“In locations where trees are readily available—nearly all of the eastern United States plus a fair amount of the Mountain West—hammock camping is likely the best sleep system.”
Types of Backpacking Hammocks: is the second part of  this three part series.


Types of Backpacking Hammocks

A complete hammock system: hammock, tarp + guylines & stakes, topside sleeping quilt (inside, not visible), and under-quilt (not visible). Pisgah National Forest, NC

There are two main Types of backpacking hammocks on the market:

  1. Gathered End Asymmetric Hammocks
  2. Bridge Hammocks

The sleeping position of both designs is relatively flat, not banana-shaped as customarily found with backyard furniture hammocks. Both designs normally feature integrated or removable no-see-um bug netting. Finally, additional components are usually needed to complete a hammock system:

  • Tarp for protection against rain and wind
  • Sleeping quilt, worn atop the sleeper, to reduce convective heat loss
  • Under-quilt, secured below the sleeper usually on the outside of the hammock, to reduce convective heat loss

Gathered End Asymmetric Hammock

This is by far the most prevalent camping hammock design. It is named for its two most distinct features:

  1. Its ends are gathered into a single bunch, and
  2. It has an asymmetric shape (i.e. not symmetric) that allows the sleeper to lay diagonally to its center-line, which is a flatter sleeping position than the banana-shape of the center-line.

It’s important to note that the diagonal sleeping position is enabled not just by the asymmetrical cut, but by the width of the hammock. An excessively narrow hammock, even if it is asymmetric, will not have enough material for a flat-ish sleeping position. There are two main advantages of a gathered end asymmetric hammock over the other common design, the bridge hammock (discussed below):

  1. Lighter weight
  2. Roomier, less constrictive feel
Types of Backpacking Hammocks

Typical gathered end hammock: Warbonnet (WB) Blackbird with Yeti under-quilt. Porcupine Mountains Sate Park, Upper Peninsula, Michigan

Types of Backpacking Hammocks

A gathered end hammock made by George “Tin Man” Andrews (self-portrait), being used as a camp chair during a thru-hike of the John Muir Trail in California.

Bridge Hammock

This design uses flat, non-gathered ends that are reinforced with a spreader bar. The resulting hammock shape is more of a flat, trough-like half-tube, versus the curved banana-shape (but not sleeping position) of a gathered end hammock. The bridge hammock provides a flatter sleeping position than the gathered end hammock, with less fuss and body adjustments, too. However, it has two potential drawbacks:

  1. The spreader bars add weight to the system; however, most designs allow trekking poles to be used as substitutes.
  2. Some sleepers may find that its tubular shape is more constrictive.
Andrew Skurka inspects a classic bridge hammock: the Jacks R Better Bear Mountain Bridge with Greylock 3 under-quilt.

Andrew Skurka inspects a classic bridge hammock: the Jacks R Better Bear Mountain Bridge with Greylock 3 under-quilt.

Bridge hammocks create a “flatter” lie than gathered end hammocks. Note that flatter does not mean absolutely flat. Most sleepers find it more comfortable to have their head slightly lower than their feet.

Bridge hammocks create a “flatter” lie than gathered end hammocks. Note that flatter does not mean absolutely flat. Most sleepers find it more comfortable to have their head slightly lower than their feet.

About those under-quilts

To insulate themselves against the ground, which will steal heat from a ground sleeper through conduction, ground sleepers use closed-cell foam pads or air mattresses. Hammock sleepers can also lose heat from their underside, but due to air convention, especially if there is a wind. There are two options for reducing this heat loss: 1. Use a double-layer hammock to capture and control the ground-pad. The pad is inserted between the two layers of fabric. This extra layer of fabric adds weight, but it will securely fix the ground pad in place. Double-layer hammocks are popular for this reason. 2. Use an under-quilt. A better solution is to use a hammock-specific under-quilt, which increases the warmth and comfort of a hammock. It also increases the weight and expense of a hammock system, but by no more than would a NeoAir mattresses from Therm-a-Rest, which are extraordinarily popular with ground sleepers. As an added perk, you will not get dizzy inflating an under-quilt.

A good top and bottom quilt make all the difference for a warm night’s sleep. Pictured above is my wife, Alison, cocooned in down -- a Jacks R Better High Sierra Sniveller top quilt and Greylock 3 under-quilt.

A good top and bottom quilt make all the difference for a warm night’s sleep. Pictured above is my wife, Alison, cocooned in down — a Jacks R Better High Sierra Sniveller top quilt and Greylock 3 under-quilt.

Hammock specs compared to ground systems

  • How much does a hammock system weigh and cost?
  • And how does the weight and expense compare to conventional ground systems?

As explained in Part I of this 3-part hammock series, it’s very difficult to compare hammocks and ground systems. Each system has several popular designs and an almost infinite number of configurations; there is no “standard.” Moreover, it’d be a challenge to find two systems that offer the exact same features and user experience. Nevertheless, I have tried, below. Each system offers a standard level of protection against rain, ground water, wind, and bugs. Each system also includes underside insulation, through either an under-quilt or a sleeping pad. Topside insulation (i.e. sleeping quilt) was not included into the weight or expense of these systems because this component would not change across systems.

The conclusion you should reach is that hammock systems weigh and cost about the same as “comparable” ground systems. Other considerations—such as where you normally backpack, whether you want a one-person or multi-person shelter, if you have already invested in gear that is optimal for one system or the other, and if you are struggling to sleep well with your current system—will drive decisions about whether you are better off with a hammock or ground system.

Gathered end asymmetric hammock system

  • Blackbird Hammock, including webbing suspension ($190, 21 oz)
  • Yeti 3-season under-quilt ($190, 12 oz)
  • Edge Tarp with guylines and four stakes ($85, 13 oz)

Total: $465, 46 oz (2.9 lbs) Based on Warbonnet Outdoors products and pricing

Bridge hammock system

  • BMBH Hammock (UL) , including webbing suspension ($190, 23 oz)
  • Trekking poles (as substitute for spreader bars)
  • Greylock, 3-season under-quilt ($190, 14 oz)
  • Hex Tarp with guylines and stakes ($100, 16 oz)

Total: $480, 53 oz (3.3 lbs) Based on Jacks ‘R’ Better products and pricing


Ultralight hammock system (no bug net)

Total: $464, 26 oz (1.6 lbs)


Ultralight hammock system (full bug net)

  • Dream Hammock Darien UL, including suspension hardware ($180, 13 oz)
  • Hammock Gear Phoenix 3/4-length, 3-season under-quilt ($144, 9 oz)
  • MLD Cuben Hex Tarp with guylines and stakes ($300, 10 oz)

Tarptent system

  • Tarptent Contrail  ($225, 24 oz)
  • Guylines and stakes (included, 2 oz)
  • NeoAir, Air mattress ($160, 12 oz)

Total: $385, 38 oz (2.4 lbs) Based on TarpTent  and Therm-a-Rest products and pricing

Ultralight tarp/bivy system

  • Gossamer Gear SilTwinn Tarp with guylines and stakes ($175, 16 oz)
  • Closed-cell foam sleeping pad ($20, 5 oz)
  • Moutain Laural Designs Water-resistant bivy sack ($170, 8 oz)

Total: $365, 29 oz (1.8 lbs) Based on Gossamer Gear and Mountain Laurel Designs products and pricing

NEW June 2016 – Meal Recipes are Posted. See Nutritious Backpacking Meal Recipes here

This list is packed with nutritious backpacking food for a “week long” trip of 7 days

  • 6 nights of dinners and breakfasts
  • 7 days of lunches and daytime snacks

That is you don’t eat breakfast on the day your go in. And you don’t eat dinner on the day you come out. This is equivalent to around 6.6 full days hiking. I’ve organized the food so that it should be easy to scale to more or fewer hiking days.

Note: any entry with a blank in “qty” means the food item is an alternative that may be a) added and/or b) substituted for another item on the list. For example if you are veggie, you could substitute one of the soy jerkies (Primal & Stonewall) the meat jerky. And to easily add vegetables to my homemade dinners I use freeze dried vegetables from Just Tomatoes. I like the “Hot Just Veggies.”

A Simple and Nutritious Backpacking Food List for 7 days

Breakfasts (6 mornings) qty oz tot c/oz Comments
Familia Breakfast (with Bob’s Red Mill Muesli) 2 5.5 11.0 125 see Recipe Page
Grape Nuts/Kashi Seven Nuggets (my recipe) 2 5.0 10.0 124 see Recipe Page
Oatmeal Breakfast (my recipe) 2 5.4 10.8 115 see Recipe Page
Coffee, Starbuck’s VIA ($0.72/cup @Amazon) 6 0.1 0.8 4g pkt  = 130-140 mg caffeine
Coffee for gold filter brewing 25g per 12 fl-oz 0.9  alternative to instant coffee, less $
Tea – bag or loose leaf (4-6g per 12 fl-oz) 0.1 if using bags, sealed packets are best
Lunches (7 days) qty oz tot c/oz Comments
Dense whole grain bread (lunch serving) 3 2.0 6.0 80
Almond Butter (2 oz serv) 3 2.0 6.0 155 pers fave – eat w bread/crackers
Tuna in olive oil 2.6 oz pkt (2.9 oz incl packet) 2.9 65 eat w bread, oil adds cal’s & healthy fat
Crackers, Dr Kracker (lunch serving) 2 1.5 3.0 125 Awesome, high calorie & indestructible
Cheese (lunch serving) 2 2.5 5.0 115 eat with crackers
TJ’s whole wheat tortillas 2 2.0 4.0 80
Dry salami (without nitrates) 2 2.5 5.0 105 eat with tortillas
Mustard packets n/a to eat with cheese or salami
Bison Jerkey (3.5 oz bag) 3.5 60  online, or TJs and Whole Foods
Turkey Jerky 4.0 90  online, or TJs and Whole Foods
Primal Strips Meatless Vegan Jerkey (teriyaki) 1.0 100 vegan protein option – up to 11g prot.
Stonewall’s Jerquee (soy based) 1.5 110 veggie protein option – up to 14g prot.
Dinners (6 nights) qty oz tot c/oz Comments
Black Beans & Rice w Cheese & Corn Chips (yum!) 2 5.5 11.0 115 see Recipe Page
Chili Mac Dinner 2 5.5 11.0 120 see Recipe Page
Curry Cous Cous Dinner 2 6.0 12.0 135 see Recipe Page
Desserts (6 nights) qty oz tot c/oz Comments
Snickers Bar or MilkyWay Midnight 2 2.1 4.2 135 daytime snack or dessert
Chocolate (dark) 4 2.0 8.0 153 great when eaten with dried fruit
Cocoa Nibs 1.0 150 tasty when added to dark chocolate
Snakwell Cookie Packet 2 1.7 3.4 123 great with hot chocolate
Hot Chocolate (make your own with Nido) 2 2.2 4.4 130 see Dessert recipe Page
Snack Bars (for ~7 days) qty oz tot c/oz Comments
Kind Bars 4 1.4 5.6 150
Lara Bar 1.8 130
Pro Bar Meal Bar 2 3.0 6.0 125 healthy, easy to eat
ProBar’s Base Protein Bars 2 2.5 4.9 114 adds 20g of soy protein
Cliff Builder’s Protein Bar 2 2.5 4.9 115 adds 20g of soy protein
Snacks (for ~7 days) qty oz tot c/oz Comments
Gorp (50% walnuts, 50% dried fruit – raisins?) 7 2.0 14.0 150  usually mix my own
Honey sesame sticks 7 1.8 12.6 150  online or at Whole Foods
Candied nuts (TJs has a ton of varieties) 3 1.5 4.5 150
Almonds, raw 4 2.0 8.0 165
Walnuts, raw 185
Dried mango un-sweetened/sulfered 3 2.0 6.0 90 also great dessert with dark chocolate!
Apricots (dried, un-sweetened, un-sulfered) 4 1.5 6.0 87 also great dessert with dark chocolate!
Papaya (dried, un-sweetened, un-sulfered) 100  at Whole Foods
Raisins, organic (Thompson, TJs) 95
Generic dried fruit 85
Jelly Bellies 93
Tic-Tacs 0 mindless fun to eat on trail
Pringles 150 tasty, high in calories
Totals
Lb of food for trip 11.5
Lb food per day 1.7
Calories/day 3,530
Calories/oz of food 127

There is no exact answer to this question. In my “The Best Backpacking Food – simple and nutritious”, I threw out the best guess of 1.4 to 1.7 lb of food per day. But how but much food you need depends on who you are and what you do.

2015 Note: In the last 15 years of backpacking I personally seem to have settled on around 1.7 pounds per day of food give or take a bit. This is for warm season backpacking with 12-18 miles per day (possibly more) with some off-trail travel. If I am going for killer trips, like 10-12 solid hours of hiking per day I will be more like 1.8 pounds of food per day.  But trips 12 miles and under, mostly on trail 1.5 pounds of food would suffice.

Over the years I have lowered my hiking pace, but hike longer and take fewer breaks. I find that a slower hiking pace of 2.5 miles per hour (average including stops) is much more efficient calorie-wise than hiking at a faster pace. Most accomplished long distance thru-hikers I have talked to use a similar approach. Also, I find the slower pace beats up my body less and I get up the next morning fresh and ready to hike another day.


Estimating How Much Food You Need

In an example below, in order to not lose weight, a 160 pound male hiking 10 miles a day, with a 3,000 elevation gain, would need around 4,000 calories per day, or 2.0 pounds of food per day (assuming a caloric density of 125 calories per ounce). This is a very rough estimate, and should not be taken too seriously. You will need to do some experimenting to determine you own caloric needs for on the trail.

From this it is clear that 1.5 pounds of food per day (a figure often used by ultralight hikers) does not work for all situations, and for all people. Although that 1.5 lb of food per day may work well for many people on a short trip (e.g. a 3-day-weekend)–where they not doing long miles and long hours of hiking per day. And for most of us, if you end up metabolizing/burning off a pound of fat on a trip [since backpacking is one of he supreme fat burning activities], all the better!

But just because you can get by on 1.5 lb of food per day, doesn’t mean that it’s the best way to eat in all situations. In my opinion, running a significant caloric deficit, particularly on longer trips, is not a good idea. If you are a fit person, hiking many miles and hours per day, 1.5 lbs of food per day  is also not a good idea. See my example below for more details.

Factors to consider for how much food you pack

  • How much do you weigh?
  • Does your metabolism run high or low?
  • How far will you hike each day?
  • How fast will you hike?
  • For how many days?
  • How much elevation gain?
  • At what altitude?
  • At what temperatures?
  • How difficult is the terrain?
  • What type of shape are you in?
  • What are you used to eating?
  • How much excess body fat do you have?
  • Do you want to lose weight? Etc., etc.

In 2000 I took 1.6 lb of food per day (Approx. 125 cal/oz.) on a 5 day trip in the Rockies. I was hungry on the days when I hiked 8-10 miles mostly on trails. But I could deal with it. I would have felt better, and in the long run hiked faster with more food per day. One day, I did an 18 mile hike, most of which was off trail, with elevations over 13,000 feet. Boulder fields. Class 3 routes etc. I brought only 1.6 pounds of food with me. By 7:30 PM, when I got into camp, I was almost psychotic with hunger. My fault, I realize. I could have easily used 2 lb of food for that day.

An (over) simplified example of food need calculations. An estimate! (see Note 1):

  • A 160 lb person has a base metabolism of approx. 2,200 cal/day
  • 10 miles hiking with a 30 lb backpack at 120 cal/mi, is another 1,200 calories.
  • Assume 3,000 elevation gain is another 600 calories.
  • Total caloric expenditure: 4,000 cal/day
  • 1.5 pounds of food at 125 cal/oz = 3,000 calories. (see Note 2)
  • Caloric deficit = 1,000 cal/per day. Or around 1/3 lb of hiker per day (this is fat metabolized/burned)

Under this very simplified estimate, our 160 pound hiker runs a 1,000 calorie per day deficit. They would lose about 1/3 lb per day or around 2 lb per week. If our hiker was a bit overweight and didn’t mind being hungry this might be OK or even desirable. But it’s probable that they would feel better and hike faster if they weren’t running a caloric deficit.

For someone near their ideal weight, running a 1,000 calorie a day deficit might not be a good idea. It might be OK for a few days, but not for long outings. It’s not that you can’t do it if you have to. I’ve hiked 3 days without food. But is it a good idea to hike running a caloric deficit?

  • Is it good for your health?
  • Will you feel great and enjoy your outing?
  • Will you hike your fastest?
  • Will your body have the nutrition to recover after a hard day of hiking?
  • Will you be more injury prone?
  • Will you be alert and make safe decisions?
  • What will your moods be like around others?

After answering these questions for myself, I’d say that hiking with a daily calorie deficit is not a great idea.

Note 1: I realize that this is a this very simplified estimate. Base metabolism, hiking efficiency, etc. are variable. The best approach is to do some on or off trail testing and see what caloric intake works best for you. Note that you may be able to get by on a low calorie intake but your athletic performance may go down as well. I know that I can eat 2,200 calories a day and ride my bike 175-200 miles per week. I also know that if I do this, I feel terrible, I loose around 2 lb per week, I can be cross with those around me, and my overall riding speed drops 1-2 mph. At around 3,200-3,500 calories a day I feel great, don’t gain weight, and can train at high intensity.

Note 2: I believe that most of us will end up averaging around 125-130 cal/oz even when packing high fat items like chocolate and peanut butter, etc. as part of our food. I know that many try to hit the 150 cal/oz range, but I don’t think this is a realistic or healthy way for most people to eat. Just my opinion.