Hammock Camping For Backcountry Adventures

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By Louis Cahill

The further off the beaten path you go, the better the fishing.

Much of the best fishing I’ve ever done has involved some long hikes. There’s no mystery, most anglers will not walk more than a mile to fish. If you’re willing to do the leg work, you will be rewarded. If you really want to see what fishing was like in the ‘good old days’ you’ll have to hike farther than is practical for a day trip. Even if the fishing isn’t the stuff of legend, nights spent on the river are their own reward.

I love camping. My wife and I used to spend a month of every year in a tent. I’ve done it right and I’ve done it very wrong. I learned early on that you can make a backcountry camp trip as fun or as awful as you like. When you’re on foot there are two ways to make your trip really miserable.

1 Be unprepared for the elements 

2 Carry too much weight

Here’s the dilemma. Being prepared means carrying more stuff and more stuff means more weight. Ounces equal pounds and pounds equal pain. The trick to making a great trip is not to carry more stuff but to carry the right stuff. My goal is to have a manageable load and a good night’s sleep so I can fish hard and rest easy, to borrow a phrase from my friends at Deneki.

_DSC0588I recently made a backcountry trip into the mountains of North Carolina for Southern Appalachian Brook Trout. The hike in covers some notoriously rough terrain and the weather forecast was far from certain. I decided that this was the perfect trip for a camping hammock.

I had a little experience with hammock camping from my youth. Again, some good experiences and some not so much. My favorite being the night I woke up rocking wildly and found a curious raccoon doing pull-ups on the side of my hammock. Lesson one, don’t take food in your hammock.

Lots of folks are curious about hammock camping and most are pretty nervous about it. I read somewhere that hammock camping is like your first kiss. You’re riddled with anxiety over it and once you start, you just want to do it again.

So I did my homework, dove in headfirst and here’s what I learned.

You can get a great hammock for the cost of a cheap tent.

dd004Hammocks are like everything else, you can spend as much or as little as you like on one and to a certain extent, you get what you pay for. I decided on an ENO hammock. They are smartly designed, durable, lightweight and easy to set up. You can start simple and add accessories as you go. I’m a big guy so I got the biggest one they make, the Deluxe Double Nest. It was a good choice. It weighs just 28 ounces and is rated for 400 pounds. It has a stuff sack sewn to the edge which doubles as a caddy for essentials. It’s huge and comfortable. It costs $85 here.

There are a lot of options for hanging a hammock.

Screen Shot 2015-09-03 at 6.01.22 PMI went with the ENO Atlas Straps. The atlas straps are super easy and versatile. You can hang a hammock almost anywhere in a couple of minutes. Best of all, they have zero stretch, so you don’t wake up on the ground. They weigh 11 ounces (one of the heavier options), they are 9 feet long and have 30 adjustment loops so you can get the angle right in seconds. They are rated for 400 pounds each with no stretch. These straps were an extravagance in both weight and cost but worth it to me. The last thing you want is a broken strap. They cost $39 here.

What if it rains?

If you are hammock camping you’re going to need a tarp. You can spend more on a tarp than on your hammock but I don’t see the point. I went with a basic blue tarp, 7 X 10 feet, for just $7.00. A couple of rolls of parachute cord and for $15.00 at the Home Depot, you’re good to go. You’ll want to run a ridge line of para-cord along center. Tie the edges off to trees, rocks or tent stakes and you’re done.

Stay warm.

_DSC9882The notorious drawback to hammocks is that they are cold. Having air circulating under you robs you of heat in cool weather. You can buy an expensive under-quilt or you can insulate your hammock from the inside. I used my REI inflatable sleeping pad. It worked great. Kept me very cozy. Some folks use folding sun shields made for your car windshield and even space blankets. If you’re a camper, odds are you already have the pad and it’s a good solution. You will, of course, use a sleeping bag as well and I like an inflatable camping pillow.

How do I get in a sleeping bag?

It’s really easy and less claustrophobic than you’d think. Only zip your bag up about two feet. Put it in the hammock zipper down. Put your feet inside and use the rest of the bag like a blanket. It’s very comfortable.

Get the angle right.

_DSC9702This is where most folks go wrong and, in fact, so have I in the past. To be comfortable you want to sleep as flat as possible. I’ve always tried to accomplish this by hanging my hammock as tight as possible. This is a losing battle. Remember the old saying? Never a line no matter how fine, held by a weight no matter how great, will lie in a plane that’s perfectly straight. The secret to sleeping flat in a hammock is to hang it loose. You want your straps to hang at a 30-45 degree angle when the hammock is empty. The trick is, you don’t sleep parallel to the hammock. Lie in the hammock diagonally and the loose hammock makes a flat surface. It’s a little tricky with the sleeping pad. First, place the pad on the hammock at a 45 degree angle, then sit in the middle, pull the edges of the hammock around the pad and swing your feet in.

It’s worth mentioning that in a proper setup, the ridge line for your tarp will actually be tied lower than your hammock straps. 

But I’m a side sleeper.

Doesn’t matter. If your hammock is hung right you can roll over on your side with no problem.

Keep it clean

You don’t want a bunch of dirt in your hammock any more than in your bed. The trick is to keep your feet clean. I carry a small waterproof camping mat and place it under my hammock. I step out of my shoes and onto the mat, then into my hammock.

Hammocks are super comfortable

I camped with four other guys and while everyone else complained of restless nights, I slept like a kitten. I was rested and ready to fish with no back or joint pain. I don’t always get that out of a mattress.

It’s a two-for-one deal

Hammocks are great for sleeping but they also make great camp chairs for relaxing around camp, eating meals or changing boots. That extra comfort lessens fatigue and keeps you fresh for fishing.

You don’t need perfect ground

You can hang a hammock anywhere there are trees. You don’t need a level spot. You don’t need a dry spot. You can even sleep comfortably over solid rock. In rough terrain a hammock makes a lot of sense.

It’s a better experience

_DSC9759Sleeping in a hammock isn’t just more comfortable, it’s more fun. You’re not in a little pretend house. You’re actually sleeping outdoors and feel more in touch with the space. Hammock sites can have dramatic views and let you be part of the landscape. It’s hard to explain but it really is more fun.


You can get all kinds of accessories for your hammock. Most of them are for cold weather. I’m not much for cold weather camping so I doubt I’ll invest in those. The one thing I’ll likely get is a bug net. I didn’t need it on this trip but I can see how it would be nice.


I’m going to get a ton of use out of my new hammock. And not just for hike-in locations. I’ll use it for car and boat camping as well, just because I like it more than a tent. I’m even working on a way to hang it in my drift boat to actually sleep on the river. If you’ve been curious about hammock camping I hope this will help you get started.

Here are a couple of videos I found helpful. Happy hammocking!


Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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7 thoughts on “Hammock Camping For Backcountry Adventures

  1. Great post, very provocative! I am headed to the northwoods in October and am thinking it’s time to do this – – I’ve been on the fence for a while. Thanks for the push!

  2. Awesome read, I am a died in the wool hammock camper and love to chase wild brook trout in the southern appalachians and I totally agree with you hammocks are the way to do it!

    I used a pad when I first started and just like you said, they will work but since going to a dedicated underquilt I am sold. It is like sleeping on a heated mattress. The downsides are as you mentioned, cost, even though you can get into a really decent underquilt for around $100 and there are lots of DIY plans around the web and also for me my pad was also used to sit on and lounge around camp so now I don’t have that option.

    Loved the post, keep them coming! Chris

  3. Pingback: Hammock Mount, The Ultimate Car Camping Accessory   | Fly Fishing | Gink and Gasoline | How to Fly Fish | Trout Fishing | Fly Tying | Fly Fishing Blog

  4. These are great fishing outdoor camping gear for summer. If you want to plan fishing for any place you need to take some outdoor and fishing gear for outdoor fishing like essential tents, fishing gear, sleeping bag, first aid kits and cooking essential. Thank you very much for sharing this great valuable tips for camping.

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