Hammock vs Ground Camping
It seems that there is more and more discussion about hammocking versus ground camping. Is one better than the other? What are the advantages and disadvantages? What we’ll cover here is an objective approach to hammocking and ground camping, without any bias towards one or the other.
The weights and costs of gear for both setups are based on Outdoor Vitals gear, so there may be some variance depending on what you’re trying to use.
Hammock and suspension: 16oz
Tarp and stakes: 16oz
Top quilt: 24oz
(topquilt and underquilt in 20D fabric and 800 fill power down.)
Total weight: 80oz. (5lbs)
Hammock and suspension: $75
Tarp and stakes: $80
(using 20 degree bags, etc.)
Summit 20: 40oz
Sleeping pad: 23oz
Tent (just footprint, poles, and rainfly): 2lbs
Total weight: 95oz (5.9 lbs)
Summit 20: $200
Sleeping pad: $75
Lots of options to cut off costs.
(if you use a tarp instead of a tent, you definitely can go way cheaper.)
- Comfort- sleeping at a diagonal in a hammock is very comfortable.
- Consistency- with a ridgeline, your hammock lays the same every time, so you'll get the same nights sleep.
- Quick and easy setup- you don’t get it dirty on the ground, and can set it up for quick breather on the trail.
- Nothing to really air out, there's no condensation.
- Need a place to hang- what if you are in the desert?
- Not as protected- even with tarp, if the weather is too crazy, you can be more exposed to wind, snow, rain, etc.
- You need something to keep your head warm when using a top quilt.
Sleep systems for a hammock
As discussed before, a great setup for sleeping in a hammock is to use an underquilt and a topquilt. Underquilts wrap underneath the hammock to keep you insulated underneath and prevent “cold butt syndrome”, and the top quilt will keep the rest of you warm inside the hammock.
The reason you couldn’t just use a regular sleeping bag by itself in a hammock is that as you are inside the bag, your body weight compresses all the insulation underneath you. Compressed like this, there aren’t any air pockets in the insulation, and it loses its insulating ability. You’ll get cold pretty easily.
One alternative some people have used is to sleep with an insulated pad and a sleeping bag in the hammock. This works as long as you can stay on top of the pad and it doesn’t slip out. If you use an inflated pad, deflate it just a little so the pad can form to the shape of the hammock a little better. Then it won’t slip out as easily.
The MummyPod™ we offer at Outdoor Vitals is another great way to hammock camp! It’s basically a mummy sleeping bag that a hammock can run through the middle of. The footbox unzips so you can put the hammock through and hang it, then you can seal the footbox around the hammock with a system of drawstrings and flaps that keep your feet insulated. Drawstrings at the top help seal it around your shoulders and head. Using the MummyPod™ enables you to carry just one item instead of two (a topquilt and underquilt or a pad and sleeping bag) along with the hammock.
Whether you’re using a top and underquilt setup or a MummyPod™, a hammock bugnet is something to consider getting to make sure those mosquitoes stay away! Bugnets are typically designed to go around your whole hammock sleep setup and connect to the carabiners of your hammock or to the trees or suspension system your hammock is hanging from. They are pretty lightweight and make a huge difference.
It’s also a good idea to bring along a tarp as protection from the weather while hammock camping. You wouldn’t want to be caught soaking wet in a rainstorm, especially if you’re using a down insulation sleep system. Down loses its insulating ability when wet. So tarps are pretty necessary, and add to the overall weight of using a hammock sleeping system.
Sleeping straight vs diagonal
Sleeping diagonally in a hammock typically requires a larger hammock, like a double hammock. But using a sleep setup like a MummyPod™ is better with a single hammock. These single hammocks typically just allow you to sleep with a straight lay. Some people consider this to be an issue and have 3 main concerns with a straight lay.
Concerns of straight:
- Your body is bent (like a banana)
- Knees are hyperextended
- Body squeezed by the hammock
These concerns can be overcome. To get a flatter lay, hang the hammock a little tighter (at least a 30 degree angle, maybe a bit smaller).
To overcome hyperextended knees, put something behind them. A jacket will work, but an inflated backpacking pillow is pretty much perfect for the job. Getting your knees bent a bit like that also changes the position of your back. Your back lays flatter instead of having so much of an arc.
To overcome being squeezed, lay with your shoulders in the widest part of the hammock. Your feet can be closer to the gathered end, which will put your shoulders close to the middle, where there is more hammock. That way there will be less squeeze.
- Very protected- you get lots of shelter from weather, etc. There's less exposure.
- It will work every time- you don’t need trees to hang it from
- Longer setup/takedown- find a spot, inflate the pad, set up the tent, etc.
- Condensation- you have to dry it out sometimes.
- Hard to keep clean- dirt and debris get inside the tent easily.
Sleeping systems for Ground Camping
A tent and sleeping bag isn’t the only option while ground camping, although they are a great way to go! If you’re looking for fast and light, hammock camping is not your only option. There are also systems like teepees, tarp shelters, etc. that can work great for sleeping on the ground.
Let’s start with the classic: tents. While there are lightweight backpacking options for tents, they do tend to be a little heavier than other ground camping alternatives. Packing around the tent body, poles, stakes, fly, and footprint can weigh a lot! You can also go in fast and light mode, which is basically the footprint, fly, and poles, and that cuts out some weight, but will give you less protection. One of the biggest advantages a tent can give you is that protection, since most tents have a bathtub floor, a bugnet, and really isolate you from the weather.
Teepees are similar to tents, and maybe a little lighter. But they usually don’t have a floor attached, and while they give you good coverage above and around you, you aren’t protected from underneath. Another thing to know about teepees is that the high point is right in the center, and the walls of the teepee slope down from there. This give you a lot of headspace in the center of the teepee, but not so much when you are laying down. The wall of the teepee will be right by your head, and your feet might sometimes be right into the wall as well.
Tarps are great for an ultralight and easy setup. You can use trekking poles on each end of the tarp to prop it up with cords and stakes holding the sides out. You can also tie the tarp to trees and branches if they are available instead of using trekking poles. Tarp shelters are extremely versatile and you can adjust them to form barriers against wind, snow or rain if there is some directional precipitation or wind. Tarps can also come in different shapes making them useful in different situations. Outdoor Vitals has both 4-sided tarps and 6-sided hex tarps.
Bivys are also used in ground camping. They are basically the same size of your sleeping bag, and don’t give you much room to move around in. They are not the best stand-alone sleep system, but work great with a tarp. One thing to check with a bivy is breathability. Some are completely waterproof, which means if you sweat at all at night, you’ll be stuck with that condensation, and will most likely be cold. A good bivy should have a waterproof bottom with a water-resistant top, and vents for breathability.
With all of these sleep systems, you’ll want an insulated pad along with a sleeping bag or topquilt. Being on the ground doesn’t eliminate the need to be insulated from underneath as well as above. However, unlike in a hammock, sometimes you can use things like leaves and pine needles to help insulate you from underneath if you don’t have a pad available.
Do What Works Best For You
Different circumstances like climate, weight or money limitations, and environment are also factors. A basic hammock and ground camping setup are pretty similar in weight and cost as you can see from the table towards the beginning of this article. But as you start tweaking those basic setups with gear more suited to your needs and situation, those weights and costs can change by quite a bit.
Knowing your 4 T's can help you know what setup will work best for you. These are Terrain, Temperature, Time, and Troubles. Know what kind of terrain and environment you'll be in, what the temperature will be like, how long you'll be there, and what potential troubles you could run into like bears, snowstorms, or heat.
Trying out a couple of these different setups, you may find one you simply like better than the others. Great! There's no one right answer. As long as you are outdoors and enjoying it, then I'd count it as a success!