Swinging between the trees is an idyllic setting, perfect for an afternoon by the lake or a few nights camping in the backcountry. But to make this dream a reality, you’ll have to figure out how to set up your new hammock. Fortunately, this is a pretty simple process, and most hammocks give detailed instructions on how to accomplish it.
Even so, there are a few guidelines that you’ll want to follow to stay safe and minimize your impact on the environment. Here are some of the most important tips to help you learn how to hang a hammock from a tree.
Picking Your Trees
Before you learn how to hang a hammock from a tree, you need to start with a little scouting. Not just any set of trees will do, and it will take some experience and a keen eye to determine what will work and what won’t. Some things to look out for include:
Dead trees. Never attach your hammock to dead trees. They’re far more fragile than living trees, and the weight from your hammock could pull them down on top of you. Or at the very least, the added weight will get the process started, and a sudden storm and strong winds will finish the job.
How do you know if a tree is dead? During the warmer months, a tree is dead if it has no leaves (or they look yellow, brown, and dry). You can also be tipped off by noticing a large amount of deadwood lying on the ground around the base of the tree. The trees that you pick for your hammock should be green and full of life, with little to no deadwood lying around.
Tree width. I think it goes without saying that you don’t want to hang your hammock from a couple of saplings. The trees need to be robust enough to hold your weight, so a good rule of thumb is to find trees with a diameter of 6 inches or more.
One hammock per set of trees. One final tip is to limit yourself to one hammock per set of trees. Sharing a tree (or two) between multiple hammocks is a great way to damage the trees, maximizing your impact on the environment. This is the opposite of what you want to do.
You’ve probably seen photos of people stacking their hammocks on top of each other on the same set of trees. If you haven’t…well…take a look at this:
It looks fun, to be sure, but it’s bad practice for a number of reasons. First of all, it puts an excessive amount of stress on the trees. A single hammock runs the risk of damaging the bark and/or pulling the trees off center, but it’s usually not a big deal if you’ve followed the rules up to this point. However, when you add in a second hammock, that multiplies the impact you have on the trees, and you run the risk of breaking some leave no trace principles.
But even beyond that, it’s a pretty dangerous maneuver. What happens if the person on top happens to fall out of the hammock? What if the slip while getting down? It’s a long way to the ground, and injury is bound to happen. Not to mention, the person underneath may get caught up in the action and become injured as well.
Picking Your Straps
Your suspension system is what attaches your hammock to the trees. Rope is common, but you’ll want to upgrade to tree saver straps for the best effect. Rope and other thin straps will bite into the trees more, damaging them, potentially causing irreversible problems for the trees.
Acceptable straps are going to be 0.75 inches wide (or wider), with some locations requiring hammock campers to have straps that are at least 2 inches wide. The wider straps disperse the stress across a larger area on the tree, preventing damage from stress and abrasion.
Angles and Height
So once you’ve found your trees, and you’ve purchased all the essential gear, how do you go about attaching the hammock to the trees? Well, the process is different for every hammock. And since not all trees will be the same distance apart, you’ll have to experiment through trial and error until you’ve got the proper fit.
Even so, there are a few definitive metrics that you should aim to hit. When lying in the hammock, the lowest point should be no higher than 18 inches above the ground. Sound a little low to you? It’s actually an ideal height for getting in and out of the hammock without much effort. Being a foot and a half off the ground also ensures that you won’t injure yourself too badly if you happen to fall out during the night.
Also worth remembering is the angle between the straps and the ground. It should be roughly 30 degrees, allowing the hammock to sag lower than where the straps connect to the trees. While it can be tempting to tighten the suspension system as far as it will go, this won’t actually make it easier to sleep. Instead, the walls of the hammock will be more likely to wrap around you, heightening any sense of claustrophobia you may feel.
Where to Set it Up
Picking a proper location to set up your hammock is half the battle. Obviously, finding trees that suit your needs is part of the process, but your considerations should extend well beyond that.
For example, how close is the nearest water source? You should make sure you’re at least 200 feet away from it, for the sake of following leave no trace procedures – specifically, “dispose of waste properly.” These shoreline habitats are pretty fragile, and can easily be disrupted by people who ignore the 200-foot rule.
Similarly, pay attention to the wildlife on the trees that you plan to attach your hammock to. Sensitive vegetation can grow on the bark and in the branches, and various wildlife may also call those trees “home.” But even beyond that, various insects and plants – poisonous and deadly – may live nearby. You’ll want to avoid these entities for reasons that I don’t need to explain any further.
Finally, find a location that allows you to minimize your impact on the things around you. If possible, pick a couple of trees that have little to no vegetation surrounding them. Always check with landowners first to make sure you’re allow to hammock there, and never set up shop in the way of a well-worn path. Even if there isn’t an obvious trail nearby, check your surroundings to see if you might be blocking the best way down a slope or an animal trail leading to water.
If you plan to be gone for a reasonable amount of time, unclip your hammock from the trees. This prevents wildlife (and young children) from getting snared while you’re away.
Read More: The 10 Best Hammocks with Mosquito Nets
Adjust and Readjust
Hammocks are all different. The space between trees is all different. The widths of trees are all different. That being said, every time you set your hammock up will be different as well, when you take these factors into account.
If it feels like it takes you the same amount of time to set your hammock up, don’t worry, it’s not because you’re bad at it. This is just the sort of process that takes adjusting and readjusting to get things just right. And remember, your finished product doesn’t have to be exactly 18 inches off the ground with a 30 degree angle between the straps and the earth. Leave your tape measure and protractor at home, give it your best estimate, and let experience tell you what you need to know in the future.