When I went camping as a kid, I always slept uncomfortably in a tent on the hard ground. I thought that a rough night of sleep was part of camping and hiking – until a friend suggested that I try sleeping in a hammock. I did, and I couldn’t believe how well I had slept. Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about hammock camping and why it is such a great way to sleep when on the trail.
The main reason you should sleep in a hammock during your hiking trips is because they provide a better night’s sleep than sleeping on the ground in tents. A good night’s sleep will help you recover physically and mentally, which will then allow for a better hiking experience throughout the duration of your trip.
Appropriate rest at night is an important part of a multi-day hiking trip. The last thing your body needs after a long day’s hike with a heavy pack on your back is a sleepless night. I’ve found from my own adventures that a hammock gives me the rest and energy I need for the day ahead.
Besides the excellent night’s sleep you get from a hammock, there are also other benefits. Using a hammock means you can sleep almost anywhere, allows for fast setup, is consistent with Leave No Trace principles, and still provides great shelter from the elements.
Hammocks Provide An Excellent Sleeping Experience
The first thing I noticed when I slept in a hammock for the first time was how natural it felt. I thought that I would feel constricted and trapped; to the contrary, I immediately felt relaxed.
Ideal Sleeping Position
Hammocks allow for you to sleep on your back, with your head and feet slightly elevated. This is the ideal position for restful sleep. When your hammock is set up correctly, you will find yourself comfortably nestled in this position, ready for a good night’s sleep.
Sleeping in a hammock also allows for a deeper sleep than laying flat on the ground, or on a mattress. You can achieve REM sleep more quickly in a hammock, which will lead to better focus and performance. This will benefit your hiking performance, giving you more energy and stamina.
Fall Asleep Faster
In a hammock, you will not only sleep more deeply, but you will also fall asleep faster. After a long hike, getting as much recovery via sleep is vital. Because you are in a comfortable position and because of the swaying that accompanies sleep in a hammock, you will likely fall asleep faster than you would sleeping on the ground.
Pressure Points Eliminated
After a long hike, you likely will have parts of your body that just ache. The last thing you need is more discomfort when you wake up the next morning. Sleeping in a hammock correctly allows for a zero-pressure point sleep. A hammock will conform to your body, eliminating pressure points. Contrast this with your body having to conform to the hard ground if sleeping in a tent.
Swaying Is Good For The Mind
Have you ever noticed how babies fall asleep when being swayed or rocked? Well, that characteristic never leaves us. The swaying motion of a hammock helps us sleep easier, and even impacts our brain waves in a positive manner.
Convenience Of Location
It’s not easy to find a good piece of ground upon which you can sleep. Sometimes the ground is uneven. Sometimes there is no flat area large enough to accommodate your body. Sometimes there is too much foliage, which can interfere for a number of reasons.
But sleeping in a hammock allows you to sleep almost anywhere, as long as there are two strong trees approximately 15 feet apart. I have slept wonderfully in a hammock in areas where it would be impossible to sleep on the ground.
Also, you can set up your hammock where the water is, rather than hope that a regular campsite is close enough to a water source. This makes cooking, cleaning, and getting water for the next hike so much easier.
The Same, Easy Setup
Once you get the hang of setting up your hammock, you can literally have your sleeping system ready to go in five minutes. I appreciate having the ability after the hike is done to spend a short period of time worrying about my sleeping arrangements, and having more time to eat and relax.
I also love the fact that sleeping in a hammock is the same, every night. No worrying about whether you can find a piece of ground as good or better than the one from the night before. A hammock allows you to get the same experience, every night.
It’s Great For The Environment
Sleeping in a hammock leaves no trace when it comes to disturbing a campsite, and also does no damage to plants and foliage. NOTE: Using ropes instead of hammock straps can damage trees, which is another reason why I recommend the latter.
Protection Against The Elements
I have no fear about sleeping in the wind or rain in a hammock. So long as your rain fly is set up correctly, you will stay warm and dry. The tarp not only allows for protection from rain, but also insulates against the wind. Some of my best nights sleeping have come during a rainy night.
What Else To Consider When Using A Hammock
What Do I Need For A Great Hammock System?
In order to get the most out of your hammock, there are few things that you need to be the most comfortable, such as:
- Appropriate hammock straps – Don’t try to use ropes to lash your hammock to trees; use hammock straps. Some systems come with straps, some are sold separately from the hammock. Straps are much easier to use and more secure than ropes.
- A rain fly and mosquito net – I have gotten by without both a rain fly and mosquito net, but I would not recommend setting up your hammock system without them. Protection from the wind and/or rain, plus a mosquito-free night, are invaluable.
- Insulation from below – You will likely have a sleeping bag as insulation for the top of your body. But your underside (backside) will get cold at night without insulation. I have used both an inflatable sleeping pad as well as an underquilt to keep my backside warm – and these are definitely worth it.
How To Set Up Your Hammock
An important factor in a comfortable hammock system is how you set up your hammock. Don’t assume this is an easy step that can be mastered on your first try. I have, after many hiking trips, still struggled to find the right setup for a proper hammock situation.
A proper hammock set up means finding trees or anchor points 12 to 15 feet apart. The straps should be anchored at the same height on each tree.
You should next adjust the straps and hammock so there is a 30-degree angle from the hammock line running to the tree and a straight ridgeline along the top of the hammock. An angle larger than this could lead to a suboptimal sleeping position.
Keep the bottom of the hammock at least 12 to 18 inches above the ground, as it will sag as you lay in it. But beware of setting up too highly above the ground – it will be more difficult to get into your hammock if it is too high!
Once your hammock is set up, lie diagonally in the hammock. This will keep your body from sagging too severely from the natural shape of the hammock.
Hammock camping will always be my preferred shelter for hiking. I love the sleep benefits a hammock provides, as well as the ease and utility it offers. So, the next time you plan a hike, and you’ve always slept on the ground, consider a hammock. It might just change your life…