Before you start shopping around for a new hammock, it’s a good idea to narrow down your selection to a specific type of hammock. Most can be divided into two groups:
Framed hammocks have a stiff bar at each end (usually made of wood) called a spreader bar, which keeps the hammock flat. This design prevents the hammock from surrounding the body when lying down, which is ideal for lounging. This feature also makes it much easier for two people to share a hammock. Framed hammocks are not ideal for sleeping, however, because it’s easier to accidentally roll off.
Unframed hammocks (a.k.a. Brazilian hammocks) do not have spreaders and therefore envelop the body like a cocoon when lying down. This design is ideal for sleeping and hammock camping, because it prevents you from accidentally rolling out of the hammock. Of course, this also makes unframed hammocks a little less ideal for hot weather.
Most hammock materials can be divided into two primary sub-categories: open-weave and closed-weave materials. Open-weave hammocks (e.g. rope hammocks and mesh hammocks) allow air to travel easily through the weave, which is ideal for hot and humid climates. Closed-weave hammocks (e.g. fabric hammocks) don’t allow as much air to pass through them, making them less ideal for hot, humid conditions. The biggest upside to fabric is that it tends to be more comfortable compared to rope or mesh when lying down for extended periods. Quilted hammocks are created by stitching two or more layers of material together, often with an insulating layer in between. These hammocks are generally best for slightly cooler weather.
Before you buy a new hammock, consider how you’ll be using it. Below are some good questions to ask that may help you choose.
- Do you want a hammock for lounging in the backyard? Consider choosing a framed hammock. These are great for lounging. In hot, humid weather, consider choosing a framed hammock with an open weave. It’s usually best to avoid quilted hammocks in hot weather.
- Do you want a hammock for sleeping or overnight camping? Consider going with an unframed hammock. This design is much safer for sleeping because you’re less likely to accidentally roll off the side.
- Want to relax on your hammock with a significant other? Definitely consider going with a larger framed hammock. This design will be much more comfortable for two people compared to an unframed hammock.
Safely installing a hammock requires at least two secure anchor points and the appropriate installation hardware, usually strong webbing or rope. Just make sure the strength rating of your webbing or rope is sufficient. When in doubt, you can always buy mounting straps designed specifically for hammocks. Some people opt to use a heavy-duty chain, eye bolts and locking carabiners. Just be sure the chain and hardware are strong enough to safely hold the weight.
The ideal distance between your two anchor points will vary depending on how long your hammock is and how much webbing/rope you have to work with. According to Popular Mechanics, the ideal distance between two anchor points is about 13 to 16 feet, and the ideal anchor height is about 4.5 feet off the ground. Of course, some people prefer to mount their hammocks a little lower or higher, depending on personal preference. When mounting a hammock, you’ll need to adjust the amount of tension, which changes the “sag” or concave arc.
If your setup is too loose, the sag will be too deep, causing your hammock to be uncomfortable when you lie down. It might even be so loose that it sags down to the ground. If you make your hammock too taught, it could put too much strain on the hammock, hardware and/or anchor, potentially causing one of these elements to fail. Finding the right amount of sag is just a matter of trial and error. Once you’ve installed a new hammock a few times, the process should become much more intuitive.
Choose two robust trees of sufficient thickness (several inches or more in diameter) and be sure the trees are alive. Dead trees are much more likely to break or buckle at the base, which can be very dangerous. Always install a hammock using the trunk of a tree. Avoid using branches as anchors; even larger branches are more likely to break compared to the trunk. Before setting up, always inspect the area directly overhead for any possible hazards, e.g. deadfall or broken branches that could come tumbling down.
When using pre-existing structures as anchors (e.g. walls or beams), make sure those structures are strong enough to withstand the tension force. If you choose to install eye bolts or other hardware, make sure the hardware has a sufficient strength rating to withstand the load. Avoid installing eye bolts into particle board, MDF (medium-density fiberboard) and other building materials that are not as strong as real wood. Eye bolts are more likely to become loose and pull out of these weaker materials.
When trees or other pre-existing structures aren’t available, a hammock stand is a great option. Follow the setup instructions carefully. Also, make sure that the weight of any user(s) falls within the recommended weight range of the stand. In other words, a hammock stand may be strong enough for one person but not for two, depending on the combined weight of the occupants and the specifications of the stand.
Some people buy a hammock for their backyard and choose to leave it up for several months at a time. Although some hammocks are made of UV-resistant materials and will hold up relatively well, it’s better to setup your hammock when you plan on using it and take it down when you’re done, storing it away from the elements. Doing this will make your hammock last significantly longer. Over time, ultraviolet light weakens the fibers of fabric and rope, eventually causing them to rip or break. It’s certainly less convenient to set up and take down your hammock every time you want to use it, but it’s almost guaranteed to extend the life of your equipment.
Before storing your hammock, make sure it’s completely dry. This will help prevent mold and mildew from forming, extending the life of your hammock. Before setting up, always do a quick visual inspection. Look for signs of wear and tear that could potentially cause your hammock or straps to rip or break. If you suspect that your hammock or strap may be damaged, repair or replace it.
Hammock Suspension System
Designed to make installation and takedown easier, a hammock suspension system is a nice upgrade from basic rope or cord. With a hammock installation system, adjusting the tension is often much easier thanks to built-in features like adjustment loops and carabiners. When crafted of heavy-duty webbing, hammock suspension systems are also easier on trees than a rope or chain.
With a good tarp or rain fly in your arsenal, you’ll be able to enjoy your hammock come rain or shine. Installing a tarp overhead is the best way to stay protected from the elements when hammock camping. This will also prevent any small pieces of debris (leaves, acorns, bird droppings, etc.) from unexpectedly pelting you during the night. For tips on how to get started with hammock camping, check out Bushcraft Shelters: Hammock and Tarp Setup by MCQ Bushcraft.
Hammock Bug Net
Don’t let pesky mosquitos, flies and other annoying critters prevent you from relaxing. With a quality hammock bug net, you can quickly and easily protect yourself from pests while camping out or lounging in the backyard. To setup a bug canopy, you’ll just need to install a simple ridgeline above your hammock, and 550 paracord is a great option for this task.
Some framed hammocks already include a built-in pillow for added comfort, but you can always buy one separately. Most hammock pillows are made of durable, weather-resistant fabric. Some hammock pillows are detachable and others are permanently affixed, so keep this in mind when comparing different models. For hammock camping, just about any compact camping pillow will do the job.
Hammock Insulation: Top Quilts and Under Quilts
A hammock top quilt is very similar to a sleeping bag and is designed to provide additional protection from the cold when hammock camping. (Of course, a good mummy bag will also do just fine). For even better protection in chilly weather, an under quilt can be suspended directly beneath your hammock to minimize convective heat loss from below. There are also sleeping mattresses designed specifically for camping hammocks. Adding insulation to your hammock setup may not be necessary in the summer, but it will definitely make a big difference during the colder months.