Hangin' Outside: How To Hang A Hammock

Learn everything you need to know about hanging a hammock in this article by camping expert, Alex Dolan.

Photo by Zach Betten
Published on

What is it about laying in a hammock that just seems to make all of our troubles disappear? Is it the sense of levitation we feel when suspended above the ground? Is it the carefree swinging that brings us back to our childhood? Maybe it's the fact that as soon as we crawl into one, we are officially just hanging out.

Ancient literature claims that hanging beds provided superior sleep and a longer life. While most modern hammock enthusiasts won’t guarantee eternal youth, they certainly are great for relaxing comfortably in the great outdoors. If you've got a new hammock that you are ready to lounge in, you may have a few questions about how to hang it up. Overall the process is pretty simple, but here are a few tips that you'll want to keep in mind.

Since I am a camping and hiking expert rather than a landscaping artist, we are going to discuss how to set up low-tech, portable hammocks or camping hammocks rather than the ones made out of rope netting and wood that you would more commonly find in someone's yard.

Location, Location, Location

The most important step in setting up your hammock is deciding where it will go. Before you can start lounging, you’ll need to choose the right spot to hang out. Usually this means finding two trees that are the right distance apart. The length of your hammock is most likely about seven feet long before adding the length of the straps. If you are buying straps separately from your hammock, go ahead and buy the longest ones you can find. As long as you’re not concerned about added bulk or weight in your pack, the longer straps will give you more options for how far apart your suspension points can be. With the added length of your straps, the magic distance between anchor points is around ten to fifteen feet.

A man lounges in a hammock by a waterfall
Lounging in a hammock with a waterfall. Photo by Jeremy Bishop

Be Considerate

Make sure that your hammock won't be blocking a trail or path used by others. If you are scoping out some waterfront real estate for the afternoon, consider if other hikers may need access to the area that you are occupying. Not only do you want to be considerate of hindering someone else's access to a trail or water source, you probably don’t want your lounging disturbed by frequent passers by.

Choosing the Right Anchor Points

You don’t have to use trees as your suspension points (one time, I used a trailer hitch and a fence post), but whatever you use, make sure it is strong enough to hold your full weight.

The Leave No Trace policy includes avoiding damaging plants. Choose big tree trunks and sturdy trees that can easily support your weight. Avoid trees that have dead branches. Check in and around the trees for any critters that may be occupying the space. Don’t disturb any wildlife. Remember this is their home, not yours. Don't attach more than one hammock to a tree at a time. The combined weight could be more than you think.

A man lounges in a hammock suspended over a river
Hanging out next to the river. Photo by Dane Deaner

Choose the Right Equipment

Make sure you check the weight limit on your hammock and be sure not to exceed it, unless you would like a quick lesson in gravitational force. And again, remember to leave no trace. Don't anchor or drill eye bolts, metal rings, or j-hooks into any trees for the ends of your hammock to attach to. Instead, use wide hammock straps that are less likely to damage or dig into tree bark. If you are looking for a good place in your backyard to hang your hammock, consider a hammock stand. It won't be easy to carry into a campsite but it will be a nice place to lay in the sunshine without harming any trees in your yard, and the anchor points will be the perfect distance apart.

Tension and Angle

A hammock’s hanging angle, also referred to as sag, is the angle that the hammock straps create in relation to the level ground underneath you. This is measured (or more likely guesstimated) with your full weight in the hammock and should be a thirty 30-degree angle. This will give the hammock enough tension to give you support lengthwise, and keep your butt from hanging low while your feet stick straight up in the air. If this angle is too acute, it will create too much tension widthwise and your shoulders will get pinched together

A person lies in a hammock while looking out at rolling green hills
Hammocking with rolling hills. Photo by Austin Schmid

Hang Height

Sit height, or the height that your hammock sits above the ground, should be about eighteen inches. This is a good rule of thumb because it will give you enough height to keep your butt from dragging on the ground, but it will be low enough to make it easy to crawl in and out of. Obviously if you are shorter or taller, you can adjust the height of your hammock accordingly.

Many overly daring hammock enthusiasts will hang from much higher. While this may look really cool, is it pretty dangerous. Use good judgment and consider the risks before putting yourself in a compromising position.

Adding Comfort

Once you get cozy in your hammock, you probably won’t want to move for a while. Make sure you have everything you’ll want or need before you crawl in, including snacks, a good book, and a blanket. Many hammocks come with an attached stuff sack that doubles as a pocket for these things while you are in it.

Thin nylon hammocks tend to lack insulation and with the adding cooling effects from a little wind, you will probably find that your backside can get chilled rather quickly. Consider adding a sleeping pad for extra insulation with a bonus of added comfort.

Add Ons

If you are somewhere with a lot of bugs that you want to avoid, rather than use bug spray, try equipping your hammock with bug netting. It’s better for the environment and your health than the toxic chemicals found in bug spray.

If you are expecting rain showers, don’t call it quits. Equip your hammock with a rain fly. It will require an extra line to be tethered above you and on your existing anchor points. Attach two corners of the fly to these anchor points. The other two corners will also need to be tied off to the ground with enough tension that rain will shed off the waterproof surface.

A person reclines in a hammock overlooking the ocean
Island life beach hammocking. Photo by Ris & Ry

Double check that everything is properly set up and that the hammock will be able to hold your full weight before you hop in. I like to give my hammock a good long walk around to visually inspect the setup from all sides. Then I lean on the hammock with as much downward force as possible. Once I'm satisfied the rigging will hold me, it’s time to lay back and relax.

I hope this “how to” answers any questions that a new hammocker has about getting started. I can’t reiterate how important it is to respect the environment around you. LEAVE NO TRACE, and always remember to have fun! For those are you who are experienced with setting up your own dangling lounges, is there anything you would add? Where is your favorite place to hang a hammock? You can click on my expert profile below to chat with me in real time and let me know!

Like this article?
Share it with your network

Written By
I have years of experience planning and executing multi day river trips for up to twenty customers at a time and countless summer nights living out of my Honda Element, moving from river to river, living wherever the water is flowing. I have also toured the San Juan Islands via kayak, and circumnavi...

Curated experts can help

Have a question about the article you just read or want personal recommendations? Connect with a Curated expert and get free gear recommendations for whatever you’re looking for!

Read Next