Backcountry Hammocks: Camping on a Cloud
Backcountry hammocking isn’t for everyone.
It’s mainly just people who like comfort, hate heavy backpacks, and want to experience the singular feeling of being rocked to sleep by Mother Nature herself. If that doesn’t make your arm hairs tingle, well, I don’t know how to help you.
Backcountry hammocking is not only easier than ever, it’s more comfortable, too. And thanks to the once ingenious, now ubiquitous repurposing of parachute silk as the main material, it’s lighter than ever as well. These days, with the continuously swelling (and, some say, completely swollen) market for outdoor gear, there are more options than ever for solid, lightweight backcountry hammocks.
You can spend a ton of time scouring stats and comparing features, or you can just luck into it by winning an ENO DoubleNest at a local fundraiser. It may not be the most technical backcountry hammock out there, or the lightest, but it’s a wonderful introduction to the “sport” of backcountry hammocking. Sadly, the ‘Double’ moniker is a bit of an over-promise, as most two-person hammocks are only built for cuddling (or more than cuddling, if you’re lucky), and should never be used to sleep two fully grown adults. However, all that extra fabric comes in handy when you’re swinging solo, neatly folding over the top of itself to form a surprisingly breathable mosquito-proof covering.
Picking a spot to hang your hammock isn’t quite as easy as finding one to pitch your tent—trees aren’t just for shade anymore; they’re a necessity. Well-spaced old-growth groves are ideal, but often you’ll be dealing with thorny underbrush or trees spaced just a little too far apart. Don’t fret, and don’t be afraid to get creative. Not surprisingly, the perfect hammocking spot isn’t always the perfect tent spot. Take your time and find two sturdy trees no more than 15 feet apart. Level ground isn’t a must, but making sure your hammock is level is. Hang it wonky and you’ll find yourself sliding into a ball at one end. No fun.
One thing you’ll want to do it make sure that you’re hanging your hammock in a way that doesn’t hurt the tree; always use tree-friendly straps that are specially designed to go easy on the bark and underlying cambium layer. And keep in mind that while hammocks let you go where no tent can, you still should be following Leave No Trace principles and minimizing your impact on your surroundings.
On warm, clear nights, you’ll need little more than a pillow (or balled-up jacket) to complete your hammocking heaven, but when the weather is less than ideal, a sleeping bag, tarp, and even a sleeping pad may be necessary to keep your humble home livable. No matter—swinging free and dry during a late-summer squall just can’t be beat. If you’ve sprung for a fly you might just welcome it. It should be noted that most sleep pads, especially thicker air-cores and other less flexible styles, will not fit conform comfortably into your hammock with you. If this is the case, simply deflate your pad and use it for its wind-blocking abilities alone. You’ll be surprised how cold your butt can get on a chilly spring morning without a little extra protection.
Still, hammocks weren’t built for enduring downpours and gale-force winds; they were built for swaying in the fading light of a summer sunset. For afternoon naps and post-summit crashing. Sure, you can hammock in rain, shine, sleet, hail, thunder, or fog, but there’s something appreciably un-extreme about hammocking—overly intense adventurers should look elsewhere. Or perhaps not. Maybe they’re just the people to be casting their double-walled alpine tents aside in favor of an ultralight, ultra-cushy hammock. So take a load off, you hard-hiking masochists, and kick back.