Hammock camping
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A beginner’s guide to hammock camping

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Tired of figuring out where all the poles and pegs of the tent go? Save the headache and switch to a hammock. That’s right, a hammock for camping. These swinging, stretched pieces of nylon material aren’t just great for power naps. They’ve got some major advantages when it comes to nestling with nature: compared to tents, hammocks are easier to set up and pack away; you can pitch them just about anywhere between two trees; they also have minimal impact on the environment since you’re not compressing the earth below. And if you’re a back sleeper, it can be more comfortable to catch Zs in than on an air mattress or in a sleeping bag.

Hammock camping is ideal for those who relish the idea of sleeping mid-air. It’s also advantageous when you’re camping on less than ideal territory like sloped, wet, rocky or bug-infested ground. First-time hammock hangers will want to follow these tips in order to cozy up to this alternative style of camping.

Get a good hammock

Suspension sleeping is not something that everyone gets accustomed to easily, especially if you’re planning to do it for nights on end. So first and foremost, you’ll want to find a hammock that you feel safe and comfortable snuggling into. Some camper-favourite brands include Hennessy, Warbonnet, Eagles Nest Outfitters, and Tentsile. You’ll also need a mosquito net, a protective rain fly that’s at least 8 by 10 feet, suspension straps, and “tree hugger” webbing to protect the barks. Most hammock sets will include all of this, but if it doesn’t, there are lots of aftermarket companies that make these must-haves.

Keep in mind that most hammocks are designed for one camper, but if you prefer a little togetherness, the aforementioned brands also carry two- to three-person-capacity hammocks.

Find the right location

Looking for the perfect “hangout” spot might take some time. Pick sturdy trees that are about 12 to 16 feet apart (see your hammock’s manual for specifics). How high the hammock goes is a personal preference, but for safety measures, it shouldn’t be more than 20 inches off the ground. Hammock manufacturer Tentsile recommends a maximum height of four feet. You’ll also want to look for a spot that’s in the path of a good, cooling breeze, with enough shade from the sun.

Setting it up

Like tents, it’s best to practice the setup somewhere closer to home before you head out and realize you have no clue what to do with all the parts. Your hammock kit should come with an instruction manual. There are also plenty of videos online that take you through the step-by-step of how to hang a hammock. For a colourful visual, check out this Hammock 101 illustration by blogger and hammock fan Derek Hansen.

Some of the basic rules include hanging the hammock straps evenly between the trees, while the tarp ridgeline should be below the hammock straps so the tarp will encase you entirely when you sag. If the weather calls for a tarp, you can set it up in a basic diamond configuration for minimal coverage or use a four-season tarp with door flaps to keep you extra dry. For insulation, lay quilts or foam padding on the bottom of the hammock, or roll up in a sleeping bag.

Getting in and out

It’s a little more complicated than plop-and-drop, and newbies might have to bear some awkward moments in the first few go-arounds. Hennessy hammocks make the move a little more graceful thanks to a unique design that allows you to enter from the bottom, sealing up with Velcro once you’re inside. Otherwise, another tip is to hang the hammock at a 30-degree angle from the ground level to the anchor, which provides a deep sag and a lower centre of gravity. This means the suspension straps are less taut, so there’s less chance of you falling to the earth.

Getting the hang of hammock camping takes a couple of tries. Most campers rarely master it on their first trip. But after a couple nights of sleeping under the stars, it’ll be worth those initial fumbles.