in a hammock generally requires managing the drafts below and above. That means setting an underquilt as well as using a top quilt in your hammock. Again, this tends to be more of a learning curve than set back in terms of getting a good night’s sleep.

Location Limitations

It may sound contradictory to now say that hammocks have location limitations. After all, we’ve already touted their versatility. However, both things can be true under certain conditions.

While hammocks do enjoy tremendous benefits of getting you off uneven and harsh surfaces, there has to be something in place to string the hammock’s lines. If you are in the desert or on the Great Plains, there might not be a tree or boulder for miles. Either you are carrying some type of hammock poles, or you are on the ground.

In the grand scheme of things, hammock limitations tend to be more the exception than the rule. However, consider the terrain before packing your sleep gear.   

Can Be Challenging to Get In & Out Of

It’s safe to say that getting in and out of a hammock is not as mindless as rolling out of bed. Hammocks are elevated and you no one wants to take a hard fall. Part of learning how to sleep in a hammock involves the proper technique of getting in and out.

But it may surprise you to know that the process is not radically different from getting out of an ordinary bed. At the end of the day, you put both feet on the ground and stand up. It’s not necessarily tricky. However, it’s slightly different and is part of the hammock learning curve.

Is Sleeping in a Camping Hammock Right for You?

As you can see from this overview, there tend to be more pros than cons to sleeping in a camping hammock. But the decision isn’t some type of math problem in which one side adds up better than the other. Sleeping in a hammock is a real-life experience that either suit you or it doesn’t.

The benefits of elevation, versatility, improved rest and others are compelling reasons why hammocks can be right for you. On the other hand, maybe you don’t want to go through the bother of learning something new. Or, perhaps, like Buddhists say about meditation, you simply have to get into a hammock and take a nap to know. Hammocks are all about the experience.

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