Hammocks vs. Tents:  Which shelter solution is right for you?

Posted on: May 24th, 2014 by East Ridge Outfitters

The tent is the universal symbol of camping  — it’s on highway signs for campgrounds, trail parking lots, outdoor store logos and scout gatherings.   It’s about as recognizable to camping as a glove is to baseball.   I bet you have a lot of memories camping in a tent as a child, too!   Then why are so many people leaving the tent behind and switching to a hammock?   Is it about improving comfort or are they just taking part in the minimalist movement and making sacrifices to save weight on the trail?    In this post, we’ll explore the pros and cons of hammock camping compared to tent camping so you can decide for yourself which shelter is best for your trail experience.

Many of our friends have taken the hammock plunge and haven’t looked back, so I asked a few of them what makes hammock camping more enjoyable for them.

Pros of Hammock Camping:

#1.  Comfort.  For many, hammock sleeping is more more comfortable than laying flat in a tent.   There’s nothing that beats the gentle sway of the hammock in a light wind, not to mention looking up at the stars on a cloudless, calm night or seeing the sun rise.  As long as the hammock is set up properly, the comfort level just can’t be touched.
#2.  It’s cheap and packs small.   If you’re in a pinch, you can get a hammock for about $60, which is much less than a tent.   However, you should be aware that you may also need to purchase webbing or accessory cord, carabiners, a tarp and a bug net.   Buying the whole set-up can cost the same or more than a tent, so you really may not be saving anything, budget or space.
#3 Temperature Regulation.  If it’s hot, you’re going to roast in a tent if it’s not properly ventilated.   You may get better air flow with a hammock on summer nights.
#4.  Weight.  This is debatable though, considering some ultra-light tents like the Big Agnes Fly Creek 1, but for most people who can’t shell out a few hundred dollars for a top-of-the-line tent, the hammock may be the lightest way to go.

#5.   Versatility.  Can be set up even on rocky, uneven terrain where a campsite can’t be found.  You pack only what you need for the trip based on the weather.
#6. Doubles as a chair.  Just set up your hammock near the fire and there’s no need to bring another seat.


Cons of Hammock Camping:   Hooray for Tents!!

#1.  Got trees?  You need two trees relatively close together.  If you’re in an open section of the backcountry, the desert, or in a group campsite and you only brought a hammock, you may be sleeping on the ground anyway.
#2.  Confining.  If you’re claustrophobic or wary of being stuck in a small space, the hammock may not be for you.   You’re also very limited to side/back sleeping positions.
#3.  Gear storage.  If it rains, you may not be able to keep your pack and boots on the ground.   You’ll need to clip everything to the hammock so it doesn’t get wet.  How are you going to reach what you need in your pack when it’s dangling below you?  Most tents have vestibules, gear lofts or lockers that store your gear and boots in an organized way.
#4.  Can be expensive.   I know I said it can be cheap too; but that all depends on how prepared you want to be.   Unless you want to be attacked by mosquitoes or get rained on, you’ll want to spring for a net and tarp and these cost more than the hammock each.  Unless you buy ultra-light, you’re weight will be more than some solo tents.  You can easily spend more than $200 on these 3 items, plus your webbing and carabiners.  You might as well have gotten a 2-person shelter from The North Face, like the Talus 2 which costs $198, is guaranteed watertight, has a gear locker, excellent ventilation, and can also shelter your partner.  Which leads to my next point…
#5.  Singles Only.  If you bought a hammock set-up, but decide to bring a new girlfriend/boyfriend, friend or family member, what are they going to use?   Beyond that, if you’re in a relationship, camping is a thousand times more enjoyable to share a tent with your significant other.   My husband and I love to talk in the tent, share quilts and pillows and generally be close together.   Yes, I realize couples can string 2 hammocks on top of each other, but you still can’t see each other and it’s not romantic.  And, while the ENO DoubleNest hammock is extra wide for 2 people, it’s not going to be comfortable to sleep that way.  It’s just one of those things that sounds good in theory, but not in practice.
#6.  You can’t play cards in a hammock.   If the weather turns nasty and you want to socialize with your friends, you will wish you had a tent with a waterproof, bathtub-like floor so you can sit and play cards, word games or tell stories.   Or, you can sit in your hammock alone and be lonely.
#7.  Privacy.  Unless you spring for a very large tarp with doors, you will need to be comfortable enough to be pretty much naked in front of your fellow campers to change your clothes.
#8.  Cold Weather Camping.  When the temperatures dip well below freezing, you may find yourself with struggling to stay warm as you dangle between 2 trees.  A well-ventilated, 3-or4–season tent offers better weather protection, stability and warmth than a hammock, not to mention sleeping next to a buddy for added warmth.  Most tarps would not be suitable for heavy snowfall without extra guy lines for stability, and you won’t be able to escape harsh wind gusts under the tarp.  A smaller tent is warmer and more comfortable when it’s cold because your body heat (and that of your partner’s) will heat up the space.  Make sure to use a fat sleeping pad and an appropriate sleeping pad and you’re off to pleasant dreams.

So, which is really the best option?   Truthfully, it depends on your preferences, budget, camping environment, and weather.   Personally, if your budget has a little wiggle room, I would suggest bringing a hammock with your tent.  You’re only adding 14 oz to your pack weight, but you’ll have a lot more options when it comes time to bunker down.

We are interested in what you prefer to camp with — hammock or tent — and why.   List your reasons below or comment on the pros and cons!

Have a great weekend, friends!

By Amberly Geoghegan, Store Manager




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