Updated: Feb 28
The great outdoors and the tent have been synonymous for decades. T-shirts, mugs, and brand logos are emblazoned with the universal symbol of the outdoors as represented with a tent.
A new trend, however, is re-writing this dynamic. The traditional tent may still symbolize the outdoors, but many backpackers are enhancing their outdoor experience by replacing their tents with a hammock.
"The traditional tent may still symbolize the outdoors, but many backpackers are enhancing their outdoor experience by replacing their tents with a hammock."
Although it is no newcomer to the scene, the hammock has quickly become a must have item for backpackers around the world. The reason for this is the many advantages a hammock has over the traditional tent, and the variety of roles the hammock fills. This article will share with you why so many backpackers left behind their tent poles, stakes, tarps, and discovered the many advantages of backpacking with a hammock.
The first advantage a hammock has over a tent is weight. Every pound in your pack is crucial, and your current sleeping setup may be able to shave some weight if you consider switching from a tent. A hammock, and the straps needed to hang it, weigh in at around 2 pounds. As with almost all outdoor equipment, ultralight weigh options exist, and for a little extra money you can have a hammock and the accompanying straps for under a pound.
If you are trekking into a rainy locale and will need a way to stay dry, you will need an overhead tarp. Although this will add weight to your pack, it will only increase it by less than a pound. All together your total weight for a dry (hopefully) trip is 1-2 pounds, and for a wet trip you will be packing 2-3 pounds.
Now compare that to a tent. Most single person tents that include a rain fly will weigh somewhere between 2-4 pounds. Oh, and that does not include the tarp that goes under the tent, typically called the footprint. Sure, you can buy tents that weight less than a hammock and tarp combination, but the cost for them is incredibly high. These ultralight tents are often not as durable because they are designed to save weight, not to necessarily withstand tears or rips.
That is not to say you cannot get a great ultralight tent; in fact, I urge you look them up, they’re fascinating. So, unless you are attempting to set a speed record on the Appalachian Trail, a radically light tent is not practical for the average backpacker. Instead, backpackers turned to more durable hammocks, which weigh much less than a traditional backpacking tent.
In addition to being lightweight, a hammock is a space saver too. A hammock and the hanging equipment will take up much less space than a traditional tent will. Volume of your equipment is sometimes as important as weight; you can only take with you what you can fit in, or on your pack.
The extra room that you save by packing a hammock will allow you to fit in that ukulele you left behind last trip. Arranging and organizing your gear will be much easier with a small hammock. Hammocks compact neatly into a shape about the size of a softball. Clearly, the size of the hammock is a “big” deal with backpackers, and why they love them!
The simplicity and size lead to the next advantage; price. With very few exceptions, single hammocks retail for well under $80. Include the price of hanging straps an overhead tarp and the total cost will usually be at 150 dollars or less. Of course, you can spend more money for an even more lightweight set up.
The most lightweight yet reasonable setup I could find was a whopping total of 20oz for the hammock, tarp, and suspension straps. All told this cost about $250. This is only a fraction of the price for a tent of comparable weight or size. The typical single person backpacking tent will weigh almost double that and cost at least that much or more. Keep in mind this is the higher end, you can easily be out the door with a good hammock and straps for less than 100 dollars.
Tent campers often end up spending more money on accessories to make their sleeping more comfortable. With a hammock, it's a different story, you really only need the hammock, straps, and maybe a tarp or bug net depending on your destination. Having a great backpacking experience should not be a costly endeavor, and a hammock instead of a tent is an easy way backpackers are saving money.
4. Catching your ZZZ's
Another boost for hammocks is comfort. There is a reason that the mattress industry is billion-dollar industry; people like to be comfortable. When sleeping in a tent you are on the hard, and usually unforgiving ground. To alleviate that discomfort, you can add things like inflatable or foam pads. Both options get you off the ground, in a small way, but still are additional pieces of gear you need to buy and carry.
In contrast, you cannot get much more comfortable than hanging in the air, cocooned by breathable nylon. The natural curved shape of the hammock allows your head to rest at an angle, much like a pillow is designed to do. This allows for a comfortable nights sleep. There are a plethora of articles on the internet about the benefits of sleeping suspended in a hammock, but the best thing you can do is to try it yourself.
5. No matter what the weather
When inclement weather arrives, hammocks can provide the same protection that a tent can, by adding a small overhead tarp. The tarp will protect against the rain, but your sleeping arrangement will still be open to airflow, unlike a tent with the rainfly attached. On rainy days a tent dweller can still experience water seeping in from the bottom or sides of a tent, but in a hammock, you are safely off from the wet ground.
Being off the ground also helps you regulate your temperature at night. In cold weather, sleeping on the ground can rob your body of heat, as the ground attempts to bring you down to its temperature. Hammocks suspend you in the air, alleviating the problem of ground temperatures. Of course, you will still want your sleeping bag to stay warm if you are in a colder location. Whatever the weather brings on your backpacking trip, you can sleep comfortably and affordably in your hammock.
6. Do not disturb
One helpful element of a tent is the built-in privacy that is offers. However, with a hammock you do not need to sacrifice on privacy. An overhead tarp can be added to your hammock, offering privacy without blocking the airflow.
As far as privacy from animals and other bugs, there are additions to your hammock as well. Mesh covers can attach to your hammock, protecting you from the critters. Mesh covers are a lightweight and breathable solution, if you are setting up camp in a bug populated area.
7. Play it where it lies
One concern that people have about backpacking with a hammock is being able to set it up. This is a valid point to discuss, and yes, there are some places in the world that will offer no options for hanging your hammock. If you are planning to backpack through Antarctica or the Sahara Desert, I would not recommend bringing a hammock. If barren desserts are not on your backpacking bucket list, then you will most likely find a place to hang your hammock. It may not be in obvious places, but with a little creativity, you can make it work.
Trees are not the only thing from which you can hang your hammock. Once you stop looking around for two perfectly spaced trees, you will see configurations for your set up that will work just as well. Boulders and even sturdy bushes can serve as anchors. If you keep an open mind and employ a little ingenuity, you will never have to sleep on the ground for lack of options hanging your hammock.
8. Take a seat
In addition to being an amazing bed to sleep in, the hammock can serve as a chair during the day when relaxing. If you have a buddy who needs a seat, then you can check out the two-person hammock options which are typically rated to hold 500 or more pounds. No need to buy an ultralight backpacking chair, with a hammock you have the most comfortable chair in your pack already!
Hammocks allow you to be fully immersed in the outdoors, and isn’t that why you are out there in the first place? You can feel the gentle sway of the trees as you nod off. You will feel a cool evening breeze as you look up at the stars slowly pass by throughout the night.
You will wake up feeling rested in a bed inspired by nature, surrounded by the very sights and smells you ventured out to be in. Happy hiking!