Truth be told, I’m not sure how it happened. But sometime last year, the allure of hammock camping became too intriguing to resist.
It probably started when I stumbled onto a certain YouTube channel— that of “The Shug.” He happens also to be a Minnesotan (his channel has the distinction of being the only one I’ll watch purely for entertainment). Shug is without a doubt the best-known hammock camper out there. His videos are fun, unique, informative, and sneakily inspiring. I’ve learned much from his enthusiastic contributions to online camping content.
Near the end of last summer, I was debating whether or not to put the money into a camping hammock. A few things had me hung up for a while. For instance, how could I know I’d even be comfortable enough to sleep? I have historically been a side sleeper, after all.
In a mildly epiphanal moment, I was struck by the life-is-short-just-try-it-you-dithering-fool spirit and put in my order at Warbonnet Outdoors. Fortunately, the bright orange Eldorado was in stock despite remarkable Covid-19 shortages.
To keep the story shorter, I’ll only say the stars didn’t align for me to take my test-sleep before winter. I considered bringing it with me for my January BWCA trip, but that seemed too big a leap all at once. This last week, however, my big break came along.
Three in a Row…Sort Of
We were up north for the week of Spring Break, and temperatures were uncommonly warm both day and night. I recognized an opportunity in the forecast and threw in my hammock, sleeping pad, and down sleeping bag. Not only was this to be the maiden voyage for my hammock, it was also a test for that sleeping bag— which I nabbed at our thrift store for a mere $2. It was known to be warm, but I still needed to test its mettle down into the 20s.
Thursday afternoon, my son and I strung our hammocks in the trees next to the still-frozen lake. Time was spent during daylight hours adjusting straps, fiddling with my air cushion, and generally finding the best possible “feel.”
When it was time, my son put two sleeping bags together and I helped him climb in. I hoped he would stay warm with light winds continuing into the night.
To my disappointment, I found it difficult to sleep. It wasn’t because I was uncomfortable. Rather, the night generated such a frequency and diversity of sounds—birch bark flapping, ice cracking, hammock fabric rippling, swans bellering, and a host of unidentifiable noises— that my brain wouldn’t turn off. I was victim to an unending acoustic kaleidoscope.
At 12:30 I went inside to feed the wood stove for my wife and daughter and was surprised to find my son there on the couch. He’d gotten up to answer nature’s call and was unable to get back into his elaborate nest. I offered to help him, but he was feeling deflated and elected to stay inside. At 2:00, I was still struggling to sustain sleep and also called it off for the night. One encouraging finding, however, was that my bag was able to keep me warm below 30 degrees— and in a breeze, to boot.
The next night (Friday, and the last night of Winter) we re-hung our sleeping slings away from the lake. This was to remove ourselves from most of the noise-making elements from the night before, as well as to find shelter from winds that were to stay in the 10 to 15 mile per hour range.
It worked. And I’m pleased to report it was a very enjoyable night. I felt comfortable and warm without much effort. The temperature dipped down to about 33, and although my face received a beating in the cold wind, the rest of me stayed nicely toasty (the same went for my boy who not only slept out all night, but could not be bothered to leave his little cocoon until pancakes were ready). The highlight of that night came in the last couple hours before dawn, when I looked past my feet to see the horizon glowing green with the northern lights.
It had been assumed that Saturday night was out of the question due to rain moving in. But when a glance at the forecast revealed a delay in that arrival, not even gusts over 25mph could dissuade us from staying out just one more time.
Needless to say, we’re looking forward to Summer.
Give it a Shot
To anyone interested in trying hammock camping, I have a few pieces of advice.
First, just try it. I was surprised at how comfortable I was, despite hearing such claims repeatedly from hammock enthusiasts. Again, I don’t normally sleep on my back, but overall it felt like a gentle, whole-body pillow under me and I quite liked it.
Second, you’ll probably need an insulating pad if it will be cool at night. Your sleeping bag will be compressed beneath you, pretty much negating its insulative value. It would be a shame to have your experience ruined by a cold butt.
Third, you can learn an awful lot from YouTube. That’s not normally my favorite outlet for learning, but it’s hard to find a ton of information out there. Manufacturer’s websites are informative about products and not much else.
Fourth, don’t be turned off by price. It can be rather expensive to simply “try” if you buy, but a quick internet search turned up several places like REI that do rentals. Also, you could get an after-market bug net that will fit over your casual hammock. Total price for hammock and net: often less than $100. Plus, at times of the year like now, bugs aren’t even part of the equation. All you’ll need is the hammock, which can often be found for less than $50.