How to Backpack Better With a Hammock





Introduction: How to Backpack Better With a Hammock

About: I'm working towards a Bachelors Degree in Mechanical Engineering. This year I'll be transferring to a university to finish the last two years of my degree. I've been accepted to the engineering program at Ca...

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.

Step 1: 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

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

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!

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

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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    101 Discussions

    This article is very helpful!!! Quick question, where did you get that hammock? The one that looks like spider Web.

    great ible i totally agree hammock is a great choice and i must say u migth need mosquito net in warm climates

    I use a large windshield sun reflector thing for a pad in my hammock. They're cheap, and weigh almost nothing.

    I am a proud owner of a Hennessy Hammock A-Sym Expedition, and can't agree more with the comfort afforded over sleeping on the ground. In response to rope damage to trees, the Hennessy uses two lengths of seat-belt strap material, which is looped preferably twice around each tree; the hammock ties into these loops. One major drawback could be the lack of comfort in cooler weather. (This would apply to all hammocks.) While most don't have a problem with this in the middle of the summer, in higher elevations you can easily experience lower 50 degree temps in May or August. Normally on a foam or Thermarest style mattress, you are provided a good margin of insulation against the ground. When you are in a hammock, the sleeping bag's insulation is compressed (like it is on the ground), however now you only have a thin piece of nylon between you and the night air. (I suffered an entire night of no sleep and shivering because of my ill-preparedness) Hennessy has come up with an insulating system, which amounts to another length of fabric stretched closely underneath the main hammock, into which you can stuff pine needles, leaves, or any other suitable material to provide a thermal barrier to keep the cool wind off your rear end. A Thermarest mattress inside the hammock is an OK alternative, however this adds considerable bulk to your pack. Some people recommend sleeping on a foil car sunscreen or even an emergency "space" blanket. Unless certain precautions are taken, there is a HUGE problem with these materials. The foils are an absolute barrier - in this case, a vapor barrier. Moisture leaving you WILL condensate on these foils in cooler temps - you will become soaked and miserable. The KEY is to affix the "space blanket" somehow to the OUTSIDE of the hammock. This will reflect your radiant heat back to you, but keeps the inherent moisture away from your sleeping bag. I also have the Amazonas Traveler, and use it regularly. What a lightweight marvel! It doubles as my pine needle and leaf holder in colder weather, I simply attach it with sew-on velcro bits I've affixed for this purpose. (put the scratchy sides on the outside of the upper hammock, so the lower one doesn't chafe when it is used as a hammock itself.) If you want to do cold-weather hammocking, try it out at home where you can easily retreat inside if your system failed for some reason. I have been using the hammock in the DEAD of winter VERY COMFORTABLY. Just use a little common sense to keep Jack Frost off your rear end!

    4 replies

    I've found that the foam pad inside the sleeping bag works fine for insulation. while it does add some bulk to your pack, there is hardly any weight to them. i usually roll mine up, put it in my pack and unroll it to fill the space and act as an inner wall. this helps the pack stay open as i pack it, and keeps things from poking against the thin nylon.

    Your method for packing the foam pad sounds great! Not only does it protect the nylon, but with today's internal frame packs, I'm sure it would make it much easier to see and get to the necessary contents of your pack when making camp! Cool Idea!

    The problem I tend to have with packing my ridge rest like this is that I have to empty and repack my backpack every morning.

    I have the Hennessy A-Sym as well and in the cold weather I use an Exped downmat 9 inside the hammock. I've been using it for three years and its great. It also compacts much smaller that the ThermoaRest.

    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.

    I just picked up the ENO hammock and hope to get out next weekend to try it out. Good article and tips.

    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)

    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...

    7 replies

    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 ;)

    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.

    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. : )