Hammock camping in winter…I know it sounds like a crazy idea.
Yet, with the right equipment, adequate preparation, and knowing how to properly set up camp, it’s actually a whole lot of fun.
The key is, of course, staying warm and dry. Select the proper place to pitch your hammock, create a wind and rain/snow block, and then add insulation to accomplish just that.
Our Beginner’s Guide to Hammock Camping is a good place to start, but staying warm and cozy while hammock camping in cold weather requires an additional set of knowledge.
So, without further ado, here’s everything you need to know about hammock camping in winter.
Benefits of Hammock Camping in Winter
If you already own a 3-season or 4-season tent, you might be wondering why you’d go hammock camping in the winter in the first place.
Though 3-season or 4-season tents are undoubtedly great for winter camping, there are numerous benefits to packing along your hammock instead.
Chief among these is weight. One of the main reasons hammock camping has become so popular in recent years is that camping hammocks are so light.
For instance, the ENO SingleNest Hammock weighs only one pound and packs down to smaller than the size of a softball.
That’s smaller and lighter than most lightweight backpacking tents. A hammock also doesn’t require nearly as much equipment to set up. All that you need are straps.
What about if you’re going car camping instead of backpacking? The weight of your tent or hammock isn’t as much of a concern here.
Hammock camping in winter still has its benefits even with weight taken out of the picture. My favorite is that a hammock lifts you up of the cold ground.
This is particularly beneficial in snowy weather. Sling your hammock between two trees and you’ll be well up off the snow-covered ground.
Of course, being located above the air does allow the cold air to circulate underneath you. That’s why it’s essential to use a hammock underquilt in the winter for bottom insulation.
Finally, the right gear and set up makes winter hammock camping just as warm and cozy as tent camping. Bring the right insulation (underquilt), a warm mummy bag, a tarp or rainfly, and winter clothing for a good night of cold weather sleep.
How to Prepare for Your Trip
Preparing well in advance is an essential part of camping in any season, whether in a tent or a hammock.
But I believe it’s even more essential in the winter. You absolutely can’t forget to bring any of the necessary gear along.
That’s why I’m going to direct you to our Complete Hammock Gear Setup and Checklist.
The post discusses each piece of gear you need in detail. It ends with an easy-to-use hammock camping checklist, so you make sure you don’t forget a thing.
I’m going to expand on that checklist with a brief list of the essential gear for hammock camping in winter.
Hammock (and Straps) – Obviously you can’t forget these!
Sleeping Bag – Bring a mummy bag rated for cold weather. Use our Sleeping Bag Buying Guide for more info.
Tarp or Rainfly – Keeps wind/rain/snow away and provides an extra layer of insulation.
Here are a few other pieces of cold weather gear that I strongly suggest you consider bringing along:
Pillow – Not only does a pillow make sleeping in a hammock more comfortable, but it also adds an extra layer of insulation.
Sleeping Pad – Like a pillow, a sleeping pad not only adds comfort, but it also adds an extra layer of insulation.
Underquilt – A warm layer that goes on the underside of the outside of your hammock for even more insulation.
Top Quilt – A warm layer that goes on top of the hammock. Similar to an unzipped sleeping bag that adds even more warmth.
Sleeping Bag Pod – A unique product that is basically an extra sleeping bag that goes around the outside of your hammock (you’re also inside your other sleeping bag inside the hammock).
Clothing for Winter Camping
Bringing the right gear is only part of the picture. Hammock camping in winter also requires wearing the right clothing.
The clothing that you wear should be warm, waterproof, and breathable. It must provide adequate insulation while wicking away moisture from your body and keeping outside moisture out.
I recommend wearing a base layer, a middle layer, and an outer layer while hammock camping in winter.
The base layer is the first layer you put on. It’s the layer that touches your skin. Select a moisture-wicking material (avoid cotton), so that any sweat is moved off your body and doesn’t cause you to freeze at night.
The middle layer is the second layer you put on. Its primary focus is insulation. My favorite material is microfleece because it’s warm, lightweight, and comfortable. A microfleece shirt, pants, and jacket will do the job.
The outer layer is the last layer you put on. Generally, you will take this layer off before you enter your sleeping bag and hammock at night to sleep.
The goal of the outer layer is to keep you dry. It should be waterproof and windproof. Your outer jacket and pants should keep your inner two layers dry during the day so that they’re completely dry at night.
Of course, warm gloves or mittens, warm socks, and a warm hat are also winter camping essentials.
The Best Winter Hammock Camping Gear
You can kind of get away with investing in lackluster equipment when hammock camping in spring, summer, or fall.
Hammock camping in winter, on the other hand, requires the best gear, so that you stay warm and dry no matter how harsh the conditions become.
I’ve used a wide range of hammock camping gear in all conditions, including harsh winter nights with wind, snow, and temperatures below freezing.
The following equipment is that I’ve found to be the best gear for hammock camping in winter:
Hammock and Straps
My favorite camping hammock is the ENO SingleNest Hammock. It’s lightweight, durable, and affordable. It’s also quick-drying which is ideal for winter conditions.
The same company also offers the ENO DoubleNest Hammock. It’s the same basic model except that it’s designed for two people to use at once.
Note that both ENO hammocks require buying a separate suspension system, like these ENO Atlas Straps.
Our Complete Guide to Buying a Sleeping Bag shows you exactly what you need to look for in a sleeping bag for winter.
Make sure that you use at least a 3-season sleeping bag (rated for 10 to 35 degrees Fahrenheit) or a winter sleeping bag (rated for under 10 degrees Fahrenheit) for hammock camping in winter.
As mentioned above, a mummy-shaped sleeping bag is the best option for hammock camping because the shape fits perfectly into a hammock and the drawcord hood helps retain the most warmth possible.
Tarp or Rainfly
Buy a tarp or rainfly designed for your specific model of camping hammock if one is available.
Selecting a tarp/rainfly that’s made for your hammock ensures a tight fit to keep out rain, snow, and wind as well as to retain the most heat.
A pillow makes sleeping in a hammock much more comfortable. It also adds warmth when hammock camping in the winter.
Another option is to just use a wadded-up jacket or sweatshirt as a makeshift pillow.
The main purpose of a sleeping pad is to make sleeping in a hammock more comfortable.
However, while hammock camping in the winter, a sleeping pad adds a whole lot of extra insulation and therefore warmth to your set up.
In fact, sometimes I’ll even leave my underquilt behind because my sleeping pad provides more than enough warmth on its own. Choose an inflatable model so that you don’t add too much weight to your backpack.
My favorite sleeping pad that’s specifically made for a hammock is the ENO Airloft Hammock Mattress.
Once again, I recommend buying an underquilt that’s specifically created for your hammock if possible.
This will ensure the tightest fit and easiest set up. A tight-fitting underquilt provides the best insulation for hammock camping in winter.
For seriously cold conditions, add a top quilt to your list of hammock camping gear.
Don’t go camping in the winter – whether in a tent or a hammock – without the proper winter clothing.
As explained above, I break down winter clothing into three layers: base layer (wicking material), middle layer (insulating material), and top layer (rain and wind repellent material).
I also add a warm pair of gloves, socks, boots, and a hat to that list.
The options for specific clothing items are nearly endless and are available for all budgets. Just make sure that the items you choose will keep you warm and dry in cold conditions.
As an example of the best winter clothing for hammock camping, here is a list of my normal clothing setup:
- SmartWool Cuffed Beanie
- SmartWool Long Underwear Top and Bottoms
- Columbia Fleece Jacket
- Arc’teryx Stingray Pants
- Arc’teryx Beta Jacket
- SmartWool Socks
- SmartWool PHD Insulated Gloves
- Bafin Snow Zone Winter Boots
Of course, the exact winter clothing that you bring should depend on the weather forecast and conditions you expect to encounter.
Setting Up Camp
It’s just as important to know how to correctly set up camp as it is to buy the right gear when hammock camping in winter.
Choose the Right Spot
First up is choosing the right spot. Of course, this must be between two trees or other anchor points so that you can set up your hammock in the first place.
In winter, I also look for a spot that has a natural wind barrier. This can be next to a large boulder, in a dense forest, or anywhere else the wind won’t blow as much.
Hanging your hammock in direct wind is a recipe for not only a cold night of sleep, but one spent rocking and rolling with each gust as well.
You should also avoid areas where cold will pool at night. These are generally basins and other areas that are lower than the rest of the surrounding land.
Set Up Your Gear
Now that you’ve found a good spot that’s at least somewhat protected from the wind, it’s time to set up all your gear.
Set up your hammock first by securely attaching it to two anchor points. Our Complete Hammock Gear Setup and Checklist has more information on setting up your hammock.
Now it’s time to set up the rest of your winter hammock camping gear. I like to put my sleeping bag and pillow into my hammock first.
Then I set up my underquilt and top quilt if using them. The final step in the gear set up process is pitching your rainfly.
I usually pitch my rainfly regardless of the weather forecast in the winter. I just don’t like to risk getting caught without protection in rain or snow.
As mentioned above, using a rainfly (especially a tightfitting one created for your specific model of hammock) also helps improve insulation.
You won’t want to get out of your hammock once you get inside if you’re camping in cold weather.
That’s why I make sure to go to the bathroom and have everything I need before getting inside for the night.
I also take off my outer layer of clothing and store it somewhere dry. Most hammocks come with some type of gear storage area for this purpose.
The goal of my outer layer is to keep me dry during the day. If all goes as it should, I’m left with dry inner and middle layers when I take my wet outer layer off before bed.
Additional Tips for Hammock Camping in Winter
My number one tip for hammock camping in winter is to test it out with a short trip first.
There’s no denying that using a hammock during wet and cold weather isn’t for everyone. It’s better to find this out before you set out on a multiple night trip.
I recommend gradually hammock camping in colder and colder weather. Start with a reasonably chilly night in the fall. If you graduate happy from that, test out a colder night and see how you feel.
Don’t just jump into your first cold weather hammock camping experience in the very middle of a cold winter.
Here are a few other additional tips for hammock camping in winter that everyone should know:
Be Wary of Widow Makers – The stress of the rain, cold, and wind in the winter sometimes makes for dangerous tree conditions. Be wary of setting your hammock up under heavy branches that have a possibility of breaking.
Bring Hot Tea/Water – Nothing beats settling into your hammock at night with a hot thermos full of your favorite hot tea or even plain old hot water.
Bring Hand Warmers – Once I’m in my sleeping bag, I like to crack open a pair of hand warmers to add a bit of extra warmth as I begin to fall asleep.
Once again, it’s essential that you know your limits before going hammock camping in the winter.
Even though I’ve personally slept in my hammock in temperatures well below 0 degrees Fahrenheit, I’ve personally found 32 degrees Fahrenheit is a good cut off point.
At 32 degrees Fahrenheit, my hammock hasn’t failed to keep me warm and dry. I sleep well with basic insulation (sleeping bag, underquilt, rainfly) and wake up happy.
Camping in a hammock is an awesome experience. I can’t stress that enough.
Yet hammock camping in winter isn’t for everyone. As you might imagine, it’s a whole different ballgame from camping during the milder seasons.
The main disadvantage is the amount of gear you must bring to stay warm. If you’re hammock camping in cold weather, you need at least a sleeping bag, rainfly, and underquilt in addition to your sleeping bag.
That’s a lot of gear. Too much for a backpacking trip, in my opinion. Though I prefer using my hammock when backpacking most of the year, I almost always go with a tent while backpacking in the wintertime.
If I’m car camping and its winter, I don’t care about all the extra gear and weight. I personally still prefer hammock camping in winter if I’m driving to my campsite.
What about you? Have you ever gone hammock camping in the winter? What was your experience like? What did you do to stay warm and dry?
And, if you’re a complete newbie to hammock camping, remember that our Complete Guide to Hammock Camping will answer your most basic hammock camping questions.