Is the hammock a viable alternative to the tent on wilderness backpacking adventures? It may not be as ridiculous as it first sounds.
A few years ago a friend bought me a hammock as a gift and although we had discussed the matter previously I was never 100% convinced of its suitability. We had planned a trip into a particularly remote part of Scotland known as Knoydart. Our plan involved paddling around Loch Arkaig in sea kayaks and doing all the Monros (mountains over 3000ft in Scotland) around the loch over a few days. We had been in that area before many times and listed all the equipment we would need with relative ease, including our normal choice of accommodation, a Gore-Tex hooped bivvy each. It was at this point that my associate said “let’s do it with the hammocks”. As I am an easy going sort of guy and the fact that I couldn’t immediately think of a good reason why not, I agreed; our trip went well and taking the hammocks proved to be a wise decision. As we were in sea kayaks it makes sense to be as close as possible to the boats as they contain all the equipment but the shoreline was strewn with boulders and trees making lying on the floor impossible. The first 500m in from the shoreline was chest high in bracken and full of the good old Scottish Midge; we hung the hammocks by the shore and slept over the boulders comfortably. During the trip it rained on two of the nights, although not torrential it would be fair to say they were heavy showers; we were both completely dry and more than a little impressed. I am now going to put the case forward in favor of the hammock as a viable alternative for many situations.
The hammocks we used were manufactured by Hennessy; they have completely sewn in midge nets and also have a tarp that fits neatly over the top. The website is excellent and well worth a look. As it’s the concept we’re looking at I think it would cloud the issue somewhat to cover all of the different products and designs in this article. Most double-up as a comfortable chair as well as serving as an undercover washing line while you are asleep. We used the Hennessy Ultralite Backpacker A-sym, it weighs only 860g and has a weight limit of 200lbs. Set-up time is well under five minutes.
The Tent or Bivvy
Although it’s nice to shut yourself away in a tent or bivvy when it’s cold and wet, the reality is that our worst enemy is condensation; more so in a single skin shelter like a Gore-Tex bivvy or some single skin lightweight tents. The other main problem is finding somewhere suitable to pitch them.
It would be ridiculous to suggest that the hammock is a viable replacement for a tent but based on my own experience an exceptionally versatile piece of kit nonetheless. In very rocky areas with few or no trees, you can suspend the hammock from cracks in the rocks quite easily. Our Hennessy hammocks can also be used as a bivvy should it be impossible to hang the hammock in the normal way. A tent is good if you are planning to stay more than a couple of nights in the same place but for the backpacker who normally moves on, the hammock then becomes more sensible.
If using a hammock, often it may be wise to consider one or two other things. The first is the type of sleeping bag used; my own sleeping bag has a down filling and although down offers an unparalleled warmth/weight ratio it is almost useless when wet. In addition to this, down bags are almost impossible to dry out in the field. The solution is possibly a synthetic bag with perhaps a Pertex outer or similar just to be certain. The second is fitting a larger tarp to give better protection from driving rain. Other than that it fits in pretty well with everything else.
So is it Tent or Hammock?
I think the truthful answer would be to take the best piece of equipment that you feel suits the conditions and limitations of your trip. This may be a bivvy bag, hooped bivvy, single skin tent, double skin tent or hammock. The purpose of this article is only to bring some attention to a piece of equipment that may be vastly underrated by the majority of all types of backpackers. It is certainly a good and sensible addition to your backpacking gear, take a look and see what you think; you may be as surprised as I was. I still can’t believe I have overlooked this excellent piece of equipment for so long.