The hammock is one of the most malicious inanimate objects ever. Don’t trust its limp innocence. The moment you swing your feet into its curved grasp, the whole world can and will literally flip upside down, leaving you—also literally—in the dirt. If you’re going to wager your much-needed relaxation or a full night of sleep in this suspended bed of no mercy, we highly recommend following a few guidelines for responsible hammocking.
A lay-person’s guide to the dangerous art of relaxing in a swinging quagmire
1) Find a safe place with soft ground
When dealing with hammocks, there’s a 50-50 chance the user will end up on the ground below. It’s imperative that this ground is of a soft composition. Examples of appropriate hammock-scape include, but are not limited to: sand, grass, snow, shag carpet, packing peanuts and two autumns worth of evenly raked deciduous defoliation. Rocks should be avoided. While water does qualify as appropriately dense, hammocking over it is a certain path to an unfortunately soggy situation. In these circumstances, life jackets are encouraged.
2) Use solid straps
The nature of a hammock is to escape from one end. The best way to avoid a runaway is to lash these beasts down securely. Frayed rope, string, bungee cords and an old pair of pants are not strong enough to entrust with your future. Nylon webbing of at least one inch width is a well-established secure method of hanging. If using live trees as hang points, wrap webbing around multiple times before looping into hammock ends or use pads between the bark and webbing to avoid scarring or marking the tree.
3) Higher is not better
When choosing a height, consider Newton’s law of gravity. You can calculate the force with which you’ll hit the ground by multiplying your weight by the height you’re falling from by the acceleration of gravity (around 9.834 meters per second squared). Most people will conclude that injuries sustained from a fall of a couple feet onto soft ground will not be life threatening.
4) Alcohol and hammocks do not mix
This may be news to some, but alcohol is not known for instilling gracefulness upon the drinker. And entering and exiting a hammock requires a certain level of grace. It’s a safe bet that the majority of poor souls in YouTube’s countless hammock fail videos were not sober. Friends don’t let friends drink and hammock.
5) Do not swing wildly
It doesn’t matter that your uncle’s best friend once pulled the coveted full loop. There’s no faster way to anger the hammock than adding a few Gs to its normally serene swaying. In more ways than one, this guideline also extends to couples who intend to share the dangling confines of a hammock. Unless specifically intended for multiple users, hammocks should be warily enjoyed by one person at a time.
6) Don’t forget insulation
As expected, most hammocks provide zero warmth. Don’t expect a snuggly cozy feeling on an even remotely cool night. Air hits a hammock sleeper from underneath right where the sleeping bag is compressed into a thin cushion of breathable nothingness. Try flipping around to let the cold blasts hit some other body region and—WHAM!—you’re on the ground. It’s warmer down here, but you could’ve avoided the whole falling out thing by simply putting a sleeping pad down in the hammock first.
7) Leave No Trace
In all seriousness, the use of hammocks can be damaging. Tree scars from hammock straps are a legitimate issue at many popular camping sites and have brought attention to their less than stellar record of leaving no trace. If you’re going to attempt to kick back in a hammock, follow the guidelines below for responsible hammocking.
- Avoid scarring or damaging trees by using proper nylon straps that are at least 1-inch wide like the tree friendly straps from ENO. Do not use rope of any type around trees, as it can slice into bark, leaving cuts that inhibit tree growth.
- Pick your trees thoughtfully. Make sure the trees or branches you choose to hang your hammock from are thick enough to hold the intended weight. Also, try to avoid trampling vegetation to access your hang points or hammock entry.
- Hang your hammock at least 200 feet from water sources. Whenever possible, avoid setting up your hammock on or near sensitive riparian habitat. Small and delicate vegetation common at the edge of rivers and lakes can easily be damaged by hammock straps or the comings and goings of campers.
- Obey local regulations. Land managers in some national and state parks don’t allow hammocks. It’s also a good idea to follow standard outdoors etiquette. Don’t sling your hammock across trails or where it obstructs fellow wilderness lovers. After all, we all just want to hang out in nature.
Photos: Zach Betten/Unsplash; ENO Leave No Trace Hammock – Daryll Vispo