Winter is a beautiful time—the trees shed their leaves, the bugs become almost non-existent, and the fair-weather campers are warm and cozy in their homes. With increased visibility through the forests, no annoying bugs and the outdoors (almost) all to yourself, winter is a perfect time to go camping!
Whether you already love hammocking or you’re just getting started, winter hammock camping is a great experience. And, with proper preparation, you can be even warmer and more comfortable than in a tent.
Winter hammock camping requires planning, preparation, and extra gear. But you can leave that bug net behind!
Wind is the number one enemy of warmth when winter hammock camping. Unlike being in a tent, a hammocker is exposed to the wind on all sides.
Most hammocks are made of a breathable material, and the wind blowing beneath the hammock zaps away any and all warmth your body is producing. Insulating your hammock on all sides is essential to staying warm and cozy. There are many different ways to insulate a hammock for winter camping with a solution to fit everyone’s budget (and gear space).
Winter Hammock Camping Gear
1. Sleeping Bag
It should be obvious that blankets alone are not suitable for winter hammock camping. Just as if you were on a cold weather tent camping trip, bring along a sleeping bag that’s rated for freezing temperatures. Mummy sleeping bags are great for this, but so are regular sleeping bags.
If there is extra space in your sleeping bag, stuff it with your clothes. Not only will this help keep areas like your feet warm, but you’ll also have warm clothes to change into in the morning. Other ideas to keep the foot area warm include filling a water bottle with hot water or using hot hands.
Sleeping bags alone are not enough to keep you warm on a winter hammock camping trip. This is due to the compression on the underneath of the sleeping bag. Insulation works by creating space between the body and the cold. When the stuffing is compressed by laying on it, most of the insulating qualities are gone.
2. Sleeping Pad
Starting with the more budget-friendly solution, a self-inflating sleeping pad underneath your sleeping bag can work wonders to keep you insulated. Partially inflate the sleeping pad and put it in the bottom of your hammock to provide a barrier to the cold air.
If you don’t have a sleeping pad, any type of closed-cell foam mat will work. These include things like yoga and fitness mats. Alternatively, using old car windshield sunshades can work as well.
The downside to using something like a sleeping pad or a closed cell foam mat is condensation. These types of barriers work really well to insulate the body from freezing temperatures and wind, but they don’t allow moisture from your breath to escape. They can cause you to sweat and build up moisture from breathing. This is not only uncomfortable to sleep in, getting out of your hammock in the freezing cold while wet from condensation just isn’t a good experience.
Underquilts are specifically made for cold weather hammock camping and come in 2 different sizes: full length and 3/4 length. Full-length underquilts cover the entire length of the body. When using a 3/4 length underquilt, the upper body is covered while the feet will need their own insulation.
Underquilts wrap around the bottom of the hammock, preventing compression and providing a great amount of insulation. An underquilt eliminates the need for a sleeping pad or mat, allowing you more room to stretch out and get comfortable within the hammock.
The primary downside to using an underquilt is the cost.
Overquilts are designed to be used in tandem with underquilts and replace a traditional sleeping bag. An overquilt typically wraps around your feet and is open on top, just covering the top of you like a regular blanket.
You may prefer an overquilt if you are using an underquilt and hate the restriction of movement that sleeping bags cause. An overquilt is enough to keep you warm only when used with an underquilt and is not recommended to be used with a sleeping pad.
5. Tarps and Rain Flys
While you won’t need a bug net when hammock camping in the winter, a tarp or a rainfly set up over your hammock can provide a lot of protection. Even if it’s not precipitating, a tarp or large rain fly will act as a wind barrier if it’s large and strategically placed.
Other options exist for covering the top and the bottom of your hammock for insultation, including 4 sided tarps and under/overquilt combos. No matter your budget or how much space you have to carry gear, you can find a viable option for you.
Winter Hammock Camping Tips
Dress in Layers
When winter camping in general, dressing in layers is the first line of defense in retaining your body heat. The same goes for sleeping—dress in layers with thermal underwear, going to bed in outerwear, wearing thermal socks and a beanie. You can always remove layers once inside your hammock, but putting them on while hammocking is a bit more difficult.
When you look for somewhere to set up your hammock, use what nature gives you! If at all possible, set up in a densely wooded area. Camping behind shrubs or even a boulder can give you a significant amount of protection from the wind.
Tent and hammock campers alike should always be analyzing the area for potential widowmakers when setting up camp in any season, but winter campers need to be even more vigilant. A widowmaker is a dead, weak or sickly tree or branch that may fall in high winds or under the weight of water or snow, crushing the camper beneath.
In addition to making sure you are hanging your hammock from strong, healthy trees, scan the canopy. Avoid camping anywhere near tree branches that have already broken off and are stuck as they could become dislodged in the next wind gust. Avoid camping near or beneath any sickly or weak looking trees or branches as they can (and do) snap beneath the weight of snow and from winds. This safety measure is very important and not to be overlooked.
Even though you’re camping in cold weather, there are plenty of ways to keep yourself warm and cozy. Bring along a portable camp stove or firestarter to make yourself hot meals, drinks and to warm up by the fire.
Filling a water bottle with hot water to pre-warm your hammock will make it nice and inviting to crawl into. Be sure to protect your skin and inspect the bottle for leaks.
An alternative to using water for heat are hand and foot warmers. Hand and foot warmers stay warm for up to 6 hours and can do wonders when stuffed in your socks or your sleeping bag. However, they work best when exposed to oxygen so a sleeping bag may reduce their efficiency, but they’ll be warm nonetheless.
Staying Warm, Cozy and Safe while Winter Hammock Camping
Now you know winter hammock camping lingo, what types of gear to look for and essential safety tips. Insulation is key, and you can create that air barrier in a variety of ways. Always remember to scout your camp location for safety ahead of time and use what nature provides to shield yourself from the elements.
Winter hammock camping can be a great escape. With surreal snow-covered and leafless landscapes, silence and crisp air, winter camping is sure to rejuvenate your soul and your senses.