Last Updated on 28/07/2023
Which Is Better: Hammock vs Tent?
If you are trying to decide between sleeping in a hammock or camping in a tent, then look no further. This article lays out the pros and cons of both and will help you decide which is right for you and your back. Having experienced both sides of the hammocks vs tents debate, I feel confident writing an unbiased opinion on the subject.
My Experience with Hammocks and Tents
I fell in love with tent camping at an early age, but there is just something special about sleeping in a hammock that is hard to put into words.
I have been camping in a tent since I was a child when I used to go with my father and when I became a teenager, with my friends. I have owned dozens of tents, bivvies, and tarps over the years and have experience with most camping mats and sleeping bags too. Needless to say, camping has been a big part of my life and is something I still love doing at every opportunity.
The first time I used a hammock was on a 3 month backpacking trip across New Zealand in 2015, and not packing a tent was a big deal for me. The first night I used it, I remember setting up on the edge of a golf course by a big lake with a can of beer and thinking, “Why have I never done this before?!”. They make a better seat than any camping chair.
The next day I woke up with a bad back and wondered what I had done wrong. I had done so much research beforehand and read about all the success stories that I was confident I knew what I was doing. I set the hammock up at a 30-degree angle and tried sleeping diagonally as well as straight on, but I couldn’t get comfy. Your first night in a hammock takes a little trial and error, so do a test run at home before you go camping.
Don’t Let One Bad Night Put You Off
If, at first, you don’t succeed, then try and try again. The next night I tried tightening the ropes with the aim of keeping my back a little straighter. I also used my foam camping pad underneath me with the same intention and also because my back got a little cold the previous night. Maybe it was my lack of sleep for the past 3 days, but that night I slept all the way through and awoke to feel as snug as a bug and as fresh as a daisy. I was hooked.
So, the lesson to be learned is that it is pretty rare to be really good at something the first time you try it, but don’t let that put you off. There is a steep learning curve the first night you use a hammock but with a little practice and some minor tweaks, you will experience a level of comfort you just can’t get on the ground. There are more details on comfort further down but first, let’s talk about looking after your body.
Which Is Better for Your Back, A Hammock or A Tent?
I am not a doctor, so take what I say as the opinion of someone who suffers from lower back pain. I find sleeping in a hammock is kinder to my back and hips than using a camping mat on the ground.
If you struggle to get comfy on a thin foam mattress or ultralight thin camping mat on the hard ground, then you are basically left with one option, inflatable sleeping mats. Aside from the extra weight and risk of puncture, inflatable camping mattresses are actually very comfortable if a little noisy to sleep on. Still, for some reason, I struggle to sleep as well as I do in a hammock.
There are a lot of rumors about hammocks being bad for your back or affecting your posture if you use them long-term, but there is no evidence to suggest this. There are, however, lots of reports that hammocking can help relieve pressure on your back and improve the quality of your sleep while camping.
There haven’t been nearly enough studies done on back pain relief in hammocks vs tents to sway one way or the other. For me, though, my back thanks me for sleeping in a hammock, whereas some mornings, after sleeping in a tent, I feel worse than I did when I went to bed.
Setting up A Hammock Vs Pitching a Tent
To pitch a geodesic tent, the only thing you need to look for is a flat piece of level ground big enough for the footprint of your tent. Sounds pretty simple, right? Most of the time, this isn’t so hard if you make a few compromises and don’t mind the odd lump or slight downhill angle. Sometimes, however, it can seem like an impossible task, and you might spend the last hour of daylight looking for the perfect spot that never comes. I have done this several times, and you almost always end up having a bad night’s sleep thanks to some unseen tree root or thistle just outside the porch.
With a hammock, all you need are two points a suitable distance apart and off the ground to tie your hammock to. This sounds a lot harder than finding a flat spot for a tent, but in my experience, it is actually a lot easier than you might think. You don’t need two perfect trees to get a good setup with a hammock; you just need some longer rope. If you ever find yourself above the tree line, you can very easily find two rocks that can be used as anchors to tie your hammock to.
So, the challenge is between finding flat ground for a tent vs finding two anchor points for your hammock. Yes, it is easier to compromise with a tent as there is ground everywhere, and even if it isn’t flat, you can always find an area to set up. And if you can’t find anywhere to hang your hammock then you might think you will be in trouble. The truth is that if need be, you can always set a hammock up on the ground so long as you have a tarp and sleeping pad. So in this exchange, I think that hammocks win.
The Benefits of Hammocks Over Tents
- The most relaxing seat in the house
- It can relieve pressure on your back, hips, and backside
- Super lightweight
- Very compact and packable
- Inexpensive in comparison to a tent
- Gets you off the ground and away from bugs
- Discreet when set up in amongst trees
The Benefits of Tents Vs Hammocks
- Pitch them anywhere
- All-in-one bug netting and waterproof sleeping system
- More privacy vs a hammock
- Warmer and more windproof than a hammock
- Storage space to keep bags or even cook on the porch
- Can sleep more than one person
The Disadvantages of Tents
For the most part, the advantages of tents are the disadvantages of hammocks and vice versa. Tents are great, but they are fairly heavy and bulky to carry in a backpack unless you can afford the premium lightweight brands.
If you are lucky enough to own a really compact and lightweight tent, you might find yourself feeling claustrophobic or cocooned in such a small space. And the biggest disadvantage of tents is the need to find a flat-level piece of ground which is rarer than you might think in most wild places.
The Disadvantages of Hammocks
It should be apparent by now that the biggest disadvantage of hammocks is that you are limited to camp in places that have somewhere safe to hang your hammock. You are also destined to sleep alone in a hammock, unlike a tent where you can fit multiple people or just one significant other.
You often have to purchase other components like the tarp or hammock quilt separately, which adds to the overall weight of your sleeping system. You can buy hammocks with mosquito netting already sewn in, but most do not have it meaning the mosquitos might get to you, and if you use a headlamp, be prepared for moths flying straight at your face. One last disadvantage is not having anywhere to keep your backpack and boots on a night other than under your hammock.
Overcoming the Fear of Not Finding Two Trees
For me, the main reason I never wanted to switch from a tent to a hammock was that I always felt it would limit me to where I could camp. The fear of not finding a spot to hang your hammock vs not finding flat ground for your tent isn’t quite the same.
With a tent, if you can’t find flat ground, then you do the next best thing and find the flattest ground that you can. If you have a decent sleeping pad, you can get reasonably comfy even on rocky ground. When camping with a hammock, though, the fear of not finding a place to hang it can give some people mild anxiety. I used to be a bit like that.
I soon learned that finding a place to hang my hammock was way easier than finding a flat and level patch of ground big enough for a tent. I have never failed to find a place to hang my hammock, but even if I did, I always have my tarp and sleeping mat on hand to make shelter on the ground. If you are worried that you might not be able to find a spot for your hammock, don’t. Just give it a go; you won’t regret it.
So Which Is Best: Hammocks or Tents?
The cost of a decent hammock is dramatically lower than the cost of a decent tent. You can get a high-end hammock for under $60, but high-end tents can cost over $1,500 just for a 1-man model. While you do need to buy things like a tarp and bug netting with a hammock, this still works out cheaper than your average tent. Hammocks win unless you have the money to afford a high-end tent.
Again, unless you have the cash, it costs an arm and a leg for a lightweight tent that might still weigh more than a hammock and tarp. You can get solo tents that weigh under 1 kg, but they are very small and single-skin construction which means they often build up with condensation while you sleep. You can get some ridiculously lightweight hammocks that weigh less than 150 grams coupled with a cheap tarpaulin, and you have a shelter under 500 grams – half the weight of a premium tent!
One issue with tents is that they are bulky and also have rigid poles, which can make packing them into a backpack a challenge. Hammocks often pack down to the size of an orange and have no rigid poles. You do also have to consider the hanging ropes and tarp, but these are both very packable and still much easier than a tent.
This is something that will be debated forever but is somewhat of a personal preference. If you sleep well in a tent and don’t toss and turn on thin camping mats, then tents offer the most comfort overall. They have a place to get changed, stay out of the wind, shelter from bugs and rain, and spread out when you need to stretch. Hammocks offer better comfort in terms of sleeping and also provide a chair to sit in in the evening/morning.
Tents can be somewhat faffy if you have to set up when it is raining or windy, but with a little practice, there are ways to become efficient at it. Hammocks can be set up very easily and quickly, even if it is raining or windy. Once you find your two anchor points you run an overhead line to create the roof pitch and peg down your tarp. This gives you shelter from the rain while you then set up your hammock.
So by now you will hopefully see the pros and cons of both hammock camping and tent camping and be able to make up your mind or at least gain the courage to give hammocking a go. I personally like using both hammocks and tents for different expeditions and they both have a place in my gear room.
If I go camping with lots of tent users, I normally take a tent because people with tents don’t like camping under or near trees because of all the tree roots. If I go camping on my own or with someone else then I normally favor a hammock and tarp system for the sheer comfort and discreetness of camping in tree cover.
If you haven’t tried both, then I suggest you do and make your mind up for yourself, but I hope this post about hammocks vs tents at least a little helpful.