Thinking about giving hammock camping a try? In this guide, I list the pros and cons of hammock vs tent camping to help you decide which shelter option is best for your camping style. I‘ll cover comfort, packed size and weight, site selection, protection from the elements, warmth, and more.
The best shelter for you depends on the terrain, the weather, and your personal preference. Generally, hammocks are more comfortable, lighter weight, and they keep you off the ground. Tents are warmer, easier to set up, and offer better protection from the elements.
A hammock is the better choice for minimalists, warm weather camping, camping in wooded areas, and camping in areas with rocky or uneven ground. Tents are the better option for families, those who value privacy, 4 season camping, camping with pets, and those who need some extra storage space.
A few years ago, I began experimenting with different camping shelter options. In the past, I had always been a tent camper. Recently, I’ve been using my hammock more and more. So far, I’ve spent about 60 nights hammock camping. In this guide, I’ll share my experience.
- Hammocks are more comfortable than tents- Hammocks create a supportive and lump-free surface to sleep on. They cradle the body and offer support for the back and neck in a way that the ground can’t. You don’t have to deal with any rocks or tree roots under your body. A hammock also elevates you off the ground which gives them a more bed-like feel. Having a more comfortable sleep system allows you to camp for more nights without getting burnt out.
- You fall asleep faster and sleep deeper in a hammock– Hammocks help you get a higher quality night of sleep. You’ll wake up feeling more rested and full of energy. This was proven by an interesting study by Swiss neuroscientists at the University of Geneva. Essentially, the rocking motion that a hammock has a similar effect to a baby in a cradle. It rocks you to sleep. With a hammock, you can get a great night’s sleep. To read about their method of testing and results, check out the article, Why hammocks make sleep easier, deeper.
- Hammocks are legal in more places- Many jurisdictions have laws against pitching tents in the city. These laws prevent homeless people from camping in city parks. Most cities don’t have any laws against hanging a hammock. With a hammock, you can set up in a park or at the beach and take a nap. Nobody will say anything. If you set up a tent, you might get kicked out.
- Hammocks sleep cooler- Being out in the open allows you to enjoy a cool breeze. For this reason, hammocks are ideal for camping in tropical climates and during the summer.
- Condensation isn’t a problem in a hammock- Hammocks allow more airflow so condensation doesn’t build up like it does in a tent. Moisture evaporates away. Even when humidity is high. No more waking up in a soggy sleeping bag or having condensation drip down on you while hammock camping.
- Visibility is better in a hammock- If someone or something is approaching while you’re laying down, you can easily sit up and look out and see what or who it is. You can also look up and see the stars on clear nights.
- Hammocks have multiple uses- You can get use out of your hammock even when you’re not camping. Bring it to the beach, park, a barbecue, or use it in your back yard. Wherever you are, you can set it up, have a swing, read a book, relax, and enjoy yourself. You’re friends, family, and pets will enjoy it too. You can also use your hammock while traveling. I’ve hung mine at hostels, beach bars, and on ferries.
- Finding a campsite is easier with a hammock in some destinations- This entirely depends on the terrain where you’re camping. For example, in dense forests, it may be easier to find a suitable campsite. To hang a hammock, all you need is two trees or other objects about 15 feet apart (around 4.5 meters). It doesn’t matter if the ground below you is sloping, rocky, or covered in a foot of water because you’ll be suspended from the trees.
- Fewer creepy crawlies can get to you in a hammock- Because you’re suspended in the air, it’s more difficult for mice, snakes, bugs, and other creatures to get to you in the night. Before climbing into your hammock, you can simply shake it off to remove any unwanted guests that may have found their way in. Bug netting keeps mosquitoes and ticks out.
- Hammocks are more durable than tents- Hammocks are dead simple. They are just a piece of fabric. You can stuff and compress them without worrying about breaking anything. You don’t have to worry about jamming a zipper, wearing a hole through the floor, or breaking a pole as you do with a tent. This gives peace of mind.
- Hammocks allow people with reduced mobility to camp- Some people can’t get up from the ground due to knee, back, or hip problems. A hammock elevates the sleep surface. This makes it much easier to get out of bed in the morning. It also makes getting up in the night to use the bathroom a little easier.
- You can use the hammock as a chair- One thing I miss while hiking is simply sitting down comfortably. I don’t want to sit on the ground or lay down all the time. A hammock is a perfect place to take a load off your feet, eat, read, or just relax. Some campers bring a separate chair, but that’s just too much extra weight for me.
- Hammocks may be better for the environment- This point is a bit controversial so I’ll lay out both sides of the argument to let you decide. Some campers believe that hammocks help with leave no trace because they don’t disturb vegetation on the ground. In high traffic areas, tents can kill the fragile plants underneath. Having said this, you’re still walking around on the vegetation around your hammock when you get in and out.
- For fair weather camping, hammocks are smaller, lighter, and cheaper than tents- While camping in warm dry weather, you don’t need a groundsheet, poles, stakes, tarp, or underquilt to use a hammock. A small hammock costs around $60, weighs about a pound, and takes up around a liter of space in your pack. If the weather drops below around 60° or you expect rain, you’ll need an underquilt and tarp. In this case, a hammock setup has the same size and weight as a tent and costs about the same.
- You can pack a hammock in carry-on luggage on a flight- Tents have stakes and poles that, according to the TSA, must be packed in a checked bag. Hammocks are completely made of fabric so you can pack them in a carry-on bag.
- Hammocks are cool- Most of us grew up camping in tents. Sleeping in a hammock is a unique and different experience.
- You need properly spaced trees, rocks, or some kind of stationary objects to hang your hammock from- Hammocks just don’t work everywhere. For example, if you are camping in an alpine area above the tree line, in the desert, in a new forest where the trees are too small, or in a sparsely treed forest, finding a campsite can be nearly impossible. In campgrounds, some sites might not have suitable trees for hanging a hammock. For some camping destinations, you need a tent.
- You have to sleep alone in a hammock- To get the best nights sleep, you’ll want to sleep in your hammock by yourself. Two-person hammocks are available, but they are pretty snug. You would only want to use one with someone you’re very close to. Even for a couple, sleeping together in a hammock just isn’t that comfortable. You can’t change position without waking the other person. In a tent, you can sleep next to your friends, spouse, or kids.
- Hammocks are not stand-alone shelters- To be prepared for all conditions, you’ll need a tarp and stakes, an underquilt or sleep mat, and a bug net. After you add these additional items to your pack, a hammock system weighs and costs as much as a comparable tent. For this reason, it’s important to compare apples to apples when comparing tents to hammocks. I’ll talk more about this later.
- Hammocks sleep colder- If you plan to camp in weather below about 60° F (about 15°C), you’ll need some kind of insulation under your body to prevent heat loss from the underside of your body. Your sleeping bag won’t keep the underside of your body warm because the insulation is compressed by your body weight. To stay warm, you’ll need an underquilt or foam sleeping mat for insulation. You’ll also need a warmer sleeping bag than you would need in a tent because hammocks lose heat faster. In the colder months, you’re better off with a tent.
- Hammocks offer less privacy- You’re always outside in the open in a hammock. There is nowhere to change clothes, organize gear, clean your body, or just get away from people temporarily. In the backwoods, this doesn’t really matter because no one is around anyway. In a campground, it’s nice to have some privacy. One solution is to use an extra-large tarp. This can create some privacy.
- Hammocks can be uncomfortable because the sleeping posture is poor- Some people just don’t like the feel of sleeping in a hammock. The rocking motion bothers some. Others find the sleeping position uncomfortable. You can’t get completely flat in a hammock. Your head and feet will always be somewhat elevated. People who toss and turn in their sleep sometimes find hammocks to be too restrictive. If you’re a side sleeper, may also find hammocks uncomfortable because you can’t get your back completely straight. Hammocks are best for back sleepers. Some hammocks come with spreader bars to make the surface flatter. These can help but they add weight.
- You are more exposed while camping in a hammock- With a traditional hammock, your face is exposed while you sleep. This allows the opportunity for mosquitoes, ticks, and other insects to bite you. Some hammocks include a built-in mosquito net to keep bugs and critters out while you sleep. This is particularly important in buggy areas, particularly malaria zones.
- You can’t bring your gear inside- Hammocks are just for sleeping. You have to leave all of your gear on the ground outside. This opens up the opportunity for theft or damage from the weather. A tarp helps your gear to stay dry but it won’t stay as dry as if it were in a tent. Most hammocks do include a small pocket where you can store small items and valuables.
- Hammocks camping isn’t allowed everywhere- Some areas restrict hammock use. For example, In Great Smokey Mountains National Park, hammock use is restricted to designated backcountry campsites. This is usually to protect trees from damage caused by hammock straps.
- Hammocks can damage trees or other structures- If you don’t hang your hammock properly, it can put unnecessary stress on trees. This can damage the bark or even kill the tree. The weight of a hammock could also damage or destroy a structure if it is not strong enough to support the weight. Trees should be about 6″ thick to safely support a hammock. Your straps should be at least 1″ thick to avoid damaging the tree bark.
- Hammocks don’t offer as much protection from the rain- If your tarp isn’t big enough, rain can blow in from the sides. Water can also run down your hammock straps and onto the hammock. The solution to this is to tie some drip lines. Even then, hammocks aren’t the best option in inclement weather.
- There is a learning curve for using a hammock properly- Finding two properly spaced trees, hanging the hammock with the proper sag, tying knots, and finding a comfortable sleeping position all take some time to learn. During the learning process, you’ll probably get a few bad nights of sleep. It takes a couple of seasons to become a proficient hammock camper.
- You can fall- This is rare, but it is entirely possible for a strap to break or a seem in your hammock to tear. You could also simply roll out in your sleep. It’s even possible for the tree holding you up to break if you tied to a tree that was too small. This would be an unpleasant way to wake up. You could injure yourself if the ground below is rocky. To avoid injury, it’s best to set up your hammock so you’re not hanging too high off the ground. 12-18 inches is ideal. You should also avoid sleeping above any sharp rocks or deep water.
- Hammocks take more time to set up- Every time you set up, your strap settings change because trees are different sizes and distances apart. You also need to set up the hammock and tarp separately. You need to tie some knots as well. After everything is set up, you might need to make some adjustments to get the sag set just right. After a few seasons of hammock camping, you’ll get faster and more efficient. The first time you set up your hammock, it will take a long time.
- Some hammocks are claustrophobic- If you have a hammock with a built-in rain cover or high sidewalls, it can feel like a body bag. Some campers find this uncomfortable.
- Hammocks may be more dangerous in bear country- I don’t know if this point is true or not but I thought I’d mention it anyway. I have read claims from other campers that bears and other wild animals may be more likely to attack you in a hammock than a tent. The reason being that tents are large and confuse animals. Even though they could easily tear it open, they don’t know that. Having said this, I have not found any evidence or read any verified stories of people being attacked while hammock camping. This point makes sense to me logically though. For more info on bears, check out my guide Bear Safety Tips: How to Avoid Bears while Hiking and Camping.
- You can’t sleep with your pets- If you like to camp with your dog, they will probably have to sleep on the ground. Most people won’t be able to get comfortable while sharing the hammock.
- You can bring your camping gear inside with you to keep it safe and dry- It’s nice to be able to sleep with your fragile electronics and valuables right next to you to protect them from the rain and theft. Even 1-person tents have plenty of extra space for your backpack. Tents also have large built-in vestibules where you can store your bulkier gear like your hiking boots or trail runners and jacket to keep them dry and safe.
- Tents allow you to camp in more environments- No trees are required to pitch a tent. Freestanding models don’t even require stakes. You can pitch your tent above the tree line, in the middle of a parking lot, or in a sandy desert. Non-freestanding tents do require stakes to pitch. This limits you to camping on softer ground (you cant pound stakes into concrete, for example). I prefer freestanding tents because you can pitch them anywhere. Hammocks, on the other hand, require trees or some other structure to hang from.
- Tents offer a private space to do stuff- In a tent, you have space to change your clothes, organize gear, clean yourself, fix something, etc. This is great for rainy days or when you’re camping in a busy campground. You have a dry room where you can hang out and be alone. This is one of the main reasons I always bring a tent when I travel internationally. It’s nice to be able to get away from people once in a while. In a hammock, you’re always somewhat exposed.
- Tents keep you warmer- Even though the material is thin, tents offer some insulation. The enclosed space traps body heat. Tents also provide protection from the wind so you don’t have to deal with the wind chill factor. This allows you to get away with a slightly lighter sleeping bag or top quilt and mat and stay just as warm in a tent. For example, maybe you could use a 20° bag instead of a 15° bag. For this reason, tents are a better choice for camping in cold weather camping and winter camping.
- You don’t have to sleep alone- Tents come in all sizes. If you are traveling as a couple. with small kids, or with pets, you may want to sleep in the same space. You can buy tents that are large enough to accommodate up to 20 people. This just isn’t possible with a hammock.
- Some people find tents more comfortable than hammocks- Comfort is subjective. Some people need to lay completely flat or on their side to get a good night’s sleep. These sleeping positions are difficult or impossible to attain in a hammock.
- Tents offer better protection from the rain- A good tent stays dry inside even during the heaviest rainstorm. Water can’t splash or blow in from the sides because they are sealed, unlike a hammock that is open under the tarp.
- Tents are safer in bear country- Again, I’m not sure if this one is actually true or not but it sounds reasonable to me. Tents are large and confuse bears. They could easily break in but they don’t know this. Other large animals like mountain lions or wolves are also less likely to attack if you are in a tent.
- Tents offer better protection from critters- Even though tents sit on the ground where there are more bugs, mice, snakes, and other creatures, they can’t as easily get inside because tents zip completely closed.
- Tents take less time to set up- Tents pitch exactly the same every time. I can pitch my tent in about 4 minutes if I’m in a hurry. Hanging a hammock takes an extra 10 minutes or so.
- Tents are more secure- At a campground, you can zip your belongings in your tent. This reduces the likelihood of theft because criminals and thieves can’t see if you’re inside or not. With a hammock, your things are just sitting on the ground under the hammock.
- You don’t need to learn a new skill- Most tent campers learned how to use a tent as a kid. Setting up a tent requires no skill or knowledge. Just follow the instructions to pitch it. All you need is a piece of flat ground to pitch your tent on. Hammocks are a bit more touchy. You need to know what you’re doing to get a good hang.
- Tents are less comfortable than hammocks- Something about sleeping on the ground is just inherently uncomfortable. If you set up your tent on top of a root or rock or on a slight slope, you won’t get a good night of sleep.
- Tents are fragile- Poles can bend or break. You can’t compress a tent as much because you can damage the zippers. Holes can wear in the floor if you don’t use a groundsheet.
- Quality of sleep is lower in tents- In a tent, you are sleeping on the ground. Tents also lack the cocoon-like support and rocking motion that make hammocks so relaxing and comfortable.
- Condensation is worse in tents- You will experience condensation in all tents. There is no avoiding it. How bad it gets depends on the temperature, humidity, tent design, the terrain, and your proximity to a body of water, and more. Condensation occurs when warm moist air comes into contact with a cold surface, like the walls of your tent. Inside the tent, the moisture comes from your breath, sweat, and the environment. Condensation on the inside of your tent can drip down or rub off on your sleeping bag, clothes, and other gear to make them wet. For this reason, tents are not ideal for warm, humid environments like the tropics. Hammocks offer excellent breathability which almost eliminates condensation.
- Visibility is poor in tents– Some of my most memorable nights were spent staring up at the stars. In a tent, you’re stuck in a little room where you can’t really see out. You can sleep without the rain fly but your vision is still obstructed by the bug netting. If you hear a bump in the night, you can’t just sit up and look around. You have to get out of your tent to see what’s going on.
- Tents can get hot- When the sun comes up and starts baking down on your tent, it turns into an oven. Sometimes I have to get up when the sun rises when I’d prefer to get a couple more hours of sleep. It just gets too hot in a tent. Hammocks, being open-air, stay cooler. A nice breeze can make all the difference.
- You can’t fly with a tent in a carry-on bag- If you often fly to your camping destination, it’s important to know that many airlines don’t allow metal tent stakes and poles in the cabin. Sometimes you slide by and sometimes security hassles you. It depends on the country. To be safe, you’ll need to pack your tent into a checked bag. Checking a bag costs money and takes time. You can carry a hammock in your carry on bag because it doesn’t have any sharp stakes or poles.
- Tents are legal in fewer places- Many cities have laws prohibiting the use of tents within city limits to prevent the formation of tent cities. Often there is no law against hammocks. If you set up in a park, you can just say that you’re taking a nap and not camping. This is completely reasonable. After all, people lay down and take naps in parks all the time. If you set up a tent in the same park, you are obviously camping and could be kicked out.
- In some regions, finding a campsite is more difficult with a tent- To have a comfortable night’s sleep, you need a flat place to pitch your tent. In areas with rocky ground or uneven terrain, it can be difficult to find flat surfaces. Finding a suitable spot with level ground to camp can take some time. If the ecosystem is sensitive, you can only set up your tent in designated sites. This is to prevent environmental damage. Having said this, you can almost always find a place to pitch a small tent.
- There are more bugs and critters on the ground- Tents do a good job of keeping unwanted pests out. You still have to be careful about keeping food in your tent and zipping the door closed every time you get in and out. I have heard of mice chewing their way into tents to get some food.
- In a tent, you are less connected to nature- You’re basically cooped up in a little room that you can’t see out of.
Size and Weight of Hammocks and Tents
These days, everyone is trying to reduce their base weight and go ultralight. An average hammock only weighs about 16 ounces (around 450 grams). An ultralight tent weighs around 32 ounces (900 grams). That’s twice the weight!
The problem is that a hammock alone provides much less protection than a tent. To stay dry in a hammock, you’ll need a large tarp, guy lines, and stakes. To stay warm, you’ll need an underquilt or foam sleeping pad. You’ll also need bug netting to keep the mosquitos away. When you add in all of this extra gear, the weights are about the same for tents and hammocks. An ultralight hammock setup comes in at 2-3 lbs.
Having said this, hammocks are lighter than tents in some situations. For example, while camping in warm, dry weather you don’t need a tarp, stakes, or a sleeping pad to use a hammock. In this case, a hammock weighs about half the weight of a tent. For this reason, hammocks are a great choice for summer camping.
When comparing the price of hammocks and tents, make sure you’re comparing apples to apples. A hammock itself costs less than a tent. When you consider the cost of the additional gear that you’ll need to go with your hammock the price turns out to be about the same.
For example, a decent mid-range hammock costs around $50-$80. An ultralight down underquilt might cost $200-$400 and a lightweight tarp could cost $100-$150. You’ll also need straps, bug netting, and guy lines. All in, you’re looking at $400-$800 for a lightweight hammock camping setup.
Ultralight tents, on the other hand, cost about $200-$600. You’ll also need a sleeping pad or air mattress which runs $50-$150. You’re looking at spending just $250-$700 for a lightweight tent setup.
If you only camp in warm weather, you can do without an underquilt and save a couple of hundred dollars. If it’s just a bit chilly, you can use a cheap foam pad for insulation. In this case, a hammock camping setup can be cheaper.
What You’ll Need for Hammock Camping
Hammock camping isn’t quite as simple as hanging a hammock between two trees and calling it a night. You need the right gear to stay warm and dry. In addition to a hammock, a hammock camping system includes:
- Tree straps- For securing the hammock to the trees or other mounting points without causing damage. Your tree straps should be 1-2 inches wide so they don’t cut into the tree’s bark and cause damage.
- Rope- To secure the hammock to the straps
- Tarp- To keep the rain off if you’re camping in wet weather. 3×3 meter hammock tarps work well.
- Stakes- To secure your tarp to the ground.
- Guy lines- To hold your tarp and bug net away from the hammock.
- Bug netting- To keep the mosquitoes, ticks, and flies away while you sleep. Some hammocks include a built-in bug net.
- Sleeping bag or quilt- To provide insulation to keep you warm.
- Under quilt or sleeping pad- This provides insulation to keep your back and butt warm. You need this because your sleeping bag or quilt doesn’t provide insulation when it’s compressed under your body weight. The underquilt attaches outside of the hammock, under your body. If you don’t have an underquilt, you can sleep on a sleeping pad in the hammock. You’ll need one of these if you’re sleeping in temperatures below around 60-70° F (around 15-21° C).
- Trees- They need to be the right distance apart.
What You’ll Need for Tent Camping
In addition to your tent, you’ll also need:
- Tent footprint- To protect your tent floor and keep it clean. For more info, check out my guide to tent footprints.
- Sleeping bag or quilt- To keep you warm while you sleep.
- Stakes and guy lines- To secure your tent to the ground and hold it up.
- Sleeping pad- To insulate you from the ground. Again, your sleeping bag doesn’t keep the underside of your body warm because the insulation is compressed.
- Tent poles- Freestanding tents include poles. Non-freestanding tents often use trekking poles for structure.
Camping Hammock Recommendations
This affordable hammock includes everything you need to get started including 9-foot straps, carabiners, and a carrying bag. The hammock is made of a durable 210T parachute nylon. The Wise Owl hammock is available in 1 and 2 person sizes and a wide range of colors. The one person version weighs just 16 ounces.
This 100% nylon camping hammock from ENO weighs just 19 ounces. This is one of the most popular hammocks on the market. The DoubleNest is large enough to fit two people and very roomy for one. The 70D nylon taffeta fabric is strong, durable, and comfortable. Unfortunately, straps are not included.
A Few Hammock Camping Tips
- Lay diagonally in your hammock- This is the secret to getting a comfortable night’s sleep in a hammock. Laying diagonally allows you to lay pretty much flat. This is much better for your back and breathing. If you lay in line with the hammock, your back will be curved and you can’t breathe as easily because your chest and belly are compressed. If you find that your body wants to shift to the center of the hammock, try scooting your butt down toward the foot end. This will lift your feet up slightly and prevent your body from slipping. As an added benefit, lifting your feet helps reduce swelling in your feet and ankles.
- If it’s raining, tie a drip line– During heavy rain, water can flow down the suspension lines and onto your hammock, even if you’re using a big tarp. The solution is to tie a drip line. Simply tie a string from the suspension lines near the ends of your hammock and let it dangle. Water will flow down the line and drop to the ground.
- Choose the right hammock size- Your hammock should be at least two feet longer than your height. Length usually isn’t a problem because the most common camping hammock sizes are 9 and 11 feet. Consider the width as well. Single person hammocks usually measure 4-5 feet wide. Two-person hammocks usually measure 6-8 feet wide. Also, consider the weight limit. Most models can handle 300 pounds or so. If you’re a heavy camper or if you’re sharing a hammock, the weight limit can be an issue. You don’t have to worry about this with tents.
- Use insulation under your body to stay warm- Your sleeping bag compresses under your bodyweight. When a sleeping bag is compressed, it doesn’t provide any insulation because there are no air pockets to trap warm air. An underquilt attaches under the hammock so the insulation doesn’t compress. These provide the necessary insulation to keep you warm. Alternatively, you can sleep on top of a foam sleeping pad in your hammock for insulation.
Hammocks offer a fun, comfortable, and interesting way to camp. There’s nothing better than falling asleep while rocking in the breeze on a warm summer night. Under the right circumstances, hammocks are better than tents. They are becoming particularly popular for thru-hikers on the Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail.
With that being said, tents are usually the more practical option. Particularly in cold or wet weather. Perhaps the main benefit of tents is that you can set them up pretty much anywhere because you don’t need trees to hang from. This alone makes tents the only choice in some types of terrain.
For most camping trips, the hammock vs tent choice really comes down to personal preference at the end of the day. You can make either system work in most all conditions if you pack the proper gear. I say give hammock camping a try on your next camping trip, at least for a different camping experience.
Before you go hammock camping, it’s a good idea to practice setting up your hammock at home so you know how everything works. This is the best way to learn how your hammock works.
Where do you stand on the hammock vs tent debate? Share your tips and experience in the comments below!
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Zachary Friedman is an accomplished travel writer and professional blogger. Since 2011, he has traveled to 66 countries and 6 continents. He founded ‘Where The Road Forks’ in 2017 to provide readers with information and insights based on his travel and outdoor recreation experience and expertise. Zachary is also an avid cyclist and hiker. Living as a digital nomad, Zachary balances his professional life with his passions for hiking, camping, cycling, and worldwide exploration. For a deeper dive into his journey and background, visit the About page. For inquiries and collaborations, please reach out through the Contact page. You can also follow him on Facebook.