Your choice of shelter is one of the most important decisions that you will be making as a thru-hiker (along with boots and backpack).
It’s very important to think critically about what type of shelter best suits your needs, as you will be spending a lot of time in it on the trail.
You don’t want your trip ruined by a bad sleeping situation.
A couple of popular shelter options for thru-hikers are the 2 Person Hammock Tent and the Ultralight Bivy sack.
Let’s break down the differences between these two popular types of gear.
2 Person Hammock Tent
The two-person hammock tent is a hammock, made from synthetic weather resistant material, that can fit two people.
Most of these hammocks include sturdy carabineers for better gripping of trees.
In many cases, you will need to attach a rain fly and/or bug net to protect yourself from the elements once inside.
This method keeps you off the ground and is becoming more popular among some hikers.
Ultralight Bivy Sack
The ultralight bivy sack is essentially a covering that fits your sleeping bag and provides protection from the elements while you are in it.
Think very small tent.
It goes on the ground and is very lightweight and efficient, although there is no space to do anything besides recline and sleep in it.
Its small footprint makes it easy to set up versus traditional tents.
Camping bivies are adapted from military bivy sacks, which is why they are generally the most Spartan option.
Hammock Camping For The More Adventurous Backpackers
Hammock camping has become more popular recently as hammocks have improved.
This can be a great way to sleep while thru-hiking if you know there are going to be enough trees to suspend yourself on the trail.
It’s also the best option if you know comfortable ground at the campsites may be lacking.
You will almost certainly need to purchase a hammock tent bug net and rain fly.
This will help protect you from the weather and creepy crawlies on the trail if you go this route.
The only difference between a 1 person vs 2 person hammock is the size of the tarp.
2 person hammock tents can be a great bonding experience on the trail with someone you’re close to, and can also save weight and setup time.
One of the biggest considerations to think about with hammocks is the type of weather you expect to use them in.
3 Season Hammocks
3 season hammocks are widely available and can be used comfortably spring till fall.
However, if you are considering planning a hike in the winter with a hammock tent, you will need to specially prepare for the conditions.
4 Season Hammocks
4 season hammock camping can be done, however, it will require you to invest in some extra gear.
This may include items like top quilts, under quilts, and other insulation to keep you warm.
You may also need a rain fly that provides 360-degree coverage to protect yourself from the snow.
That said, some hikers to enjoy hammock camping in the winter as it keeps them off the snowy ground.
If this is a route you want to go, the Clark Jungle Hammock may be right up your alley.
It is a bit pricey for a hammock tent, but you do not want to skimp or take risks when it comes to camping in the dead of winter.
Thru-Hiking The Appalachian trail
If you are thru-hiking the Appalachian trail, both ultralight bivy sacks and hammock tents may be good options.
The AT is heavily wooded, and many of the campsites are notorious to have poor ground for pitching tents, so hammock tents can work well here.
Pack space is a critical commodity when it comes to these months-long hikes, so if you are trying to save room, a bivy sack can be a great piece of ultralight backpacking gear.
Many bivies pack down smaller than a softball, which shaves crucial ounces off your total backpack weight.
Tact Bivvy vs Outdoor Research Helium Bivy Sack
Two popular ultralight bivy sack options are the Tact Bivvy sack and Outdoor Research Helium.
The Outdoor Research Helium Bivy sack is just about the lightest, yet versatile waterproof Bivy Sack on the market.
It has served us well on multi-night trips and only takes up 18oz on your back.
If you are a minimalist thru-hiker, this is an extremely rugged, no-frills clamshell design that will keep you dry, bug-free, and comfortable at night.
The Tact Bivvy is a significantly different product. The Tact is the lightest bivy we have ever seen, and extremely cheap to boot.
This is because it is essentially just an emergency thermal blanket.
It provides enough protection from wind and rain to get you through the night, but may not withstand multiple uses.
This emergency bivy sack is more of a backup option for unexpected situations.
Gore-Tex Bivy Sack
If you do in fact choose to backpack with a bivy sack, make sure it includes a protective lining like Gore-Tex.
Gore-Tex lining is really the industry standard for camping gear weather protection.
It includes full protection against rain, snow, and cold while at the same time providing microfibers that filter air out and lets more fresh air in.
This will help to prevent the bivy from becoming too stuffy and uncomfortable.
ENO vs Hennessey Hammocks: Comparing 2 Great Parachute Hammock Tents
Both of these parachute hammock tents are popular with thru-hikers, and for good reason.
Let’s compare them.
The ENO hammocks are relatively lightweight, durable products that don’t cost a fortune.
These hammocks are extremely simple to set up and can hold up to 400 lbs.
They have become one of the most popular options out there for hammocks, especially for the more casual consumer.
It is important to note that the ENO hammock does not include a rain fly, bug net, or any other type of protection.
These must be purchased separately if you are planning on using it to through hike.
Also, this option is a little bit bulkier than other hammocks, such as the more streamlined Hennessy.
The Hennessy is a more sophisticated, lighter weight hammock, with a unique asymmetrical design that makes it lay flat
This helps you sleep more comfortably in it.
Most Hennessey Hammocks also includes netting and a rain fly, which are critical for thru-hiking.
You enter and exit through the side or bottom of this hammock, another unique attribute to the Hennessy.
In short, you get amazing comfort and protection from this hammock, almost closer to sleeping in a tent.
The Hennessy is more expensive though, and a bit more complicated to set up.
It is geared towards the more serious, all weather camper, as opposed to the more casual ENO.