I have friends that swear by them. And others who froze in them. Ed Wardle, of “Alone in the Wild” fame, hunkered down in one while spending a couple of months in the Canadian wilderness.
I’m talking about hammocks. Specifically, those designed for use at a campsite.
One disclaimer: I love sleeping in a hammock, but in terms of campsite use I’m just not a believer. But plenty of others are.
On a live chat that ran during Wardle’s show, a viewer asked him why he chose a hammock instead of a tent. His answer:
“The hammock is great in that terrain, lots of trees and not much flat ground. I don’t fancy sleeping in a tent where you can’t see out and around you. I slept in tents in the arctic and you just wouldn’t know if there was a polar bear outside.”
Similar sentiments come from others who have used them.
From what is quickly becoming one of my favorite Web sites, sectionhiker.com, are these observations:
Mobility. As long as there’s trees around, you have a place to camp. No need to worry about flat ground.
Comfort. Some people just don’t adjust to the combination of the hard ground and a sleeping pad, especially on uneven or bumpy surfaces. Everyone can sleep in a hammock.
Staying dry. As long as you’ve properly placed a tarp over your hammock, you’ll stay dry. Ever slept in a flooded tent? Probably not, because no one gets any sleep in a flooded tent.
And one observation of my own:
Pack weight. Even the lightest tents aren’t going to be as light as a hammock, and not as compressible.
That said, there are disadvantages. The biggest of these is cold.
Hammocks are great in mild weather, and can even be better than tents when it’s hot. I have two friends who spent some time backpacking in east Asia, and hammocks are all they used.
But on another trip, this one a July backpacking trip in Colorado, one member of our group regretted his choice of a hammock over a tent. We camped at 11,000 feet, and even in July the temperatures can easily drop into the low 30s at that altitude. He got very little rest because he was just too cold. Even in the trees, the cold breezes surrounded him. All the air around him was cold. Even with a pad under him, a warm sleeping bag and winter clothing on, the poor guy didn’t sleep at all.
The tent has an advantage here because the tent walls stop the wind and allow your body heat and heat from your breathing to warm the air inside.
Sectionhiker.com says the temperature range for hammocks is between 50 and 75 degrees. In a tent, your temperature range is much wider, especially if you’re using a four-season tent and have a sleeping bag rated to handle the temperatures you’re camping in.
One of the hammock’s strengths is also its weakness. Camping in treeless environs, such as a prairie, tundra or above timberline, means you’d have no place to set up a hammock. So your choice of locales is limited.
I choose a tent, but to each his own. Let me know your thoughts.