I spent a large part of my younger years participating in outdoor camping events with the Girl Scouts. While I loved starting the giant campfire, rock climbing, and hiking I never really did want to go to sleep. It’s not that I don’t mind sleeping on the ground…ok it is. Our options were usually in a log cabin, complete with beds, or pitching a tent and sleeping in a bag. The main reason for my anti-ground stance is Louisiana, where I grew up, receives a lot of rain. And quite frequently, I would wake up in the middle of the night with my head more or less in a puddle. One time when I was sleeping in a tent with a bottom, I woke up in what you might call a flash flood as we creeped a few inches at a time! Thankfully, the camp had solid structures for us to take shelter in but I can’t help think that if the Scouts had us in hammocks that wouldn’t have happened.
Today, as I live in the very less rainy South Carolina, I still camp. I have a lovely partner and a big, black mutt that really loves coming with us. While on rain-free weeks he can sometimes talk me into lugging a tent up, usually I grab the hammocks and head on out!
Why I Love Camping With Hammocks
Camping is supposed to bring us back to our roots. Since many modern cultures that are mobile are well known for their hammock use, I like to think that perhaps my ancestors too once used something like a hammock on their travels. Now, hammocks are good for camping practically as well. Ground sleeping is not fun. There are bugs in the South, including but not limited to biting fire ants, and some fierce territorial animals that are active at night or early dawn. Hammocks also weigh a lot less than tents on average; ones like my cloth hammock are closer in weight to premium tents but a comfy mess hammock cannot be beat for light weight travel! You also don’t have to worry about finding a level campsite, like a tent allowing you to book campsites with a better view rather than just ones with flat and even ground. Hammocks also leave almost no trace that you were there and are so easy to set up...unlike tents.
Before you go out and spend a night in a one of the lovely nearby National or State Parks, please test your hammock first! Learn how to tie a knot properly and take a test nap in it. Even stomach sleepers can find a good night’s rest in a hammock but there may be a little trial and error. Remember to pack lightly and decide if you are going to buy pack covers or hang the packs in the trees.
When looking for trees to hang, make sure to carefully check out the bark. Certain trees, like pine, have think chip-like bark that under pressure can strip off. These pieces can be over three inches in thickness- which means that seemingly solid rigging can get you crashing down in the middle or the night or (more likely) slowly sagging until your butt is gently touching the ground. Tree straps cinch up nice and tight, and distribute the hanging load to minimize any damage to trees as well as ensure you stay above ground for the night.
For those of you that like to hike with their dog, you can welcome your furry friend on board if they are well trained. Some dogs will stay in the hammock until you pick them up and put them on the ground. Others, particularly dogs with guarding and hunting instincts, will bound at the sound of cardinal or a park ranger walking on by. You can get in severe trouble for it and a large dog might flip you out of your hammock if they leave first. Try a test run with your beloved pooch in your yard (or a friend’s yard if you don’t have one first) and train your dog to stay in the hammock. Otherwise, consider leaving Fido behind or with a friend in a tent during your hike.
It Always Rains & There Are Always Bugs
While my friend sometimes nag at me for not considering South Carolina’s ‘light showers’ for real rain (I think Forest Gump said it best: “We been through every kind of rain there is. Little bitty stingin' rain... and big ol' fat rain. Rain that flew in sideways. And sometimes rain even seemed to come straight up from underneath. Shoot, it even rained at night!”) I will admit that if you don’t bring cover when you sleep in the forest you aren't going to be comfortable. There have been plenty of times my partner laughed at me for at putting up cover and then wakes up in the morning and wishes he had too!
There are a lot of different types of covers. Some wrap around you and really protect against wind chill and bugs. Others are more of temporary roof slanted so the rain falls down. I prefer slant roof type and bring a bug net to cover the whole bit during the summer. I also get very warm while I sleep, so the more cocoon types make me feel like I am on fire.
The bottom line is to always bring cover. It is much better to realize that you typed in the wrong zip code into the weather channel and what was supposed to be a 5% chance of rain was really 75%, but have cover than to spend one very soggy night. Not that this scenario ever happened to little old experienced camping me…more than once.
I wish you good luck on your hammock filled camping trips!