Speaking to family and friends recently about camping in general, I realized that almost without exception, the word camping conjures up pictures of sleeping bags and a tent in peoples’ minds. Of the nine people I chatted to, none thought about the possibility of swapping their trusty tent for a hammock.
This begs the question then – what wins in the battle of hammock vs tent?
Most people will prefer a tent to a hammock. The hammock is slower to set up but offers a better sleep. The tent is more secure but less comfortable. A hammock has no roots or stones to poke into your back but cannot sleep two people comfortably. A tent is waterproof but has condensation.
When heading off on a camping trip, leaving your tent behind deliberately takes a lot of wrapping your head around. The tent has always been your safe spot on a trip, your refuge in cold, wet or uncharted territory and as a paragliding friend put it, leaving it behind is “like flying without an emergency ‘chute.”
Hammock Vs Tent: Which is Better?
If you’re someone who sleeps on their stomach, a hammock is a non-starter unless you are hiking with a chiropractor and a physiotherapist. Even then, you’ll need serious meds to combat the pain. A tent will be a better bet in this instance, but you may need an air mattress for comfort.
Using a hammock instead of a tent is the most revolutionary concept in camping in many years, and, as with all new ideas, there are points for and against. While some pros and cons will apply generally, others will apply to some campers, but not others.
I guess what I’m saying is, ‘what is one man’s meat is another man’s poison.’ You’ll need to weigh the evidence up for yourself.
I suggest you use both options, but at different times for the most part. Comparing like to like, weight and price vary considerably between hammocks and tents. But you should also consider terrain, temperature, and season. Marshy, rocky or uneven ground may suit a hammock best, whereas extreme cold or wet camping certainly favors a tent.
Alpine camping offers no trees for hammocks, regardless of the season, whereas tropical and sub-tropical locations may favor the hammock in the dry seasons or a tent in the wet months.
Sleeping arrangements in hammocks and tents
If you’re camping in the bottom of your garden, you may be willing to endure a less than perfect night’s sleep since you have the fun of camping. If, however, you have just hiked for much of the day on treacherous terrain, your night’s sleep suddenly becomes the Holy Grail, and tempers can fray if you don’t sleep well.
To get the most rest in your hammock when camping, you must sleep alone. There are hammocks available for two people, but they are pretty snug, and even as a couple, sharing a hammock overnight is not fun.
It’s impossible to change position without waking the other person, and there’s not much grumpier in the morning than a couple that has slept poorly.
Even in cold weather, when you and your partner have zippered your sleeping bags together, you can get a good night’s sleep, as you can move – slowly! – to change position without waking them. While there are plenty of good 2 person tents, we recommend a slightly larger tent for a couple.
Over a decade ago, neuroscientists in Switzerland made incredible discoveries regarding the quality of sleep experienced in a hammock and a bed. It turns out that it’s neither the hammock nor the bed that is important; it’s the rocking motion.
During their study at the University of Geneva, these scientists discovered that the gentle rocking motion of a hammock makes people fall asleep faster, and they tend to sleep deeper. These changes in brain activity could inspire innovative ways to help insomniacs and improve mental health.
According to Professor Schwartz, the motion does not have to be like a cuckoo clock’s pendulum but is far gentler, like the swaying motion you might experience in a hammock during camping. You should wake up more energetic and rested after a night in a hammock.
Rocking motion or not, falling asleep in a tent after a day’s hiking is not challenging for most people. Sleep quality will vary depending on several factors, not the least of which is your position.
Ground that seems perfectly flat and obstacle-free when you first lie down can wake you with roots and stones digging into your body in the middle of the night.
A good mat or air mattress can take care of this problem but adds to the weight and bulk in your backpack.
Comfort – is a hammock more comfortable?
Falling asleep quickly when camping is a given for most hikers, but the comfort factor is far more critical. Camping can become a chore very soon if you are not getting quality sleep; for that, you need comfort.
Like a womb envelops a baby, your hammock will cradle your body, supporting your back and neck on a lump-free surface. You’re off the ground, which resembles your bed at home, and there are no roots and stones to find you after you drop off.
You will have the added comfort of knowing that snakes, spiders, and other creepy-crawlies will leave you in peace. (A mosquito net might be required for flying bugs.)
Besides sleeping on your stomach, sleeping on your side is also more manageable in a tent. An air mattress will do wonders for protection from what is beneath you, and you have the comfort of knowing your gear is safe inside the tent, which is waterproof so that you can relax properly.
Hammocks and Tents Compared in Different Temperatures
A serious camper will experience many different climatic conditions when camping, and temperature plays a big part.
The nature of a hammock means that you can take advantage of any breeze blowing, which is ideal in temperate climates in Summer and the tropics all year round. Nothing beats the feeling of dropping off to sleep in hot weather, with a cooling breeze wafting over you.
However, trying to sleep in a strong wind gives you a totally different feeling, and the wind chill now comes into effect after a few minutes.
Once temperatures drop to 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius), you will need added gear if you plan to stay in the hammock and not crawl into your pal’s now-enticing tent. The underside of your body is the biggest issue, as your bottom will be compromised even with a sleeping bag of the purest down.
This is because you will flatten whatever stuffing is beneath you, rendering it useless against the cold. A foam sleeping mat or under-quilt will help you, but even spread-out newspaper will make a difference.
I could not find anyone in my hiking club that has used a hammock in sub-zero temps, so until we learn more, I’d give the hammock a miss in these conditions.
A tent can start to bake you in hot weather – figuratively, of course – and the earlier you pitch your tent, the hotter it will get. So, try to pitch after sundown if convenient.
One caveat – I pitched just after dark beside a small lake in Ontario, Canada, and was promptly attacked by tiny birds, or so I thought. They were the largest and hungriest mosquitoes I have ever seen!
In hot weather, provided it is dry, just remove the flysheet, which will help with temps and allow some breeze to enter the tent.
Having walls, a tent will always be warmer than a hammock, and the wall prevents wind chill, which can be debilitating if not prepared for. I’ve tented in the mountains during a snowfall and survived pretty comfortably.
Precipitation (And Condensation)
Rain, hail, sleet, and snow are all beautiful in times of comfort, but experiencing them miles from civilization when camping can be frightening, and correct preparation must be taken.
Rain and sleet can be combatted with a rain tarp, but make sure it’s large enough to ensure the rain doesn’t blow in from the sides.
Hail is a different matter and may well puncture the tarp, so – as with rainfall – ensure the hail does not land on a flat surface. If it doesn’t bounce off the tarp, it will accumulate and may tear the tarp or drop it onto you.
Some hammocks come equipped with a built-in tarp or high sidewalls, though this can be claustrophobic.
Condensation is never a problem in a hammock, although I know of one fellow that used to sleep with his tarp covering his body. Not sure how damp he was when waking up…
Keeping you dry was the first order of business for the original tent makers, who used skins bent over a frame to dispel water. Modern tents are no different, and rather than combat rain, hail, and snow, tents simply deflect it to the side.
Most tents have waterproof stitching, so your tent will remain waterproof, provided you haven’t pitched it in a dry riverbed. You’d never do that, right?
Condensation in a tent can be unpleasant. Damp sleeping bags give off a nasty odor when packed away in your backpack and require some time to dry properly before setting off each day. A small opening in opposing flaps will let airflow keep condensation to a minimum.
Ease of Use
At the end of a long hike or drive, it’s great to shrug your pack off and set up your sleeping arrangements with the absolute minimum of fuss and work.
A hammock requires that you have two sturdy places to anchor the two ends to have a good night’s sleep. This may be heavy rocks, trees, or another natural feature that can hold your body weight overnight. It’s not always easy to find trees the correct distance apart, so this can take time.
Tying the knots around each tree and adjusting for the correct dip or sag in the hammock will add to the time taken, as will setting up your tarp, as this is done separately.
Many modern tents are set up in less than three minutes with a bit of practice, and people get pretty competitive in this regard, clearly timing themselves as they race to erect the tent each time.
Hammock Vs. Tent: Safety
Safety and security are a huge concern for many campers and their parents. Are you safe, and are your possessions safe?
Human threats aside, bears are the biggest concern for most campers. Since we are told to hang our foodstuffs in a bag in a tree, hammocks seem to me to resemble a bear snack bar too closely.
I have no knowledge of a bear attacking someone in a hammock, but since you’re already wrapped like a burrito, there’s no way I’m trying it in bear country!
Your gear can’t be taken into the hammock for security, which is risky if you have other campers around, but if we’re putting human threats aside, the only real danger is rain. Most folk I know lift their packs into a tree for added security.
A bear can make short work of a tent if it chooses to do so, but there are many stories around where bears have snuffled around a tent but moved off after a few – terrifying! – minutes.
Your gear is safer in a tent, protected from the elements and any light-fingered visitors.
Hammock Vs. Tent: Weight
This is inconsequential if camping in the garden with your kids, but hike the Appalachian Trail, and every extra ounce will be felt and despised.
A decent hammock setup that includes mosquito netting, straps, a rain fly, support ropes, and a stuff sack will weigh anywhere from two to four pounds even without a sleeping mat.
An ultralight backpacking tent can weigh two pounds and usually include stakes, a stuff sack, a cord, a full rain fly, a repair kit, and a stuff sack.
With casual camping in a campsite, you don’t need to most high-quality tents. But the first time your tent leaks or your hammock breaks a knot in the great outdoors will be the last time you skimp on survival equipment.
Taking the absolute best equipment into account with all necessary accessories for all camping conditions, it’s possible to spend U$600.00 on a complete hammock setup. I considered a Dutchware 11ft Netless Hexon with accessories for this.
An entry-level system with all necessary accessories can sell for U$165.00, and of course, there is everything in-between.
A super lightweight tent at the top end of the market will set you back around U$600.00 with accessories.
Overall Hammock and Tent Recommendations
There are a great many wonderful tents and hammocks on the market and it’s always difficult to decide just what is the best, so here are my suggestions for a great camping experience, without breaking the bank.
Eno have some exciting hammocks to make your camping experience memorable, and this hammock comes with all accessories you may need.
The Crane Creek tent from Marmot is a two-man tent, so a little heavier than a one-man, but the added space gives it my vote.