Hammock Camping Thoughts

Reminder: I also have a blog over at http://roughstuffnw.org that has occasional trip reports.  I posted one last weekend about riding the Mountain Loop Highway.

Hammock camping at the Suiattle River

I’ve been camping with my Hennessey Hammock for 10 years now.  I’ve used it snow, hard rain, and in warm summer conditions.  During that time I’ve spent more time fiddling with hammock gear than the rest of my camping gear combined. In the end I just bought the accessories that I should have gotten in the beginning: a good down underquilt and top quilt.  The underquilt is a down blanket which hangs underneath the hammock to provide insulation that doesn’t get compressed.  Without one the hammock is pretty chilly if temps are below 60F outside.  The quilt wraps up high around the hammock and is the warmest and most comfortable setup for the hammock.

I started to think about the real costs of the hammock with this gear and was a bit stunned at how expensive the setup really is.

Costs and weights for my hammock setup (weights are measured on my kitchen scale):

Item Cost Packed Weight
Hennessey Ultralight Asym Hammock $200 1100 grams (2.4lbs)
Jacks R Better Nest Underquilt (bottom insulation) $290 710 grams (1.6lbs)
Rab Quantum Top Bag (top quilt/sleeping bag) $103 (on closeout) 500 grams (1.1lbs)
Total $593 2310 grams (5.1lbs)


Costs and weights for a bivy setup:

Item Cost Packed Weight
Outdoor Research Alpine Bivy $239 930 grams (2lbs)
Thermarest Neoair Regular (bottom insulation) $150 400 grams (0.9lbs)
Rab Quantum 400 Sleeping Bag $140 (on closeout) 850 grams (1.9lbs)
Total $529 2180 grams (4.8lbs)


Both of these are lightweight setups suitable for one person camping down to around freezing.  The sleeping bag prices are based on current closeout Rab bags from http://www.departmentofgoods.com, non-closeout prices on comparable bags are easily double that.  The pad and sleeping bag used for the bivy setup are also ideal for tent camping (when sharing shelter with someone else), while the Hammock underquilt and top quilt are more special purpose items.  The bivy also works in more places, the tent limits me to camping with the trees.  Either setup just about fills a small Ortlieb pannier when packed.  There are cheaper and lighter bivy options, I have this one because I got a very good deal on it ($20 lightly used).  If I were buying a new one I’d look at the $90 REI Minimalist.

You can use a hammock with a sleeping pad and a normal sleeping bag, but it isn’t nearly as comfortable or lightweight.  I think that it is a good way to try out a hammock, but if you get into a hammock I’d expect to upgrade to at least a nice underquilt over time.  I don’t think I could recommend a hammock to someone on a budget, a lightweight tent or bivy is a more flexible setup to buy into.

Despite all of that I love my hammock.  If you can afford a good hammock setup I don’t think you’ll find a more comfortable night of sleep.

If you are into hammocks and are under 6′ tall get the Rab Quantum Top Bag while you can.  This is a sleeping bag with no insulation on the bottom.  I slit the bottom sheet in half and hemmed it (which took about 30 minutes) and ended up with a very nice top quilt for half the price of any other option.  A quilt is ideal for the Hennessey Hammocks because it is hard to zip up a sleeping bag from inside the hammock.


  1. Mark Beattie says:

    Many of Henry Shires” Tarptents are well received. I own a “Double Rainbow” and my wife and I like it a lot (but we”re not tall) and I know someone who used the “Contrail” on the PCT and the CDT (or an UL version of it, around .5KG weight). Anyhow, compared to the Alpine Bivy, I do think purpose built tents (or tarp tent style combos) are a lot more flexible. Also, I know many people really do like the Neo Airs, but Cascade Designs” Ridge Rest series (w/ the newest SOLite & Solar models) are pretty comfortable considering weight/cost/warmth. In Alaska I had no issues with ground cold using the Solar full length model.

  2. Alex Wetmore says:

    I have a Tarp Tent that my wife and I use when we are camping together. For single person use I prefer a bivy to a tiny tent, the little tents develop too much condensation. A large tent doesn”t, but doesn”t pack down as small either.

    I wasn”t trying to make a comparison of all camping options, just to show how the hammock full setup compares in cost and weight to a similar functionality single person setup. You can substitute any part of the ground camping option with your personal preferences. The end result is pretty similar though.

  3. Jimmy Livengood says:

    Nice write up, it’’s great to see the comparison of price/weight put so succinctly. I haven”t used a hammock, and my speculation on some other considerations has held me back. What are your thoughts on 1p tent/bivy/hammock with respect to: comfort in rainstorm, ability to cook in vestibule or while mostly still inside the structure, set-up/dismantle time, covered area for shoes or other gear, ease of changing clothes or putting on contacts, bug protection?

    I admit jealousy when I watched you and Lee set up your hammocks. Like cool space-age Ewoks or something.

  4. Pat S says:

    Alex, thanks for a great post and analysis. I think the hard truth I come away with is that a good sleeping solution is in the $500-600 range, whether you opt for on-the-ground or hanging. I feel like I”m now at a pretty happy place with my solution (although John recently loaned my his Neo and now I *must* buy one of those, the bastard) and I”m at around $600, so yeah. I also think that a solution that provides a good night of sleep is money very well spent, whether on the trail, or at home, because it so directly affects the quality of the day that follows. (Of course, that is partly my age and being at a place where I have the ability to spend the money speaking. As a younger, poorer man, I”d probably be singing the praises of a more frugal solution.)

    I have a basic Hennessey and have dabbled with it enough to agree with your statement that it’’s not good for anything below 60F without insulation. (I didn”t know you could ever be so cold on such a warm summer night!) But I got the basic feel of sleeping in a hammock and if I had really dug it, I would have gone forward with the investment in under and over quilts. But the two things that stopped me were the limitations in terms of anchors (trees) and more significantly but also just totally me, I am mildly claustrophobic – the hammock was a problem in that respect, whereas an ultralight tent feels royally spacious. (Not sure about a biv, I”d like to try one, but I will definitely borrow one before buying, as they look like a bit scary, claustro-wise.)

  5. Mark Beattie says:

    I agree, condensation is an issue with UL single wall tarp tents. If there are not bugs or raining, sleeping out is always nice. Do know that I really enjoyed your write up Alex and your blog in general. My wife was just asking about hammock options for camping and literally as she asked your post popped up in Google Reader, so well timed I”d say. And nice photos as usual, they do look sort of Endor-esque, if that’’s the word.