Camping is one of the best ways to connect with nature and immerse yourself in the outdoors. Hammock camping is a unique way to experience the great outdoors and provides a different kind of camping experience. It’s comfortable and convenient and has several advantages over tent camping. However, it does have some limitations which are important to understand before you buy a hammock and purchase new camping gear.
In this article, I’ll cover the differences between hammock and tent camping, including all the pros and cons, so you can decide which type of camping is best for you.
Hammock Camping – How it’s Different
From my personal experience, hammock camping is a completely different experience than sleeping in a tent. Tents create an enclosed space for various activities like eating, playing games, or storing gear. Hammocks, on the other hand, provide a comfortable bed or couch-like experience which is perfect for sleeping, sitting, and relaxing.
Adding a rain tarp to your hammock setup provides shelter from rain and wind, but it doesn’t provide the same space a tent offers. Depending on the camping style you prefer, you may want to create additional space with a pop-up canopy or screened shelter.
Hammock Camping Gear is Different
For the best hammock camping experiences, you need different gear than tent camping. Everything needs to be designed for hanging rather than laying on the ground, which means your camping equipment will be specifically tailored to the needs of hammock camping.
First, you’ll need a camping hammock, which is different from a traditional backyard hammock, and suspension straps to hang it. You will need to choose between the two main types of hammocks: gathered end hammocks and bridge hammocks. For a lightweight hammock, stick with a gathered-end hammock which is the traditional hammock style. Camping hammocks are made from durable, lightweight materials and often include a built-in mosquito net and additional features like gear pockets or a ridgeline for hanging small items.
If you are wondering about hammock tents, they are simply the combination of a camping hammock and rain tarp which make up the complete hammock sleep system.
Next, you’ll need a hammock tarp, which is essential for providing shelter from rain, wind, and sun. These tarps come in various shapes and sizes, ranging from minimalist diamond-shaped tarps to larger hex or rectangle tarps that offer more coverage. Larger tarps are heavier but provide better rain protection – especially from wind-driven rain.
Instead of a camping mattress or sleeping pad, you will need an under quilt for cool weather. An under quilt is important for insulation, as the air beneath the hammock causes heat loss and makes you feel cold during the night. Under quilts wrap around the outside of the hammock, providing a layer of insulation that maintains your body heat.
Lastly, you need a sleeping bag, or top quilt for warmth just as you do in a tent. This is one piece of gear you can use for both camping styles. Top quilts are like half of a sleeping bag, designed specifically for use in hammocks. They drape over you and tuck around your sides, which creates fewer restrictions when moving around in the hammock. Wider versions are available which work for both hammocks and tent camping.
Campsites for Hammocks vs Tents
When it comes to choosing a campsite, tents require smooth level ground large enough for the tent. In addition, you need to be careful to avoid locations that collect water during heavy rain. Hammock camping has different campsite requirements. You will need properly spaced trees for support with no underbrush between them. Sloping hillsides, rocky ground, muddy areas, and other spots support hammock camping where tents are not feasible.
If there are no trees available, you’ll need a hammock stand or other supports. I’ve personally used a car roof rack or the rack on my camping trailer as a support in such situations.
Be aware of campsite restrictions on hammocks, as some places, like Connecticut state parks, don’t allow hammocks (or anything else) to be connected to trees. Texas state parks require 2-inch straps for hammock supports and trees must be at least 8 inches in diameter.
Benefits of Hammock Camping
Hammock camping offers a unique and comfortable alternative to traditional tent camping, with a range of benefits that can enhance your outdoor experience.
A great night’s sleep in a hammock
Most people prefer hammock camping for one reason – comfort! Hammocks contour to the shape of your body, eliminating pressure points and providing a sleeping surface that adapts to your unique form. This level of comfort is what leads many people to choose hammock camping over traditional tent camping. In fact, I have friends who now sleep in hammocks at home because they find it more comfortable than sleeping in a bed.
Hammocks are suspended off the ground, so campers don’t have to worry about rocks, sticks, or uneven ground disrupting their sleep. This elevation not only provides a more comfortable sleeping surface but also offers the added benefit of keeping you away from potential critters and insects that may be lurking on the ground. With age, it can become more difficult to get up and down off the ground, so the elevation of a hammock can be a real game-changer for older campers or those with mobility issues.
The gentle rocking motion of a hammock can also contribute to a more restful night’s sleep. This natural movement can help to soothe you to sleep, promoting relaxation and a deeper, more restorative slumber. I get better quality of sleep when using a hammock compared to sleeping on the ground. Hammocks are an excellent choice for those who struggle with sleep while camping.
Hammocks are fast to set up and take down
Another benefit of hammock camping is the easy set-up and take-down process. Hammock straps wrap around a tree and then hook onto the hammock, making it a breeze to hang. Setting up a tarp is almost as fast, ensuring you can quickly create a comfortable space to relax or sleep.
Taking down and packing up a hammock is even faster, often requiring only a few minutes of your time. Hammocks and straps stuff into a small bag, and tarps use either a stuff sack or a sleeve that slides over the length of the tarp. This quick process allows you to spend less time on camp breakdown and more time enjoying the great outdoors or moving on to your next destination.
Hammocks Stay Clean and Dry
Hammocks tend to stay cleaner and drier than tents. Tents often have condensation under the bottom surface and can collect dirt or mud, whereas hammocks never touch the ground. Hammock tarps may collect some condensation on the bottom, but they dry fast because they are not enclosed. Any moisture or debris on the tarp can be easily wiped down or shaken off much like a tent rain fly.
Limitations of Hammock Camping
Like everything else, hammock camping has its pros and cons. Learn the cons of hammock camping to decide if it’s right for you.
The Learning curve of Hammock Camping
Hammock camping does have a learning curve. You need to learn about the different gear needed, research the choices available, and buy each piece. Unlike tents, hammocks, suspension straps, tarps, lines, and stakes are often sold separately, unlike tents that usually come complete with everything you need. This allows you incredible flexibility to customize your hammock setup, but it can be overwhelming for beginners.
Additionally, it takes time and practice to set up a hammock and get used to sleeping in it. Practice at home or at a local park before you go camping. Setting up new gear for the first time at a campsite may be stressful, especially if it’s getting dark or rain is coming.
Hammocks have limited storage space
Hammock camping is limited in terms of space for gear and personal belongings. Some hammocks include side pockets or you can add them as accessories, but it’s still not as spacious as a tent.
From my personal experience, getting a hammock with a ridgeline and side pockets is a great solution for hanging your phone, headlamp, chapstick, and any other items you want at night. If car camping, I’ve found placing a chair next to your hammock provides a convenient place to stash gear within reach. If you have any food with you, store it securely in a car or cooler. When backpacking, I hang food from the end of the hammock to keep it away from raccoons and rodents (don’t do this in bear country!)
Family Camping Limitations
Hammocks are best for one person or a couple. Double hammocks fit two people in theory, but they tend to squish you together, making them less comfortable. In my experience, hammocks are most comfortable for a single person.
Spreader bars allow two hammocks to hang side by side which is great for a couple or two friends. It’s less practical for family camping. Most tarps are designed for single hammocks, and setting up a tarp for several hammocks is challenging. Grouping several hammocks under a single tarp may not be feasible for all campsites.
Hammocks Struggle in Cold Weather
Hammocks don’t handle cold weather as well as tents. The bottom of a hammock isn’t insulated by the ground like a tent is, so you need extra insulation from your under quilt. Unfortunately, these only work so far, and any gaps under the hammock will leave you with cold spots in extreme weather. In my experience, 0 degrees F is the lowest-rated temperature for most hammock quilts.
Hammock tarps are usually open and don’t hold heat as effectively as tents. Large tarps that reach the ground and fully enclose the hammock on the ends are needed for colder temperatures.
Hammocks Require Support
Hammocks require trees or a hammock stand for set-up. Trees must be spaced within a narrow range for your hammock length and suspension system. They must be large enough to hold the weight of the hammock, and you need a space between them that is clear of underbrush that might tear the hammock or under quilt. In addition, some campsites restrict any connections to trees or have specific requirements for hammock support.
If you bring a stand, consider that most hammock stands are designed for recreational use. Most stands are bulky, heavy, and don’t provide support for a tarp, making them less suitable for camping. Only a few brands, such as YOBOGear, are designed for camping, but they are more expensive.
Benefits of Tent Camping
Compared to hammocks, tents offer several camping benefits, especially for families or large groups.
Tents Give you More Space
Tents are more spacious than hammocks, providing more room for gear and personal belongings. They are available in a huge variety of sizes for families, allowing young children to sleep together or near their parents. Tents also provide a room for activities at night or in bad weather, making them more versatile in certain situations.
Better Protection from Weather
Tents generally provide better protection from the elements than hammocks. The space inside a tent is fully enclosed by either mesh or waterproof fabric, ensuring you stay dry and protected from wind, rain, or snow. Multi-layer tent designs trap body heat or allow options for heaters in cold weather, making them more suitable for a wide range of conditions.
Tents are Great for Large Groups
Large tents are ideal for group gatherings and campouts. Tents can be placed close together, not dependent on trees, making it easier to accommodate large groups in a single area. This can be a major advantage when planning group camping trips or events.
Cons of Tent Camping
Let’s be honest here – dealing with tents is a hassle and one of the reasons I rarely tent camp. Here are some of the challenges of tent camping which hammocks avoid.
Tent Setup and Take-down Difficulty
One of the drawbacks of tent camping is the longer set-up and take-down time compared to hammocks. Larger tents often require two or more people to assemble and take a large working space. Depending on the tent and your experience, it can take 15 minutes to almost an hour.
Taking down the tent is my least favorite part of camping. Tents frequently end up wet and dirty, especially on the bottom. Tents have to be folded or rolled on the ground (collecting more dirt) and packed carefully to fit in the storage bag, which can be a bit of a hassle. I often end up throwing the whole wet mess in the car, washing it off at home, and folding it indoors after it dries.
Tents are Heavy and Bulky to Transport
Most tents are much larger and heavier than hammocks due to the size and weight of the tent poles. Ultralight tents, such as backpacking tents, are available but are much more expensive than hammocks, making them less attractive to some campers. My hammock and tarp fit in a backpack or small tub and take up almost no space in the car and closet.
Tent Campsite Limitations
Finding a suitable location for a camping tent can be challenging at times. You need to search for a flat, level surface that is large enough to accommodate your tent, free from rocks, sticks, or other debris that could cause discomfort or damage your tent floor. Additionally, the spot should ideally be well-drained to avoid pooling water during wet weather and offer some protection from wind and direct sunlight. These factors can make it difficult to find the perfect spot, especially in uneven or densely forested terrain.
Sleeping on the Ground is Uncomfortable
Sleeping on the ground while camping can be uncomfortable for a variety of reasons. Even with sleeping pads, the hard, uneven surface can create pressure points on your body, leading to discomfort and a restless night’s sleep. Rocks, sticks, and tree roots beneath your tent only make it worse. Sleeping on sloping ground means you slide off your sleeping pad or mattress and move throughout the night.
Additionally, the cold ground can sap your body heat, making it difficult to stay warm throughout the night, even with a good-quality inflatable sleeping pad. Home air mattresses are even worse in cold weather. These factors can leave you feeling stiff and sore in the morning, impacting your overall camping experience.
Learn More about hammock camping
Hammock and tent camping both have their pros and cons, and the best choice for you will depend on your personal preference, the type of camping you plan to do, and the conditions you expect to encounter. I encourage you to learn more about hammock camping and explore the various options available. Visit our other hammock camping articles to learn everything you need!