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An introduction to hammock camping
For many outdoor enthusiasts, camping is synonymous with tents. After all, tents have been around for centuries and have a proven track record. But a growing number of campers are turning to a new option: the camping hammock. - photo by Grant Olsen
THE GREAT OUTDOORS For many outdoor enthusiasts, camping is synonymous with tents. After all, tents have been around for centuries. They have a proven track record when it comes to portability and protection from the elements.

But a growing number of campers are turning to a simpler option: the camping hammock. Hammocks are easy to transport, simple to set up and can be extremely comfortable. And modern camping hammocks boast many of the features your favorite tent does, including mosquito nets and rain flies.

A big advantage of a hammock is that it frees you from the limitations of the ground. Because its suspended, youll no longer need to worry about uneven terrain. You can sleep comfortably on a steep hill or hovering over slushy snow. And while its true that hammocks require anchor points, its generally easier to find two trees than it is to find a flat patch of ground big enough to accommodate your tent.

As for sleeping in a tent, the great advances in camping pad technology havent changed the fact that the ground is still unforgiving. Sinister roots and rocks often materialize in the middle of the night to inflict misery on unsuspecting campers. A hammock keeps you above these nuisances.

One thing to note is that the more robust and feature-laden your hammock is, the heavier it will be. This probably sounds obvious, but some people may by surprised to learn that theres not a substantial weight difference between a fully accessorized hammock and a four-person tent.

Tree-protecting straps are one of the accessories that add weight, but theyre definitely recommended. These wide-area straps distribute the load to a broader area, minimizing damage to the trees bark. There are several brands selling these straps, including Grand Truck Goods and Ticket to the Moon. Both run about $20.

For those who are considering hammock camping for the first time, here are a few things to keep in mind when buying a hammock:

The design

If youve ever hopped into a day hammock on the beach, you probably laid in it parallel to the hammock. This is fine for an afternoon snooze, but less so for an overnight sleep. Many camping hammocks are asymmetrical to allow you to sleep diagonally for maximum comfort.

The size

A good rule of thumb is that the longer and wider a hammock is, the more comfortable it will be. Try out a few different shapes and sizes to find the one that works best for you.

The weight

Camping hammocks can get quite hefty once youve added on accessories. If youll be using yours for campsites that dont require a long hike, thats fine. But if youre planning to venture out on a more intense trek, youll want to be judicious on the weight and consider an ultralight sling.

The insulation

Sleeping in a hammock can be a chilly experience if youre not prepared. To ward off the cold, many campers simply place a foam pad in the hammock. Some hammocks even have a special compartment that allow you to slide a pad in. A final option is an underquilt, which hangs under your hammock and provides warmth.

So which camping hammocks are best? That definitely depends on your specific needs. On the more affordable side, there are options like the Grand Trunk Double and the Hammock Bliss Double. Both of these hammocks are high quality and cost less than $60.

If youre looking for a more deluxe option, you cant go wrong with the Warbonnet Blackbird. Its widely considered to be one of the most comfortable hammocks on the market. Another contender is the Hennessy Expedition Asym. These hammocks offer lots of bonus features, which push their price tags up to more than double that of the bargain hammocks mentioned above.

Whether you decide to go with a lightweight day hammock or a decked out camping option, its definitely a fun way to bring a new dynamic to your next adventure.