Picture of How to backpack better with a hammock
I started camping with a hammock a few years ago while on a week-long backpacking trip. I brought my hammock just to relax in, and ended up sleeping in it ever since. if you get the right materials you can also drop a few pounds off your pack weight. i now take it on all of my hikes, to date 3 50 mile hikes and countless shorter weekend hikes.

I have found that once you get used to it, sleeping on a hammock is much more comfortable than on the ground. Furthermore,  you will never have to worry about a ground tarp, uneven, rocky or wet ground, and can probably eliminate your tent as well as some other gear.

Please note this is a guide for beginners, and does not cover more of the technical aspects of hamocking. If this guide has gotten you interested and  you want more information on hammocking I suggest you go to the Hammock Forums, you'll find a ton of completely neurotic and awesome people obsessed with hammocks, with a ton of information on all things hammocks. I'm currently planning revisions for this instructable based on the methods that I learned from HF and now use myself, but for this guide should be adequate.

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Step 1: Gather Materials

Picture of Gather Materials
As I will describe you need the following materials:
One hammock
some rope
2 carabiners
one foam sleeping pad (yes, those cheap, foam sleeping pads you swore never to use again after you got your inflatable pad)

I will be providing to you:
a basic knowledge of knots

A note on hammocks: buy a good, light hammock. No heavy braided cotton line. I got a lot of use out of my Amazonas Traveler before it tore through (don't let it drag on the ground!). When I bought it I paid  around $20 at the local sporting goods store, look around and you should find one similar. There are also many options for making your own hammock, and plenty of commercial options. I recently got an ENO Singlenest, which I like a lot so far.

A note on Carabiners and rope: use only load bearing carabiners, designed for climbing. These carabiners end up supporting much more than your weight depending on how tight you string your hammock. For this same reason, the golden standard for rope in the hammocking community is Dyneema, or Spectra, which are incredibly strong, low stretch materials. I now use 7/16" Dyneema that can hold something around 5000 pounds and is very lightweight. Paracord works, but Dyneema would be preferable. Nylon rope will stretch and poly rope won't.

Step 2: Prep your Cord

Picture of Prep your Cord
now we prepare your rope, making it extremley quick and easy to hang your hammock on nearly any tree.

first take the cord and cut it into two pieces, about 6 to 9 feet long (2 to 3 meters for those of you using metric. i envy you and your national standards...).

to tie a loop in each end we will use a figure eight on a bight. If you've sprung for dyneema you shouldn't do this, go ahead and follow instructions elsewhere on making whoopie slings, single-line-suspensions, utility constrictor ropes, or whatever.

take about 5 inches on one end and double it back, this is a bight. take the bight and tie a figure eight with it. a figure eight is nothing more than a regular overhand knot with an extra half turn in it. please look at the pictures as it is truly difficult to tell how to tie a knot with words. your loop should be big enough to fit your carabiner inside. If you don't like my instructions there are excellent, new-fangly pictures, instructions, and such here.

Do this to both ends of each rope, 4 times in total. by the end you should be pretty good at tying a figure eight on a bight.

There are many, many methods outlined in detail at the Hammock Forums. I don't use this method anymore, but it's fine for beginners who don't want to spend hours and hours coming up with a hang system.

Step 3: Set up your hammock

Picture of Set up your hammock
this is very easy now that you have your parachute cord. find two trees about 9 feet apart and strong enough to hold your hammock up. the distance between them is a matter of personal preference  and also depends on your hammock, so experiment and you will find what you like.

wrap your parachute cord around the tree tightly enough that it wont slip down. how do you wrap it around? however you want, that's whats great about the rope you made. you can wrap it once, twice, tie a ravens head, feed one end of the rope through the loop, any way you can make it work on your tree. just keep in mind that any knot you tie and sleep on will probably not come out very easily. parachute cord is not easy to work backwards with (but you should be able to get away with not tying any knots, just loop it around and put your carabiner in the two end loops).

now take your carabiner and put it through the loops in the cord. put one end of your hammock on the carabiner. repeat for the other tree. your hammock should hang in a gentle curve, you don't want a huge sag as your rope, hammock and trees will bend and stretch as you settle in.

Many people have expressed concern about the rope damaging the trees. Here on the west coast most of the trees I hammock on are huge and tough, and paracord wrapped around them doesnt seem to do any damage. If you live somewhere where your trees aren't as hardy and have thinner bark, you could use flat webbing for climbing or polypropylene truck straps. Just wrap these around the tree a couple of times and hang your rope and hammock from that. 

Step 4: Get comfy and enjoy the outdoors!

Picture of Get comfy and enjoy the outdoors!
Now you can finally sleep and rest in comfort!
You may have noticed that we have yet to used the foam pad. This is where we need it.

Once your hammock is all strung up properly you are ready to sleep in it. Take the foam sleeping pad and slip it inside your sleeping bag. This is very important. without it your body will compress your sleeping bag filler and reduce it's R value (how well it insulates). your entire backside will be very cold without any insulation from the air. The sleeping pad will keep you comfortable. 

If you're really into hammocking you can get an underquilt, which is a sleeping bag that goes under  the hammock to keep you warm, eliminating the foam pad.

Step 5: Not a step, just useful thoughts

Picture of Not a step, just useful thoughts
It's easy to string a tarp or bug net over your hammock. One thing I really like about stringing up a tarp this way is that you'll have room underneath to cook and hang out, no matter the weather. There are people on the hammock forums who frequently camp in the snow in their hammocks!

Again, there are many, many different ways to hang your hammock, go ahead and experiment and find what works best for you. This is just to illustrate how easy it is to get started hammocking. 

Please, share your thoughts in the comments below. Thanks!!

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PedroK111 months ago

A nylon climbing sling is also really handy, as well as reliable like all climbing gear. They are really light and hard to tangle, so you won't have any problems with them.

mdavis441 year ago
I just picked up the ENO hammock and hope to get out next weekend to try it out. Good article and tips.
sidmarx1 year ago
How do you get the foam pad inside the sleeping bag and then yourself inside it? I've only been able to zip up the foot box a foot or 2, hook my feet into it, then tuck the bag's zippered edges between my body and the foam underneath the bag. (all this because once i'm in the bag i can't move around)
n.gully7 years ago
I think you hit the nail on the head with hammocks over sleeping on the ground. and like you said with the addition of a tarp you can eliminate the need for a tent... but better still, try to find a G.I. rain poncho. they serve double duty. Rain gear, and one of the most compressible tarps i have ever seen. they have gromets in the middle of all 4 sides and at all 4 corners. if you set up your hammock with carabiners you can just slip the gromets at the corners of the poncho through them. it should fit nice and tight making a peak when you lay in the hammock. no extra rope needed... also, as far as knots, i use about 5 ft. of rope at each end, and fasten the ends together in a fisherman's knot so the length of the loop can be adjusted from about 1.5 ft. to 2.5 ft. . then in the middle i tie a figure 8 Knot leaving a 2-3 inch loop at the end for my carabiner...
The reason a military poncho is so good a tarp, is because it's designed to be. It's even referenced in the army training manuals, notably the section about shelters, as being used for a bashsa, a wigwam cover, etc.....
Light infantryman checking in. I can swear to the poncho being useful as a hammock, and as a tarp. It'll support your weight, and in the tropics, where the bugs are thick on the ground, it'll make for a much MUCH better sleep. If you get two, you can make an overhead shelter for yourself as well for rain.
What do you do about the head opening in the poncho? Doesn't rain come through that opening or puddle in the hood during heavy rains? Also, does anyone have any suggestions for the best place to get a military poncho, without enlisting, of course...
It isn't that much of a problem. You lay it flat along the rest of the surface and it should sort of meld flat to the rest. And it is a bit of an expedient. In a heavy rain, you are going to get a little moist. I can't imagine that military ponchos will be hard to find. Any surplus place in the world will have them, as will suppliers like Cheaper Than Dirt or Brigade Quartermaster. Enlisting isn't the best option. When you change stations they ask for the stuff back ;)
he is also correct, its not an issue.
The new ones issued nowadays dont have the head opening. they have a fastener system around all edges.
No, there's a drawcord to cinch it around your face when you wear it. Pull it all the way closed and use the string to lash it to an overhead branch. You'll almost never get wet, but taller folks will wish for more coverage. I've been planning on buying a lighter weight nylon taffeta fly that's bigger than a poncho. 30 oz. taffeta will hold up a reasonably careful adult. There's a nice 'ible on here about making a hammock with ONLY fabric and rope, no assembly required.
tacamaral2 years ago
Busybody here would like to make a comment - don't you get back pain after sleeping like that?
In many regions of Brazil, people sleep in hammocks - especially in the northeast and the north - but they do it differently, learned from the natives:

(sorry, couldn't upload the picture, I don't know why)

This is good, because your spine is straight and you can move somewhat and there's breathing space. : )
HAL 9000 (author)  tacamaral2 years ago
None of those pics are of me, they're my buddies from Scouts. I'm not sure about them, but I sleep in mine diagonally.
shaddoty2 years ago
Instead of getting the underquilt you could just modify your sleeping bag to have the hammock inside of it.
olmon2 years ago
Surprised that no-one has mentioned tie-down straps, either the ratcheting or slip style for wrapping around the tree & hooking to the hammock. Super easy, much stronger then necessary, light weight & compact & can be used for many other things when camping also.
HAL 9000 (author)  olmon2 years ago
Exactly, many people use straps to wrap around trees to protect the bark. The polypro straps are popular because they're lightweight and strong, as you said, but also have almost no stretch under load. I used 3/4" tubular climbing webbing with loops tied in the ends, and I find the little bit of stretch helps to "soften" the hang.
Takelababy3 years ago
I don't own a bed, I 've been sleeping in a hammock for 3 yrs now and wouldn't trade it for anything. If I decide to do some outdoor snoozing it will be with a Hennessy for sure as the bugs get bad here.
HAL 9000 (author)  Takelababy2 years ago
Cool! I slept in a hammock for a while in high school. I just moved into my own place and found myself sans bed for the first time ever and this afternoon my new hammock went up in my room! It's the best!
hatchetfish7 years ago
It's also worth pointing out that some areas actually have ban on ropes strung around trees, lest they damage the tree, but it's usually specifically round ropes or cords. You can buy (right...) or make a set of wider (1.5 -- 2 in) straps instead and most places have no problem with them. The concern is simply that the tree bark may actually recieve rope burns. I think it's maybe more an issue with tent/tarp guywires that flap in the wind and rub, but then it's hard to say what the weight of a person tensioning it and rolling around restlessly all night would do.
rei used to have a scrap bin full of the ends from their rolls of 1" tubular webbing. usually real cheep. if that is unavailable brand new webbing is quite cheap.
I inherited a small, dilapidated old cabin in the woods. Really, there's no room for a bed, so I tried hanging a hammock from the rafters. Works like a charm for sleeping, but I can't snuggle with the girlfriend!
Oh but you CERTAINLY can, ask any mayan or central american ;)
Hammocks (hamacas) are used from the Yucatan peninsula to Venezuela, some people don´t even have beds!
look up the hamacasutra and you´ll see LOL
Check out Clark Jungle Hammocks (www.junglehammock.com). For a mere $600+ you can get yourself a two man hammock tent. ;-)
Crap, it's just two hammocks tied together at one end and tied wider on the other end!

Make two "sheet" hammocks, place a separator on one end where the "heads" go and voila... just use good, strong rope and it can probably be done for under $20, minus the rain cover, but even that's not expensive with a tarp.

I just made a simple sheet hammock this past week with cheap rope and had three individuals in it at one time (not sleeping, just testing). The rope was only rated at 120 lbs... but it held.

I like the two man version though from the site; nice idea!
redsuit095 years ago
i use thie thin lightweight paracord to hold my hammock up aswell but people argue with me saying that i need to buy one og those wide straps the are easier then cord as it doesnt hurt the tree.... so far no tree i know has died from me but do you thhink i should leave the paracord?
i have some tree huggers and when i go camping with the boy scouts and on the appalachin trail hikes they work great!
HAL 9000 (author)  redsuit095 years ago
Trees are, believe it or not, very tough. especially the kinds of trees you tie hammocks to. I have yet to see any real damage to a tree that i used paracord on. when i tie my hammock up i usually tie it to large conifers: Pines, redwoods, etc. these have very thick, tough bark that is pretty impenetrable to a humble bit of rope. If you choose to tie your hammock to a piece of rope tied to webbing tied around a tree thats fine, but thats just more knots and rope that can/will fail. and like i said, trees are tough.
To go along with the webbing strap debate, I made my own with a sewing machine but you could also do it by hand. Sport Chalet has webbing in different widths and also the cord (i think I used Spectra cord) sold by the foot. They also have a wire end melter that they use to cut the straps which makes it so you dont have to later. I folded the last six inches of each end of 2 straps and sewed three straight lines width wise to make loops at the end. Put it around a tree and pull the one loop through another and you're in buisness. To make the length coming off of the tree shorter just wrap the loose end around the tree till you have the right length.
nd347944 years ago
i like how you put the pad inside the sleeping bag!!
roliop4 years ago
By lying at an angle the hammock will form a flatter bed. Some people find this better for their backs than the usual slumped posture.

brickman934 years ago
if you dont understand, go here
brickman934 years ago
i would use steel carabiners. whine they may ad extra weight you dont have to worry about micro cracks forming like they do in aluminum. even if they weigh more you only have to bring 2 insted of 4. (the conversion rule i was taught is that 2 steels = 4 aluminums. go figure.
Jouda Mann7 years ago
Don't tie ropes around the tree.. use three or four long bungee cords, that go around the trunk, slip into the carabiner easily, cause friction, so as not to slide down, and is easy to disassemble in the morning. Plus, bungee cords are good for so many other things.
Bungee cords? You are joking, right?
Our Scout Troop uses bungee cords. They work great!
Boy scouting has changed! In my day, we learned how to use rope and tie knots.
Well, yes. We do that the most. I was just saying that sometimes we used bungee cords when it was raining and such, when we didn't want to set up in the rain.
I've used them with my hammock several times, no problem, easy to get around the trees and take apart, holds good, and I haven't noticed any wear or tear on the rubber.
I hope he is. However, they are the hot ticket for rigging the rain fly.
SJMoquin6 years ago
Great job on this Instructable, HAL. I've thought about the insulation problem. This is my work-around: string-up the hammock, sit in it, then zip the sleeping bag around you and the hammock. It's basically a DIY Hennessy Hammock made of rope, cloth, and a sleeping bag. I'm thinking of making an instructable of my own to explain this set-up, referencing another <http://www.instructables.com/id/Instant-Hammock/> Instructable. Again, thanks for the great instructable and the inspiration.
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