Wednesday, May 13, 2015


With summer well on it's way, one of my most favorite things to do is camp!  Last year I was lucky enough to discover the magical experience of hammock camping.  The luxury of being suspended above the hard, rocky, cold, bug infested ground and nestled in a 'cocoon' of comfort.  I have always loved hammocks, even the not so comfortable rope type hammocks.  But to actually use them for backpacking and camping...who knew?  The sensation of being gently rocked to sleep is epic.  Never have I slept so good; in a bed or anywhere else...ever.  I even went as far as to install one in my 'woman cave' in the house!

In this series, I am going to talk about the main equipment involved with hammock camping.  The equipment will include:  the hammock, the tarp, the under quilt, and the top quilt.   This post will focus on the first piece, the hammock.

When I first started learning about hammock camping and the basic equipment involved, it was just this side of overwhelming.  Because people have different tastes, preferences, and are always developing new and innovative ideas, there are quite a few choices in regards to equipment types and hammock setups.  I personally, like to keep things simple.  Not only do I like to have less gear to manage and keep track of, but I also prefer the ease of setup and take down at camp.

Like I have mentioned in past posts in regards to gear and what you purchase, do your research.  Everyone has different styles and tastes.  Depending on what you prefer, the research will help narrow down your options.

While looking for hammock camping gear, I found that there are quite a few 'cottage companies'.  These are smaller, home-spun companies that design and manufacture specific gear for specific uses rather than the big mainstream corporate companies that usually outsource their products for manufacturing.  Their workmanship is indisputable which results in some of the best gear available.  With that of course, will more than likely result in a higher price range.  Because I didn't want to spend hundreds of dollars to 'test drive' the hammock camping experience, I started looking for comparable equipment that was far more affordable.

Although there are many types of different set ups, my decision was based on cost, ease of setup, and weight.  Here is what I came up with for my hammock set up and it all cost about $60.

There are basically two components to the hammock.  The hammock itself and its suspension.  The hammock I found came with some heavy duty nylon rope and some pretty heavy carabiners like you get at a traditional hardware store.  Great for a backyard hang, but pretty heavy and cumbersome for backpacking and hiking.  While doing my research, I learned that if wet, the nylon will tend to stretch.  Polyester is the preferred material type since it has very minimal stretch while wet.  So to replace the factory supplied nylon rope and heavy carabiners, I found 'Whoopie Slings' that are made out of a crazy strong, lightweight material which knocked off a substantial amount of unnecessary weight.  For the straps that go around the tree (or any other adequate anchor point) I remembered hearing about this stuff called "mule tape".  Electricians use it to pull wiring through conduit.  Again, very strong, very light, and if you look hard enough, usually free at a construction site.  

Here is what I initially ended up with for my first hammock to start my new experience in hammock camping.  I was able to find a  pretty comparable hammock at "Wally World" (I know, I know but sometimes you just have to do it!) for about 25 bucks.  
It comes with its own built in stuff sack and weighs just 1 pound 3 ounces.  It is 118" long 59" wide and has a weight capacity of 300 pounds.

Another modification I made, was upgrading from the smaller sewn in hammock bag to this special, very lightweight bag called a bishop bag.  It has cinch cords on both ends is 18" in length.  The advantages with this feature is that after I have one end of the hammock connected, I can just grab the other rings and pull it out as I walk to the second connection point and it never touches the ground.  With a slightly bigger sack, I am also able to store the straps and carabiners in with the hammock so they are always together.  Also, when the hammock is hanging, I can just leave the bag on the end of the hammock near the suspension connection so it is never lost.  This was about $10.   

I found it at:
Great product and great service!

These are 7/64" x 12" Whoopie Slings.  Yes, the string-like apparatus is more than enough to hold you and your hammock!  They are made of a special polyethelne material called AmSteel®-Blue.  This material is very light and very strong.  Each loop is rated at about 320 pounds loaded hammock weight.  The rings and the loops weigh about .25 ounces.  For the two loops and the four rings, including shipping, the cost was about $30.

I found these at:

SUPER fast shipping and great products!

The two inch rings are actually climbing rings called descending rings and are made out of aluminum.  These too are also very light and are rated to about 800 pounds each.

This is 'mule tape'.  It is extremely strong.  The kind I used is made of 3/4" wide polyester and has a 2550 foot tensile strength.  "Tensile strength" is the strength of material expressed as the greatest longitudinal stress it can bear before tearing.  

My husband and I actually used this very strap to pull our 800 pound Polaris 4-wheeler with a rider a few miles when the battery died.  
Good stuff!  

I made each strap about 10' long.  On each end of the straps, I sewed about a 4" loop with a few 'X' pattern stitches for reinforcement.  You can just as easily tie a slip knot on the end as well.    I wanted to make the straps fairly long since Oregon has some big trees and I wanted to have the option to stretch out further between two points if need be.  If you want less weight, make them shorter. 

I also decided to use a rock climbing rated carabiner on each strap.  Yes, it's a little more weight but it's a bit quicker for set up without having to thread the 10' mule tape through the loop around the attachment point, I can also use them to hang extra gear from, and I like having two carabiners on hand if necessary for other tasks or needs.  They weigh just 1.25 oz each and have a strength rating of 28kN (kilonewton is a measurement of force).  

Here the mule tape is wrapped around the tree and clipped into the carabiner to secure one end of the hammock's suspension.  

To connect the hammock suspension to the mule tape straps, thread the mule tape up through both rings.

Bring the tag end of the mule tape back up through one of the rings.

By pulling the tag end and the long end of the straps, the rings will automatically lock onto themselves.  From here, you can adjust the height of your hammock very easily just by slightly spreading the rings apart.

I like my hammock about knee height with a slight banana bend so I can put my feet comfortably on the ground while sitting in the hammock.  When you get your hammock at the height you like, I like to put a couple of cinch knots on top of the rings.  Because mule tape is quite a bit more slippery than the regularly used commercial straps, it has a tendency to slip.  To make the knots, make a loop with the tag end after it's pulled through the single ring.

Bring the loop around the backside of the long end of the mule tape that is connected to your tree or connection point.

Bring the loop through the loop that was made from bringing it around the long end.

Pull it snug down next to the rings.

I make two of these loop knots.  It should look something like this.  

Your hammock won't be going anywhere!

After a little bit of practice, you should be able to set up your hammock in about two minutes!  For a more comfortable rest, lay in your hammock at a diagonal rather than like a banana.  You will be surprised how flay you will lay.  Whether you are a back, side, or stomach sleeper, in the hammock, you are able to assume any sleeping position very comfortably.

This type of hammock is compact enough to take with you just about anywhere. Great for day hikes, watching ball games, at the park, take it with you on your motorcycle or boat,  or wherever you'd rather lay or sit in a hammock.  Our dogs even love to lay in the hammock!  

Food for thought:  Use your imagination for your connection, bleachers, patio posts, etc.  For safety's sake, if you are unsure of the stability of your connection points, set up your hammock and test it first by sitting down on it SLOWY.  Never hang your hammock higher than your willing to fall!

A fantastic resource for learning more about hammocks, how to hang them, different suspensions, etc. is a book by Derek Hansen called The Ultimate Hang.  Derek also has a terrific, tip filled website called the same.  

"An optimist is a man who plants two acorns and buys a hammock."  --Jean de Lattre de Tassigny

#hammockcamping #dirtyfingernails #womenoutdoors #outdoors #hammock