As a fellow outdoors person, this article was written to help introduce both hammocks and tents. Each shelter offers big advantages and disadvantages. Remember, the shelter you use for your expeditions has tremendous importance on how well you actually enjoy any trip. Finding the perfect shelter for your hiking trips is a large and important decision to make. With so many options and designs available, it can seem overwhelming. That’s what I’m here for. I hope I can thoroughly lay out the basics behind each habitation design and help you make an informed decision as to which best fits your needs.
Why Sleep is so Important
Sleep, as Nas would say, “is the cousin of death”. Well, I don’t want to be that melodramatic, but it is extremely important. I would also argue it is the least talked about activity while hiking.
6-8 hours of every day spent on the trail will be spent sleeping. When you are undergoing extreme physical activity, the amount of sleep you enjoy directly correlates to your energy levels and abilities in having a successful camping trip. Having the right shelter to facilitate a good night’s rest can make a world of difference.
Everyone has different sleeping styles. I have met long distance backpackers who have no desire for comfort and can sleep on almost anything. These hikers are happy without a sleeping pad and prefer to call the ground home for the night.During my hikes, I have also met campers who are so concerned with alleviating soreness that they carry as much as 8lbs of gear in order to make their camp comfortable. I fall somewhere in between both extremes. I definitely enjoy my comfort and will carry the extra weight for a comfortable sleep. But, I see no reason to make my pack heavy and uncomfortable for a good night’s rest.
Understanding the importance of sleep and how it will affect your performance is important to analyze before you embark on a trip. Do not casually think that sub par equipment will be “fine”. If you can’t sleep at night, the trip will quickly devolve into a torturous experience. Know yourself, and don’t cut corners if you don’t have to.
Perhaps the most popular form of shelter on the trail, the tent is a versatile shelter. Able to be used in any condition, mountaineers to weekend warriors can all find a tent to suit their needs. Tents are the standard for outdoor shelters and the variety of options available are almost limitless.
The Benefits of Using a Tent
- Easy to set up. As long as you can find a flat area, you can set up a tent. Solo hikers and groups alike can quickly erect a tent. Lacking confusing knots, the poles used for the structure fit together as easily as Legos. A few stakes are necessary to keep it from blowing away and in less than 5 minutes, you will have a safe and secure shelter for the night.
- If you invest in a high-quality tent, you can be assured of its waterproofness. Make sure the rain fly reaches the ground and is thick enough to keep the water out. Reading reviews is the best way to see how a model performs.
- Private space. For some hikers, having privacy is an important aspect of their shelter. This is important when camping around other people and visiting more popular areas. Most weekend hikers interpret the private space of a tent as a welcomed experience.
The Negatives of Using a Tent
- On the ground. Tent’s leave you sleeping on the ground. This can be an uncomfortable experience and those with back problems tend to find alternatives. A high-end sleeping pad can mitigate the worst experiences, but for some, there is no fixing it. A misplaced root or rock can make sleeping difficult.
- Tents can be heavy. Most tents are among the heaviest of sleeping shelters. Featuring poles, a floor, a rain fly, and stakes, the grams quickly add up. Unless you are spending gobs of money on a state of the art tent, your shelter will most likely be the heaviest item in your pack.
- Must have a flat area. Setting up a tent on a slope will lead to an uncomfortable night’s sleep. Your sleeping bag will slide downhill, leaving you, crushed against the wall. I can attest to the uncomfortableness of this position. If it is raining, putting pressure on the tent’s walls will allow for moisture to enter. Finding a flat surface can prove impossible on some hikes.
Single Wall v. Double Wall
The two main distinctions of tent design are single wall and double wall. Tents with a separate rain fly from the interior, are referred to as a double walled design. These shelters feature a bug net interior that is attached to the poles. The rain fly is fitted separately, on the outside of the poles.
Single walled tents are made up of only one piece of material. In these models, the rain fly acts as both the exterior and interior fabric. The bug net, if one exists, only needs to extend to the entrance or door. The rest of the tent is made of a waterproof material which also happens to be bug proof.
Double wall tents
Double wall tents are inherently heavier because of the additional fabric. They take longer to set up and take up more room inside your pack. However, the double walled design allows for your perspiration to condense on the rain fly, where it drips down and away from you.
The double wall also keeps heavier rains from the inside of the tent and saturation will roll harmlessly down the interior without dripping into your sleeping area. If you are planning a trip into a humid and rainy biome, the double walled tent design is your safest and driest option. If you are camping in dry terrain, you can set up the tent without the rainfly and sleep under the stars with the safety of bug net still around you.
Single Wall tents
Single Wall tents are lightweight, having only one piece of fabric and lacking an independent interior compartment. They are a breeze to set up and take up little room inside your pack. Hikers whose main concern is weight tend to use single wall tents. Their lightweight characteristics makes it more tolerable to be hiking miles on end.
The single wall design does have its drawback. Your perspiration will condense on the interior and can drip back onto your sleeping bag. Many people mitigate this by bringing a sponge and wiping the interior in the mornings. The single wall also means less protection from the rain. Although waterproof, heavier rains can still saturate the material and any drips will end up inside.
In wet and humid conditions, it can be impossible to keep your tent dry. On clear nights, there is no way to remove the rain fly. Although less weight, your sleeping options are limited by a single wall design.
Thickness of Material
The floors and walls of tents will be made from materials with varying degrees of thickness. The lightweight tents are made of thinner material, to reduce weight. This makes carrying the tent easier but does leave the tent more vulnerable to rips and tears.
Lower cost options usually feature heavier and thicker material. This makes some budget tents excellent long term investments.
One way to mitigate a thinner floored tent is by using an independent footprint. It is a tarp that goes under the tent and provides another layer of protection. Personally, I don’t use a footprint. I dislike the extra weight and when I did use one, I experienced no difference in protection. My own practical contact with thin floored tents makes me extremely cautious as to where I set up. I try to clean the area, brushing away sticks and rocks that could cause problems.
With that being said, there are some heavier tents that I absolutely adore. With thicker floors and walls, they are totally bomb proof. Although heavier, they allow me to be less careful with setup and teardown. I have also noticed the heavier tents repel rain better than my lightweight tents. The ease factor and the idiot proofness of the heavier tents could be your best option. If you don’t mind carrying the extra weight or enjoy shorter hiking trips, go for the thicker material.
Once thought of as a luxury item to be set up alongside your tent, hammocks are now being used in place of tents. Made of nylon and anchored between trees, many long distance hikers and weekend hikers alike are sleeping in hammocks. As long as you have a method to set them up, a hammock is a versatile and comfortable shelter.
The Benefits of Using a Hammock
- Suspended above the ground, you never have to worry about sleeping on a rock again. Many users slide an insulated pad underneath their back to help insulate against the wind chill.
- Easy to get into. Unlike tents, hammocks are 3-4 feet off the ground. Being at this height eliminates the need to crawl or bend over. Many older hikers prefer hammocks for this reason.
- Lacking poles or stakes, hammocks are lightweight. They are also easy to pack down tightly. A typical backpacking hammock will weigh less and pack down into a smaller space than a tent.
The Negatives of Using a Hammock
- Require anchor points. Hammocks will always need anchor points, most likely trees, to set up correctly. If you are hiking through forests, this should be of little concern. However, if you find yourself in deserts, plains, and high altitude conditions, hammocks can end up being useless.
- One person only. Before my inbox explodes with emails showing me two-person hammocks, let me acknowledge that yes, they do exist. The point I am making is that two people sleeping in a hammock affords little privacy for either of them. Try changing clothes or reading a book with two people in a hammock, it’s not fun.
- No flat surface. Hammocks are comfortable and easy to sleep on but they do not offer a flat surface. There is no space to starfish your body, change into rain gear, or organize your pack out of the rain.
Hammocks, Rain Flys, and Bug Nets
Hammocks can be bought separately from their accompanying bug net and rain fly. Both these add-ons offer immense utility and are a must if you will be using your hammock for extended hiking. A Guide to Overnight Hiking.
First off, make sure the rain fly is waterproof. Polyurethane and silicone treated nylon are common materials that will work well. Shy of field testing the tarp yourself, read the reviews. If someone got wet because the material is insufficient, you can be damn sure their wet and angry self will want you to know about it.
For your hammock, there will be quite a few designs of rain flys available. Some will be a simple triangle shape, one piece of nylon that can be tied down on either side of you. Other tarps offer doors and will hang low to the ground, offering a complete shelter. Which one you choose depends on your hiking method and where you will be going. There are plenty of ways to properly hang a tarp that will keep you dry, even without doors and ground coverage.
Assembling your rain fly could demand the use of stakes. The anchor lines can be tied to trees, rocks, or even sticks thrust into the ground and used like stakes. Depending on where you will be hiking, bringing stakes is a decision best left to your discretion.
I know what you’re thinking, and the answer is no. There is no possible scenario where you will not be needing a bug net. Without a bug net, you are a free meal, waiting to feed every mosquito and parasite in the outdoors. Lacking the protection, you will wake up countless times throughout the night, fending off the invisible insects. Use a bug net, and save your trip. They are incredibly simple to set up and do not cost a great load of money. There are even ways to make one yourself.
Setting up a net is easy to do. If your hammock does not come with one attached, you can find many online. Tie a rope between your anchor points, about 3-4 feet above your head. Your bug net will hang from this line, cocooning your entire hammock. Many models feature a velcro entrance that is easily opened and sealed, making for easy entry and exit.
Find Your Next Backpacking Shelter
Tent or hammock? The eternal question and the debate will never officially be over. Choose wisely based on the length of your trips, your ability to carry the shelter, and the overall importance of good night’s sleep. Whatever you decide, make sure the shelter is both waterproof and bug proof. Without those two features, you may as well sleep without a shelter. Have fun choosing and I hope to see you out there.