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A Boy in laying in a  hammock

Hammock Camping - Living Small With Less Stuff to Haul

In the past, the sight of a person lying in a hammock in the woods called out to the world, “Here lies an individual who knows how to relax.” But that was before hammock camping caught on. Today, this same scenario lets everyone know, “Here lies a clever person, unencumbered by gear and at peace with planet.” Translation, “Living small, with less stuff to haul.”

“Less stuff” and “simple living are two of the reasons that individuals choose to hammock camp. First, there’s no weighty, bulky tent that not only requires space but also level ground. Second, a camping hammock puts an end to running around like a startled chicken while setting up the ground cloth, tent, poles, stakes and fly. Another upside is that when less ground space is needed, less ground vegetation is harmed. In fact, this is one of several Leave No Trace (LNT) principles for hammock camping.

Other LNT principles for this type of activity include the use of “tree-friendly” suspension, characterized by wide straps (0.75 - 1.5”) as opposed to thinner straps or rope that can girdle a tree and damage the bark. Likewise, hooks are to be avoided.

These principles also focus on using existing campsites. In LNT speak: “Good campsites are found, not made. Altering a site is not necessary.”

Light on the land

Warriors’ Path State Park (WPSP) near Johnson City in East Tennessee demonstrates this philosophy every day at the park’s hammock-only campground. Looking at the area’s low wear and tear, it’s impossible to imagine that hundreds of campers already have stayed at Cedar Ridge Hammock Campground. It opened in 2021, yet there is little or no evidence of camping.

“This concept is really light on the land,” says WPSP Manager Sarah Leedy. “It’s in an area of the park that was a reforestation project 40 years prior, so we didn't have to do any grading or modifications other than opening up the understory.”

Parking and a shower house are nearby, but a vegetation screen separates the traditional campground so “the hangers,” as they are often called, have a little privacy.

“It’s environmentally responsible projects like this that make Warriors’ Path State Park a deserving recipient of TVA Camp-Right Campground certification,” says RaSharon King, coordinator of the Camp-Right Campground initiative. Staying true to the environment, WPSP’s Leedy already is seeking funding to bring a solar charging station for hand-held devices to the site.

That idea sounds great to Jesse Hayes, who has enjoyed hammock camping for more than two decades. Surprisingly the TVA watershed representative was not impressed with the concept when he first tried it in the late ‘90s, long before hammock camping enjoyed its current popularity. “I used an old-style net hammock with no bug control and was absolutely eaten alive by mosquitoes. It took me several years to want to try it again.”

Hayes knew that the idea made sense, so he eventually gave hammock camping another go. Today, he’s a convert. “I love the simplicity. It’s lightweight and easier to pack. I’ve been on trips where I didn’t have to worry about a sleeping bag, pad, or tent, but I do like a light, down blanket.”

For camping when the weather may be a little chilly, damp or buggy, most enthusiasts suggest these add-ons:

  • Bug protection - Some hammocks have bug netting, but separate netting also is available.
  • Insulating barrier - An under quilt and top quilt or light down blanket to add warmth.
  • Rain protection - A line with a tarp is easily hung above the hammock.

Make or break tip

A final suggestion can make or break a hammock-camping adventure.  Sleeping in a hammock seems pretty straightforward.

  1. Sit down in the hammock, which should be 18” from the ground.
  2. Put your head down at one end.
  3. Swing your feet (no boots) up and onto the other end.
  4. Fall asleep.

Well, that’s close, but the angle is off. Literally.

To sleep comfortably in a hammock, avoid lining up with your two hammock trees. Sleeping like this forces the body to curl into the letter “U” as the hammock begins to sag. Instead, after stretching out, shift your body diagonally, just slightly off-center. This small tweak serves to flatten out the hammock, distribute your weight more evenly, and provide better support for your body.

Try it out

Leedy says that most of the hammock campers at Warriors’ Path are using the campsite to test drive the hammock camping experience or as a convenient lodging choice when traveling through the region. With this in mind, would-be hammock campers should consider borrowing or renting the necessities to try out this activity before committing to gear.

After visiting a campground where hammock camping was frowned on, Hayes reminds would-be hangers to always have a back-up plan. Unlike Warriors’ Path, not every campground allows hammocks.

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