Let’s get this out of the way first. Chilling in a hammock is one thing but hammock camping is an entirely different ball park. Some might say, it ain't the same league. It ain't even the same sport!
I’ve been hammocking for the past few years and if you’re interested to take the plunge then here’s my two cents’ worth to set you off on the right foot.
When it comes to camping, California has so much to offer and there’s a bounty of places to choose from. From the national forests of Yosemite or Modoc to Lake Tahoe and Malibu creek state park.
Obviously everyone is different and has their own preferences but after quite a few trials (and my fair share of errors) the following is my preferred equipment list for a comfortable hammock set up. Now, nobody said that hammocking is more lightweight than camping in a tent and in some cases I would say that using a hammock can sometimes end up weighing more. But the satisfaction when setting it up, tinkering with the height, tension of the ropes and so on make it all worthwhile.
1) Two trees, about 14 feet apart
2) Unsurprisingly a hammock. Now, there are a ton of different hammocks out there and to find the one that suits you is the fun part. I spent a lot of time researching all the different brands, shapes and sizes until I settled upon the Warbonnet Blackbird XLC. It’s expensive, but worth every penny if you’re going to be serious about hammocking. Also I have chosen the Whoopie suspension slings over the straps as they are easier to set up and a tad lighter.
3) A tarp. Again there are many different types but I chose the Warbonnet Mountainfly. Mainly because of the door flaps that synch down to close off the ends of the tarp, which in bad weather REALLY pays off.
4) An under-quilt or sleeping pad. Yep you guessed it, Warbonnet again. The Wooki under quilt was a tough choice to make as the price tag will certainly make your eyes water, but once you’ve used an under quilt there is no going back to a sleeping pad. You may ask why you need an under quilt but unless you are sleeping in a sauna then you’ll find out pretty quickly when the wind cuts right under the hammock and wicks away the warmth in seconds. So any form of layering underneath is a must.
5) A sleeping bag or a top quilt. Using a regular sleeping bag works perfectly well but as you start to hammock more and more you might find that a top quilt works a bit better.
6) Two trekking poles. Apart from using them to trek to camp, they are perfect to use as makeshift “tent poles” supporting the tarp when opened up into porch mode.
7) A ridgeline organiser. Rooting around for your gear in a hammock when you’re lying on your back requires a little practice. The Blackbird XLC does have a built-in shelf which is a real lifesaver - big enough to store clothes and other nicknacks, but an organiser makes life a little easier.
8) A pillow. Not necessarily a big one but nonetheless a pillow is always nice.
9) A groundsheet or small plastic sheet. Not a must but I do like to feel “at home” under the tarp if the weather is bad. If you’re in the middle of a storm and you need to lower the tarp to the ground it’s so much cosier if you have a ground sheet under your feet (albeit a bit muddy)
The list above is my basic setup. There are many many more gadgets and cool things but this would be my starting point. Saying that though, there are a few other little extras I would always travel with.
Carabiners. You’ll be hanging a lot more things off trees and ridgeline so a few extra carabiners never go a miss.
Extra cord/guy ropes. Always take extra cord just in case.
1) Weather permitting try to set the hammock up first before the tarp. This means you have a perfect view of all angles of the hammock and also makes it easier to center the tarp.
2) When it’s raining the hammock can feel like quite an exposed place to be. If you’re not careful the rain water will run off the tree, down the suspension line and straight into the hammock. To avoid this, tie a short length of extra cord around the Woopie sling (or your preferred hammock suspension) and trail it towards the ground. This creates a drip line that will channel water down and away from the hammock.
3) If you are going to buy an under quilt, make sure it’s a different colour to the hammock itself. This is just to avoid ever accidentally sitting directly on the under quilt and not the hammock itself. If you ever did that, you’d tear right through it (believe me, I’ve done it!)
4) Camping hammocks are designed in a way that allows you to lay diagonally and thus horizontally across the fabric but do try to position the foot box about 8 inches higher than your head to avoid your body sliding into the middle.
5) Always check out the trees before you hang your hammock. Dead branches, old or half falling trees “widow makers” are a serious hazard, so always spend the time to pick out a strong healthy tree.
6) Learn a few basic knots. To set up a hammock you’ll need to know just a few simple knots; the slipped trucker's hitch, slipped buntline hitch, slipped overhand knot, slipped half hitch and the adjustable guyline hitch.
7) Of course if you can’t be bothered with all those knots then there are some neat little gadgets, like the Dutchware wasp or flyz, that will do the trick.
Finally, there are many online references for how to hang your hammock so I won’t go into the details of that in this article but the basic rule of thumb is to take the time to get it right before you spend a night sleeping in one. It’s the small little adjustments that make a world of difference and for me it’s that that makes hammocking so much fun.
Now, If you’ve been hammocking before then none of this will come as a surprise but if you’re just starting out or thinking about it then hopefully this makes a good starting point.