SGT Rock's Hiking H.Q.


Hammock Camping 101


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Storm Set Up

Most hammocks are like a tarp in one way: they can be set up in more than one way. For light rains and warm weather, setting the fly up high with lots of ventilation is only logical. But if the weather ever turns nasty you will need to "batten down the hatches" so to speak. Even though a good hammock gives good foul weather coverage, you will need to take precautions or end up wet.

1.  Select the proper site. The best location is on the back side of a hill, preferably in a draw with some vegetation in the direction of the wind to help wind block, get the wind to hit at an angle to the side, with the foot downwind. Get the wide spot by your head into the wind. Hard compacted ground can cause a lot of splash and pooling of water, so look for a site over forest duff.

2. Choose the right trees. Don't get the biggest, oldest trees around. Try to find some smaller trees that do not have heavy old or dead branches over you. Lightning is a remote possibility even though you are attached to trees, you are not the shortest route to ground and are in an object that will offer resistance to electricity even if the tree were struck. The main threat is from falling braches in high winds. Another slightly more remote danger is falling trees when they become water logged and the ground supporting them gets soft in the rain.

3. Tie the hammock so that there is 9"-12" between the bottom of the hammock and the ground and the support ropes are as tight as possible. Make sure you don't go too tight, but you don't want to get blown around. Check the hammock for stretch. For the Hennessy, fold the hammock over to make a seat (see Tips) and sit in it to check for stretch, then tighten again.

4. Put the fly as loose between the support ropes as possible. Then pull the side guys down as far as possible until you cant get them down any further. The fly should be pulling the centerline down in the middle with a good deal of tension. Stake the hammock and the fly with the separate stakes on the head side, ensuring they are both centered up on each other. On the foot side, put the hammock and the fly on separate stakes so you can use the fly as a vestibule (see Tips) during the storm if you need to. Another thing you should do with the two stake method is ensure you leave some air space between the hammock fly and the net, if they are right on top of each other it will cause some condensation problems in humid conditions. The moisture from your breathe will condense on the cooler tarp and then form drop into your sleeping area if the net and fly touch in any place other than the ridgeline, otherwise the condensation will simply run down the sides to the ground. Then after that is all done, pull tension into the ends that are along the support rope. Once your done, there will probably still be some fly folded over on itself on the center support line, but everything will be under tension.

5. If possible, put something over the top of the stakes, under heavy saturation they may try to pull out.


Climbing In

I am often asked how to get into the hammock, and the Hennessy Hammock web site does discuss it. My technique is slightly different.

Pads together in the hammock Now the bag is in Getting in
1. Start by laying in your pad at an angle inside your hammock. 2. Then lay your bag or blanket on top centered where you want it. 3. Stick your head in and turn to face towards the floor end.
Sit down lie down Cover up
4. Sit down on the hammock and pad like a chair. 5. Bring your feet in and lie on the pad. Use a clothing bag as a pillow. 6. Cover up or zip up your bag.
Sleep on your side Sleep on your stomach Hammock camp site
7. If your a side sleeper, you can do that, just turn on your side. I sleep this way the most. Very comfortable! 8. Can you sleep on your stomach? Yes. I don't like to, and it isn't as comfortable as on your back or side. But it can be done. 9. My camp with a food bag hung (not shown) and all my gear inside. Ultralight hiking makes it possible! Check out Tips.


Diagram from the Hammock Camping Yahoo Group

How Much Stress?

When you tie off to a live tree, the stress generated is normally not enough to bother the tree too much because it has a good root system and generally you will be tying off to a tree 4" or more thick. But what if you want to tie off to a post in your yard or in a shelter. That big beam may look strong enough, but the forces acting on it and the few nails holding it in place are a lot greater than you may think.

Diagram from the Hammock Camping Yahoo Group

Force = ( occupants weight/2 ) / ( sin ( rope angle ref. to the horizon)).

There is a spreadsheet here with a diagram and the equations: all you are interested in is Force1, Angle1 and Weight.

Rope Angle Weight Multiplier
30˚ 1
15˚ 2
10˚ 3

So the more slack your ropes are, the less stress you put on the support. A totally horizontal line (realistically impossible to have) would have infinite force.

Example: If I weigh 160, and I have a 2 pound hammock and about 5 pounds of gear in the hammock with me, then the total weight is 167 pounds. If I decide to set up using the roof support for the front of the shelter so I can be inside the shelter, and I put up the tightest pitch I can get, then the force I am putting at each point is 10 times the weight being supported, or 1,670 pounds of force. That might be enough to damage the shelter!


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Hall of Honor recipients for this page
Tom Hennessy