Despite what a lot of people think, camping during the winter can be an amazing experience, especially when hammock camping. However, this is where things get a little more tricky.
For you to be comfortable, warm, and safe, there are several elements you must keep in mind, not least of which is taking the right gear with you.
So in this article we aim to provide everything you need to know before setting off into the winter wilderness, helping to ensure that you stay warm and are well prepared for the trip ahead.
Why go hammock camping in the winter?
If you want to go camping in the winter, then using a hammock is one of your best chances at comfort and convenience. Here are a few reasons why you should camp in the winter:
- If you are out in the winter, chances are that you will have the whole campsite to yourself. The peace throughout the forest is something incredibly special.
- You will also appreciate that in the winter, there are almost no insects to irritate you as you rest.
- Using a hammock will keep you above the ground. This way, you are protected from sleeping on the wet and cold floor.
- Hammock camping equipment weighs less than tents. In the winter, you will need more equipment to keep you warm, and this might result in you having too much to carry if using a tent. This is only a perk for hikers and backpackers, though, since those travelling by car do not need to worry about weight so much.
- A hammock is much easier to set up and take down than a tent. Seasoned hammock campers can take less than five minutes to set up. In case it abruptly starts to snow or rain, this can be a massive advantage.
- With the right gear and accessories, a hammock can be just as warm, toasty, and dry as a tent.
How cold is too cold for hammock camping?
If you are new to winter camping, you should camp out when the temperatures are at least 32° F. This is the lowest most campers are comfortable with going to, especially if the camping equipment is not optimized for winter.
Without the right clothing and gear, camping at 20° F might put you at risk of hypothermia and frostbite.
We would not advise you to camp out when it is 0° F or less outside unless you plan on using high-end equipment. You should also test out the equipment multiple times and make sure that it can keep you warm when temperatures drop.
How do you keep a hammock warm in the winter?
To prevent yourself from shivering all through the night, there are some steps you need to take to make sure your hammock can withstand the low temperatures of winter:
Use a hammock underquilt
An underquilt is hung under the hammock to prevent your body from losing heat through the bottom. Underquilts keep you warm using fill material that is usually synthetic or made from down.
The air spaces between the filling act as insulation, keeping you from the cold butt syndrome.
Get a top quilt
A top quilt serves the same purpose a sleeping bag would, but without the hood. They are available in multiple temperature ratings so you are sure to find one that’s suitable for heat requirements.
In place of a top quilt, you can use a synthetic camping blanket or a normal wool/ fleece blanket as long as it is warm enough.
Top quilts are preferred over blankets since they have a foot box so you can move around and still stay warm. You can also attach yours to the hammock with carabiners after you’ve found a comfortable sleeping position.
You can use a foam sleeping pad or an inflated one to keep you warm. unlike an underquilt, a sleeping pad hangs inside your hammock but it doesn’t get compressed under your weight.
A disadvantage of sleeping pads is their tendency to move around while you sleep. In addition to being uncomfortable, this reduces the efficiency of the pads. Double hammocks are larger sized hammocks that come with a ‘pocket’ where you can place the sleeping pad in.
Whether you are camping in a tent or a hammock, you should always pack winter clothes, and for optimal warmth use appropriate layering.
You should start with a base layer, also known as the wicking layer, which sits closest to your skin to absorb sweat. By keeping the skin dry, it protects you from getting chilled or hypothermic. Base layers are usually light and absorbent.
The middle layer follows. Its main purpose is to protect you from the cold by retaining body heat. The puffier this layer and the more efficient the insulation material, the warmer you will be. Middle layer clothing is usually made of polyester fleece, wool, and down.
The topmost layer is called the shell layer. This layer’s job is to protect you from snow, rain, and strong winds. If your shell is not well built, the entire layering system becomes less efficient. The shell should be breathable but prevent water from penetrating. These are usually made out of tightly knot nylon or polyester.
You should also carry a few pairs of warm socks, gloves, and a hat.
Set up a hammock rain fly
A rain fly is a special tarp that is hung over a ridgeline on top of your hammock to ensure keep rain, snow, and strong wind out of the hammock.
Rain flies are held in place using a guy system. When choosing your rain fly, get one that is slightly larger than your hammock to be sure no rain gets in.
Use a pillow
When sleeping in a hammock, you should try to keep your body from touching the hammock’s fabric so that you stay warm. You can minimize this contact by using a pillow for your head and neck. In addition to keeping you warm, the pillow will give you extra comfort.
If you are keen on cutting weight, you can use a wad of clothes as an alternative to pillows.
Pack a hot water bottle
Before going on your trip, ensure you have an insulated water bottle. On the uncomfortably cold days, you can fill it with boiling water ad stuff it in your hammock a short while before you get in.
We would advise you to place it in the foot area. This way, you will stay warm through the night.
Go to bed dry
If you get into your hammock with wet clothes, you are going to warm up much slower, if at all. A few minutes before you go to sleep, change out of your wet clothes and sit by the fire to warm up.
How to set up your hammock in winter
A proper setup will ensure you don’t fall into the snow in the middle of the night. Here are some tips on how to hang up your hammock:
Find a nice spot
When camping in the winter, your checklist for the perfect camping spot has more than just suitable anchor points. Here are some of the things you need to keep in mind while looking for a campsite:
- Find a spot that protects you from strong winds. Set up camp near a hill, a boulder, or some trees.
- The cold is a big factor in winter camping. The cold air settles at the bottom of valleys, so that may not be an option. Hilltops are also not suitable since the wind is strongest there. Think about setting up in a medium-level location. To utilize the sun’s warmth fully, you should have the side the sun rises from in mind.
- You will also need to consider the rain and snow. Although you will have a rain fly with you, you could set up under a tree with a wide canopy. Also, hang your hammock far from slopes as a protective measure against any avalanches.
As soon as you find a venue, remember to observe the ‘leave no trace’ rule that ensures campsites are well maintained.
Hang up your hammock
As soon as you have identified 2 suitable anchor points around ten feet apart, it’s time to hang up your hammock.
Wrap the tree straps around the tree at least 4 feet off the ground and attach the hammock using carabiners. Ensure your hammock has enough sag for you to lie in comfortably.
It should be around 18 inches above the ground with you inside it. If you are unsure about the measurements, you can make use of a hammock hanging calculator.
Add the accessories
Once your hammock is securely above the ground, you can add any other things you might need like an underquilt, top quilt, rainfly, and a drip line. Ensure all of them are properly fastened. Your rain fly, for example, might get blown away by the wind if you don’t tie it up properly.
Getting in the hammock
Ensure that getting into the hammock is the last thing you should do before you go to sleep. If you get out in the middle of the night, not only will it be uncomfortable, but you will also let out some warm air.
Go to the bathroom, look after your fire, and get changed before getting in. You should also ensure that you have all your gear and provisions well stored before getting in.
Which is warmer, a tent or a hammock?
You might be asking yourself whether all this hassle is worth it, or if you should just pack your tent. A hammock and a tent differ in multiple ways although they both provide protection.
In terms of warmth, a tent can be considered warmer than a hammock. This is because, in a tent, the air is circulating in a closed space unlike in a hammock where all of nature’s air is yours to breathe. However, you can beef up your hammock with a rain fly, an underquilt, etc to make it work as efficiently as a tent.
Here are some reasons why you should opt for a hammock despite the lower warmth rating:
- Hammocks are lighter than tents even with the weight of the other accessories added. This makes them more portable.
- Hammocks can be set up in any landscape as long as you have two anchor points. You don’t have to struggle to level the ground or worry about sleeping on wet snow.
Getting ready for your winter hammock trip
To have a fun and successful camping expedition, proper planning is vital. If you plan on going out in the winter, then the planning process is more serious. Here are a few things you can do to make sure your trip does well;
- A few weeks before your camping trip, you can go on short test runs. Go for one-night long trips for testing out your equipment. Don’t go for a long initial camping trip since you will be visiting a new environment with new skills and an unfamiliar weather pattern. Choose a camping spot that isn’t as far from your house to save on costs and time.
- As you plan your trip, it is important to remember that everyone is different and so are our metabolisms. Don’t dive right into camping under extreme temperatures. Gradually test how low you can go during each expedition. It is fine if the lowest you can camp in is during warm fall and winter days. With time and constant exposure, you’ll be camping comfortably in no time.
Safety measures to take during winter hammock camping
- Do not overestimate yourself. If you stretch yourself too thin, you are likely to collapse or face exhaustion. If you are a backpacker, use only the designated trails while squeezing in constant breaks.
- Learn how to use a stove. In the winter, you will need to make warm beverages more than you think, so a stove might come in handy when you need to boil some water.
- Use healthy trees as your anchor points. If you suspend your hammock from a tree with dead branches, the weight of the snow on the branches might cause them to break and fall on you. This could even be fatal, especially if there is no one near you to help.
- Make use of hand warmers. These can keep you warm for a while and save you from catching frostbite.once you have activated your warmers, keep them inside your boots and gloves.
- Before you leave for the campsite, ensure that at least 2 of your close friends/family have a clue about where it is and how long you plan on staying there. Ensure that you give them as much detail about the trip as possible. Also if you make any changes to your trip, like the location, be sure to update your contacts. You can schedule phone calls to check in with your loved ones.
- Always be on the lookout for avalanches (if this applies to your campsite). Always have an avalanche receiver, a probe, and a shovel with you in case anything happens.
So, there you have it. Everything you need to know to help you have a great time hammock camping in winter. With these tips, your next camping experience should be warm and cozy despite the cold. Happy hammocking!