This is an age-old rivalry that pits hammocks, generally considered lightweight outdoor sleeping options against tents, which can range from compact singles to palatial multi-room versions. Weighing the best option –hammock vs tent – to meet your specific camping needs isn’t as easy a decision as you may think!
Factors to consider for both options include price, size and weight, set-up and tear down, and comfort plus limiting factors for each system. We’ve given you some top picks to check out below. The prevailing mental image of hammocks in the United States is the large white relatively flat knotted rope with spreader bars at the edges that makes getting on tricky and getting off remarkably easy as the whole thing flips over.
Do you remember playing on one of these as a child? Modern hammock camping has become a hot topic among outdoor lovers and it may be time to check out this cool new camping trend.
Contrast this image with a tightly woven, soft but strong fiber version that have been made and used on a daily basis by people in Central and South America since before Columbus got lost in the Caribbean trying to find India. To make the most of space aboard ships, sailors slept in these types of hammocks.
See also: Best Hammock Straps: 7 That You Need for Your Camping Trip
As part of a kit for explorers and soldiers traversing forested terrain hammocks saw a lot of use. In many countries around the world, women and men used what can be describes as mini-hammocks to carry babies and many swear by the comfort and connection these baby wraps provide today.
These native hammocks are comfortable and provide health benefits but many are still locked into the earlier image and haven’t moved past it to today’s high-tech, comfortable and versatile hammocks.
Hammock info and tips
- Studies have proven that hammocks ensure a better night’s sleep
- People fall asleep more quickly and wake up refreshed
- Hammocks are low impact leaving the natural vegetation intact
- Floating in the air vs. rolling around on hard uneven ground
- No pressure points to keep you tossing and turning
- Greater comfort as the hammock contours to your shape
- Don’t try to hang a hammock from softwood trees
- Your hammock can be used indoors in the winter and lots more places too
- Be sure to read manufacturer’sspecific directions for cleaning your hammock
- In general, to clean use mild soap and a soft brush in cold water
- Dry completely before storing
- No need to “make the bed”
- So you don’t kill trees, be sure to get some 1” webbing – no rope!
- Remove all sharp objects before climbing into your hammock
- Accessories include: mosquito netting, tarps, rain fly and gear storage
- And last but not least, word has it that sex in hammocks is awesome!
Tent camping is the way most of us grew up. From National Park designated camping sites to pitching a tent in your backyard, tents were the way to go. And there are tents for every budget and every camping dream. What’s become apparent as we become more ecologically conscious is that camping sites that see heavy usage are not the most ideal outdoor experiences.
Frequently overcrowded, these sites see hundreds if not thousands of visitors a year. The flora and fauna are either scarce or have become accustomed to humans.
The tents we’ll be discussing are ground systems that work very well for many, particularly in rainy or otherwise inclement weather. Other times tent camping is an easier call is if you’re above the tree line and there aren’t many trees around. Desert environments are another example when a tent may be a safer bet. See our article on the top six-person tents to give you more options and choices.
It’s not that you can’t tent camp in situations like this, but your creativity better be burning bright as you improvise with what’s available from Mother Nature. And remember that if you do get caught out in the open, a hammock can do double duty as a ground tent. By attaching lines to rock outcroppings or by using sticks, rope, sturdy sticks or even hiking poles you can create a temporary space on the ground.
So consider throwing in a lightweight hammock when you’re packing up. Try it out in various scenarios for a couple of days and give yourself the best of both worlds by bring elements of both systems (ground and air) along for the ride!
While lots of die-hard hammock campers won’t give much thought to a tent, there are many folks who split the difference by opting for hammocks in the summer and fall and a sturdy tent for winter camping.
Pros and Cons
Hammocks are so easy to set up that you can quickly assemble them between two palm trees on a beach, in your own backyard or indoors through the winter months. If you’re a serious camper you’ll need additional components such as a sturdy tarp for rain and wind protection.
To stay warm in cold or wet conditions, be sure to buy a sleeping quilt to use on top of yourself in the hammock. An under-quilt attaches to the underside of the hammock and will help keep heat in to keep you warm.
Making the transition from an enclosed tent to a hammock can take some getting used to. Quality of sleep gets the kudos, however, when contrasted with tent camping on rugged ground or in too close proximity to others. That said, once you’re all cocooned in your hammock, mobility can be somewhat limited as opposed to a tent.
Some people who sleep on their sides or prefer to lay straight won’t enjoy hammocks as much as a tent. Hammock aficionados have perfected the art of “doing things” in their floating cocoon. From watching a video to writing down the days activities in a journal, and from reading a page turning book to listening to their favorite tunes – if at first you don’t succeed try try again!
A hammock “lite” system is a reality as there are lots of weight reducing options out there that still enable you to have all the gear you need for total comfort. Sleeping off the bumpy ground has many benefits including greater relaxation and, once you get used to it, most campers naturally gravitate towards the “correct posture” for optimal health and deep sleep.
Studies have shown that a hammock can help with joint pain, spinal problems and bone issues.
Cons include the recent uptick in bringing your animal or animals camping with you. They can’t stay in your hammock – sharp teeth and claws are a quick way to shred a good hammock. Fido may not be happy sleeping on the ground! Other cons include:
- Trees of sufficient size are needed
- Hammocks are best for 1 or 2 people
- There is a learning curve to setting up and sleeping correctly in hammocks
- Don’t give up after a first frustrating attempt, practice makes perfect!
- If you want to sleep flat vs. bent posture, check out bridge and asymmetric hammocks
The extensive tree cover in the U.S., make hammocks truly versatile gear thatallow for more freedom and are easy to pack in and out. Hammocks are practical, affordable, efficient and eco-friendly camping options. Suitable hammock campsites are more widely available and more private. Hikers and campers can travel farther and lighter with a hammock that can double as a tent in a pinch or as a comfy camp chair.
Hammock campers swear by the “better night’s rest” they get. Being able to avoid what’s on the ground – rocks, debris, stumps, uneven ground – in favor of an airy floating bed that contours to your body is an important factor.
If you’re considering camping over ground featuring sharp rocks, scree and trees or shrubs with thorns or unfriendly insect homesteaders, the hammock can be a proactive way to get a good night’s sleep.
Wide tree-straps protect bark and elevated hammocks protect ground vegetation. Campers looking for peace and quiet also value the hammock as solitude can be easily found away from congested campsites. And you don’t need to worry about your gear getting soaked if you have a rain tarp. You can hang most of your gear in waterproof bags the way hunters elevate food to keep it away from animals. Check out our article review of the top hammocks with mosquito nets to give you a peaceful sleep, safe from pesky pests.
Flexibility is a really key factor. For example, do you want to camp near a running stream and have fresh water right at hand? Just don’t forget your water purifier.Does looking up at the stars and the Milky Way away from light pollution float your…well, your hammock?
In contrast, ground setups will vary from site to site and cleanup of the ground before the tent even comes out of its bag can become a repetitive chore. Comparing tents to hammocks can be hard due to the number of available options. Simply put, both systems end up weighing the same and costing about the same too, possibly less depending on your needs.
The hammock is easier to transport, set up and tear down. The tent can accommodate more people for activities like playing cards, knitting or tackling board games.
Which sleeping space you choose depends on the terrain. In the desert southwest, tall sturdy trees can sometimes be few and far between. Who’s up for hanging a hammock from a couple big cacti? Even where trees are plentiful, a tent can give you all around protection, room to change clothes and space to protect your other gear from blustery, rainy or wintery weather. On the west coast, there’s the opposite problem.
Because many of these trees are giants there can be too much room between the trees to efficiently set up a hammock. And sandy ground that reduces the risk of flooding may incline you to bring your tent and leave your hammock at home.
Tents are great in foul weather. They protect you from rain and snow and trap body inside to keep you warm. While they take a bit more effort, tents are relatively easy to erect. And sites for tent camping are all along the great trails, well signed and inviting.
So if you’re looking for some companionship these sites can be just the ticket! On the flip side, if you’re sleeping on the ground there’s bound to be some discomfort.
And the extra weight of packing in stakes and poles can wear you down after a long enough camping stint. While bigger tents provide more options for sleeping, the extra pieces and larger size meanspieces to break or get lost. And in a downpour, there’s often leaks or even rivulets of water entering your tent.
Let’s just say these aren’t your grandfather’s tents! They’re on the cutting edge of tent technology. These are boutique entries into the tent arena and included in this category are upper end tents such as:
- Solar powered tents with heating elements in the floor
- Bubble tents – swank inflatable tents that give luxurious a whole new meaning
- Cool spherical tents that hang suspended from trees
While hammock systems and ground systems are tough to compare, both have pros and cons. In the end, given the small differential in price, it’s going to be your considerations and preferences that guide you to the optimal system for your camping needs. At the end of the day, there’s an ideal tent or hammock out there for you as well.
One recurring debate is, “to be, or not to be” in the outdoors. Tents give you every opportunity to hang out inside and miss the experience of nature that should be part of the reason you’re out there. Instead of counting sheep to fall asleep, count stars until you drift off!
The goal is to get out into nature – with whatever gear speaks to your soul – and do some communing with Mother Nature. Feel the wind, the rain, and even the snow. See the sunrise, marvel at the sunset and understand your existence as part of a greater whole. Investigate tents and learn about hammocks.
Realize that this “gear” is a way to move out of the work-a-day world and to open up a whole new array of visual, tactile and cognitive experiences out there in the great wide world of nature.
To those about to camp…we salute you!
- When and where do you camp?
- How well do you sleep using your current gear?
- Are you planning a solo trip or a multiple person camping excursion?
- Do you already have lots invested in one system or the other?
- Are you a hard-core dedicated camper or a weekend warrior?
- Will you be sleeping or just napping in your hammock or tent?
- How committed are you to a true outdoor experience?
Let us know what your thoughts are on this ongoing debate. Hammocks or tents, or maybe a combination of both will work best? If you take an amazing photo or have an amazing nature experience, let us know. There’s a comment section below and we’d love to hear from you!