Hammocks are more than just nets for catching lazy people. Hammocks are for more than testing your balance, and filming your failures for America’s Funniest Home Videos. Hammocks are my only escape for sleeping outside in the summer, because being a warm sleeper is handy in the winter but is literally hell in the summer. While kayaking and swimming in the summer heat is fun, sleeping in it is another story. Even in the mountains, it will not get below 80 degrees during the night; approximately 35 degrees above my optimum sleeping temperature.
Camping hammocks are not the rope and wood monstrosities that you see at the beach. Several companies have begun making hammocks especially for camping from lightweight and breathable nylon that packs up to roughly the size of a football. Most come without any form of rain protection while others have built-in rain-flys to keep the drips out of your face. Several popular brands include Travel Hammock (the brand I currently use), Eagles Nest Outfitters (ENO), and Hennessy which is the equivalent of the Rolls Royce of hammocks.
Hammocks bring a degree of liberation compared to traditional tent camping. Compared to even blowing up an air mattress, all you have to do is find 2 trees, slap two ropes around them, and thread a hook through a loop. Also, instead of having to worry about rolling down the hill in your sleep, or having a rock wedged between your shoulders; any place that has 2 trees approximately 8’ apart is prime hammock territory. I will admit, unless you have a hammock made to go in the rain, unless you’re a 6th degree tarp master with the Golden Knot Badge 3rd class, you’re going to get wet in a downpour. Light drizzle and intermittent rain can be warded off without too much hassle, but if you get hit by a monsoon, expect to be soggy in the morning. Good practice in what to expect is to set up your hammock and tarp at home before a thunderstorm because real life conditions are the best test.
The beauty of hammock camping in the summer is that it vents your excess heat through the fabric instead of trapping it between you and the ground. This makes those humid soggy nights so much more tolerable when you’re not using your air mattress as a flotation device from the sweat on your tent floor. What this is also means is there’s less to pack; you no longer need a sleeping pad or an air mattress, and in the summer you don’t need a big bulky sleeping bag. A small fleece blanket is usually sufficient if you need some sort of covering; most of the time, I’m perfectly comfortable in gym shorts and a t-shirt. If you sleep at an angle in your hammock (don’t ride the curve giving you banana spine syndrome), it’s just as comfortable as using a mattress. Remember to get a decent size hammock if you’re afraid of falling out at night.
I will say that hammock camping is not for everyone. A good friend of mine who hikes under the A.T. name of Guns once went to Dreyher Island in late May with the Shook clan. Dreyher is a great paddling destination with huge expanses of open water for kayaking and fishing. Not too far from the bustling metropolis of Chapin, it was well into the nineties through the day and several degrees less than hell during the night. Guns didn’t show up till day 3 so my hammock routine was down pat; I was using the Single size Travel Hammock and it had plenty of room. Thinking that his balance was approximately that of a jungle cat, Guns produced a mesh hammock which I believe he fashioned out of a bag used to carry oranges. After the third time that night of hearing, *WUMPH…..Mooaaannn….arrrggghh…rustle…rustle…..swish, WUMPH, *@#$5 Hammock* I was finally able to convince him to try the spare Double size hammock I had. Thankfully the rest of the night passed without the other campers afraid a platoon of marines had simultaneously stubbed their toes in the dark.
If nothing else, just buy a hammock to relax in your back yard; camping hammocks are made out of parachute nylon and are a uniform texture instead of the psudeo-torture device that rope hammocks become after they get a little bit of age to them. Give it a shot, and if it doesn’t work out, well….it’s always good for a nap in the backyard.