I have enjoyed camping in a tent since I was a kid. I’ve gone thru my share of cheap tents, and as I have gotten older I graduated to higher-end models that last longer and keep you dry better. I have recently started experimenting with hammock camping, and am finding some benefits to that. But I also have found some things that I still need to work thru that I like better about tents. From my personal experience (so far), here are the pros and cons of tents vs hammocks.
What a good tent will do best is keep you dry. You can read my tent buying guide for more info, but in a nutshell, a good tent will provide airflow to keep out condensation, and is made of a material that will shed water well. I’m a huge fan of Kelty products, and no longer buy anything else. Where a tent shines over a hammock still for me is that I can keep all my gear inside the tent with me. Need to change your clothes, grab some dry socks out of your pack, or your flashlight died and you need your backup, it’s all right there with you. Ya, and changing your clothes, that is definitely easier in the tent. Some die-hard hammock campers have likely got this down to a science. I have not. Lastly, I still love the camp setup. This depends on your tent, but the ones I use have a quick system for clipping the poles to the tent, and the tent fly to the top, and it takes all of 5 minutes to set up (see my Kelty Gunnison review).
So why was I trying hammock camping? Sleeping on the ground. I’ve found that I don’t need a full-blown air mattress, which is good because they take up a lot of space. I’ve got a compact ground matt that takes a little air, and I’m comfortable. As some of us age, our backs have less tolerance than others for sleeping on the ground, but so far I’ve been lucky here. Where I am having troubles as I age is with my knees. I’ve got arthritis in both knees and it gets less and less fun to get down on the ground and back up, as I get older. It’s not a show stopper yet, but it’s painful enough I’ve been looking for alternatives. And this truly is the only reason that I have to abandon my tent. Someday I’ll be an RV camper only. Nothing against an RV, I have a camper and enjoy it. But I love my tent and it will be a sad day when I can only use the camper.
So unless you jumped ahead to the hammock section to get the scoop on them, you know why I have been trying them out. Getting off the ground. I first brought one to the week-long scout camp I went on with my son and the troop and hung it in the woods near my tent. And some afternoons when there was nothing going on, I would grab a book and hang around the campsite (literally). I found that instead of reading the book, I would soon be intently studying the inside of my eyelids. The hammock was COMFORTABLE. If I could only stay dry in the rain and keep the dew off I could….. But wait, I can hang a tarp over it. If I could only keep the bugs out of my face, oh there’s a net I can buy to handle that. Hmmm, let’s give this a shot! The first campout in the hammock went well. Slept well. Wake up, sit up, and I’m already up off the ground. Where did I put my shoes? Crap. Oh, there they are. So I had some organizational issues, but other than that, it was a good experience. We won’t talk about getting out of the netting in the middle of the night when nature called.
Downside of the hammock is your gear. I’m used to having my shoes right outside the door under the small vestibule of my tent. And keeping my back inside with me. With the hammock you need to work this out, but I’ve settled on a small ground cloth under the hammock for my shoes, and to stand on when I get up to put them on. And hanging my back in a tree with a waterproof cover on it. It works, and I can get used to it.
You also have open-air under you. This makes a big difference in your temperature when you’re sleeping. In July and August, no big deal. Cooler nights though, and you don’t stay as warm as when you’re in a tent. They make under quilts to hang below your tent to fix this. And this is my next investment. I enjoy the hammock in the summer, and now I want to stretch it out to later, and earlier in the year. So the next hurdle is in staying warm. The gear is available, I just haven’t gone there yet. I planned to do that this year, but the whole summer has been upside down in 2020 (if you’re reading this in the future, just google the year 2020 when you have lots of time for shaking your head in disbelief).
I said I like the setup of my tent better, so I should expand on that. There are separate pieces to hang with the hammock, and with practice, it should go pretty smooth. But practice before you go camping to avoid frustration. You need to hang the hammock, and then the net and the tarp/fly. And get everything at the right height for your comfort. Practice. But it takes a little more than clip clip clip and pounding a few stakes. After you get used to it, probably worth it.
Lastly, some places don’t allow hammocks. Although they do not damage ground vegetation as a tent does, they can damage trees. Most hammocks come with straps that are tree-friendly now and don’t hurt the tree bark. But places like the NY State Parks don’t recognize that, and just don’t allow hammocks to be attached to trees. I’m researching portable hammock stands too… they seem to be a thing.
Short answer, Both! For a quick overnight, a hammock gets the edge. It packs up small and light. If where I’m going is in the middle of a field though, a tent makes more sense. Staying for a week in one spot, probably taking a tent. More gear for a longer campout, and ya I’ll be changing my clothes a few times. Bad weather expected, or cold. I still lean towards a tent. I know how to stay dry with a tent, but I will be pushing it more with a hammock to see what I can get away with. Have I thrown both in the car? Ya. What’s the camping area look like when I get there. If you’re not on a backpacking trip, you may be able to get away with that. For the basics on hammock camping, check out hammock camping 101. Start there, and you’ll find a lot of info online for further reading if you want to try it out. Message me and let me know how you like it! Or why you opted to stay with your tent.