An Expert Guide to Hammocks

Published on 04/03/2023 · 12 min readA hammock is a great piece of camping gear, whether you're using it as an alternative to a tent, or to lounge by the campfire! Read on for a full guide to hammocks!
Hunter Reed, Camping Expert
By Camping Expert Hunter Reed

Photo by Ris and Ry

tl;dr: Hammocks are lightweight, portable, and easy to set up—making them a popular piece of gear for campers, hikers, and backpackers. To choose the right hammock, consider the intended use, size, material, accessories needed, and budget. Different types of hammocks include single, double, and hammock tents, and each offer their own benefits and drawbacks. A well-made hammock can last for many years and provide a comfortable place to rest while enjoying the great outdoors.

As someone who has always had a passion for the outdoors, I have spent countless hours taking naps or sleeping overnight in hammocks. Not only are they comfortable, but they are also incredibly convenient. As a Curated Expert who values quality and comfort in my gear, I have made it my mission to help people find the right product for their needs. In this article, we’ll be discussing how to find the perfect hammock for your situation.

What Is a Hammock?

You’re likely familiar with the standard hammock—a common backyard staple. But, did you know that hammocks are also a popular choice for outdoor enthusiasts such as campers, hikers, and backpackers?

A hammock is a type of suspended bed made from fabric or netting that is hung between two points, such as trees or poles. Due to their light weight, portability, and easy-to-set-up design, hammocks are an ideal choice for those on the move. They come in a variety of materials, sizes, and styles to fit different needs and preferences: from ultralight backpacking hammocks to larger family-sized hammocks with built-in bug nets and rainflys. With a hammock, outdoor enthusiasts can sleep comfortably off the ground and away from insects, snakes, and other wildlife while enjoying the beauty of the great outdoors.

What to Consider When Buying a Hammock

Photo by Esther Tuttle

What Is My Intended Use?

Will you be using your hammock for short naps on a day hike, or for overnight backpacking trips? If you’re planning to use it for backpacking trips, look for a lightweight and compact option that won't take up too much space in your pack.

What Size Do I Need?

Hammocks come in a range of sizes, from single-person to family-sized. As stated, for backpacking, a lightweight and compact option is best. If you will be using it for car camping or hanging out around camp, weight is probably not an issue. While certain ultralight hammocks weigh less than a pound, bulkier, around-camp hammocks weigh closer to two.

What Material Do I Want?

Hammocks are made from a variety of materials, including nylon, polyester, cotton, and even canvas. Consider factors such as durability, breathability, and comfort when choosing a material. For example, nylon hammocks are lightweight and durable, though they are not as breathable as cotton or canvas. More on this later!

Do I Need Special Accessories?

Some hammocks come with accessories such as bug nets, rain flys, and straps. If you're planning to use the hammock for camping or hiking, look for options that either come with these accessories, or are compatible with them. Many hammocks are sold independently, but have an option for a bug net that zips into the hammock—a good choice if you’re planning to sleep in buggy areas!

What Is My Budget?

Hammocks can range in price from under $20 to over $500, depending on their material, size, and included features. Keep in mind that while a more expensive hammock may have more features and be made from higher-quality materials, it may not be necessary for your specific needs.

A well-made and durable hammock can last for many years—providing a comfortable and relaxing place to rest on your outdoor adventures. So, it's worth investing in a hammock that will meet your specific needs, as opposed to a model that only comes close. That way, you won’t need to upgrade again later.

What Are the Different Types of Hammocks?

Single Hammocks

These hammocks are designed for solo use and are typically smaller and lighter than other types. They are a good choice for backpackers and hikers who want to save weight and space, but don’t necessarily want to go ultralight. Benefits:

  • Lightweight and easy to pack
  • Affordable
  • Great for solo use

Be Aware:

  • Not suitable for two people
  • Larger individuals may feel cramped

Double Hammocks

These hammocks are designed to sleep two people, and are typically larger and more comfortable than single hammocks. They are a good choice for couples or friends who want to share a hammock. Benefits:

  • Higher weight limit
  • Comfortable and roomy for two people
  • Good value for the size

Be Aware:

  • Heavier and bulkier than single hammocks

Family Hammocks

One size up from double hammocks are family hammocks. These are designed to fit multiple people, and are typically larger and more durable than single or double hammocks. They aren’t quite as common as single or double hammocks, but are an especially great choice for families with young children. Benefits:

  • Plenty of space for multiple people
  • Durable and sturdy

Be Aware:

  • Very heavy and bulky
  • Difficult to find a suitable hanging location
  • Expensive compared to single or double hammocks

Hammock Tents

Hammock tents can be used as a complete camping shelter, with a built-in bug net and rainfly. They are a good choice for backpackers and hikers who want a lightweight and versatile camping option. Benefits:

  • Lightweight and easier to pack than a classic tent
  • Provides complete shelter from bugs and rain
  • Can be set up in a variety of locations, unlike a tent—which requires a flat area

Be Aware:

  • Limited space for gear
  • Can be difficult to find a suitable hanging location
  • Expensive compared to other hammock styles

Ultralight Hammocks

Ultralight hammocks are designed to be as lightweight and compact as possible, making them ideal for backpackers and hikers who are looking to save weight and space. Benefits:

  • Extremely lightweight and compact
  • Easy to pack and carry
  • Great for solo use

Be Aware:

  • Limited space for gear or larger individuals
  • More expensive than single or double hammocks

Spreader Bar Hammocks

Spreader bar hammocks have a rigid bar at each end that keeps the hammock open and flat. They are a good choice for those who prefer a flatter sleeping surface, but are not very packable. Benefits:

  • Flat and stable sleeping surface
  • Easier to get in and out of
  • Can be better for lounging in a group setting since they feature a more open design compared to the classic cocoon of other hammocks

Be Aware:

  • Heavy and bulky
  • Not as comfortable as other types of hammocks

Features to Look For in a Hammock

Weight Capacity

The weight capacity is the maximum weight that the hammock can safely support, including the weight of the user and any gear they may have. Each hammock model varies slightly, so check the technical specifications before purchasing. What follows is a list of general weight capacities for various hammock types:

  • Single hammocks: 300–400 lbs
  • Double hammocks: up to 500–600 lbs
  • Family hammocks: up to 800–1000 lbs
  • Ultralight hammocks: 200–300 lbs
  • Hammock tents: 250–400 lbs
  • Spreader bar hammocks: 450–500 lbs

It’s also important to follow any manufacturer guidelines or recommendations for use, including how to properly hang the hammock and how to distribute weight for maximum safety.

Material

As previously mentioned, there are many different options when it comes to hammock material types. Included below are some of the most common types, and their benefits and drawbacks.

Size and Portability

Consider the size of the hammock in relation to your body size. A larger hammock may be more comfortable, but it may also be heavier and bulkier. Taller individuals will want to ensure they get a hammock that offers a comfortable length for their bodies.

Also, consider how easy the hammock is to pack and carry. A lightweight and compact hammock is ideal for backpackers and hikers. Most hammocks can easily be packed into an attached stuff sack, though these sacks can also vary in size. So, if you’re going to be tossing your hammock in a backpack, make sure the packed-down size won’t be too bulky to carry.

Suspension System

The suspension system is a vital component of a hammock, as it is responsible for holding up the bedding and attaching it to trees or other structures. The suspension system can impact the comfort, stability, and ease of setup of the hammock.

Here are some of the most common types of suspension systems found in hammocks:

  • Strap systems: One of the most popular suspension systems—the straps are wrapped around a tree or other anchor point and the hammock is attached to the straps using carabiners. They are easy to set up and adjust and are gentle on trees. This is what typically comes included when you purchase a hammock.
  • Whoopie slings: Lightweight and highly adjustable systems that consist of a loop of line with a small, adjustable loop spliced into it. They are sold separately but can be used with most any hammock. Whoopie slings allow for easy adjustments to the height and tension of the hammock.
  • Daisy chains: Similar to whoopie slings, daisy chains are webbing straps with loops spaced evenly along the length, allowing for easy adjustment of the hammock's height. They are also typically sold separately, though work with most hammocks

While these three are the most common, there are other suspension systems available. These include ultralight suspension systems, or suspensions with longer lengths to attach to anchor points that are a bit further away.

Add Ons and Accessories

There are a variety of accessories that can be used with camping hammocks to enhance their functionality and comfort. These can either be sold as a package deal with a hammock, or separately. Some of the most common accessories include:

  • Bug nets: Designed to keep insects and other pests out of your hammock while you sleep. They can be particularly useful for camping trips in areas with high mosquito or other biting-insect populations. Some hammocks come with built-in bug nets, while others require you to purchase a separate netting attachment. If you’re camping frequently in a buggy area, make sure to get something that is going to be really secure—such as a built-in bug net, or one that can zip into your hammock.
  • Rainfly: A rainfly is a cover that can be used to protect your hammock from rain or other precipitation. It is particularly useful on camping trips where the weather is unpredictable, as it can help keep you and your gear dry. Again, some hammocks come with built-in rainflies, while others require it be purchased separately.
  • Underquilt: An underquilt is used to insulate the bottom of your hammock and keep you warm while you sleep. It is particularly useful for cold-weather camping trips. Again, underquilts can be purchased separately or may be included as part of a camping hammock package.

How to Choose the Right Hammock for You

Below I have described three Curated customers whom I have helped find camping hammocks. Each represents a different type of camper with specific needs and certain features they might prefer, followed by some recommended hammock options that would best suit their style of camping!

Phil: the Adventurous Backpacker

Phil is an experienced backpacker who loves exploring remote areas. He will be using his hammock instead of a tent for overnight or multi-day trips. He’s hoping to cut down on weight, and prioritizes packability. Phil typically camps in backcountry areas that don’t get a ton of inclement weather, but sometimes he encounters some light rain. Features Phil should look for:

  • Ultralight material
  • Strong, durable fabric that can withstand the rigors of outdoor use
  • Easy setup and takedown, so he can spend more time exploring
  • Compact size for easy packing
  • Rain-fly compatibility

Hammock examples:

Lindsay: the Comfort-Seeking Camper

Lindsay is an avid car camper who enjoys spending time outdoors with friends and family. She will be using her hammock for lounging and relaxation around the campsite, so she prioritizes comfort. The option to choose between different color options and designs would be a plus, though she isn’t looking to spend too much money. Features Lindsay should look for:

  • Spacious design that is at least a two-person hammock
  • Soft, comfortable material
  • Durable construction that can withstand frequent use
  • Easy setup and takedown for quick relaxation
  • Different pattern options

Hammock examples:

  • ENO DoubleNest Print Hammock
  • Grand Trunk Double Parachute Nylon Hammock
  • Eagles Nest Outfitters Double Deluxe Hammock

Sam: the Budget-Friendly Backpacker

Sam is a college student who enjoys backpacking and will be using her hammock for overnight camping trips. Her favorite kinds of trips are to areas with lakes which offer beautiful views but tend to have a lot of bugs. She wants something with an included bug net, but does not want to spend more than $100, at the absolute most. For Sam, affordability is a priority over going ultralight. Features Sam should look for:

  • Budget-friendly price point
  • Lightweight design for easy carrying
  • Durable fabric that can withstand outdoor use
  • Versatile setup options for different camping environments

Hammock examples:

  • Eagles Nest JungleNest Hammock
  • Grand Trunk Skeeter Beeter Hammock
  • ENO Single Nest with Guardian SL Bug Net

Chat With a Real Expert

Photo by Zach Betten

Camping hammocks offer a unique and comfortable way to sleep outdoors while also providing a breathtaking view of your surroundings. So whether you're a seasoned camping enthusiast or a beginner, a hammock is sure to enhance your camping experience.

If you’re still undecided on what is the best type, or model, of hammock for you, reach out to a Camping and Hiking Expert, like me! We offer free, customized advice and gear recommendations to get you out the door and into the great outdoors.

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