Tent or Hammock? It has become one of the most asked questions for backcountry backpackers and national park visitors over the past 6-7 years. About four years ago I myself switched from tent camping to hammock camping and have never looked back. The comfort level of sleep is unmatched and the addition of a mosquito net to my set-up pretty much eliminated most troubles I have found in open air camping.
One of the variables that I first had to learn when I started hammock camping is that National Parks have some requirements of hammock campers. As a matter of fact some parks (California Redwoods National Park for example) don’t allow hammock campers. Other parks like Joshua Tree National Park require you bring a hammock stand ( no tree hangs). In places like Yosemite, Lassen and Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Parks, hammock camping is allowed but all straps need to be set up to protect the trees. Generally a wider strap (2″) or a tree protective sleeve and the hammock needs to be placed over hard ground. Other general rules I have seen in parks include trees over 8″diameter.
Of course the biggest issue I have when hammock packing is I have to hike where I know there are trees. That can make me skip some lake destinations because suitable trees were not available. Of Course in parks like Yosemite you also need to beware of the camping boundaries in places like Tuolumne meadows.
In Yosemite National Park the variety of location you can hang a hammock is tremendous. Many of the high Alpine lakes are tree lined. and Many Trail sections past the boundaries offer suitable trees and ground for hanging a hammock away from any crowds. However there are also sections of Yosemite where the granite dominance of the area may cause you to sleep on the ground if you cant find suitable trees. I have seen many a video of hikers getting to camp late at night and not able to find suitable trees at there destination and either deciding to cowboy camp or to move on until they find a place in the dark.
Hammock packing or camping has provided me and my family great experiences in our national parks. We have hammock packed the past three summers at such locations as Young Lakes, Nelson Lake, Boothe Lake and random mountainside vistas above Lyell Canyon. However leaving the tent for a hammock had its challenges. My first night in a hammock I am pretty certain I never slept more than 30 minutes at a time, as I struggled with the irrational fears of a bear peaking over the hammock wall at me sleeping. That year I did not have a tarp or a bug net so it was truly an open air camp out. Funny thing is that the next morning there were bear tracks along the lake shore 100 ft. away. I also had to learn that there is no privacy for changing cloths. This was not that big of deal to me, but my fellow campers who all had tents, i am certain were a bit alarmed to see me go commando as i changed clothes.
My second season out in my hammock I added a bug net and tarp to me set up so most of the fears and inconveniences have disappeared. However now my pack is relatively the same weight of a tent pack. For me it was always less about the weight and more about an enjoyable sleeping experience. Not only do I sleep more sound, but hammock hanging takes the stress of my shoulders and back and I wake up so much more refreshed.
If you are considering hammock camping here is a basic list of items I recommend:
- Hammock of course – I have tried multiple brands and really have no complaints on any of them. I now use a double hammock from enos that I really enjoy. I have hammocks from fox outfitters and little river co. all have given me great night sleep.
- Tree Straps – you can find all kinds of opinions here for tree straps. I prefer The fox outfitters premium hammock straps. They just seem to be the most consistent for allowing me to set up the hammock right. The little river company also has a great strap system that my pack buddy prefers and is the strap system I used prior to the fox outfitter switch.
- A Under quilt or sleeping pad – I prefer the under quilt myself. One thing about hammock camping in the sierra is that we have cool evenings all year round and the unprotected underside of a hammock is just as cold as the ground. An under quilt keeps the wind and cold air from ruining your good nights sleep.
- Sleeping bag or Quilt – I prefer the quilt because it naturally gives me the freedom I desire to move in the hammock, and just like my favorite blanket at home, I can tuck it where i want it for comfort and warmth. Or in my case the one leg out sleeping style. I have the 25 degree down quilt from Zinbivy and I stay plenty warm in the High Sierra lakes.
- Bug net – so many to choose from, I am currently reviewing options myself here. the biggest thing I would review is how do you enter and exit? Where is the zipper? Currently mine is a vertical zipper in the middle, which works but I have seen a few others that are horizontal or combined with the tarp that look appealing.
- Tarp – In the Sierra you just want light weight and wind resistant. I would recommend checking the grommets to make sure they can handle the winds.
- Footprint – Floor – not a requirement but getting out of your hammock to dirt is not always enjoyable. I like to have a place for my shoes and pack either inside my net or on a floor footprint just outside the zipper.
Hammock Camping Yosemite
Three great locations to hammock camp in Yosemite National Park
- Young Lakes – a 7 mile moderate backpack trail that gives you access to Mt Conness, Ragged Peaks climbs, plus three lakes ( two that are surrounded by trees great for hammock hangs.
- Echo Lake – Located off trail south of Upper Cathedral Lake – Echo Lake is set in a meadow basin below Echo peaks and the West edge of Matthes Crest. Perfect location for exploring and hanging a hammock in a tree lined meadow location.
- Boothe Lake – Located just below the Vogelsang High camp Boothe lake has plenty of space to spread out around the lake and fewer crowds than Vogelsang camp area.