Hiking and camping is usually a 3-season activity, as only a few of us like to hike and sleep outside when temps drop well below freezing. But for those hearty souls who are willing to sleep outside in the winter – shoulod you sleep in a tent or in a hammock? I decided to find out.
So, is a tent or hammock a better option for camping in the winter? The answer depends on the gear you have at your disposal and whether you prefer sleeping in a hammock or on the ground. If you have the right gear and enjoy sleeping in a hammock, I would definitely recommend it. Hammock camping allows for easier setup, less weight to carry, and zero exposure to the cold and possibly wet ground.
Regardless of which sleeping system you prefer, winter hiking and camping demand you pay special attention to your gear, clothing, and weather conditions. If you do, you can enjoy a warm night’s sleep and the adventure of braving the winter elements.
The Benefits Of Sleeping In A Hammock – Even In Winter
There are numerous reasons why hikers and campers prefer sleeping in a hammock to a tent. Even in a winter environment, when temperatures often go below freezing and weather is less forgiving, these benefits still apply.
First, the convenience of setting up a hammock compared to a tent cannot be understated. Once you learn how to set up your hammock, it literally takes less than five minutes to do. I must admit that having my hammock completely strung up and ready before my hiking partner has completed setting up his tent is quite satisfying.
This advantage is only magnified in a winter setting. Colder conditions will make fumbling with tent poles, tying down lines, and finding good anchor points for tent stakes more difficult. And if there is snow on the ground, this process becomes even more difficult.
Hammock setup only requires that you find two sturdy trees about 12 to 15 apart, that you throw hammock straps around those trees, and attach you hammock to the straps. You should have a tarp to cover your hammock, which also lashes to the trees. That’s it. Simple and easy
Another advantage of sleeping in a hammock vs. a tent is that a hammock will likely be much lighter to carry than a winter tent setup. Hammock gear consists of the hammock itself, a tarp, and hammock straps. Altogether, this setup should weigh about 2 pounds.
Meanwhile, a tent that is appropriate for winter will likely weight at least 3 pounds. If you are hiking during your winter trip, this extra weight could be a drawback.
A major advantage of hammock sleeping in the winter is having ZERO exposure to the hard, cold and possibly wet ground. All the problems with sleeping in a tent during good weather are only magnified during the winter.
If there is snow, finding soft, level ground becomes more difficult. Exposure to wet or snowy ground is more likely in the winter. And the cold winter will make insulation from the ground even more important. Sleeping in a hammock eliminates all of these problems.
Finally, the sleeping experience of a hammock is superior to that of sleeping on the ground in a tent. You can read my reasons why you should consider sleeping in a hammock instead of a tent HERE.
Staying Warm In Your Hammock During The Winter
The main consideration for any person considering to camp with a hammock or tent in the winter surely is warmth. Many people would think that sleeping in a tent would provide better warmth because you are in an enclosed space, protected from the elements.
However, you can be just as warm during the winter in a hammock as in a tent. If you bring adequate cover, good insulation, and dress properly, you will be just as warm in a hammock as you would in a tent.
A rainfly or tarp is vital to using a hammock during the winter. Not only does a tarp provide protection from rain or snow, but it also provides an element of insulation by trapping warmer air above your body. Attach your tarp or rainfly 18 to 24 inches above where your hammock straps are attached to the tree.
I would also note that you should probably bring a larger and heavier rainfly or tarp for winter trips. You will want as much protection as possible if the weather turns really bad.
Here is a rainfly/tarp that I would recommend to keep you warmer and dry during the winter (Amazon Link).
Another major element of sleeping in a hammock in the winter is an underquilt. Even in the summer, you can be cold in a hammock because you lose heat from underneath you without insulation. An underquilt removes this problem by creating a layer of warmth below you. Wrap your underquilt under your hammock and leave an empty space of 3 to 6 inches between the underquilt and hammock.
I would also recommend an underquilt that can zip along the top, creating a cocoon around the hammock when closed. You can find one such hammock HERE (Amazon Link).
Next, make sure you have an appropriately-rated sleeping bag for the winter. Do not use a budget model sleeping bag if you want to brave the elements! I would recommend bringing a sleeping bag that is rated for temperatures at least 10 degrees colder than what you expect on your trip.
Here’s a great winter sleeping bag that I would recommend (Amazon Link) – it is rated to 0 degrees Fahrenheit and weighs less than 3 pounds.
An underrated but very helpful tool to add warmth when sleeping in a hammock in the winter is a sleeping pad. A sleeping pad offers another layer of insulation between you and the cold air beneath you. As you would likely be using a sleeping pad in your tent, you might as well bring it along for your hammock.
Finally – you should dress warm, even with your sleeping bag and underquilt. Wear your warmest socks, a baselayer, and an insulating layer at the very least when sleeping in your hammock. I would also strongly recommend a warm beanie for extra warmth.
As with any hiking or camping trip, your safety and well-being needs to be your very first consideration.
As such, make sure you always check weather conditions before you set out on a winter hiking and camping trip. Educate yourself to the best of your ability as to what temperatures will be during your trip, and if there will be any storms or weather events. If heavy snow is expected, I would recommend postponing your trip.
Also consider the location of your hike and where you might set up camp. Avalanche danger during the winter is very real – camping on mountainsides with newer fresh snow could put you at risk.
Finally, consider the geography of where you camp for the night during the winter. If you sleep in a valley or basin, you will be in the middle of colder air, which could make your night more uncomfortable.