Sleeping on the ground is a part of nature that no one really wants to go back to. One of the central drives behind building civilizations in the first place was an effort to avoid this. And here you are, staring at a campsite where the ground is invariably some combination of hard, wet, rocky or uneven. Tents and pads, for all their developments do not really solve this problem; they just make it less miserable. For the same kind of time and money, perhaps less, you could rise above it all.
You could spend the night in a hammock.
You’re thinking hammocks are great for napping, and you’re right, but spend the night? Yes. Seriously. There is a whole sub-culture that does this regularly, and their willingness to spend time and money on this approach has greatly improved the quality and variety of hammocks in recent decades.
But before we go any further, you should know that swinging in a hammock all through the night is not for everyone. You can stop reading now if any of the below applies:
- You have specific back issues, particularly if you have to lie flat on a hard surface. You’ll never get there in a hammock. You can get flat – and we’ll get to that – but you will never get to hard surface. That’s kinda the point of hammocks to begin with.
- You are claustrophobic. By the time you weather-proof and bug proof a hammock, something is going to be suspended a few feet from your face – all night.
- You are particularly modest. You will only try changing clothes inside the hammock once. After that, your neighbors are going to see you in your skivvies for a moment at least.
Are we still good? Ok.
You do not need an expedition grade hammock. You just want one (features, convenience, durability, the envy of others). What you need is a comfortable hammock, bug netting, a rain-fly or tarp, and a sleeping pad. Start cheap until you know you want to swing every night.
Good hammocks with mosquito netting start at around $50 and go upwards to ten times that amount for expedition grade all weather “habitats”. You can buy one with a fitted tarp (these start at around $100) or you can buy the tarp separately (and cheaply). The tarp or rain fly needs to be wide enough to cover the entire length of the hammock and should have the means to be staked down.
Hanging a hammock is all about location. You’ll need two trees or branches thick enough (you want at 8” in diameter of live wood). A Y consisting of two large branches is ideal. The real trick is finding two trees the right distance apart (most need 10-12 feet). If you want to use math, the formula is the length of your hammock and then add half that. There’s some fudge in that depending on what you use to wrap the trees. This might take a few tries. Cut a piece of string to the length of your span, so you can try out trees without dragging your hammock through the dirt. (I leave that string in place and hang clothes and other convenience items from it.)
If you can tie your shoes, you have sufficient engineering acumen to hang a hammock.
As long as you wrap all the way around the tree at least once, the choke or wrap is self-constricting; the more weight you put on it, the tighter it gets. You don’t need fancy hardware. Especially, do not screw hardware into the tree. I use two 6’ straps from old tie-down ratchets with loops tied in each end. Six feet is about the shortest you can consistently make work. The longer the straps, the more your options. Some published experts recommend at least 12 feet.
Wrap the tree, and hook both ends of the strap to the hammock (carabiners work great for this). If you need the extra length, you can pass one loop through the other and choke the tree that way – just make sure the through loop is tight against the tree .Normally, if I wrap the tree just above my head, this will put the carabiner (or whatever you use) right about at eye level – which is ideal. This will put the middle of the hammock at about seat level, which is where you want it. As you sit in the hammock, you feet should just touch the ground.
Make sure you test it with your full weight. You want to know sooner rather than later if those wraps will hold.
If your hammock came with a rain-fly then it also came with instructions, so follow those. If, like me, you use an aftermarket rain-fly, as it were, the ideal size has the corner grommets clipping into your carabiners while the tarp is taught. Stake the other two corners to the ground, leaving enough of an angle to get in and out of the hammock.
You won’t need a sleeping pad for comfort, but you might need it for warmth as it will provide a barrier between you and the wind blowing beneath the hammock. On a warm night, you can leave it out.
One last tip: set your hammock up while you’re still sober. That’s good advice from direct experience.
Spending the night in a hammock takes some getting used to, but once you get the hang of it (sorry), you’ll find that you do not miss that mean old ground at all.