A hammock ridgeline is one of those bits of gear you have probably heard of but never given much thought to. Do you even know if your hammock has one or what type it is? It’s important to understand these, especially if you are buying new gear or accessories to add to your hammock.
Today I’ll show you what a hammock ridgeline is, the different types available, and how they are used to make your hammock camping more comfortable and convenient. I’ll also show you how to add one if your hammock doesn’t include a ridgeline.
What is a Hammock Ridgeline?
A hammock ridgeline is a length of cord or rope that runs above your hammock. Ridgelines serve multiple purposes, such as maintaining the optimal sag for a comfortable sleep, and supporting accessories like bug nets and ridgeline organizers, While recreational hammocks rarely have ridgelines, camping hammocks often include them as a standard feature. From my own experience, I find that a ridgeline is a necessity for a great hammocking experience
This article mainly covers ridgelines for gathered end hammocks which are the most popular type available. Bridge camping hammocks usually have integrated ridgelines and other supports which tend to be more complicated, but the general concepts still work.
Structural vs Non-structural Hammock Ridgelines
There are two main types of ridgelines: structural and non-structural. Structural ridgelines are integrated into the hammock’s suspension system and connect to the ends of the hammock. They maintain a consistent amount of sag in the hammock, regardless of how the hammock is hung. This means that, once you find your preferred sag, the structural ridgeline will help you achieve that same level of comfort every single time you set up your hammock.
Structural Ridgelines for Easy Hammock Setup
Most hammocks are designed to hang with the straps at about a 30 deg angle from horizontal. However, getting the perfect angle is often difficult, especially when the best trees available are a little too far apart and you end up with a shallow strap angle (closer to horizontal). With a structural ridgeline, your hammock will always have the same hang or sag as long as the ridgeline doesn’t sag.
At a perfect 30 deg, a structural ridgeline will be straight, but have minimal tension (you can bend it easily with your fingers when you are in the hammock). At shallow angles the ridgeline will become tight and start supporting some of the weight in the hammock. If you are making your own ridgeline or adding one to a hammock, be sure it’s made of high strength material to bear the load. If you want the perfect angle – just check your ridgeline tension. Or relax and don’t worry about it so much!
Another benefit is that the structural ridgeline literally sets itself up. You don’t need to mess with another line or connect extra attachment points. When you pack up, it stays in the hammock so it doesn’t need to be wound up and it never gets lost!
Non-structural ridgelines are not part of the hammock’s suspension system, and they do not affect the hang of the hammock. They also never support any of your weight (so they can be made of any material). Instead, they serve as an accessory attachment point, allowing you to add bug nets, ridgeline organizers, and tarps to your hammock setup. They can also be a fun way to support lights above the hammock.
Non-structural ridgelines are often attached to trees or sometimes to the hammock or tree straps after the hammock setup is complete.
Which type of hammock ridgeline do you need?
If you want to set the hammock sag, a structural ridgeline is necessary. After that, ridgeline type depends on the accessory you want to support with it – in some cases you may need both a structural and non-structural ridgeline. Your bug net usually defines what you need.
Hammocks with integrated mosquito nets all use a structural ridgeline where the cord is inside the net. The net usually slides over the ridgeline freely and you have complete access to the ridgeline from inside the hammock. This is a convenient setup for hanging gear within reach – and without unzipping or opening the net.
Separate bug nets either hang from a non-structural ridgeline or offer connection points on each end and. With this setup, you don’t have access to the ridgeline from inside the net. In this case, consider adding a structural ridgeline to the hammock to hang your gear.
Ridgeline organizers are any kind of pocket or hook that hangs from the ridgeline to help hang your gear. If you use one, consider whether or not you want the gear accessible when you are in the hammock. I use a ridgeline organizer with pockets for my phone and other small items like chapstick and a water bottle. You can also tuck flexible gear between the ridgeline and bug net if the bugnet is supported by the line. I do this with my headlamp strap and buff – just be aware it may fall when you get out of the hammock.
Fixed or adjustable length ridgelines
Structural ridgelines are either a fixed length or adjustable. Camping hammocks usually include a fixed length ridgeline. If you are buying it separately or making your own, you need to decide between a fixed or adjustable length ridgeline. Each option has its own advantages and suits different preferences and situations.
Fixed Length Ridgelines
Fixed length ridgelines maintain a constant length, typically set to a specific ratio of the hammock’s overall length (often around 83% of the hammock length). This ensures a consistent sag, making it easier to achieve a comfortable sleeping position every time you set up your hammock. If you’re an experienced hammock camper and have already determined your ideal ridgeline length, a fixed ridgeline is a simple and reliable choice.
Here are some common lengths used for different camping hammock sizes (Based on Dutchware sizes):
- 10 ft hammock – 100 inch ridgeline
- 11 ft hammock – 110 inch ridgeline
- 12 ft hammock – 119.5 inch ridgeline
- ENO style hammock – 93 inch ridgeline
Adjustable Length Ridgelines
Adjustable structural ridgelines, on the other hand, allow you to change the length of the ridgeline to fine-tune the sag of your hammock. This can be beneficial for new hammock campers who are still figuring out their personal preference for hammock sag or for those who like to adjust the sag based on different setups or conditions. They also provide more flexibility if you expect trees to be close together, and you can tolerate more sag in the hammock.
Adjustable ridgelines often use a whoopie sling or a prusik knot system, making it easy to lengthen or shorten the ridgeline as needed. I recommend purchasing one of these, as making one is fairly complex.
How to Attach a Structural Ridgeline to your Hammock
A structural ridgeline includes a loop on each end which can be easily attached to most gathered end hammock supports. Basically, you want to place the loop over each support and snug it down close to the fabric. If your hammock includes stitching to sew the edges of the hammock fabric together (this is common for camping hammocks), you will need to feed the ridgeline end through the fabric before sliding the loop over the support. See the pictures below for an illustration of the attachment.
If you want the ridgeline to be more secure and reduce the risk of it sliding off the ends, you can undo the support, slide the ridgeline loop onto one end, and then reconnect the support. Here is a video from Dutchware explaining this connection method.
How to Make your Ridgeline Removable
If you want to lounge in your hammock by sitting sideways rather than laying along the length, a ridgeline may be in the way. In this case, you can use a small carabiner or “ridgineline biner” to connect the ridgeline to the hammock support. This hardware allows you to remove and re-attach the ridgeline while the hammock is set up.
Hammock vs Tarp Ridgelines
When I first started researching hammock camping gear, I thought it would be great to run a non-structural ridgeline over the hammock and use this to support a hammock tarp. Unfortunately this doesn’t work very well for most hammock tarps.
Hammock tarps are designed to be structurally attached at two points to support the tarp weight and the other corners are staked out to tension the fabric. You need lines to pull or put tension on the suspensiont points for them to hang properly, so folding the tarp over a ridgeline isn’t ideal. Its best to use a ridgeline above the tarp and connect to it, or attach separate lines to each support point.
If you have a rectangular tarp not designed for hammock camping, you can fold it in half along the length or diagonal and use a ridgeline under the tarp for support. This is helpful if the tarp does not have attachment grommets where you need them.
In general however, I recommend keeping the tarp suspension and hammock ridgeline independent. This lets you set them up based on the best configuration for each need (and ridgelines are so small and light, the weight isn’t really a factor)
Learn More About Hammock Camping
Have you hammock camped before? If not, check our comparison with tent camping:
Hammock vs Tent Advice: Which Camping Style is best?
or visit our other hammock camping articles