You are exploring the wilderness. You’re geared up with your fully loaded backpack, the perfect light source, a great sleeping bag, some camp snacks, and the essential ingredients for those perfect s’mores.
After a long day of exploration, you have come upon the perfect spot to camp for the evening. It’s time to set your place up before the sun sets low in the sky and the moon and stars appear to illuminate your evening. Where are you sleeping tonight?
- Setup: Quick but relies upon perfectly spaced trees; harder to perfect
- Comfort: Cocoon suspension; no privacy
- Space: As small as a Nalgene bottle, flexible
- Shelter: Minimal shelter from elements
- Weight: Extremely lightweight, usually less than 1 pound
- Setup: Slower but available anywhere there’s flat space; easy
- Comfort: Ground sleep; privacy
- Space: Rigid poles take more room
- Shelter: Protection from elements; insulation
- Weight: 5 to 10 pounds on average
Breaking it down
It can be difficult to determine whether a hammock or a tent will offer the best camping experience. In fact, among backpackers, the hammock vs tent debate is akin to a computer’s Mac vs. PC debate. Since there isn’t a clear answer, we’ve gone into more depth when it comes to their differences.
One of the more intimidating aspects of camping for beginners is setup. How do you properly erect and secure your overnight shelter?
This is a straightforward or basic setup, and it usually takes less than a minute. While each person has their preferences when it comes to suspension, generally, you simply secure the posts into a couple of nearby trees, and you’re finished.
Tents take a little bit more work to erect. They are time-consuming and quickly eat up the remaining daylight hours before you finish the other tasks of making camp for the evening. Even experts usually take several minutes to erect their tents and stow their gear.
Hammocks are the winner. Simply put in a couple of security pikes, suspend your hammock, and you’re done! Simple and easy.
While you’re away from the comforts of your own bed, it may seem impossible to sleep comfortably. You camp for the experience of getting closer to nature, not the comfort of a spa. Still, sleeping peacefully can make or break a camping trip, especially if there’s a long hike back to the car, so it needs to factor into any decision.
Hammocks are pretty comfortable since they suspend your body above the ground in a more natural sleep position. It is recommended to sleep diagonally to avoid folding, but once you find your ideal position, these are pretty wonderful.
The main drawback of hammock sleeping is that when you are off the ground, wind and air can flow underneath you, causing you to become colder much faster. They also offer little to no shelter from the elements without buying expensive add-ons that cost weight and storage space.
Another issue is that they are optimized for people who sleep on their backs. If you’re a side sleeper, these aren’t a great option.
Tents offer great support from the elements, and they keep you insulated. If you have padding and thick sleeping bags, you are unlikely to get too cold or uncomfortable. They aren’t perfect, though.
If you set up on an incline or less-than-perfect ground, you may end up with a rock in your side all evening or stuck to one side of the tent. While the insulation prevents getting cold, sleeping bags are also not designed for anyone who likes to sleep with their feet outside of the covers, so they don’t overheat, and you are stuck in one position.
This was the closest category of all of them and really comes down to personal preference. We recommend trying both options before deciding which is best, hammock vs tent. We decided that the tent narrowly edges out the hammock for comfortable sleep because many of the drawbacks a tent has can be easily solved with the right sleeping bag.
When backpacking, space is limited. Not only do you need to travel light, but your gear needs to fit inside your pack. As such, it is critical that none of your gear becomes a space hog.
Hammocks take up almost no space. Most models don’t require long poles that are too rigid to fit into packs flexibly. They are an incredible option.
The thing to keep in mind is that many hammock campers bring extra padding and layers to protect against bugs and the elements. These can quickly take up as much space as a tent.
These take up significantly more space than hammocks, and because of the poles required for the framework, they are also much less easy to store. Although many of them store in bags almost as small as hammocks, they usually end up tied to the outside of a backpack.
Once again, the hammock comes out victorious. It takes less space in your pack than the average water bottle.
When you’re in the great outdoors overnight, it is important to look at how many shelters you will need from the elements. Will your trip be cold? Is rain a possibility? How about the bugs and wildlife? Do you need a covered space to store your gear?
Hammocks offer very little shelter. Abandoning a tent for a hammock also means giving up any privacy you may need on group trips.
You won’t have a sheltered place to change clothes. They also offer almost no shelter from the elements.
Airflow under the body means you get cold. There is no roof when it rains or snows. Bugs can easily find and bite you. Without buying all the extras, hammocks offer no more protection than simply sleeping outside.
These are great shelters. In rare cases, the tent may flood with heavy rainfall, but usually, this is not an issue. Erecting a tent provides shelter and insulation from rainfall and winds. It keeps you warm on chillier nights and prevents bugs from getting to you.
The tent is the clear winner, here. Hammocks offer absolutely no shelter.
Weight makes a big difference. On a long hike, every 5 pounds can seem like 50. It is crucial to scale down to the least amount of necessary weight for making a trip.
Hammocks are extremely lightweight. If you don’t intend to pack all the extras, like tarps, roofs, and bug nets, then this option generally weighs less than one pound.
Tents weigh around 5-8 pounds on average, so they are heavier to carry. This is especially true when you need extra padding underneath to fall asleep comfortably.
The hammock wins this category, too. They are significantly lighter than tents.
Call us old fashioned, but the tent is still the ultimate choice. Although the hammock wins more categories overall, the tent wins when it comes to the factors we find the most important.
Shelter from the elements is critical, and not all campsites will have trees close enough for hammocks. Also, once you factor in all the extras required to make a hammock habitable in anything less than ideal weather or areas where insects are a concern, it mitigates the advantages and results in the same setup time, weight, and space concerns a tent offers.