How to Set up a Camping Hammock

March 12, 2021

how to set up a camping hammock

How to Set up a Camping Hammock

Hammocks are the perfect way to camp — they’re protective, comfortable, and easy to carry no matter where you’re heading. When pitching your hammock, it’s essential you choose a safe campsite and achieve the correct height, angle, and sag for your setup. You also need to remain conscious of the environment around you and cause as little disruption to plants, animals, and other campers as possible.

Learn more about setting up your camping hammock below.

The Best Place to Set up Your Hammock

the best places to set up your camping hammock

National and state parks and campsites near popular tourist destinations make for some of the best hammock camping locations. You can also seek out campgrounds specifically designed with hammock campers in mind. Follow these guidelines when selecting the best place to set up your camping hammock for the night:

  • On public land: Make sure you’re setting up camp in a public area where camping is permitted. Avoid private or protected lands and secure a camping permit if necessary.
  • Near a view: Look for camp locations that will offer a great view while relaxing in your hammock. This could mean a rocky mountain ridge, a horizon to catch the sunrise, or even a distant city skyline.
  • Away from water: Always hang your hammock far away from any water source, even if it’s just a small stream. You never know when water levels may rise or flash floods could occur. This is also the best way to avoid accidentally polluting or disrupting water ecosystems.
  • Somewhere familiar: Unless you’re prepared with a guide book, map, and compass, avoid camping in unfamiliar territory. This is especially important if you’re a beginner.
  • Away from popular trails: Avoid hanging your hammock on a popular trail for hikers or animals, as you will likely be disturbed and obstruct their path.
  • Over safe terrain: Never hang your hammock near tall drop-offs, over jagged rocks, or near prickly or poisonous plants. Although one of the biggest advantages of hammock camping is that you don’t need perfectly level ground, it’s always a good idea to seek a spot with slightly level terrain, so you can easily assemble a fire and unload your gear.
  • Where there is airflow: Adequate airflow above and below your hammock will keep you dry and cool.
  • In natural light: Hammock camping usually involves rising and sleeping with the sun, as too many flashlights and headlamps may take up space in your pack. Pitching your hammock in an area with plenty of natural light means you’ll have no trouble seeing when you’re at camp.

Wherever you choose to set up your camp, remember to practice the Leave No Trace Principles. For hammock camping, this includes planning ahead by bringing the correct safety equipment — like tree straps — camping on durable terrain, using healthy trees, and respecting other visitors or wildlife in the area.

Picking the Right Tree for Your Hammock

Choosing the right trees to hang your hammock from is critical. Weak trees may bend and buckle, which means they can’t properly support you and your hammock. The result is anything from a poor night’s sleep to your hammock falling to the ground. Strong, healthy trees free of wildlife are the best for hammock camping. Some of the best species to look for are maple and oak because of their strong trunks and large diameter, but many types of trees will suffice.

As you choose your trees, make sure they are:

  • Free of wildlife: Trees and the area directly under and over your hammock should be free of plant life, animals, bird nests, beehives, insect nests, and poison ivy, oak, and sumac. You should also research the area you’re camping in and stay informed about any endangered species that may populate the woods.
  • Strong and healthy: Trees must be strong and healthy, free of visible rot, fungus, moss, mold, mushrooms, and other signs of decay. Loose and fallen branches are other good indicators of a sick tree. Inspect the tree bark for any peeling, holes, large gashes, or excessive sap production. Check the tree’s strength by gently pushing against it. If it stays stationary without any give, it’s likely strong enough.
  • Spaced adequately apart: There is no exact length that trees must be spaced apart — which is a good thing since finding trees that meet precise measurements would be a challenge. Most hammock campers find success with trees spaced somewhere between 12 feet and 16 feet apart. Always account for the length of your hammock when choosing your tree pair.

Use Tree-Friendly Straps

Always bring a pair of quality tree straps with your camping gear. Hammock setups can cause a lot of damage to trees without them. These straps connect your hammock suspension to each tree while protecting bark from pulling, scraping, scarring, or peeling.

When a tree’s bark is damaged, it exposes the layers underneath to wildlife and the elements. This layer is responsible for carrying food and nutrition throughout the tree’s root system. Without bark to protect this layer, a tree will get sick, weaken, and decay. Excess weight and pulling on tree trunks may also cause tree stress, which weakens it over time. Though these damages may heal themselves or professionals may repair them, some trees may retain scars or experience too much harm to thrive.

Tree straps are useful for absorbing the strain of the hammock. They help distribute that weight more evenly for a comfortable setup. Overall, tree straps are far safer for you and the tree than ropes and cord.

When choosing tree straps, note the recommended weight capacity for each pair. They should be strong enough to sustain you, your hammock, and any accessories. The best tree straps are made of durable materials that have minimal stretch, like polyester, UHMWPE, and Kevlar, and are 1 inch to 2 inches wide. Check with local guidelines to see if they require a specific tree strap width. You can also purchase tree strap extenders to keep in your pack.

How to Hang a Hammock: Angle, Height, and Sag

The most important step before hanging your hammock is to choose the right one. Never use a lounging hammock for camping. Instead, invest in a hammock explicitly designed for camping. These are more durable and can withstand the elements, as well as tree suspension. The right camping hammock will also meet your length and weight needs. Depending on your needs, there are standard, wide, single and double camping hammocks to choose from.

Once you’ve secured the right hammock, you can use a hammock hang calculator for a good estimate of how to position it. Angle, height, and sag are the three most important factors to consider.

What’s the Best Hammock Angle?

Hammock angle refers to the angle at which your tree straps and suspension hang compared to the tree. The proper hammock angle is about 30 degrees measured from the ground moving up toward your tree straps or webbing. It’s vital that your chosen suspension system and tree straps aren’t stretchy, or they won’t be able to hold your hammock in place at the correct angle.

If you’re not sure how to visually gauge a 30-degree angle, research proper hammock setup instructions with visual aids and consider bringing a picture with you.

What’s the Best Height for Your Hammock?

Exact measurements for hanging a hammock depend on specific details, like the length of your hammock and how far apart your two trees are. The longer your hammock is and the more spaced the trees, the higher you need to tie your straps. When pitching your hammock, a good starting point is to secure your tree straps or anchor points about 6 feet high, leaving your sag to hang about 2 feet off the ground. Adjust this if necessary to avoid any plants or terrain below.

How Deep Should Your Hammock Sag?

Though it may seem counterintuitive, sag is an important part of installing a hammock for easy setup and a comfortable night’s sleep. If you tie your hammock too flat in an attempt to create a solid sleeping surface, prepare to wake up with some back pain — or maybe on the ground. Sag cradles your body, conforming to your muscle’s needs and keeping you safe from rolling out of your hammock overnight.

If you stand back and face your hammock, you should see that it is high on the sides and much lower in the middle. The middle sag should look like a wide “U” or a smiling face. With your hammock at 30 degrees compared to the tree, this should help you achieve the perfect sag.

How to Set up a Camping Hammock

It’s time to start building your hammock camping setup. Here is a brief overview of how to hang a hammock with straps:

  1. Find two trees spaced roughly 12 feet to 16 feet apart. Inspect them for signs of damage, decay, or wildlife, then test their strength and stability.
  2. Lay out all accessories, hardware, and equipment before you begin, including your hammock, tree straps, suspension system, ridgeline, quilts, and tarps.
  3. Start by securing your tree straps around the tree’s diameter, roughly 6 feet or higher from the ground. If your tree straps came with specific instructions, refer to them throughout this step.
  4. Attach hammock suspension hardware to the tree straps if applicable.
  5. Unfold your hammock, checking that it’s dry and intact, and connect it to the tree straps. Make sure it’s hanging at a 30-degree angle, with plenty of sag in the middle.
  6. Add any tarps, quilts, bug nets, stuff sacks, or other optional accessories.

For even more information and hammock setup tips, check out DutchWare’s series of hammock tutorials. These videos explain in-depth how to set up a hammock for a safe, secure camping trip.

tips for a good night of sleep in a hammock

Tips for Proper Hammock Sleeping

As hammock campers ourselves, we know there’s no better way to get a good night’s sleep than dozing in a hammock. It’s comfortable and immersive, thanks to the constant fresh air circulation and relaxing sounds of nature around you. Quality hammock sleep depends on your setup — proper sag, angle, and height are crucial elements to consider.

Other tips for proper hammock sleeping include:

  • Sleep diagonally: Instead of resting flat in the center of your hammock, position your body diagonally across the interior. Hammocks were designed for sleepers to lie like this because it places you exactly where you need to be for the hammock to offer total body support. A diagonal position keeps your body relaxed, with your head and feet dropped slightly.
  • Prepare for the weather: Always check the weather forecast before you embark on a camping trip. If you anticipate cold temperatures, bring along hammock quilts and layered clothing — like gloves, thermals, hats, and extra socks. You can also fill a hot water bottle to keep near your feet while sleeping. Never attempt to hammock camp during severe weather or extreme temperatures.
  • Consider a bug net: When selecting a hammock, you have a choice between a netted or netless one. Netted hammocks come with bug protection built-in, but you’ll need to invest in a bug net or hammock sock if your hammock is netless. Bottom-entry bug nets are ideal because they encase your entire body while you sleep, keeping you safe from mosquitos, bees, ticks, and other common pests.
  • Practice before you go: If you’re a beginner with the hammock, it won’t hurt to try a few mock camping trips before you head out for the real thing. This gives you a chance to perfect each step of the process, like tree selection, hanging your suspension system, and achieving the perfect sag. By first practicing your setup in your yard or a familiar place, you won’t waste any valuable daylight trying to get all the hardware and angles right on your camping trip.
  • Bring hammock quilts: Hammock quilts are optional, but they are always a good idea if you’re camping anywhere it may get cooler overnight. Top quilts are similar to sleeping bags, except they are lighter and take up less space in your pack. They’re also less restrictive. Under quilts are made of a durable insulating material that traps warmth around you and your hammock while you sleep. You can use one or a combination of both for maximum comfort.

get hammock camping gear from Dutchware

Get Your Camping Hammock and Gear at DutchWare

DutchWare is your resource for all things hammock camping, including hammocks, tree straps, webbing, suspension systems, hardware, and campsite gear. Get everything you need for your setup today, or learn more helpful tips for staying safe and making the most out of your outdoor adventure.

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