Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Hammock Camping Along the Appalachian Trail

One of the biggest decisions in planning a section hike along the Appalachian Trail is where to lie one's head at the end of a tiring day. The obvious solution for many is to sleep in one of the many wooden shelters along the trail. Some drawbacks are: shelters are open on one side to wind and rain; nocturnal noises from shelter mates, and shelter mice. Many others use the shelters for meals, but "go to ground" in tents for a bit more privacy, comfort control and to be relatively pest free. A number of freethinkers have decided leverage the many trees along the Appalachian Trail for hammock camping. In fact, recently one thru-hiker hung his hammock in the middle of the trail inside the famous crooked Bly Oak tree.

Hammock camping has developed over the past decade into an established method of camping. Hammock camping forums exist to document gear and methods. Hammock camping tutorials and videos adorn the worldwide web, putting the collective knowledge of the hammock camping community into the grasp of everyman. While homemade hammock camping gear is used, a number of commercial businesses catering to the hammock camper have taken root and supply an increasing array of hammocks and accessories.

Hammock camping begins with developing a hammock camping system. At minimum, "hanging" requires a hammock, a suspension system, and a tarp. Several lightweight hammocks are available at low cost. We've purchased Grand Trunk's lightweight travel hammock on Amazon for about $17 and will post a review shortly after an overnight test. Suspension can be as simple as some non-strech rope or more expensive commercial "tree huggers." Tarps can be relatively expensive custom silnylon or inexpensive, but heavier, polyurathane from the local hardware store.

One of the tricks of the trade for successful hammock camping along the Appalachian trail is to use a ridge line. Inexpensive hammocks don't come with one, but you can easily make one using low stretch rope. A ridgeline is basically a rope with loops at both ends and it attaches to the carabiners at both ends of the hammock. The purpose of the ridgeline is to ensure the same amount of slack, or "hang," in your hammock. In order to lie flat, a hammock needs some slack. Ridgelines are usually about 83% of the length of the hammock. Ridgelines also are useful for hanging water bottles for midnight thirsts and for drying socks and clothes.

As hammocks hang and air is free to blow beneath a hammock, a pad or underquilt is often necessary to ensure a warm night's rest. A 24-inch wide foam pad works better than a 20-inch pad as hammocks tend to curve and envelope the occupant. You'll be glad to have the extra 4-inches to insulate your shoulders. Surplus military foam pads are 24-inches in width. Many hammock campers custom trim foam pads to reduce weight.

If we can fine tune our hammock system in time, you'll find us hammock camping along the Appalachian Trail this summer. If not, well, one more season on the ground won't be too awful.

Tip 1: Tie the suspension line for your tarp BELOW the suspension system for your hammock. The hammock will sag with your weight and the tarp will be just right for maximum protection from rain and wind.


  1. This sounds heavenly. When sleeping in an hammock between the trees you can really blend in and be more of a part of the forest. Still, you're not sleeping on the ground - may it be cold, wet or where you can meet snakes etc. I seriously sleep best in an hammock in the woods than in my own bed at home. Loving it. Thanks for the tips, especially that last one I'll give it a try next time round. :)

  2. Thanks so much for the stove and bottle advice! This is a great help - I never will sleep in a tent again and definitely going to take your idea about how to hang the rain tarp! Just did a new post http://trainingforthetrail.wordpress.com/2011/03/14/steve-says-tips-from-a-pro/ but should have another coming soon about the gear we are bringing. Would love more feedback!

  3. In my book I referred to hammocks as creating "Hammock envy" amongst the other thru-hikers. There were many times when I would intentionally hang it where "Tenters" dare not go, ie: over stumps, streams and rocks. Recently my wife and I hiked the Camino de Santiago in Spain and used a tent...I missed the hammock. My thru-hike was my first experience with a hammock and I'll never go back to a tent when hiking alone.

    Dennis "K1"
    Author of THREE HUNDRED ZEROES: Lessons of the Heart on the Appalachian Trail