Do you still remember Magnum, the TV series from the 1980s? If so, an image might immediately flash before your eyes of the eponymous main character, private investigator Thomas Magnum, Hawaiian shirt, dashing trademark moustache and all. Why this digression on the ideal world of childhood television, you may ask? Simple: we’re talking about hammocks! And when it comes to this topic, that TV hero immediately comes to mind: I see him happily lounging in a hammock while sipping a cocktail from a pineapple and smiling at the camera.
A comfortable overnight stay in a hanging sleeping area is, however – especially for hammock camping on outdoor tours – not as simple as the Hawaii-based TV detective makes it look. Whether it’s mosquitos, the cold or that you’re lying in the wrong position, many factors can interfere with sleep in a hammock. So this offers a few pointers on how you can make yourself really comfortable in your hammock.
Which hammock is the most comfortable?
Before we thrust ourselves into the hammock like a bearded Stoick the Vast for a well-deserved slumber, though, it’s important to first clarify which type of hammock provides the most comfortable forty winks.
Let’s start with the uncomfortable candidates. Rod hammocks, that is, models where a spreader bar stretches the sleeping area, are perfect for reading and hanging around in the garden, but not to slumber in for a longer time. Because your body weight is not distributed over the entire sleeping area but is instead located at individual points on the suspended surface, it becomes uncomfortable after a while and causes unpleasant muscular strain in the neck and back.
The rod hammock is also open at the sides, so you quickly grow cold. For the restless sleeper, it also harbours the danger of you rolling out in the night. Another disadvantage that stops you getting a good night’s sleep: the strong tension of the sleeping area means that every movement transforms into an annoying wobble. Another kind that is uncomfortable for long periods of time is the large-meshed rope hammock. If you lie in them for a long time, individual ropes press into your skin uncomfortably, even if there’s a blanket underneath you.
If you’re looking for a comfortable hammock to sleep in, it’s best to reach for a hammock made of a solid material or a fine-meshed rope hammock. Versions made with a solid material are stable, comfortable and keep you warm underneath. Fine-meshed rope hammocks fit to the body really well and ensure great ventilation from the bottom and the sides – perfect for humid nights.
Well hung – how to hang your hammock correctly
Before you can doze comfortably in your hammock, it must be hung up. This doesn’t take much more than two trees, stakes or similar set the right distance apart. The right distance means between 3.5 and 5 metres – the length of the hammock itself plus about a metre at each end. Of course, the branches or trees that you’ve sought out for yourself should be neither rotten nor should they house woodworms, and they need to be strong enough to bear your body weight for a long time.
To attach the hammock, there are special tree protector straps and suspension straps that prevent damage to the tree bark. The two attachment points should be located at the same height so that the hammock ends up hanging horizontally. For the suspension height: The higher the hammock hangs, the cooler it will be. If a humid summer’s night is in store, go ahead and hang it a big higher.
Usually, the straps are hung between 1.7 and a maximum of 2.0 metres high. Make sure that when you attach the hammock, it doesn’t sag too much – remember that there’s still your own weight to come! When it comes to the curvature, if your hammock looks like a banana then you’re on the right track. This results in a roughly 30° angle, which allows a comfortable lying position and ensures the right tension under load. When you’re inside it, the sleeping area should hang approximately 50 cm from the ground.
Me gusta! – The right way to lie in a hammock
Once the hammock is hanging comfortably in the air, it’s finally time for a cosy slumber! But how? There is a pervasive cliché about hammocks that they are at best only good for a short midday siesta, and that a restful sleep in one is practically impossible. It will quickly become clear that this preconception is actually a misconception – provided that you sleep in the right position.
Lying in the right position is crucial to ensure that neither back nor neck pain mess up the next day of touring. The sleeping position we’re familiar with from our matrasses at home, where you’re aligned parallel to the sides, will quickly lead to discomfort when sleeping in a hammock, because the back and the neck area are forced into a strenuous curve. An small but important trick provides relief and, in the best-case scenario, a sleeping position that is better for your back, more comfortable and healthier than on the old matrass you’ve got at home.
Lay yourself in a slightly diagonal line in the hammock, with your feet a little to the left or right and your head in the other direction. This position ensures an optimal distribution of weight over the sleeping area and thus that the hammock has the perfect tension.
At the same time, the fabric will adjust perfectly to a lying position that is relaxing and good for you back. People in many South and Central American countries spend practically their entire sleeping careers lying like this in a hammock. More and more people plagued with back pain in Europe are also finding relief sleeping in a hammock.
And if you’re afraid that you’ll get seasick sleeping in the sack, I can give you the all-clear. A study by the University of Geneva has proved that gentle swinging or rocking movements leads you to fall asleep more quickly and sleep more deeply – even for people who have trouble sleeping.
Camping under the stars – the hammock replaces the tent
It’s undeniable that the idea of exchanging a musty, man-made tent for heaven’s tent on multi-day tours, and being rocked to sleep in a comfortable hammock has a certain allure. If you do choose hammock camping, you can also save a bit of weight since the tent is left at home.
Sometimes, even a very practical consideration calls the tune when opting for a hammock. If you’re going out into heavily wooded or uneven terrain, it’s sometimes hard to find an even surface for a tent. A hammock can be lashed up quickly and easily between two trees or another suitable option for attaching it, and your tent alternative under the twinkling starry firmament is ready! Ok, so maybe that’s a bit romanticised, and gnats, mosquitos and similar creatures might have a thing or two to say. Not to mention that a night-time rainstorm isn’t exactly conducive to a good night’s rest, either.
But you can get tarps for weather protection when you’re in a hammock. These are waterproof awnings that are stretched over the sleeping area. Just like the hammocks themselves, tarps come in all kinds of shapes and materials. From tarps made of silicone-treated nylon or extremely lightweight, high-performance laminate, through to low-priced tent tarpaulin, the market has everything on offer to protect you from the wind and the weather. The latter option is, however, not exactly portable, since they are relatively heavy and require quite a bit of space in your backpack.
Weather and mosquito protection in the hammock
For light showers, asymmetrical, rhomboid tarps are recommended. These parallelogram-shaped tarpaulins are ideal for stretching over a diagonal lying position and have great ventilation. The disadvantage is that these tarps give up ship in heavy downpours or storms. Diamond-shaped or square tarps stay dry even in heavy rainstorms, and are really simple because they are only anchored at two points.
In strong winds, though, rain can blow in at the sides. Bigger tarps remedy this, but they also add more weight to your pack. Six-corner tarps offer amazing weather protection, but they are complex to put up because they need six clamping points. All-round, four-season tarps can be closed at the sides and attached close to the ground, ensuring comprehensive protection from the wind and weather. These companions are, however, comparatively large, heavy and difficult to attach. We’ve taken a closer look at tarps in another article.
If you’re going touring where biting bugs will make you lose sleep, you need to take a suitable mosquito net with you. There are special hammock nets for this that are stretched around the whole sleeping area and are closed with a drawstring or zip. Some models might need some additional tensioning first, and then you’ll be well-protected from aggressive, winged troublemakers.
If an extra bit of warmth is needed, there are hammocks with slots for sleeping mats, or self-inflating insulating hammock pads. Of course, it is possible to use a sleeping bag in a hammock, but it will soon get uncomfortable. The thermal performance will also suffer: because of the large surface pressure, the insulating material cannot trap much air, so thermal bridges form easily.
If it’s really cold, there are what is known as underquilts for hammocks. These are blankets and quilts filled with down or synthetic fibre, which are hung beneath the hammock. This means that nothing gets flattened, and the hammock is insulated from the bottom and sides. Together with a normal quilt for a blanket or a sleeping bag if necessary, you can thus even camp in a hammock in frosty minus temperatures – depending on the kind of underquilt and your own limits, too. For further information on hammocks that are suitable for outdoor use and the different kinds of outdoor hammocks available, we invite you to take a look at our hammock buyer’s guide. After so much reading, you now really deserve a comfortable snooze in a hammock! Sweet dreams!