Hammock Tent
Credit: Kevin Callan

I once compared hammock tenting to your first kiss.

You’re quite apprehensive during the initial smooch. After all, the act itself makes little sense. But curiosity is a powerful force. Then, once you’ve given it a try, it doesn’t seem so weird. It feels good. In fact, you wouldn’t mind trying it again.

With hammock tenting, you go from thinking you’re some kind of bear piñata to having one of the best outdoor sleeps you’ve ever had. Hammock tenting has been a bit of a fad for quite some time. Lately, however, this camp culture has grown in leaps and bounds. There are countless YouTube channels supporting it and blog posts raving about it. Hundreds of hammock clubs have formed; complete strangers who’ve only met online gathering in the woods to swing between trees together. These swinging groupies are more popular now than those geeky Dungeon & Dragon alliances were back in my high school days (yes, I’m that old). So why all the hype? Time to kiss and tell.

Advantages

Hangin’ Wherever You Want

The biggest advantage of stringing your sleep-system between two trees is that you often have more choices of where to sleep. I’ve packed a hammock tent on remote canoe routes or hiking trails that had limited open areas and few designated campsites. There’s something surreal about not worrying if you’ll find a place to pitch a tent before dark. Just find two trees evenly spaced apart and you’re home for the night. Even in designated campsites, you have more options and a reason to camp away from the loudest snorer in the group. 

Comfort Zone

I never believed for a moment that Gilligan and the Skipper, from the classic television show Gilligan’s Island, were very comfortable in their hammocks. (Gilligan sure fell out of his enough times.) Hammock tents are different, however. They’re far more comfortable than you think, especially for anyone older than 40 with back issues and hip problems. There’s no hidden rock or root to grind your tailbone on, no unforeseen decline that has all the blood rushing to your head by morning and no damp ground to moisten your sleeping mat. 

Absolute Freedom, Absolutely

Sleeping in a hammock is pure freedom. It’s hard to explain and best for you to experience yourself. I can guarantee, though, that you feel totally unconfined in a hammock. You feel far more connected to your natural surroundings. A tent will seem like a doghouse after one night in a hammock. In a tent, there’s limited airflow, and worse, you can’t see what’s going on around you. In a hammock, you’ll go to sleep feeling a fresh breeze and wake up to birds chirping around you. It’s absolute bliss. A rain fly protects you from the elements and a bug mesh shields you from the biting insects. No worries there. 

Sleeping Alone Doesn’t Have to Be Lonely

If you’re the type of camper who loves travelling with the safety of a group, but hates sleeping with them, then hammock tenting is for you. While all the tent campers battle over the best tent pad, you simply have to wander into the woods, far away from the crowds, and pitch your private abode between two trees. 

Tent & Chair in One

No need to crawl out from your tent to get a brew going. Simply sit upright, light the camp stove and wait for the morning caffeine fix to set in. Simple. 

Smaller Footprint

I’ve heard a few rumours that some parks frown upon hammock tenters. It seems they’re worried that hugging trees with nylon straps is eco-unfriendly. Countless studies show the opposite, however. A tent, placed upon a diverse forest floor, can create a far more harmful footprint. I’d have to agree, especially with so many new campers deciding to go out with large groups but sleep in solo tents. Such a fad can cause far more harm than hammocks strung up above the forest floor. 

Disadvantages

Cold Bum

First time I tried hammock tenting was in May, on a canoe trip in Algonquin Provincial Park. On night one, I froze. I escaped inside a bivvy beside the campfire for the remaining nights. Tent campers can insulate their underbellies from the ground by adding a good sleeping mat and a cozy sleeping bag. Hammock tenters need a bit more than that. Conduction steals the heat away from your body—then add in free-flowing cool air swirling around beneath you and the issue becomes worse. It’s an easy fix, however. A good sleeping pad and under-quilt specifically made for a hammock insulates from the cold below. I even add one of those emergency blankets from SOL (surviveoutdoorslonger.com) or a section of pipe insulation picked up cheap at my local home improvement store. 

Weight

You’d think packing a hammock tent would be a lighter way to travel. The good news is that the average unit isn’t heavy—it’s just no lighter than a good one-person tent. They’re even heavier when you’re camping in colder conditions and have to add the under-quilt. 

Swinging in the Breeze

I suffer from Benign Positional Vertigo. What does that mean? I can get dizzy spells when I least expect it and being confined to a hammock, swinging back and forth with the nightly breeze, didn’t seem like a pleasant experience. That’s what kept me from joining the hammock cult until later in life. I solved the problem easily, though. I tie all four corners down and reduce the motion so I don’t wake up feeling seasick.

Hammocks are for Loners

If you like sleeping with someone—your significant other or even just your dog—then hammock tenting isn’t the best choice. You can try anything once, but I’m sure you’ll conclude that hammocks are designed for one person only. 

Trees are Important

This one seems obvious but just in case: you need trees to hang a hammock. They should be sturdy and well spaced. 

Practice Makes Perfect

It takes most campers a few tries to begin preferring a hammock to a tent. It’s generally not instant gratification. Again, just like kissing, the more you try it, the more you’ll love it.  

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