Throughout the past couple years there’s been a huge debate in the camping world. Today we’re gonna be diving into the two different styles of camping. Hammock camping vs ground camping(aka tent camping)
Even though I have my own opinion I’ll try to stay as objective as possible. We’re gonna dive into weights, cost, advantages, disadvantages and all those little things that you need to look out for. Hopefully I’ll stay as objectively unbiased as possible and make sure to let me know your thoughts in the comment section below.
Is A Tent or Hammock Better?
I’ve used both a tent and hammock and they both have pros and cons. I think it all depends on where you are, what season, the weather and what you’re doing.
I can see how “thru-hikers” on major trails would prefer tents. When you are almost always camping in flat open spaces you’re going to want to use a tent. You can spread out and utilize inflatable sleeping pads(check this pad out).
Is Hammock Camping Worth It?
Hammock camping can be just as comfortable as sleeping in a tent. Everybody starts off camping in a tent so you probably already have gear in the garage. So is it worth buying a whole new set of gear.
Once you buy your gear and learn all those little tricks you’re sure to have a blast. Will you ditch your tent for good? Probably not. Tents definitely have their place, but hammocks can be just as good.
My First Night in a Hammock
I won’t lie to you. If you asked me about my “first night sleeping in a hammock”, it wasn’t pretty. It was actually pretty miserable. I woke up wet with condensation, stiff and uncomfortable. My knees and ankles were aching from shivering all night long.
After that night I decided to try again, but I needed to take things seriously. I just didn’t understand the necessary skill and all the accessories I needed. There was definitely a learning curve, but it was worth it.
You can’t let your fear of failing stop you from trying. My friends and I absolutely love hammock camping. That being said there is a time and place for both tents and hammocks.
Tents will also be better in areas that you can’t just camp anywhere. If you’re limited on where you can actually camp and there aren’t that many trees, just bushes, stick to a tent. There’s no way you can use a hammock anyway.
One advantage of a tent is that you can get out of bed easily. You can get up to take a leak in the middle of the night. Get changed without having to cover up. You just can’t do that in a hammock. You have to get out, plus it’s more of a hassle getting back into bed in a hammock rather than a tent.
A tent provides you with a sheltered place to scatter all your gear. It’s really nice to be able to reach over and grab a flannel out of your pack. With a hammock and tarp rig, your stuff is scattered around on the ground under the tarp, or hanging from tree branches/ridgeline. It’s not as neat and tidy and your gear can get wet if you aren’t careful.
If you have wide-open wilderness and can camp anywhere choose a hammock. Find a nice tree-filled space to set up camp. Set up your hammock under 2 decent sized trees and you’re good to go.
Hammocks really shine in bad weather. You’re up off the ground and typically have a rain tarp up overhead. Sleeping on the ground has the potential to be cold/wet whereas a hammock is going to be comfortable regardless of the weather.
The quality of sleep in the hammock makes up for a lot of its disadvantages. Just do yourself a favor and skip the cheap gear. Get a big hammock, with a built-in bug net and a double bottom(check out my favorite camping hammock). Double layer bottoms allow you to put a sleeping pad inside the hammock offering more insulation.
Cheap little hammocks are great for afternoon naps and the occasional short trip. Try to sleep on them all night and you’re sure to be dissappointed. You’ll have to deal with bugs, cold and wet weather.
How We Made Our Camparisons
Before I point out everything I would look out for when deciding between a hammock or tent, I have to lay down some ground rules. Just want to let you know how I’m running this comparison.
There’s a bunch of different ways that you can configure your gear to suit your needs. It would be impossible to compare everything so we’re gonna compare the most traditional styles.
With the hammock we’re talking about the traditional hammock setup of a tarp, hammock, under quilt and top quilt. For the tent we’re gonna have a moderately priced one-person tent(this is the one I chose), sleeping bag and sleeping pad. Just a very basic setup designed for a single camper.
Weight: Advantage Hammock
Since most hammock campers lean towards the ultralight community we’re going to start off with weight. When backpacking you need to factor in both weight and comfort.
The Hennessy Expedition Series Hammock is extremely popular though a little heavier than some of the ultralight designs weighing in at just shy of 3lbs with all it’s straps/rainfly. Obviously their ultralite version will be a little lighter at less than 2lbs including the rainfly, suspension etc. Throw in my top quilt, underquilt tarp, stakes etc. and I’m pretty close to 5lbs.
With a single person ground setup using a 20 degree bag, tent, ultralight sleeping pad, poles, rainfly etc. you can get under 6lbs. However, tents start to win out in multiple person setups. With lots of cash you can get your weight down, but you’re still somewhat limited.
If you have an unlimited budget there are tents that are lighter than hammocks.
Price: Tie(Slight Advantage Hammock)
Like everything in life you get what you pay for. Some people are satisfied with a 30 dollar tent from Walmart, and some people are happy with a 10 dollar hammock.
Assuming you’re buying moderately priced gear a hammock will typically cost less. You can buy a high-quality backpacking hammock for about 50-60 bucks(check out the Therm-a-Rest hammock). High-quality tents are going to cost in the 200-500 dollar range.
With all the necessary hammock gear prices start to get similar. When you think about the cost of a moderately priced hammock, suspension system, rainfly and underquilt you’ll be under $200. You can get a tent with a similar setup but it’s going to cost more to find gear of similar weight.
You can pack down your hammock and fit it into a small container. I know people that store their hammock inside a Nalgene water bottle. Add the straps, tarp, but net ETC and the waters get slightly murky. The answer isn’t clear, but I think the hammock has a slight advantage.
Even high-cost tents pack down into a size 3-4 times the size of a hammock. Add in all your extra gear and it packs down to a similar size.
Comfort: Tent(In Perfect Conditions)
Don’t get me wrong hammocks are great to kick back and relax, but there’s just something about a tent. I think it comes down to habit. We’re all used to sleeping in a bed and having quick access to gear.
You can just spread out more when sleeping in a tent. When I pair my Therm-a-Rest Z Lite with my NeoAir Xlite it’s like sleeping on an air mattress. The only problem is you can only setup tents on flat even ground. If there’s gravel or roots on the ground it’s gonna be uncomfortable.
Hammocks really shine on rocky/rough surfaces. When the going gets rough, bring along a hammock.
Neither a tent nor hammock is much of a challenge to setup. With a little practice, you can set up your campsite in 10-15 minutes. With two people it’s even easier to setup.
Problems start to arise when looking for a campsite. It can be surprisingly difficult to find suitable trees for a hammock or flat ground for your tent. Overly dense forests make it difficult to find perfectly spaced trees(though it’s tough to setup tents here also). I’ve also found spots with nasty slopes, mud and rocky spots where tents just won’t work.
Finding and Setting Up Your Campsite
The perfect campsite is found not made. Finding a campsite for a tent isn’t always easy. The ground needs to be flat, relatively dry and lacking rocks. In the backcountry finding the ideal spot can take hours.
With a hammock, all you really need is a few durable trees. You don’t have to let the terrain tell you where you can/can’t camp.