Camping is a great way to find yourself, reconnect with nature, relax, and recharge. From exploring trails to swimming in rivers and lakes, reading a book in the shade, bird watching and more, the outdoors offers countless ways to spend quality time alone or with friends and loved ones.
At some point, many people find themselves getting into an age-old debate: what’s better, hammock camping or tent camping? When you’re first starting out camping, the great tent debate may not even cross your mind–most people picture a tent in their heads when they visualize a camping experience. But the more time you spend outdoors, the more you may find yourself considering hammock vs tent camping, especially if you spend time around others who love the outdoors.
Before we get into the pros and cons of hammock camping vs. tent camping, let’s take 30 seconds to ensure everyone is on the same page when it comes to what exactly a tent and a hammock are.
What are the differences between hammocks and tents?
As you probably already know, there are many differences between hammocks and tents. The most obvious difference being tents are pitched on the ground, while hammocks are suspended in the air between two stationary objects (usually trees or poles).
In addition to size, there are several other important differences to keep in mind when deciding hammock vs tent camping on your next camping trip.
What is a Tent?
A tent is a shelter that you can pitch or set up anywhere with minimal effort. It usually has one door that zips open and close, and side vents or windows that do the same. Tents come in all shapes and sizes, but they generally have four or more walls made from fabric stretched between poles. They provide protection against wind, rain, snow, insects, and other weather conditions. Most tents also include some sort of flooring material to help keep your sleeping bag and gear dry and protected from the elements.
What is a Hammock?
A hammock is a type of sling made of netting or fabric that’s suspended in the air. They’ve been used for nearly 1,000 years as a way to stay away from predators and potentially dangerous insects. Over time, they’ve evolved into a tool of leisure, as they’re great for relaxing or sleeping in. Some hammocks are designed for lounging, and you’ll often find them in back yards, next to pools, and along beachside resort. These are great for relaxing, reading, sunbathing, or even napping in, but they’re not ideal for spending the night in as they’re not built for the task.
Instead, when we discuss hammocks we’ll be talking about a camping hammock, which is specifically designed to sleep in. These hammocks are built to accommodate your body and gear and have features and attachments that can keep you warmer or cooler and keep insects, wind, and rain at bay.
When it comes to choosing your campsite, the criteria will vary depending if you’re setting up a tent or a hammock. Tent setup is often more intuitive than properly setting up a hammock, but with some practice you can set up either with minimal hassle.
Setting Up a Tent
For the best tent camping experience, you’ll need to find a campsite with plenty of flat, even ground to set up on. The ground needs to be as dry as possible, and you’ll likely want to use a tarp or ground cover to help keep moisture from seeping through the bottom. You can set up on grass to add some extra padding, though some people prefer to set up on a dirt patch if possible.
When setting up your tent, you’ll need to clear any rocks or sticks that may be in the way. If you can set up away from tall grasses, you’ll have less bugs to deal with as you enter and exit. Be sure to check the hardness of the ground before you get started to ensure you can hammer your stakes into the ground before you start assembling your tent poles.
One benefit of tent camping vs hammock camping is you have campsite options that aren’t (as) possible as with a hammock. Areas such as beaches and deserts often don’t have many trees to suspend your hammock from, but can accommodate tents just fine.
Setting Up a Hammock
Hammocks are not only a great place to sleep, they’re also a great way to make camp in areas where pitching a tent would not be feasible. While tents let you camp in areas without trees (beaches, deserts, plains, etc.) without needing to haul around a hammock stand, a camping hammock allows you the freedom to camp in areas that are cramped or with rough terrain that would make setting up a tent difficult.
While proper hammock setup may be more difficult at first, once you’ve gotten some practice you’ll find it’s not much harder than tent setup. In fact, with a bit of experience you may find it even easier (especially if you’ve ever tried to set up large, complicated multi-room tents).
You’ll need to find trees that are the right distance apart and experiment with finding the right angle to hang your hammock at with your tree strap for maximum comfort. This come with practice, and you’ll be able to better identify great spots to set up your hammock and instinctually feel how much of an incline to use when setting your hammock up.
One of the most important factors to consider between tents and hammocks is: what is the sleeping experience like? Your tent or hammock will be where you spend your nights, so it’s important to know what you’re getting into when you’re choosing between camping in a tent or hammock.
Hammocks are designed for one person to sleep in (even if a hammock is labeled as “2-person,” that generally means two people can relax in it, but it should still sleep one person and their gear), while tents can hold anywhere from one person to an entire family or camping group, depending on size.
While a one-person tent will feel a bit cramped (especially if you’re storing your gear in it while you sleep), a two-person tent will fit a single person and their gear quite comfortably. A hammock, on the other hand, is going to feel like you’re sleeping in a cocoon. Even with a two-person hammock (aka a double hammock, which is still recommended to only sleep one) will feel snug, though you’ll have a bit more room to stash some of your camping gear. You’ll likely need to hang most of your gear outside of your hammock when you’re getting ready for bed, so you may need to pack along an extra tarp that takes up more space to shelter your equipment.
If you’re not hiking solo and your travel partners want to sleep in the same space as you, a tent is the way to go. Just use this simple rule of thumb to decide what size you’ll need: subtract one person for your gear. For example: if two people are going, you should bring at least a 3-person tent. If four people are going, you should get at least a 5-person tent (though a 6-person may serve you better if not everyone is a light packer).
If you’re bringing your dog(s) camping, a tent will (again) be a better idea–they’re likely not going to be cooperative when it comes to laying still in a hammock for hours on end.
Sleeping Posture & Comfort
If you like sprawling out while you sleep, a tent is going to be a better choice than a hammock for your camping trips. Alternatively, if you sleep on your side, you may have some difficulty adjusting to sleeping in a hammock.
Some people who have tried sleeping in hammocks (especially those with broad shoulders and bigger frames) complain that their shoulders get squeezed together, which can lead to muscle aches. However, this can be avoided by use of a spreader bar.
With that said, many hammock advocates swear that sleeping on a hammock relieves pressure across the body due to the way it hugs along curves, which can result in a comfortable and refreshing night’s sleep.
When it comes to portability, a lightweight camping hammock can’t be beat. They’re lighter and can fold up more compactly than tents–but you’ll need to be sure there will be plenty of trees around your campsite. Otherwise, you’d need to bring along a stand, which isn’t ideal when it comes to portability.
A tent will take up considerably more space than a hammock, though a small option (such as a backpacking tent) is still manageable if you’re planning on hiking. Consider at least a two-person tent even if you’re going solo. Two-person tents offer twice the sleeping space of single-person tents, but don’t add a lot of weight or cost. More space means you can keep all of your gear inside comfortably, so you’ll protect your equipment from the elements and don’t need to venture outside if you need anything at night.
A backpacking hammock provides more freedom of movement and is usually cheaper, but it doesn’t offer much in the way of sleeping space.
If you’re planning on driving to your campsite and not venturing far before setting up camp, weight won’t be a huge deal. In these scenarios, a large tent can provide adequate protection for yourself, your camping group, and your gear.
However, if you’re planning on taking a multi-day hike, every ounce matters. In these cases, a hammock which weighs much less will be easier to carry on your trek. You can get away with carrying a small, ultralight tent as well, and as mentioned before, it’s worth opting for at least a 2-person tent because the weight trade-off is negligible vs a one-person tent, but you’ll have a lot more space to spread out.
When it comes to hammock vs tent camping, generally tents are warmer than hammocks. They create a space for stagnant air that helps maintain temperature, and are good at reducing wind chill (wind that blows on you and lowers your body heat). If you have multiple people sleeping in close proximity, each person will generate body heat that can help maintain a higher temperature.
In a hammock, you don’t have the same protection against the cold out of the gate. A hammock isn’t great at reducing wind chill, so you may find your body heat dropping rapidly on cooler, windier evenings. However, there are accessories you can use to stay warm and cozy… even in cold weather.
To stay warm in a tent, you can use an underquilt that’s designed to create a pocket of warm air between the bottom of your hammock and quilt, which can reduce what’s commonly referred to as “cold butt syndrome.” Alternatively, you can use a sleeping pad inside your hammock for a similar effect. A tarp right above your hammock can also help keep body heat in and wind at bay. There’s several other items and accessories you can use to stay warm while camping in a hammock.
In hotter weather, a hammock will naturally keep you cooler, but you can keep use a camping tent fan to stay cool if you’re going that route. Choosing the right sleeping bag can make a big difference when it comes to staying at an ideal temperature in either option.
At first guess, you might suppose a tent would provide a lot more protection than a hammock. In general, you’d be correct. Out of the box, a tent is more like a tiny house in that it has walls, a door, and a roof. This means it can do an adequate job of protecting you against rain, wind, insects, and even animals to a certain extent.
However, with the right accessories you can create a hammock system that can offer similar protection. While a tent offers a lot of built-in protection, you can add layers of protection with the right hammock gear.
Most tents come with a rain fly that helps prevent rain from entering. Over time, a rainfly may lose its ability to repel water as well as its waterproofing capabilities diminish, so you’ll need to replace it when you notice it starts to leak.
Companies also sell rainflies for hammocks. These serve the same purpose as rainflies for tents and can provide the same level of protection against the rain when properly installed. You can install a rain tarp above the rainfly for an extra layer of protection (and it can keep you warmer, too).
Some hammocks come with a rainfly, but many don’t, so you’ll need to factor in the cost of a good rain fly or hammock tarp when budgeting.
A traditional tent is decent at keeping bugs at bay, but since it’s on the ground, there’s always a chance some bugs may crawl in during the night. Many tents have windows built in that are protected by mosquito net, so you can allow air to circulate while keeping pests out.
A hammock, on the other hand, is suspended in the air so the chance of crawling bugs bothering you overnight are greatly reduced. There’s always a chance some bugs may visit you via the ropes and trees your hammock is suspended with, but the chances are much lower than camping on the ground.
That said, hammocks are still susceptible to flying bugs such as mosquitos, but a bug net or mosquito netting can help you create a hammock shelter that can keep these pests at bay. There are other ways to keep insects off you as well, as we discuss in our guide How to Repel Mosquitos and Other Pests.
Tents and hammocks both offer some protection from animals, though they vary in how they do so. It’s important to note that while there’s always chances you’ll encounter so wildlife that may be interested in you and your gear, most will be more scared of you than you are of them.
Tents will keep most critters away from you while you sleep, but because tents lead to ground camping, there’s always a chance that some small creatures (from rodent such as mice to rats and snakes) may make their way in during the night or while you’re away from your campsite.
Hammocks, on the other hand, are suspended in the air, which helps greatly reduce the chances of unwanted guests showing up. Most snakes and rodents don’t do much climbing (there’s always squirrels and similar that do love trees, so the risk isn’t completely removed).
When it comes to larger animals (such as coyotes, foxes, wolves, bears, etc.), whether you’re a tent camper or a hammock camper won’t matter much to hungry, curious animals if they’re determined enough. A hammock strung high enough may keep your belongings out of their reach, but some of these animals are surprisingly agile and crafty.
The best way to avoid run-ins with animals is to ensure you don’t have food on you, and to make sure you don’t smell like food. Learn about other ways to help keep animals away from your campsite.
Summary: Hammock vs Tent Camping – Pros & Cons
Tents and hammocks both have pros and cons to consider before making a decision on which you want to camp with. While we’ve discussed each key factor to consider above, we’ve put together a quick overview below to help make it easier to choose the right option for you.
Tent Pros & Cons
- Easier to set up than hammocks
- More places to set up
- Keeps you warmer out of the box
- Better protection from wind & rain
- Can sleep more people or pets (depending on size)
- More space for camping gear
- Usually more expensive than hammocks
- Harder to stay cool during hotter trips
- More chances of rodents and pests infiltrating
- Generally heavier and bulkier than hammocks
- Can’t set up well in rough terrain
- Should try to find dry ground and clear debris and rocks before set up
- Can leave you feeling sore from sleeping on the ground
Hammock Pros & Cons
- Usually cheaper
- Keeps you cooler on hot nights
- Light and portable (great for backpacking)
- Reduces chances of run-ins with ground-critters
- More comfortable sleeping experience for many
- More difficult to set up without practice
- Requires extra accessories to protect you from the elements
- Can be harder to find the right spot to set up
- Not much space to store gear
- Only sleeps one person
Tents are easier to set up and provide more space (for more people, pets, and gear) and offer better protection from the elements than hammocks. However, they’re bulkier and require you to sleep on the ground, so you’ll need extra bedding equipment to stay comfortable. If weight and space aren’t an issue, or if you’re camping with a group, a tent will likely be a better option. If you need more space and portability, you can look into purchasing an ultralight tent or backpacking tent for your next camping trip.
Hammocks are more difficult to set up, but can become easier to set up with practice. They’re lightweight and portable, making them ideal if you’re going on a hiking trip. However, they don’t offer much in the way of space and you’ll need some extra pieces of equipment to better protect from the elements and to keep you warm on colder nights. A good hammock kit can keep you comfortable and protected against a variety of conditions.
Whichever option you choose, you’ll need to consider how much space your accessories will take up. From your sleeping pad and sleeping bag to your rain tarp and mosquito netting, each item will add to your overall load.
To get the best of both worlds–especially if you’re new to camping (and hammock camping, specifically)–you may want to bring both a tent and a hammock. You can set up both and start practicing sleeping in the hammock and learning how to properly configure your suspension system, and you can fall back to sleeping in your tent whenever necessary during the trip. Plus, you’ll have extra room to store your gear, and some nice shelter in case a storm hits.