Hammock Camping in Cold Weather: A Hammock Lover's Guide To Staying Warm
One of the common concerns with hammock camping is how to stay warm without the insulation provided by a tent enclosure.
Thanks to this great guest post by Alan Berry, you'll see why hammock camping in cooler temps isn't a problem with the right understanding of how to stay warm in a hammock. Here's Alan to tell you what you need to know!
I love my camo Trek Light Double Hammock! It's been many places with me and is my go-to hammock on camping trips, hiking adventures, kayak explorations, and lazy afternoons in my backyard. The only problem I've discovered is that I can't lay in it with a good book very long before dozing off. It's just so darn relaxing! Hanging in a Trek Light hammock is an awesome way to let your cares and troubles fade away.
I live in Spring, Texas. Why is that important to you? Well, we have 4 seasons here: hot, really hot, crazy hot + high humidity, and a few weeks of cool weather. I'm a native Texan so I'm used to the heat and humidity. What happens when the temperature drops a bit and I still want to enjoy some time in my hammock? If you've used a hammock for any length of time then you know that you need something below you to cut the chill when the temperature drops. A new hanger might discover this a bit too late while out on a camping or hiking trip. Yikes!
A hanger has a few options available in order to stay warm. There is no right way or wrong way. It's all a matter of personal preference. Some people like underquilts, others like self-inflating pads or down-filled inflatable mats, closed-cell foam (CCF) pads, or even sleeping bags. (While sleeping bags alone aren't the best option, it's a cheap option nonetheless...and I'll explain later why it's probably not the best choice.) There are a wide variety of styles, colors, and options available to hangers by small, cottage-industry hammock business owners who go out of their way to keep up with the latest trends. I'm certainly no expert in this field and have learned a great deal of things from my friends at HammockForums.net, but I have personal experience with each of the options listed...so let's take a quick look at each one.
Underquilts are my favorite option. They are lightweight devices which provide insulation and serve as a wind barrier when hung beneath the hammock. There are a plethora of manufacturers of underquilts in all different shapes, sizes, colors, fabrics, temperature ranges, attachment methods, and insulation choices for any kind of hammock on the market today. The two most popular means of insulation are goose down and Climashield synthetic material. Each has its own unique set of pros and cons, but that's a topic of discussion for another day.
Underquilts hang directly below the hammock and each manufacturer provides some method of adjustment. It's usually in the form of small shock cord and cord locks. The idea is to provide insulation and wind protection to your exposed underside. Underquilts work best when hung properly and snugly against the bottom of the hammock. They work so well because the hanger doesn't compress the insulation. When a hanger enters the hammock, the underquilt gives and moves with the weight of the user due to the adjustable shock cord attachments. In contrast, if a hanger puts a sleeping bag inside the hammock with them...the hanger gets into the bag and compresses the insulation with their weight. This reduces the effectiveness of the insulation. Underquilts don't have that problem.
Manufacturers of underquilts usually provide some sort of compression sack, too. They compress into the sack a great deal when storage in a pack is at a premium. They are lightweight, easy to compress, easy to fluff, easy to hang, and provide excellent protection from cold and wind. I like underquilts because they allow me to enjoy the soft feel of the hammock fabric while still providing warmth beneath me. No pads to mess with, no fidgeting or adjusting at night, don't have to worry about compressing the material, etc.
I like to keep my options open and I have just WAY too much hammock gear. Not only do I use underquilts but I also use inflatable mats. I have a goose down-filled inflatable mat which I love. It's easy to inflate and deflate, is a deluxe model (i.e. very long and wide), and provides a great deal of warmth and wind protection. These aren't cheap X-Mart inflatable toys.
Inflatable pads by any of the major hiking/camping gear manufacturers use top-notch materials and craftsmanship. Some have insulation, some just use the air in them as the barrier between the user and the cold ground or cold air, and some use a combination of air and insulation.
Again, with any system, there are pros and cons to using self-inflating pads or mats. I'm sure you can imagine how devastating it would be if an inflatable pad or mat was your only insulation system while out on a hiking trip and you discover while setting up your sleep system for the night that it has a hole in it. Bad news unless you also carry a repair kit!
The idea with inflatable pads or mats is to provide a barrier between the hanger and the cold air. Instead of being attached below the hammock, as is the case with underquilts, pads or mats are placed in the hammock. The hanger lays on the pad and insulates himself/herself from the air below. Inflatable pads or mats can be adjusted on-the-fly. Each user can decide just how much or little air to use in the inflatable pad or mat. Some people like to pump them up nice and firm while others like just a wee bit of inflation. As long as there's a warm air barrier between the hanger and the cold air around the hammock, you can't go wrong.
Some hammocks have a double layer of fabric on the bottom and a popular method used by hangers is to slide the pad in between the 2 bottom layers of the hammock. It can help keep the inflatable pad or mat from sliding around but I've found no issue with just plopping the thing inside the hammock and laying on it directly. I've used my inflatable mat both ways and have been warm and comfortable all night long.
There are a ton of different closed-cell foam (CCF) pads on the market. Some are made by major outdoor equipment manufacturers and others can be purchased at your favorite X-Mart store. The idea here is simple: the CCF provides a thin barrier between the hanger and the cold air or wind.
CCF pads are cheap, most are quite durable, and all are very light.
Like inflatable pads and mats, a CCF pad is placed in the hammock with the hanger laying directly on it. Some CCF pads wrinkle up which can irritate the hanger and some have reported condensation issues with certain types of CCF material. While CCF still insulates when wet, it can be uncomfortable to wake up with small pools of sweat everywhere.
While CCF pads are very light they can be bulky when rolled or folded up. Many hikers and campers use CCF pads on the ground and don't have to worry about punctures commonly associated with inflatable pads or mats. CCF pads are an inexpensive solution and can be multi-purpose. They can also be used in combination with underquilts, sleeping bags, or inflatable pads to increase the level of protection from Mother Nature.
I have my share of sleeping bags stuffed into forgotten corners of my garage. When I first got into hammock hanging to see if it would be something I would enjoy, I used those forgotten sleeping bags as insulation. I used them as "underquilts" and have used them in the hammock itself. The problem is that typically bags are thrown into the hammock with the hanger climbing in at night.
A wrestling match ensues and, as too often is the case, the hanger winds up with tense muscles and cramps from having to contort like a circus performer!
Sleeping bags are popular insulation solutions and can be a cheap alternative to underquilts. However, sleeping bags aren't the best solution since the insulation is compressed by the weight of the hanger thus depleting the fullness of the insulation material. It may seem that I'm knocking sleeping bags. It might surprise you to know that I frequently use sleeping bags as my insulation of choice.
I do a lot of car camping. I like going to local parks with friends, hanging out, telling tall-tales, eating too much, comparing our latest camping or hammock gadgets, and enjoying great fellowship. I don't worry about what things weigh or how large they are. Camping out of my car affords me the ability to bring all kinds of stuff and try different things. While some hikers would find my gear on the heavy side, that doesn't bother me. I'm not into that sort of thing. That's okay. I do my thing with like-minded friends and we have a great time. I like being able to walk over to my truck, pull out my heavy sleeping bags, plop them into my hammock, and be comfortable from the elements all night long.
I have 2 sleeping bag systems. They aren't for the faint-of-heart, though! They are heavy. I have a military modular system and an army surplus bag. The modular system consists of a lightly insulated bag inside an intermediate insulated bag inside a heavy insulated bag inside a waterproof bivy shell. Whew! Talk about warm! I nearly sweat to death using this system. The beauty is that I can use all the bags, some of the bags, just the waterproof/windproof bivy shell, or any combination while in my hammock.
My other favorite is an old army surplus extreme cold weather sleeping bag. I was introduced to this bag by a friend. It weighs in around 10 lbs but that doesn't bother me. The bag is so effective, that I've found I don't need any other insulation below me to cut the wind or chill. I can just throw the darn thing inside my hammock, crawl in, and be really warm in a matter of seconds. Not sure what type of insulation is used inside the old surplus bag, but it is heavenly! It uses a zipper and snap system down the middle instead of down one side, like most bags. Makes crawling into the bag MUCH easier.Sleeping bags can also be used as top insulation to help cut the chill.
This article merely scratches the surface of what's possible. Hope it helps!
Alan Berry is a former elementary school teacher who now works as a computer network specialist and police officer for his local school district in Texas. Most evenings he can be found hanging between two trees counting sheep in his Trek Light Double hammock. He also enjoys fishing, camping, kayaking, mountain biking, and spending time with his "hanging" friends at state parks.
Questions? Had any experiences good or bad hammock camping in cold weather? Let’s heat up the conversation in the comments!
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