Are Backpacking Hammocks Comfortable?

Backpacking hammocks can be comfortable, but like most comfort elements when you’re going outdoors, there’s a degree of subjectivity involved.

Backpacking hammocks can be extremely comfortable to sleep in when you are using one that is properly sized and hung. Making use of a sleeping pad or quilt for additional insulation in cold weather can further increase their comfort.

The more important question here is are backpacking hammocks comfortable for you? Let’s take a look at the factors that can affect it!

Common Complaints About Sleeping in Hammocks

While many people love sleeping in hammocks, it’s admittedly not for everyone.

Here are some of the most common concerns that people have about sleeping in hammocks comfortably, and why they may or may not affect you!

Cold Butt Syndrome

Are backpacking hammocks comfortable when you’re cold? This amusingly-named issue is what happens when you get a lot of airflow at night.

That tends to cool things down, and hammocks have little or no meaningful insulation, with the end result being that you can wake up to find yourself freezing in the middle of the night.

If your comfort concerns center on cold butt syndrome – wearing warm clothing, keeping the camp area warm enough that you don’t get cold air blowing under you, or adding a layer between you and the bottom of the hammock are all simple fixes!

On the flip side – this extra airflow is one of the benefits of hammock camping in warm weather!

Leg Hyperextension

Hyperextension is a condition that can occur when you sleep with poor posture in a hammock, but it’s not a general symptom of hammock sleeping — or at least, it shouldn’t be.

Most hammocks have a curved shape, similar to a banana, that can push your knees in the wrong direction if you aren’t sleeping in them correctly. The soreness that results from that is hyperextension.

Correct sleeping posture is easy to achieve by putting a small item beneath your knees to keep them bending in the right direction. Some people use pillows or coats while backpacking, but you’re supposed to use something to keep your body in the correct position.

Neck Pain

Neck pain can have many causes, but if you get it while sleeping in a hammock, chances are it’s for basically the same reason as leg hyperextension: poor sleeping posture.

This issue is most common when you’re sleeping in a hammock that’s too small for you.

Too much curvature at night can hurt your neck and leave you sore the next morning, so get a bigger hammock.

Motion Sickness

Motion sickness is a condition with various sources, most of them involving conflicting information between the eyes and inner ears.

If you’re feeling motion sick in a hammock, chances are it’s rocking too much in the wind because you didn’t hang it up right.

Try adding a stabilizing cord to one or both sides, which should solve the issue and make sleeping in your backpack hammock more comfortable.

Fear of Falling Out

This one is a little harder to deal with when it comes to comfort in your hammock. Fear of falling is relatively common, but there’s really no helping this one except with experience.

Start by hanging the hammock low to the ground at home, and gradually raise its height as you get used to it.

Hammock Camping Comparisons

Is Sleeping in a Hammock Better Than Sleeping on the Ground?

Some people certainly believe so!

Again, this is subjective, but people on the ground often have to deal with rocky or bumpy surfaces, wet puddles, more bugs, and other critters, and similar issues.

Hammocks offer a generally-consistent sleeping experience anywhere you can set them up.

Is Sleeping in a Hammock Better Than Sleeping in a Tent?

Hammocks are certainly more comfortable than a tent if you feel like things are too stuffy.

Issues like claustrophobia can be a real problem when backpacking, while hammocks allow you to enjoy the great outdoors. Consider having some kind of covering in case it rains, though.

Are Hammocks Comfortable for Side Sleepers?

Are backpacking hammocks comfortable when you’re sleeping on your side, you ask? Again, that depends.

They can be comfortable, but this requires three factors:

  • Having a hammock designed for side sleeping.
  • Having a hammock that’s long enough to allow it.
  • Sometimes having an underquilt or other padding.

Comfortable side sleeping requires more sagging in the hammock, so the main problem most people face here is not buying a hammock that’s long enough to support it.

Are Backpacking Hammocks a Good Option for Comfort?

As you can see from the above sections, hammocks are a good option for comfort as long as you use them correctly.

Problems like getting a hammock that’s too short or hanging it somewhere that it will move around a lot can prevent it from being properly comfortable. When set up correctly, however, hammocks are comfortable for almost everyone.

Hang Your Hammock Properly

The most comfortable hammock has plenty of sag. Nothing is worse than a hammock that flips you out of it, except maybe one that bends your back uncomfortably. You can avoid both problems and have a more comfortable hammock if you calculate the best hang for your weight. 

Your hammock should hang at a 30° angle to create the best sag. When you tie your hammock lines, they shouldn’t be too tight. You want your hammock to look like a smiley face rather than a straight line. Being at the correct angle prevents an uncomfortable cocooning effect.

Raising the foot end 8-10 inches higher can keep your body from sliding into the middle of the hammock and hurting your back.

Use the Right Sleeping Position

If you’ve found hammock sleeping to be uncomfortable in the past, it may be because you’ve been doing it wrong. You’ve probably been sleeping on a horizontal axis like you’re a pea in a pod. But I have news for you; that’s not how you’re supposed to do it. 

A diagonal position is far superior to sleeping horizontally in your hammock. Your head and feet aren’t angled upward in this position. A diagonal lay creates a flatter, more comfortable surface that doesn’t bow your back.

Use a pillow under your knees if the diagonal position creates a rigid area under your legs that hyperextends your knees. You can also accomplish this with extra clothes. If you’re taller, you might want to start with a longer hammock to avoid this issue altogether. 

Add Pillows & Blankets

Pillows and blankets take up both space and weight when you’re backpacking, but that shouldn’t stop you from bringing them.

Notably, there are some lightweight but exceptionally warm blankets out there. Similarly, a little bit of padding is good because it makes your entire hammock softer.

Add Accessories

Accessories can completely change your hammocking experience.

Here are some of the best choices for getting more comfortable:

  • Padding: Hammock pads are thin, plush layers you can put in your hammock for added comfort. These are similar to pillow tops for mattresses. Notably, they can help prevent Cold Butt Syndrome.
  • Bug Nets: These are self-explanatory. If you’re in an area where you expect a lot of insects, nets can keep them away.
  • Tarps: Hammock tarps serve the same function as the roofs of tents do: they keep the rain off of you, allowing you to enjoy a drier night’s sleep no matter where you are.
  • Drip Lines: Drip lines are a sneaky trick that catch and move water flowing down your hammock lines, stopping them from ever getting to you. Never go backpacking in a hammock without them.

Are Hammocks Good for Backpacking?

Hammocks definitely have some positive benefits when you’re going backpacking.

For starters, the rocking motion of a hammock can help you sleep deeper and better. While this may not sound that important, getting the most out of every night’s sleep is extremely important when you’re on the trail.

Neuroscientist Sophie Schwartz says that the rocking motion in hammocks makes a big difference in brain activity. It increases N2 sleep, which is the type of non-REM sleep that gives us the best rest.

That’s not the only way hammocks can be useful, though!

They’re also considerably smaller and lighter than traditional items like bedrolls, which means less weight when you’re going on long journeys. That can be a major factor in how tired you get throughout a backpacking trip, so you might sleep better simply from carrying less weight around.

However, hammock bedding assumes you’re going to find somewhere to hang it up. If you don’t, you’re going to be in a lot more trouble. That’s why you have to know your destination and make sure that you’ll be able to find somewhere to attach each end.

Final Thoughts

Hammocks are an excellent way to sleep comfortably when you’re backpacking. Just remember to get a hammock that’s long enough for your needs and make sure you set it up correctly.

If in doubt, get a bigger backpacking hammock instead of a smaller one. The more space you have, the more comfortable you’re likely to be!

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