How to Choose the Best Backpacking Hammock 2018

Getting started in the world of hammock camping can take a ton of effort and feel overwhelming! I should know, I made the transition from tent to hammock myself a few years ago. Unfortunately, there was a lot I didn’t know about hammock camping and it cost me time and money both!

Fortunately, I’m here to alleviate some of those problems for you. With hundreds of nights experience on the trail guiding backpacking trips, I know what to look for in great gear. Not only that, but I’m going to make sure that you finish this article knowing what to look for as well.

There are a lot of details involved in choosing the right hammock camping gear for your needs and personal style. Let’s get right into it and find out what hammock camping gear belongs in your backpack!

How to Choose the Best Camping Hammock for You

Remember, we’re all different. Whether it’s body size, sleep preference, hiking location or other factors – you need something different from the next guy. Keep that in mind as we go over some of the details of hammock camping.

Hammock Material

Hammocks for backpacking are usually lightweight – or at least lighter weight than recreational hammocks. That means they have to push the envelope a bit with materials. These lightweight materials generally are one of two main types:

  • Nylon is a man-made material that is extremely durable and abrasion resistant. This material is heavily used in backpacking gear because it’s effective and affordable. Nylon can be made more robust with the inclusion of thick reinforcement threads called ripstop nylon.
  • Polyester is another man-made material common in backpacking and sports gear. It is known for its great wicking capabilities in clothing. In hammocks, however, it is sometimes used as a lightweight material for bodies. Depending on the weave and exact fiber type it can be both affordable and lightweight.

Both nylon and polyester are perfectly acceptable materials for hammock camping. For those seeking the absolute lightest hammocks, high-end polyester weaves may often offer the pinnacle of performance.

Hammock Construction

There are two main construction styles for hammocks – camping or recreational. These styles offer dramatically different end results:

Gathered end hammocks are made by cinching up all the material at the end of the hammock. From that “gathered end” a suspension system travels out to the trees. Gathered end hammocks are affordable and easy to DIY or make at home.

The biggest downfall of a gathered end hammock is that they tend to cause “banana” shaped sleeping positions. Some gathered end hammocks are made to lay asymmetrically so the user lays across them at an angle. This helps flatten the hang lay so if the banana lay of a hammock bothers you, look for this feature!

Pros of Gathered Hammocks

  • Lightweight
  • Simple Construction
  • Low bulk

Cons of Gathered Hammocks

  • Banana shaped lay
  • Lack of “wiggle room”

Bridge Hammocks aim to solve the problem of the banana shaped lay as well. Instead of making you lay at an angle, however, bridge hammocks attempt to flatten out the entire hammock.

With a bridge hammock there are two spreader bars at the head and foot of the hammock. These bars spread out the weight and pressure of the user across the material of the hammock. Any suspension on the hammock then attaches to these bridge bars.

Pros of Bridge Hammocks:

  • Flatter lay
  • More wiggle room
  • More traditional feeling sleep position

Cons of Bridge Hammocks:

  • Spreader bars are large and heavy
  • Perfecting the hammock may be fiddly and may take tinkering

Suspension Systems

Suspension systems are tricky and can rapidly get confusing! They’re an area of hammock technicality that many newbies don’t even realize they have options.

The suspension system of any hammock refers to the rope, webbing, or cord that holds the weight of the user. Suspension systems are critical to a good hang and a technical look at them can quickly get more complicated than this article can cover.

There are several competing popular styles of hammock suspension but one style beats them all for simplicity and lightweight. That is the whoopie sling method of hammock suspension!

Whoopie slings are common on some of the best hammocks for backpacking. Fortunately, even on those without whoopie slings, they can be added afterward without too much hassle. To make or modify your own whoopie slings, start with this tutorial video:

To save you some time in research I’ll give you a tip to unlocking a lightweight hammock suspension! Dynaglide rope is by far the lightest hammock suspension material you can use. However, it may not be quite strong enough to support heavier users and tight hang angles.

If you need suspension gear to make or adjust your suspension, there are few resources as good as the Whoopie Sling site. You can also learn more about the technical forces and components in a hammock suspension through their great educational material as well.

When you’re deciding on a suspension, make sure to consider that it will bear the entire load of you and your gear in the hammock. Don’t skimp on the load rating of your suspension material – if in doubt go with a stronger material!

Tree Hugger Straps

In order to attach the hammock to a tree, you need some kind of strap. In the past, some hammocks have been made to attach to the tree using the same suspension rope that attaches to the hammock. Unfortunately, that can cause damage to the tree and is not allowed in many areas of public land.

Tree hugger straps not only save the tree, they also save your hammock suspension. Tree bark can be damaging to hammock suspensions over time. Plus, many tree hugger straps are designed to help you quickly adjust distances.

There is really only one general rule for tree hugger straps in my mind: they must be 1” wide or more.

For more information on tree hugger straps check out this comprehensive resource.

Aside from that single rule, anything goes when it comes to tree hugger straps. However, what I like to look for is a lightweight webbing material. Seek the lightest webbing you can find that is 1” wide or more and has a load rating that can handle the weight of you and your gear.

I made my own tree hugger straps after some research, but you can buy them if you like. Many hammocks come with them! For the gram weenies like me, seeking to cut every ounce, you may want to make your own.

Treehugger straps usually also require toggles when being used with whoopie slings. I made my own as well, but you can purchase them. Most toggles are made from old aluminum arrow shafts cut into 2’ – 3” lengths. If you happen to have one on hand just cut it with a hacksaw and gently sand down the burs to make your own and save a buck or two.

Bug Nets

One of the last features to think about with a camping hammock is the bug net. Essentially it’s a question of “to bug net or not to bug net”?

The answer is that you need to have a bug net unless you happen to be in an area that’s completely free of bugs. There’s really no other way to comfortably sleep the night away.

Some hammock users will use an oversize recreational hammock, like a double Eno, and wrap the whole thing around them to protect from bugs. This method of protection has several problems, only one of them being claustrophobia.

Bug nets do add a bit of weight, but not much for their added comfort. For that reason, I urge people to opt for bug nets.

Bug nets come in two flavors: integrated or separate.

Integrated bug nets are convenient and effective. Unless you have a specific reason for avoiding them, look for a hammock with one included.

If for some reason, you already have a hammock you want to use or you go with a hammock lacking a bug net, you can add one after. Bug net “sock” slip over the entire hammock and surround you in 360 degrees of bug protection.

One advantage of a removable bug net is that you can remove it and leave it at home when bugs are negligible. Considering the disadvantages of removable bug nets, however, this may not be worth your time.

Rain Tarps

The final component of a good camping hammock is a rain tarp. I’ll note a few things here to think about and avoid and then cover all you need to know about rain tarps.

  • To avoid: Some hammocks include integrated rain tarps. My Hennessy Hammock came with an integrated rain fly which caused no end of problems. After some research, I finally learned why and have ever since avoided this style of rain fly.

Integrated rain fly, when attached to the hammock suspension, lose tension when you lay in the hammock. Laying in the hammock pulls the two end attachment points closer together and thus causes tarp slack.

Instead, what you need is a nice lightweight rainfly with its own suspension cord. For this purpose, you can choose to use one of a number of materials.

  • Cuben fiber or dyneema fiber is by far the lightest weight material you can use for a rain fly. It’s also very loud and very fragile to puncture. This material will save gram weenies several ounces but at a high expense on the wallet.
  • Silpoly is, in my view, the best bang for your buck. This is a waterproof silicone impregnated polyester fabric. These tarps from Underground Quilts employ silpoly to great effect and they’re my preferred tarp for any situation!
  • Silnylon is a classic material and you can’t go wrong, really. When it comes to technicality and number crunching it may or may not beat silpoly. If you find a cheap silnylon tarp that fits your needs, I wouldn’t hesitate to go with it!

Understanding the size of hammock tarp to go with is a bit trickier. If you’re a gram weenie you’ll probably want to save every ounce by picking a small size. I would urge you to avoid this in this case as a small hammock tarp is a big pain in the butt.

Instead, go with a moderate to large size tarp and save yourself a lot of trouble. An extra ounce or two here will give you more room to get in and out of your hammock without getting soaked. It may also afford the room you need to cook underneath the tarp on a nasty weather day.

For those unconcerned about weight or cost, I’d go with a very generous sized silpoly tarp from Underground Quilts. The weight will still be quite light and you’ll have tons of “elbow room” and no worries during driving rains.

  • Asymmetrical tarps are crucial for those using asymmetrical hang hammocks. Remember that some gathered end hammocks cause users to lay slightly sideways, known as an asymmetrical hang. You’ll either need an asymmetrical tarp or a large traditional tarp that will adequately cover you from rain.

Winter Hammock Camping

When winter weather blows in, it’s time to rethink things. Hammocks are highly susceptible to heat loss during winter and therefore struggle to compete with conventional shelters like tents for efficiency.

In order to survive the cold winter temps in a hammock you’ll need a few critical things:

  • Overcover
  • Appropriate top quilt
  • Appropriate underquilt
  • Winter rainfly/tarp
This doesn’t sound so bad, does it? Well, unfortunately, those thick warm quilts – even when made from good quality down – weigh quite a bit and take up a decent amount of space in the pack.

Plus, most wraparound 4-season hammock tarps are nearly double the weight and bulk of minimalist summer tarps.

That said, even in a tent you’ll need bulkier, heavier gear for the winter. However, when the dust settles and we crunch the numbers, staying warm in a hammock takes more gear in the winter than some other systems.

Remember that weight and bulk are not the final deciding factor in every case. If you enjoy hammock camping and want to keep on hanging right through the winter, there’s no reason to worry about crunching numbers.

For the gram weenies and ultralight purists among you, I would urge you to consider other shelter options for super lightweight winter camping.

On Underquilts and Top Quilts

Chances are good that you’ve heard about these. They’re the hammock equivalent of a sleeping bag. However, because of the lay of a hammock, using a sleeping bag won’t work. Traditional sleeping bags lose insulation value when used in a hammock due to the crushed loft.

That said, this article is primarily about hammocks so we won’t dig into the nitty-gritty details of quilts. I will arm you with a few tips though:

  • Higher loft numbers are lighter weight when comparing like for like/li>
  • Down underquilts can be hit with rain spray if you use too small of a tarp
  • When in doubt, go with a warmer underquilt and buy several top quilts based on expected temps
Buying a new underquilt and top quilt to match all the changes in outdoor temperature that you might experience throughout a backpacking season will cost thousands of dollars! I would buy one warm underquilt for 3-season and a 20 degree top quilt plus a 40 degree top quilt to cover 90% of situations.

Of course, you’ll have to decide what’s best for you, your sleep preferences, the time of year, and your budget!

  • Note: Not all hammocks have attachments for underquilts. Add some afterward with a little DIY sewing – they’re not hard to add.

The Best Hammocks for Backpacking: Reviewed

Let’s be clear – there are tons of hammocks out there. However, only a handful of them really measures up against the strict needs of backpackers and hammock campers.

Hennessy Hammock Ultralite Backpacker – Top Backpacking Hammock

© Amazon

Hennessy Hammock made my very first (and still only) backpacking hammock. Meeting the manufacturer at Trail Days in Damascus, VA was my introduction to the then-budding phenomenon of backpacking hammocks.

  • Popular cottage manufacturer
  • Tons of aftermarket accessories
  • Asymmetrical rainfly included

These guys know how to make a camping hammock. One of the design features you won’t find elsewhere is the “classic entry” model. With these, two overlapping layers of fabric on the bottom provide the entry into the bugnet-protected hammock. This makes the it lighter by removing the zipper.

Note: You can order the zipper model like I did if you prefer.

These gathered end asymmetrical hammocks have an included lightweight rainfly. The current Hennessy Hammock model rainflys have their own independent suspension that prevents rainfly sag.

While the hammock and rainfly come in at about 2 pounds total, you can always tweak a Hennessy Hammock to your liking. There are many accessories and changes you can make to create the perfect backpacking sleep system for you with this platform!

Dream Hammock Darien Best Hammock for Ultralight Backpackers

best lightweight hammock
© Dream Hammocks

If there was a single hammock that’s “the best” for everyone it would be the Darien from Dream Hammock. Seriously, this thing is loaded with features and options. You can custom order almost every single detail including fabric, color, and options.

  • Multiple fabric choices
  • Complete control of options
  • Extremely lightweight
  • Integrated bug net
  • Takes 6 weeks to deliver
This hammock is designed with an asymmetrical lay out of the box. What you won’t get out of the box, however, is a hammock tarp. That’s okay though because most discerning backpackers using hammocks probably have their own tarp preferences anyways.

You can order this hammock ready with whoopie slings so there’s no tinkering necessary. I’d advise this method!

Plus, you can choose from 10’ hammock models or 11’ hammock models. The longer 11’ model will be a bit heavier but you’ll get a flatter lay and more room for taller sleepers.

Practically everything about this hammock can be customized. If you don’t see the options you want, just send them an email.

You’ll also be hard pressed to find a lighter hammock at a lower price with all the features of the Darien. It’s notorious for being among the all time top performers in the world of backpacking hammocks.

Covacure Camping Hammock - Best for Budget/Beginners

© Amazon

I still remember getting started backpacking. This was a time in my life when inexpensive gear ruled my world by necessity. I spent hours searching for the most affordable version of the gear I needed. That’s why I made sure to include an option that can get you hammock camping on the cheap.

  • Gathered end
  • Full bug net
  • Tree hugger and suspension included
  • No underquilt attachment
When you consider that this hammock is about 75% cheaper than our top pick, it suddenly becomes a serious contender!

At this price, you might expect lower quality but that's not the case here. While you lose some of the customization available from cottage industry manufacturers like Dream Hammock or Jacks R Better, that doesn’t mean a loss of quality.

This hammock holds a generous 440 pounds of user and gear weight. All that comes in at about 1 pound of weight for the hammock and bug net combo. Keep in mind, however, you will have to go find your own rainfly.

The only drawback is that you may have to sew on some loops or D rings in order to attach an underquilt. Not a big deal for most DIYers, though.

If saving every single ounce isn’t that important to you and you don’t mind tinkering with your gear, you could save a pretty penny going this route!

Eagles Nest Outfitters DoubleNest Hammock - Best Hammock for Couples

With all my experience and research I’ve just never been able to find a hammock that works for couples. No matter how much you love your partner, hammocks just aren’t the place to share sleeping space.

However, you can still be close to one another and use your favorite hammocks with a little inventiveness.

The Fuse system from ENO provides a spreader bar that put just enough space between two hammocks that you can both sleep comfortably yet shoulder to shoulder. You’ll still need two hammocks, suspensions, and tree hugger straps.

That said, you can get away with one large rainfly to go over both hammocks. I’d order in a custom size large silpoly tarp from UnderGround Quilts to finish up this setup.

Jacks R Better 3-Season Bridge Hammock Complete Set-Best Hammock Set

© Jacks R Better

Even if you don’t mind doing the research and trial and error associated with creating your own customized camping hammock, it’s hard to get it right. Instead of mucking around with the details yourself, many of you are probably more inclined to buy a finished system. That’s what this is!

  • Everything you need for hammock camping
  • Bridge style hammock
  • Includes rain tarp
  • Expensive
While we didn’t talk about it in this article, an underquilt and top quilt are critical to enjoying a backpacking hammock. As far as I know, this is the only complete set that includes the full sleep system with your hammock. That way you don’t have to buy each component from a different maker!

On top of that, you’re guaranteed that the quilts, hammock, and rain fly will all work well together. There’s no messing with adding or removing clips and toggles to make sure everything fits right.

Jacks R Better is a small cottage industry manufacturer from the US and they know what they’re doing. It’s nice to see an easy to use option for those who want to get started quickly and without hassle.

Dream Hammock Sparrow - Best 4-Season Hammock

Best 4 Season Hammock
© Dream Hammock

I have to admit that hammocks make unusual choices for winter shelters. Due to several technical factors, they’re very hard to keep warm during the winter. Therefore most backpackers opt for more traditional winter shelters.

However, if you love hammock camping you can still get out there in the winter. You’ll need a 4-season hammock like the Dream Hammock Sparrow.

  • One of few hammocks with overcover option
  • Tons of customization options
  • Whoopie Sling suspension option
  • Takes 6 weeks to be delivered, made to order
When you order, make sure you get the net and overcover, or overcover only for winter use. This overcover provides an extra degree of warmth and wind protection on those icy nights.

You’ll also need a very generously warm underquilt which you can pick up from UnderGround Quilts. Before you’re finished buying your setup you’ll also need to walk away with a 4-season rainfly/tarp.

By the time you’re done, you’ll have everything you need to enjoy 4-season hammock camping.

Wrapping Up

The world of hammock camping and backpacking is a whole new experience for many backpackers. It’s a fun new skill and hanging can add a breath of fresh air to the experience of enjoying the woods.

If you’re not prepared, however, it can be frustrating. There’s so much new gear to learn and understand! Plus you’ve got to figure out exactly what to get, where to buy it, and how much you want to spend.

After reading through this article you should be more than prepared to make an intelligent buying decision on your next backpacking hammock! I’ve tried to give you as much technical and personal guidance as I can based on my own seasons of sleeping above ground.

Remember that everyone has different needs and you may even pick different gear based on the time of year that you’re out and about. It’s always easiest to get started in the summer, so begin there and pick the best gear you can to enjoy getting out with your hammock in the enjoyable warm months!

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