To me, hammocks are reminiscent of lazy summer days, swaying with the breeze, relaxing under trees. Lately, more lightweight hammocks have been on the market. These lighter, nylon hammocks are not as cumbersome and bulky as the traditional hammocks and allow for ease of travel. They are also marketed as backpacker friendly, yet sturdy enough for backyard use.
However, now there are hammocks that are sold essentially as tents. These hammocks come with a bug net, suspension system, and a rainfly. They can even be more expensive than a one man tent. My father-in-law loves these hammocks. He even calls them “mammocks,” meaning “man hammocks.” He has even used them in basements before. (Yes, hanging from a basement ceiling!)
My husband tried sleeping in one of these during a three-day trip in Yosemite and slept terribly. First of all, you’re hanging. That’s something that might be hard for someone to get used to, especially in the middle of the night in a pitch black national park (You can almost feel like bear bait!) Also, you swing. One strong breeze and you’re swaying with the trees. My husband had a lot of back pain after sleeping in one for obvious reasons – there’s no back support. Every time you twist or turn in the hammock, you swing a bit, and its very hard to get comfortable in one. Then there’s the added bit of claustrophobia one can get from being in an enclosed space, albeit a ventilated one. Most of these hammocks are only 3 season tents, not meant for winter use. Keep in mind, most of these hammocks have weight limits that need to be taken into consideration before purchasing.
Some people swear by these hammocks. They love the portability of a place to sleep in a small nylon bag. Just string it up and instantly you have a place to sleep. You only need two trees and you are set. No need to worry about the quality of the terrain, especially in rocky or hilly areas. They are also super light and take up less space in a backpack. There’s no tent to lug around and set up every night. Most hammocks on the market provide interior pockets, strong zippers, webbing to protect tree bark, support ropes, and its own stuff sack to pack in.
Now I personally have never slept in one because I already know that a hammock isn’t for me. I hate being confined in any degree when I sleep – I need room to move! So, after careful research by those who’ve tested these backpacking hammocks, here are the pros and cons to using them:
- Can set up anywhere there are two trees (approximately 10-20 feet apart) which gives many more options for where to camp, including being way off the beaten path
- Setup is easy and fast
- No need to find flat, smooth terrain
- Lighter in weight
- Takes up less room (than a tent) in a backpack
- Most can also be used as a camp chair
- You have to be in an environment with tall and sturdy trees
- Most hammocks confine you to only sleeping on your back
- Can make some people claustrophobic
- Takes time to learn how to get in them gracefully and sleep comfortably
- Can make people nauseous if swinging a lot (motion sickness)
- Hammocks can squeeze your shoulders, causing discomfort. This can be relieved by sleeping on the diagonal.
- A lot of support under the feet but not the legs and ankles can cause leg/ankle pain
- Can give you “cold butt syndrome,” a condition caused from sleeping off the ground with nothing but air underneath you (usually when temps are below 70 degrees). This can be prevented by sleeping with a pad underneath you that fits in your hammock.
- Most hammocks only sleep one person
- Most are not for winter usage
Obviously, before buying one, you need to decide if sleeping in a hammock will work for you. Most places like REI have good return policies. So, after you buy it, set it up in your backyard, try it out, and see if it works for you. If not, you can return it. It’s better to test it out beforehand, than take it out for a trip and realize you don’t sleep well in a hammock.
My father-in-law proudly talks about his “mammock” with a huge grin and beams like a proud parent. It’s almost like he’s an honored member of this private, exclusive club of people who sleep in trees. Being able to sleep almost anywhere, I guess he basically is.
Have you tried sleeping in a hammock? Did you like it? Let me know!