These are not your grandpa’s hammocks. Growing up, you may have thought of hammocks as those swingy backyard pieces of fabric or rope where your dad or grandpa snored away an afternoon. Maybe it was attached to a tree, or maybe it was a monstrosity held up on both ends by a giant metal stand.
Hammocks have evolved since then into sleek, efficient, lightweight and portable places to sleep while you achieve the outdoor adventures you’ve always dreamed about pursuing. The flexibility of a hammock – you can sleep just about anywhere that will hold your hammock straps – makes it the perfect outdoor accessory.
Plus, it’s just fun to sleep while you’re swinging on air.
But how do you know what hammock gear you need to buy? Can you buy an all-in-one kit or do you need to piece everything together yourself? This hammock gear guide will give you a brief introduction to the hammock camping gear that will take your next outdoor trip to the next level.
We can’t give you one single best hammock for camping, but if you follow these general guidelines, you should do just fine as you put together your hammock camping gear list and the hammock accessories you’ll need.
Because you are swinging in a hammock with air flowing above and beneath you, your body will have a tendency, especially in colder weather, to get chillier than you would in a traditional tent where the ground is under you and the tent roof keeps air from blowing through the tent.
The solution to the dreaded “cold bottom syndrome” is an under quilt, which usually hangs underneath the hammock. Typically made of some sort of insulating material such as goose down or a synthetic version, under quilts provide a level of thermal efficiency that enables you to push the boundaries of cold weather camping.
One tip: as you’re looking for an under quilt, try to find one that mimics the shape of your body when you’re lying down.
These quilts also come in full or partial (3/4) length – what you choose depends on the type of camping you’re doing, how much weight you want to carry and how cold the temperature is outside.
Top quilts also provide a layer of insulation to keep you warm. You can buy a top quilt made specifically for use in a hammock, or if you already own a sleeping back, you can simply unzip the bag to create a perfect top quilt that will keep you snug. Make sure your quilt or bag is rated for the temperature levels you’ll be experiencing.
While some find that an under quilt provides enough protection from the cold, others like to add a sleeping pad inside the hammock itself. Some campers even use just the sleeping pad as protection against the cold.
Sleeping pads can either be inflatable or filled with some sort of downy insulation. Closed cell foam pads can also work.
While you can use a traditional camping sleeping pad, you may want to look for a pad designed and shaped specifically to fit in a hammock.
Camping pads are usually rectangular, and the sharp corners do not fit well in a narrower hammock. Hammock sleeping pads feature tapered ends that slide easily into the hammock.
While they are not strictly necessary, a hammock pillow makes for a nice accessory – it will definitely give you a better night’s sleep than your rolled up sweatshirt or coat. Look for one that works in both cold and hot conditions (i.e. made of both fleece and microfiber). You can usually stuff the pillow into a small sack that’s easily portable. Bonus: you can use the pillow in other circumstances where you need to catch some shut-eye, such as in the back of a car on a long road trip or on a cross-country plane flight.
To use a hammock, of course, you must actually hang the hammock between two appropriate anchor points. How you go about accomplishing this task will depend in large part on where you are hanging the hammock, but a few basic principles will help.
If you are hanging the hammock in a permanent or semi-permanent spot (a bedroom, a gazebo behind the house, etc.) you’ll be fine sinking a couple of bolt hooks into the wall or a post at each end of the hammock and attaching your straps to the bolts. Since the hammock will stay in the same spot, you won’t have to worry about it once you do the initial setup.
If, however, you’re the outdoorsy type who wants the freedom to move that a lightweight camping hammock provides, you want a more flexible setup. This is easily accomplished with a series of straps or ropes, along with a little hardware. You simply wrap the cord, rope or strap around a tree and connect it with a hook on the end of your hammock, depending on how it’s designed.
The hardware may be a carabiner as well. Do the same on the other end – the ideal distance between hanging points is 13-16 feet, but you can reach as far as 20 feet with longer straps – and you’ll be good to go.
You can often buy hanging or suspension kits for hammocks already assembled, or you can buy your own rope and hardware to put together your own kit. Look for quality materials, not just the cheapest you can find.
As with any equipment in our outdoor life, accidents happen. Tears and snags occur, maybe you set your hammock up too close to the campfire, or maybe you got a little excited with your pocket knife.
Whatever the case, we know wear and tear happens. To deal with this, just pick up a hammock repair kit from any hammock or outdoor store that stocks hammock supplies. A good kit should provide a simple peel-and-stick application that will let you fix small holes and rips that are about three inches or less.
With this simple, lightweight repair kit, you will be protected from those small incidents that can quickly become annoying.
Probably the biggest disadvantage to hammock camping is that with a traditional hammock, you are unprotected from bugs and mosquitoes that want to make a meal out of you. They are masters at finding exposed skin, so you don’t want to leave anything to chance on those summer camping trips – make sure you get a good mosquito or bug net for your hammock.
Make sure the netting you buy is superfine no-see-um netting that protects you from even the smallest buzzing insects. You want as much protection as possible, so look for netting that offers 360-degree bug protection. You also want to be able to get in and out of your hammock as easily as possible, so look for zippers on the sides that operate smoothly.
If full net protection is too much for you (or if you just don’t want to carry a net), think about using a head protection net that surrounds just your head to keep bugs off your face.
Hammocks do not come with a roof like tents do, so many campers choose to add a tarp over top of their hammock. There are as many different tarp options as there are hammock assemblies, so you can pretty much pick whatever you like for this category of hammock camping accessories.
Some prefer to enjoy full coverage from a tarp to keep all chance of rain and wind away, while others opt for a smaller version. Your choice will depend on how much coverage you want, how much the tarp weighs, the type of camping you’ll be doing, the versatility and durability of the tarp, and more.
Tarps do exist that are designed specifically for hammock camping, but in reality, almost any tarp will work. A larger, full-coverage tarp does work better during the wintertime – some manufacturers even add “doors” as an add-on.
Large tarps also provide more privacy when you need to change your clothes, although they can be harder to pitch and will weigh more.
Various shapes are available, from square to rectangular to asymmetrical. Regardless of the style you pick, make sure the tarp extends about 6 to 12 inches beyond each end of your hammock. You will also need rope or cord for a ridgeline and guy lines to set up the tarp.
So there you have it. You are now ready to go forth and conquer the hammock world, armed with the knowledge and information necessary to find the best hammock equipment for you. Even if you buy a full kit, you will be more educated about what goes into the package. If you want to put everything together yourself, you can now do that too, based on our list of hammock accessories.
A wondrous world of hammock camping and relaxation is now open to you. This revolution in outdoor sleeping is enough to keep you from coming back inside – or maybe you can even find a way to use your hammock indoors.
Whatever the case, your hammock awaits!