Ultralight hammock camping is one of the newest and most exciting ways to hit the trail.
An ultralight hammock is easy to setup, reliable and just a flat out fun way to experience the backcountry.
One of the biggest obstacles that new and more experienced backpackers face is finding a tent that fits their needs on the trail and when they lie down to rest at night.
Because ultralight hammock camping is still a relatively new concept most backpackers stick with the tried and true tents.
Yet they still complain of being uncomfortable due to lack of space and having to lie on the hard ground below.
A good ultralight hammock addresses all of those concerns and can help reignite your passion for the trail.
Be sure to check out our reviews of the Best Camping Hammocks
Ultralight Hammock Camping Is For Real
I’ll admit it… When I first heard about hammock camping, I had plenty of questions.
“So, you like, uhh, sleep in a hammock?”
“How do you fit a hammock in your pack?”
Up to that point my only experience with a hammock was my parents’ backyard hammock.
The one that I’d get inside and almost always on cue flip over.
There was no way you could convince me this was a reliable camping shelter.
Then after hearing enough testimonials from friends who were foregoing tents and bivy sacks and even gravity for that matter to camp in an ultralight hammock i figured I had to try myself.
Part of the inherent nature of being a lightweight backpacker is your affinity to try new things.
And sleeping should be no different.
As long as it allows me to keep a lighter pack and get at least a half decent night’s rest, I’m game to try anything.
Why Ultralight Hammocks Are So Awesome
A lot of people say they love camping because they love to sleep under the stars.
But as soon as night falls they quickly dip into the solitude of their tent, zip up the fly and go to sleep.
While sleeping in a tent is the preferred method for most campers, no shelter connects you to the surrounding nature like a hammock.
You fall asleep counting the stars while spending the night breathing in the fresh mountain air.
Then you wake up to the beautiful scenery that you trekked so hard to get to the day before.
This is what your missing when you sleep in a tent.
Not to mention spending the night marinating in all the synthetic materials that make up the tent construction.
For many people the sensation of feeling suspended in the air is much more preferable to sleeping on the ground.
Some people even use hammocks as their main bed for sleeping at home.
And even more people are starting to do it occasionally!
Hammocks are also more lightweight and portable than a tent.
Even with a full set up including a mosquito net, rainfly, premium hammock straps and suspension system, you are still saving a ton of space and weight compared to a tent.
Amazingly, there are enough available accessories that you can create a fully elevated shelter that will protect you from most harsh weather.
How Ultralight Camping Hammocks Work
The first thing you have to know about hammock camping is that it’s a great option for shelter in almost any environment that involves trees.
When thinking about a hammock, most people have the image of those heavy, canvas rope hammocks that you see in backyards.
You see them on sale at Costco next to the inflatable pools.
But a good ultralight hammock is much lighter than these backyard hammocks.
They also take up much less space in your bag than even a lightweight tent.
When setting up the hammock, it is always better to use tree straps instead of raw rope.
Only using rope to tie your hammock can dig into the bark and severely damage the tree.
Many hammock manufacturers will include a pair of rope or straps and market it as their “suspension system”.
Using specific tree straps to spread out the pressure being applied to the tree can help prevent any unnecessary damage.
At the very least a hammock is good for an emergency situation.
Most come in bright colors that can be spotted by other campers or (god forbid) rescue workers.
Or if you have a soaked sleeping bag the hammock can act as a backup.
Find The Right Trees
Be sure to choose strong, older trees as you’ll be applying a good amount of horizontal force to each side of the hammock.
Most importantly, always choose sturdy trees with thick trunks and strong branches that can support your full weight.
And remember to avoid dead trees as their core may have rotted away and your weight could cause them to snap.
Be aware of what is above you as well.
Make sure there are no dead or sickly looking branches high up that look like they could break off and fall.
If you are camping in the winter take note that snow and ice can add additional weight that pushes these branches past their breaking point.
As a note of safety, never hang an ultralight hammock higher than you’re willing to fall.
Also, always inspect your gear for any defects or signs of damage beforehand to avoid jumping in your hammock and accidentally ripping through the fabric because you didn’t notice a tear.
Ultralight Hammock vs Backyard Hammock
The biggest misconception with sleeping in a hammock is that its uncomfortable.
“They’re so small, wont you be squished like a sardine?”
“I always fall out of backyard hammocks, how are these any different?”
An ultralight hammock is made with more stretchy, lightweight materials as oppose to a regular backyard hammock made out of rope.
Backyard hammocks also come with a spreader bar on the ends.
These bars actually make the hammock less comfortable and less stable.
Some companies have designed ultralight hammocks with well positioned spreader bars known as bridge hammocks.
They differ from the rope hammocks by spreading only a part of the material open and can be quite comfortable.
Ultralight Hammock Tips For Best Use
When setting up your ultralight hammock be sure to keep enough slack in the straps and resist the urge to keep the material taut.
You want enough material to find the right fit for your body to lay comfortably on.
The straps will give you a firm enough grip to stay secure regardless of how loose you keep them.
Also experiment with lying at a diagonal, 30 degree angle from the midline of the hammock.
This will give you a natural flat lay.
Take advantage of the loose material to stretch out and use the full width of the hammock.
When done correctly your body will be relatively flat while your neck and feet will be slightly elevated.
Doing this should make the hammock hug the natural contours of your back.
You’ll notice that the center of the hammock is the tightest, while the sides remain loose.
The hammock will flatten out underneath you and give you a flat lay without pressure points.
Hammock Camping Gear
Most hammocks on the market today should come with hanging straps.
If not, you can find them quite inexpensively on Amazon.
Check out the MalloMe XL Hammock Straps
You also want to invest in a hammock rain fly.
These flies are made from silnylon, a lightweight waterproof material that is several times lighter than a regular blue tarp and just as waterproof.
They are very popular w. the ultralight backpacking community.
Different rainfly shapes exist that offer varying degrees of protection.
For instance, a diamond rainfly may offer decent rain cover and cuts a bit of weight, but suffers in heavy wind conditions.
Check out the High Country Hikers Hammock Rain Fly Tent Tarp
A hexagon fly covers a greater amount of area, but you have to stake four corners instead of just two.
Check out Tarp Shelter by Gnarwhal Gear
For the real heavy storms, there are rainflies that can completely envelope your hammock.
These transform your hammock into a floating tent that gives you protection on every front.
A lot of hammocks on the market today come with these amenities, but a lot do require you to purchase them separately.
Make sure they fit your specific model otherwise you might run into fitting problems.
Check out Bear Butt Rain Fly
Mosquito Net Protection
When it comes to bug protection the struggle is real.
While some hammocks do come with mosquito netting attached directly to the hammock and can provide decent protection, they only cover the top half of the hammock
There are nets that are designed specifically for use with a hammock.
These nets are designed like large cylinders with two open loops at each end.
The hammock is strung through the two open ends and a drawstring tightens the ends once the hammock is inside.
The net is also suspended with a ridge line to keep it off your face when in the hammock.
For an all inclusive Hammock + Rainfly + Mosquito Net check out WintMing Patent Camping Hammock
Hammock Sleeping Pads
Of course there’s the issue of temperature.
On a perfectly warm summer night a hammock will offer you all of the exposure to crisp cool air and gentle breezes your heart desires.
But believe it or not, you can also build yourself a fully insulated floating fortress when the weather is not so favorable.
On cooler nights you can stay warm with a sleeping bag and sleeping pad combo.
The sleeping bag keeps you warm on top, while the pad will offer sufficient insulation below.
Just remember that sleeping pads are vapor barriers and can cause condensation on your hammock and sleeping bag throughout the night.
Any moisture that passes through the sleeping bag will become trapped by the pad.
Then the moisture condensates, reducing the loft and insulation of your sleeping bag by morning.
This is why its possible to wake up feeling cold even though you felt toasty in the middle of the night.
There’s also the option for an under quilt-top quilt combo.
Under quilts provide an insulating layer beneath your hammock that you hang on the outer layer which can expand and provide a ton of insulating surface area, while not compressing when you lay in your hammock.
Use the top quilt as a blanket while the under quilt keeps his bottom warm.
For a great under quilt check out Eagles Nest Outfitters – Vulcan Underquilt
For a great top quilt check out Eagles Nest Hammock Spark TopQuilt
When used together, a top quilt and under quilt function like a sleeping bag around the whole hammock. For optimal warmth stick with down for both the top and bottom quilts.
There is always the ultra-lightweight, ultra-minimalist method of providing insulation by filling your hammock with pine needles, moss, grass and leaves to act as insulation.
I mean come on, you’ve come this far, you’re a sensible person.. why force yourself to camp like Fred Flinstone?
When done properly your hammock becomes a floating tent complete with weather and bug protection, ergonomic body contours and zippable doors.
Hammock Hang Calculator
For optimal ultralight hammock hanging advice, check out one of the many HAMMOCK HANG CALCULATORS online, or download the app from the App store.
Other Crafty Hammock Uses
In a survival situation, having a hammock can be a great resource.
The bright colors and large surface area are great signal flags for rescue crews. You can fly the hammock as a large kite or flag that can be highly visible for miles around.
You can also use your hammock as an emergency sleeping bag if your original bag gets lost or ends up wet and unusable.
The hammock will keep it all together so you can crawl inside and stay relatively warm. If you are desperate for shelter, you can even use it to create a bivvy.
CAMPING HAMMOCK REVIEWS
As you can see we love ultralight hammocks for backpacking.
They don’t work in every situation and a lot of times they’re good just as a backup.
However if your looking to really try a new way of backpacking, we totally recommend these ultralight fun backpacking shelters.
Be sure to check out some of our recommended ultralight hammocks for more info.