Hammock Like A Pro – Ten Mistakes To Avoid When Using A Hammock

Hammock camping can be an amazing experience and a great way to stay healthy on the trail. I have spent many nights sleeping under the stars in a hammock, and through trial and error, I have learned some important tips to make your nights in hammock warm, comfortable, restful.

In order to fully enjoy the benefits of hammocks you need to protect your hammock from the elements, hang the hammock at the proper 30-degree angle, and leverage insulation. You should also lie in your hammock at an angle and avoid some simple mistakes to ensure you reap all the benefits that hammocks have to offer.

The faster you can understand these mistakes and how to avoid them, the sooner you will reap the benefits of hammock sleep system. I believe hammocks provide a far superior night’s sleep than sleeping on the ground in a tent – once you master correct hammock setup. So I want to share some mistakes that can interfere with your ability to sleep well in a hammock.

Not Selecting The Right Pair Of Trees

When are setting up your hammock, the very first mistake you can make is selecting the wrong pair of trees. There are two potential issues that might arise: You might choose trees that cannot support your weight, or you might choose two trees that are not the correct distance apart.

First, while it may seem unlikely, you can choose trees that are not sturdy enough to support your body weight.  Either small, young trees or dead trees may fail to support you as you lay in your hammock.  Be sure to check that the trees from which you hang your hammock are strong and healthy.

Second, choosing an incorrect distance between your trees will change the curve on your hammock, which directly affects your sleep. The optimal shape for your hammock should be a natural curve – you will want plenty of curve, as this is not a bed. Sleeping in either a straight or extremely curved hammock will put your body into an unnatural position and lead to a restless night.

As such, you should find two healthy trees about 12-15 feet apart from which to hang your hammock. This will provide a natural curve to your hammock, allowing for the best night’s sleep.

Not Using Hammock Straps

There are a couple of reasons why you should use hammock straps. First, hammock straps are a more reliable and sturdy suspension system. Second, hammock straps help you achieve Leave No Trace because they are better for the trees from which you hang your hammock.

The main alternative to hammock straps when hanging your hammock is rope, or paracord.

There are problems with paracord; first, it can stretch under your weight, which will cause your hammock (and your body) to sag. If you use cheaper paracord, you quite literally could wake up with your rear end on the graound.

Second, paracord can dig into trees under the stress of body weight, causing damage to those trees. Those ropes will cut through the bark of the tree, exposing it to the elements.

Hammock straps avoid these problems – they will not dig into trees and do not stretch under duress. They are also quite affordable – in most cases less than $40 – and much easier to set up and hang from than ropes.

Simply swing the strap around the tree, catch the end, and thread it through the loop at the other end of the strap. Pull to tighten the strap around the tree, and loosen to adjust the height of the anchor point.

Then simply attach your hammock (most come with carabiners) to the appropriate loop on the strap to get the angle you need. That simple. ENO makes some of the best hammock straps – you can purchase them HERE.

Setting Your Hammock At The Wrong Angle

As was mentioned above, you need to set your hammock between two trees at the correct distance, you still need to observe the correct angle between your hammock straps and the ground.  This angle should be about 30 degrees – this will promote a natural, curved shape for your hammock that will promote healthy sleep.

An easy way to measure this 30-degree angle is to hold your index finger and thumb in an “L” shape, with the thumb pointing up. Hold your hand so your index finger is parallel to the ground and place it under your hammock straps. If the tip of your thumb and the tip of your index finger are touching the strap together, you’ve got the correct angle.

Photo Courtesy Of thetrek.co

The 30-degree angle for your hammock suspension reduces the drop of the hammock when you get in, minimizes load stress on the trees and gear and is generally more comfortable than higher or lower angles.

Failing To Use A Tarp – Or Setting It Up Incorrectly

You should always use a tarp when sleeping in a hammock – even if the weather promises to be good. They not only protect against an unexpected rain shower, but also protect against warmth-stealing wind. Imagine trying to sleep in a hammock during a windy evening. Any heat above your body will just be pushed away, leaving a cold layer above you at all times.

But even if there were no wind or rain, tarps still offer an extra element of insulation as you sleep. You should suspend your tarp from your trees 18 to 24 inches above the spot where you attached your hammock. This relatively small clearance will create an enclosed space under the tarp. As your body heat rises during the night, this should create a layer of insulated air to provide extra warmth.

I always use a tarp when I sleep in a hammock – regardless of weather. I notice a much warmer night sleep when I do.

I recently hiked in the Cascade Mountains of Washington, and had two very nights of sleep. The first night it rained almost the entire night. I was dry and warm thanks to my hammock. The second night was at a much lower temperature, but with no rain. I noticed no difference in my comfort level. I was just as warm, thanks in part to my tarp.

Failure To Properly Insulate Yourself

Many first-time hammock users have woken up in the middle of the night with their back side freezing because they failed to properly insulate themselves. I know I did! Even if you use a sleeping bag, you will be colder because you compress the insulation underneath you.

The two best ways to avoid this problem are to use a sleeping pad in your hammock, or to use an underquilt. I have done both, and prefer the underquilt, because it provides a more complete insulation system for your entire body. Underquilts can zip completely around you and the hammock, creating a warm cocoon that is very comfortable.

You cannot simply rely on a sleeping bag to keep your body warm at the points where you press against the hammock. Sleeping bags are made with down or synthetic materials meant to imitate down by creating a layer of warm air between your body and the bag. When you lay on top of a sleeping bag, however, that layer is compressed and the down rendered useless.

However, an underquilt is set up around the outside of the hammock, so it is not compressed. Its down or synthetic insulation can therefore do its work and trap warm air close to your body.

A sleeping pad does not work as effectively in this regard, but does act as a layer of insulation between your body and the bottom of the hammock.

Setting Up Your Underquilt Incorrectly

One mistake that people make when using the underquilt is setting it up too close to the hammock itself. This fails to take full advantage of the underquilt and its insulating properties.

There should be about 3 to 6 inches of clearance between your hammock and your underquilt. This space, when warmed by your body heat, will then offer another layer of insulated air between your body and the underquilt itself.

Most underquilts clip on to hammock straps at the point where your hammock strap is attached to a tree. These clips are attached to cords that run to the underquilt itself. You should be able to adjust cords to loosen slightly so that the underquilt is not too close to the hammock. This will create the 3 to 6 inches of space you need.

Sleeping In Your Hammock Incorrectly

Failure to sleep in your hammock correctly is perhaps the most common mistake that first-timers make. When lying in your hammock, do not lie in the middle. If you do, you concentrate your weight to a small area of the hammock, making it tight and rigid. This will prevent the hammock from shaping to your body and eliminating pressure points.

Photo courtesy of Boys Life

The proper way to lie in a hammock is to lie diagonally, angled about 20 degrees from the center. Your feet should almost be coming out of your hammock. When you do this, you distribute your weight better across the hammock, eliminating pressure points and promoting better sleep.

Aim for a 20 degree angle of center when you lie in your hammock…

As you set up your hammock with a 30-degree angle and spaced between two trees at 12 to 15 feet, there will be a noticeable curve in the hammock. However, as you lay in your hammock at the 20-degree angle, you will eliminate much of that curve and allow the hammock to adjust to your body.

Please note – this is an acquired skill, so you will need to practice different positions and angles to get it just right for your hammock.

Neglecting To Protect Your Gear During The Night

Unlike a tent, when you sleep in a hammock, your gear – including your boots – will be exposed to the elements. Hikers usually leave their gear under them on the ground when they sleep in a hammock – but this does not ensure protection from rain, spiders, or other critters.  I can speak from experience – waking to wet boots is no fun.

Find a way to keep your gear off the ground and protected from weather. You should always have protection for your bag – even a garbage bag works. You may also consider hanging your pack from a tree, with your food.

Taking The Extra Step To Stay Dry

Even with a tarp, you can still get wet at night when sleeping in your hammock. This happens when rain runs down your trees, and then along your hammock straps into your hammock.

Photo Courtesy of Boys Life

The solution to this problem is rather simple. You can take a small piece of paracord and tie it on your hammock strap close to the tree. When the water runs down the strap, it will run down the paracord and drip to the ground rather than continue toward your warm, dry hammock.

You should make sure that the drip line is protected by your tarp as well – this will prevent it from getting too waterlogged and will ensure that all parts of the line below the drip line are dry.

Failing To Use An Camping Pillow

Camping pillows offer two great benefits for anyone who sleeps in a hammock.

First, a camping hammock offers an extra layer of insulation that can come in handy when sleeping in a hammock. Sometimes, you find yourself laying with your head resting directly on your hammock. As mentioned above, this can mean exposure to colder air and uncomfortable nights. A camping pillow eliminates this problem.

Second, the camping pillow can provide a more ergonomically-friendly sleeping position for you. A healthier sleep position is one where your head is slightly elevated – the camping pillow helps lift your head and increase your comfort.


I am a huge fan of hammocks and they are by far my preferred method of sleeping when I am out on the trail. However, I definitely had to get through some tough nights when I made the mistakes I have listed above.

The great thing about avoiding these mistakes is that these are easy things to correct, and once you do correct them, they will become part of your set up routines very quickly. Once you get into a clear routine, setting up will take just a few minutes and you can enjoy some rest and relaxation before bed knowing that you’ll have a great night sleep.

Happy Trails!

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