Anyone who has camped has experienced the frustration of fumbling with a tent — getting caught while threading the supports through, or working through a reroll after realizing you didn’t fold it down tight enough to get it back into the bag. It’s just part of the process. Preparing a temporary shelter takes a little work. And patience.
Hammock camping, which can sound extreme to some people, requires less of both. And less space. And the payoff is pretty amazing. We tried it for the first time last summer, camping in Montana’s Glacier National Park. We had packed a couple of hammocks just in case we felt inspired. In that environment, it was hard not to be, even after packing our food in steel boxes designed to deter hungry bears.
Two of our five kids gave it a try and declared they had never slept better. It was cool, open to the stars and secluded — meaning they didn’t get an elbow to the face from a sibling in the middle of the night like they might have in a tent. Hammocks also subvert sleeping on rocks, twigs and bumpy ground. And the kids were just as protected as they would have been in a tent.
Now we’re all kind of hooked. In fact, as we started to drive home from our latest hammock-camping adventure in mid-August, one of the kids suggested we “just find some trees” and stay another night. That is the exact spirit we’re trying to instill. Here are a few reasons to give hammock camping a spin.
It embraces minimalism. Maybe you don’t camp much, or ever. Maybe you don’t have a tent or any other camping gear. With hammock camping, a hammock is pretty much all you need. We lay our sleeping bags in our hammocks, but depending on where and when you camp, you could get away with using a blanket and a small pillow. And hammocks are totally affordable. We found great hammocks on Amazon for each of our kids for about $25.
And the best part? They take up very little space. Tossed into a backpack or clipped to the outside of one, they can go anywhere, which gives you more freedom. Think of the places you could explore if you weren’t dragging a tent with you!
It takes you out of your comfort zone. Kids, and most adults, are used to sleeping inside a shelter — one with walls and a roof. And it’s normal to feel that way. It’s also part of the reason hammock camping is so great for your mental health. It challenges your comfort zone. Hammocks are fun and relaxing by day, but realizing you’ll sleep in it at night could change the tone a bit. A thin tent protects you no better from wildlife than a hammock. Honestly. Kids realize that after spending just one night in a hammock. And all of a sudden, their comfort zone has expanded.
It’s immersive. When you spend the night in a tent, you zip yourself off from your surroundings. Even if you don’t use the rainfly on a tent, the view of the night sky is still obstructed. In a hammock, there’s nothing between you and the open air, the sparkling night sky and the canopy of trees holding you up. Falling asleep to the stars, and occasionally under meteor showers, is one of our favorite perks of hammock camping. You feel the breeze, hear all the sounds from nocturnal creatures and watch as the world falls asleep.
It affords personal space. There is only room for one in a hammock, at least for sleeping. And that’s a benefit. Tent camping squeezes everyone into one small space, which can lead to sleep interference from flying elbows and snoring. Hammocks eliminate all of that. And, because they require trees, it may mean kids and parents can enjoy a little buffer of space at night that isn’t often available inside a tent.
Hammock camping tips
Test your gear. Before heading out, pull your hammock out of its bag and make sure you have straps and carabiners. Webbed straps make hanging the hammock easier, as opposed to rope or string. When buying a hammock, check to see that it comes with straps and carabiners.
Pack a tent. You’ll need a space to change if you’re around other people, and it’s nice to have a back-up shelter if it rains or if the weather turns. And, if you bring dogs, they might appreciate the cover at night.
Scout for trees. This seems obvious, but if you’re choosing a managed campsite, try to scout the tree situation before reserving. Trees — with the appropriate distance between them — are crucial for hammocks. If your site lacks what you need, check with the camp host to see if there are any alternatives.
Hang tight. Do your best to keep the head and foot straps at the same level and hang the hammock tight. Body weight will pull it down into a comfortable sling. If it’s too tight, just loosen the straps a bit.