I’ve never slept in a hammock on the trail.
Through my early days as a camper with my family, through the Boy Scouts and continuing on through today, I’ve been a devotee of the old standbys, a tent, an air mattress and a sleeping bag. Since I actively started backpacking about 10 years ago, I’ve upgraded my gear so that I am now carrying lighter and lighter weights. While not being able to acquire the best and lightest weight equipment, I have been able to achieve a considerable reduction in weight through a couple of changes in gear. I have gone from a 4 lb. Eureka! Zeus II to a GoLite Shangri-La 1 (2 lbs. including rain fly), a Quest sleeping bag (weight unknown and probably incalculable but from personal experience I can tell you that it weighs ALOT) to a Marmot bag and I’m still using the original Therm-a-Rest I purchased 10 years ago. But, it’s still the same gear grouping as what I’ve slept in from the beginning.
I’ll freely admit that there are times that the hard ground (even with the inclusion of my Therm-a-Rest) gives me a fitful night’s sleep at best. When this does happen, I NEVER regret sleeping outside nor do I wish for my bed at home but I do long for something that provides a bit more comfort.
I’ve read many reviews about hammocks and about sleeping in them and these have lately peaked my interest enough that I’m about to give it a try. Some of the brands that I’m looking into include the: Hennessey Hammock, Grand Trunk, Clark Jungle Hammock, Hammock Bliss and Warbonnet Outdoors. I have some reservations about using a hammock and have the same concerns and questions that have been raised in the past. Doesn’t a hammock cause damage to trees, how do you sleep on your side in a hammock, how do you stay warm in a hammock?
Hanging Your Hammock – Damage to bark can be limited by hanging the hammock properly and frankly has a lower impact on the area you’re camping in. With tent camping, you’re somewhat limited to the area where you can put your tent. The area has to be fairly level, free from rocks, roots and other debris that may be embedded in the ground (if you want to have a decent nights sleep). Because we’re all looking for the same general conditions as described above, we tend to overuse the same areas for tent placement. Hammocks give you some increased options for camping areas, as the surface conditions aren’t as important as they are with a tent. Do keep in mind though that trees are generally required in order to hang you hammock. Although, you can use your hammock as a type of bivy (image from Sgt. Rock’s Hiking H.Q.) with the use of trekking poles.
Sleeping Position and Comfort – If you position yourself properly in a properly hung hammock, you can sleep on your side as well as your back. There are no annoying roots, rocks, etc. that tend to find their way into the middle of your back as you slide off your mat or that you may happen to locate and whack with your knee as you roll over at 2 am. As much as I try to find a level area to place my tent, invariably someone has gotten there ahead of me and found that one level place and the one without the rocks and roots and I have to choose the best available alternative, the one where I find the rock with my knee.
Keeping Warm – The third question from above to be addressed, how do you stay warm sleeping in a hammock? With traditional tent camping you’re usually laying on some type of insulated pad that not only provides some relief from rocks, roots, etc. (see above) but also provides a barrier that slows down the leaching of the coldness that seeps through from the ground. An insulated pad used in conjunction with a sleeping bag that is suitable for the conditions your camping in will normally keep you warm and toasty. I tend to be a hot sleeper and often find myself opening the draft at the end of the bag or unzipping the bag to keep from getting too warm at night. From the reading I’ve done staying warm in a hammock can be a challenge and involves some trial and error on your part. This biggest threat to keeping warm is controlling the effects of air currents that run under the hammock. Various methods are available but most involve the use of some insulated padding to sleep on. Not having tried sleeping in hammock (as of this writing) I really can’t form nor provide any type of opinion as to what works best. Again, from the reading I’ve done, it’s a matter of preference and comfort for the individual.
I truly enjoy sleeping outdoors and may give a hammock a try someday. When I do, I’ll let you know how it went, what worked for me, what I learned and my overall opinion of sleeping in a hammock.