Posts Tagged With: hammock camping

The Beginner’s Guide to a Well-Hung Hammock

by Todd Walker

A Beginner's Guide to a Well-Hung Hammock ~

Several years ago I decided to give hammock camping a shot. It was miserable!

I’d been better off laying in a zipped body bag. That first morning felt as if my shoulders had been clamped in a vise while wrapped in a cheap tortilla shell. Claustrophobic, sore, and sleepless was not my idea of happy camping.

Here’s the thing. I’m stubborn and didn’t give up on hammock camping. With a few adjustments on my hanging technique, my hammock raised my sleeping to new levels.

Here’s how to avoid the misery of my horrible hammock hang…

A Well-Hung Hammock

“One of the hallmarks of the veteran woodsman is the way he contrives to make himself comfortable in camp”. ~ Warren H. Miller

A Beginner's Guide to a Well-Hung Hammock ~

A typical backyard hammock with spreader bars is not what you take camping.

Camp hammocks are gathered at each end unlike the rope hammocks with spreader bars in the backyard. Ever been dumped out of one of these hammocks? It happens easily because they have a high center of gravity. I stretched my first camp hammock horizontal as tight a banjo string. I thought this would help me lay flat. That’s the biggest mistake I made.

Set the Sag

This is how I make my ENO DoubleNest hammock smile. Smile = Sag.

Wrap your suspension straps (mine are ENO Atlas straps) around two live tree as your anchor points. My straps are a little over head-high depending on the distance between my trees. Now clip the carabiners to the strap loops. Remember to leave a little sag.

In our video below, I replaced Atlas straps with mule tape for my suspension straps. Use whatever works for you.

I have a fixed ridge line (550 paracord) which runs between the two carabiners at both ends of the hammock. Expert hammock campers recommend a non-stretchy cord. I use 550 paracord because that’s what I have a lot of. My set up allows me to adjust the ridge line length, and, thus, make it sag just right.

Here’s how…

A Beginner's Guide to a Well-Hung Hammock ~

A bowline knot through one carabiner.

One end of my ridge line is permanently attached to a carabiner. The other end loops through the opposite connector and is tightened with a Trucker’s Hitch knot. I can easily tighten or loosen the line to make my hammock smile just right.

After hanging your hammock, step back to see if it smiles back at you. The middle should be low with both ends high.

Dig the Diagonal 

Why do I like sag better than tight? The sag allows me to lay diagonally so I don’t become a shrink wrapped banana. Sag has revolutionized my sleep!

A Beginner's Guide to a Well-Hung Hammock ~

Sag allows for a diagonal lay for comfort. No shoulder squeeze!

A smiling hammock is easy to enter and exit. Stand next to your hammock. Spread the fabric with both hands, sit back, and lift your feet over. Now you can easily adjust your body to a diagonal position without fighting taut sides. You’ll know the sweet spot when your body lays flat. To exit your comfortable bedding, hold both side of the hammock and swing your feet over the side to stand up. I sometimes grab the ridge line for assistance.

A Beginner's Guide to a Well-Hung Hammock ~

Makes a great camp lounge chair, too!

Knots to Know

I already mentioned the Trucker’s Hitch I use on my fixed ridge line. There are three simple knots I use for my setting up my rain fly (tarp). We’ll cover all three below:

  • Bowline
  • Trucker’s Hitch
  • Prusik Loop

It’s difficult to describe knots in writing. Grab some practice rope and watch this quick video demonstration of these three knots.

Here’s a tip for quickly setting your ridge line for your rain fly/tarp. Wrap the Bowline end around your anchor tree. Instead of threading 25 feet of cordage through the Bowline to cinch it tight to the tree, use a toggle (Our first video above shows an even quicker way to secure a non-weight bearing ridge line). Slip a bite of cordage through the bowline to form a loop. Place a finger-size stick (toggle) through the loop and pull tight against the tree. This ridge line only has to support a lightweight tarp – not your body weight.

Wrap the opposite line end around your other anchor point at the same hight. Secure it with a Trucker’s Hitch.

Place your rain fly/tarp over the ridge line. I have a Prusik Loop which stays connected to my tarp ridge line near the Bowline end. Slip the Prusik Loop through a tie out or grommet hole on the Bowline side of the ridge line. Insert a toggle.

Move down the ridge line keeping the tarp taut to keep the toggle in place. Repeat the same procedure in the above paragraph – but use the loop of the Trucker’s Hitch just like the Prusik Loop. Toggle this loop and pull the tag end of the Trucker’s Hitch to tighten the tarp. Adjust the tarp, right or left, by moving the Prusik Loop and loosening/tightening the Trucker’s Hitch loop.

Stake out the four corners of the tarp. My tarp/fly has tie out line already attached for this purpose. I use a Trucker’s Hitch to secure and tighten the lines around the ground stakes. This creates an A-frame around your hammock.

Another tip worth knowing for warm weather hanging. To take advantage of a breeze, I use a 5-6 foot stick to lift the corners of my tarp. Make a single wrap around the stick at the 4 or 5 foot mark. Take the remaining line and secure it to the ground stake as described above. If you’re lucky, you may have saplings or trees at the right spot making the sticks and stakes unnecessary. This method lifts the corners of your tarp allowing welcome airflow in warm weather.

Cool Weather Hanging

The beauty of hammocks in warmer weather is they allow convective cooling from breezes. I like sleeping cool to cold. However, when temps drop below 60 degrees F, I add a layer of insulation to the bottom of my hammock. Under quilts are available but expensive. I spread a cheap closed cell foam mat inside my hammock and lay out my sleeping bag on top of the mat. This system works for me when temps are in the high teens in Georgia.

Where to Hang

Give careful attention to the 4 W’s when selecting a campsite.

  1. Widow Makers: No dead limbs or trees overhead. Never hang your hammock from a dead tree(s).
  2. Wind: Hang to take advantage of the prevailing wind direction for cooling or warmth.
  3. Water: Close to rivers or creeks but not too close (flash floods). If possible, avoid stagnate, standing water (bugs).
  4. Wood: If open fires are allowed, look for a campsite with standing dead trees close by but not within reach of your hammock.

Hanging from a dead tree is inviting disaster. Not only from falling limbs, but the entire tree could topple over on you.

Additional Resources: 

  • My friend, Glenn (Outside the Box channel), inspired me to continue to tweak my hang with his video below…

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,


P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +YouTubeInstagram, and Facebook… and over at our Doing the Stuff Network.

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Categories: Camping, Doing the Stuff, Self-reliance | Tags: , | 5 Comments

The Number One Skill of a Good Woodsman

by Todd Walker

Every item in your kit should ultimately help you develop this top skill.

The Number 1 Skill of a Good Woodsman -

“The quality of a survival kit is determined by how much it can help you when you need to sleep.  If you can sleep well at night, you have it made.” ~ Mors Kochanski

I’ve shared coffee over campfires with some tough guys in the past. It’s easy to spot who is experienced in the art of smoothing it in the woods by a simple question uttered after that first sip of joe…

How’d ya sleep?

Ah yes, the moment of truth. On the second morning it becomes very apparent who’s sleeping well and who’s ready to pack up and head home to their pillow-top mattress and warm flannel sheets.

We all have our bad nights sleeping in the woods. But an experienced woodsman has developed hacks to obtain what novice campers only dream of… restorative sleep.

Owls screech, coyotes howl, and curious critters come to visit. What did we expect? We’re sleeping on makeshift beds in their “living room.”

The larger woodland animals are often deemed sleep saboteurs. Proper camp hygiene will keep most of the big guys away. Not giving attention to little details invites malicious mischief all night.

Sleep Saboteur #1: Mosquitos

There’s nothing more annoying than the distinctive, tormenting buzz around your face in the dark. Left un-swatted, one tiny mosquito in a shelter will ruin any chance of sleep.

Get the picture…

You lay motionless, radar on, to detect its airborne location before the nighttime bombing raid commences. The constant hum gets closer and stops when the bloodsucker lands. You swat – and miss – and swear. The dive bombing continues till dawn. Itchy welts on your forehead, the only exposed human tissue in your shelter, resemble a measles outbreak by morning.

Here are few modern and primitive ways to get a good night’s rest in bug season.

Bug Netting

Defensive maneuvers can be deployed to defend your skin. Modern mosquito netting adds little weight to your pack and provides protection from even smaller no-see-ums (biting midges).

ENO Guardian Bug Net

ENO Guardian Bug Net

Dirt Road Girl bought me a ENO Guardian Bug Net to use on our trip to Eagle Rock Loop this summer. I only used it the first night. The net stopped the bugs. But it also stopped some of the breeze. I hate sleeping hot.

Bug Dope

The industry standard to keep bugs off is DEET. The problem I have with this chemical is ~ if will melt plastic, I don’t want it on my skin. I opt for natural bug-off protectants.

BugShot even works on ticks

BugShot even works on ticks

One all-natural repellent I’ve been using this summer is called All Natural BugShot. I love this stuff! Here’s a quick video of my thoughts on BugShot…

The plant world provides a natural defense against biting insects. Here are a few that I’ve used and found effective in my area. Simply crush the leaves to release the oils and smear the material on your skin and clothing.

  • Wax Mertle (Myrica cerifera) – abundant on our middle Georgia family land and used often
  • American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) 
  • Paw Paw (Asimini triloba) 
  • Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) – found along open fields and hedgerows before you hit the deep woods

American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana)

Smudge Fire

Even if you can’t find these natural bug repelling plants, you have woody plants in various stages of decay no matter where you are. Look for a dead limb or stump containing punk wood; decaying wood that is spongy but not rotted to the point of crumbling to dust.

You knew I’d highlight the importance of fire craft in wilderness self-reliance, right?

Once you have fire, light a chunk of punk wood and let it begin to smolder. If you have a metal container, add a layer of burning coals to the bottom of the container. Then add the punk wood on top. Now you have a smudge pot that can be moved to take advantage of wind direction in your shelter area.

A few holes in the bottom of the container will add just enough oxygen to keep the smudge smoldering for hours. However, you don’t want to ruin a perfectly good metal container with holes. Use an old tin can or other container using your possum mentality.

A shallow hole in the ground with smoldering material will serve the same purpose – only it’s not mobile. Animal dung, composted plant material, pine needles, and other weeds on top of coals will create long-lasting smoke. Let’s not forget about the usefulness of smoke to rid natural bedding material of my arch enemies in Georgia… chiggers and ticks!

Sleep Saboteur #2: Bedding

Staring at my mid 50’s, the need to impress others has departed like the hair on my head. I’ll take smoothing it over roughing it any night in the woods!

Personal preference dictates whether you hang in a hammock, sleep on the ground, use a sleeping bag, or a wool blanket. I’ve used all of the above. Given the option of ground or hammock, I choose to hang around camp!

Tarps and hammocks on Eagle Rock Loop

Tarps and hammocks on Eagle Rock Loop

Go Light

Weight isn’t an issue when car camping or RV’ing. Even canoe camping will trim your load considerably. Bushwhacking on foot takes a bit more thought on your sleeping arrangements. Long before today’s modern camping gear and gadgets, our ancestral woodsmen slept in the wilderness comfortably.

The temptation is to buy this or that indispensable camp kit has been too strong and we have gone to the woods handicapped with a load fit for a pack mule. This is not how to do it. Go light, and the lighter the better so that you have the simplest of material for health comfort and enjoyment.  ~ Nessmuk


When your body comes in contact with cold or wet ground, heat transfers (conducts) away from your 98.6ºF body. Sleeping cool is one thing, sleeping cold can kill.

I use a cheap closed-cell foam sleeping pad in both my hammock and on the ground when temperatures drop. This insulates my backside from the effects of convection in the hammock and conduction when sleeping on the ground.

Other primitive insulators are available in the forest if you ever find yourself in a situation without modern gear. A six-inch layer of compacted leaves, pine bows, or other fluffy stuff can serve as a barrier between you and the cold ground.

“It is one of the blessings of wilderness life that it shows us how few things we need in order to be perfectly happy.”  ~ Horace Kephart

Sleep Saboteur #3: Heat Loss

I sleep best in cold weather. To do this, I take steps to control heat loss.

Here are key terms to know for core temperature control:

  • Conduction – The transfer of heat when ‘hot’ molecules collide with neighboring cold molecules. Heat travels from hot to cold via touching.
  • Convection – Air or water moving over skin removes heat from your body.
  • Radiation – The process where energy (body heat) is transferred in space from our body and absorbed by a colder environment. Heat, light, and sound travel by waves, particles, or rays.
  • Insulator – Materials that are poor conductors of heat. Air, cloth, and wood are poor conductors but make great insulators.
  • Heat transfer – Thermal energy (heat) can be transferred via conduction, convection, and radiation.

To sleep cozy in the woods, pay particular attention to the following…


Your most important layer of shelter is the clothes you wear. Without feather or fur, humans wear clothing to trap a warm pocket of insulating air being radiated from the body. Our head and neck are responsible for radiating about 75% of our body heat into the environment. That’s why wearing a hat keeps your feet warm.

Outside the clothes you’re wearing, another layer of shelter can be made from tarp, tent, or natural material. It’s worth noting here that attention to the 4 W’s of campsite selection (Wind, Water, Wood, and Widow Makers) increases your chances of peaceful sleep. I’m fond of tarps due to their flexibility in configurations. Other advantages of tarps include:

  • Lighter than tents
  • Quick to set up if caught in a rain storm
  • Can be set up to passively collect said rain water
  • Perfect companion for hammocks
  • Cheaper to buy than tents
  • Easy to configure to block wind, rain, or snow – or open up to take advantage of wind in hotter climates
  • You can make your own
  • A radiant fire out front adds warmth and offers wilderness TV entertainment as you nod off to sleep

A few modern shelter/cover options in my sleep system are…

Flying the bed sheet tarp in the backyard

Flying the bed sheet tarp in the backyard

  • ENO ProFly – lightweight (1.4 pounds), compact, and easy to set up
  • SOL Emergency Space Blanket a 5 x 7 space blanket used in the Kochanski Super Shelter design for extreme cold and little gear
  • Trash Bags – two contractor grade trash bags stay in my kit and could be used for emergency shelter or stuffed with fluffy debris for bedding
  • US Military Modular Sleep System (MSS) – this system consist of two sleeping bags, GoreTex bivy bag, and compression stuff sack – I only take the components I think I’ll need, never the whole system

Other Sleep Aids

The first thing I do when making camp is to build a fire. I’ve made it a habit to wash my body before going to sleep. After bathing I stand by the campfire to dry off. This one act helps me sleep the sleep of babies. A little nightcap never hurt either.


A poncho liner (A.K.A. – woobie) has saved me a time or two in what I expected to be warm camping weather which turned cool unexpectedly. My nephew, a veteran of the Afghanistan war, always carried a woobie. Leaving this piece of gear behind, he was told, would ensure that you “woobie” cold.

Dedicated wool socks for sleeping accompany me on overnight trips. These clean socks are only worn in bed.

“One of the hallmarks of the veteran woodsman is the way he contrives to make himself comfortable in camp”. ~ Warren H. Miller

Experience in the finer aspects of woods lore can only be learned by Doing the Stuff in the wildness. Fall temperatures haven’t arrived in Georgia yet, but I know they’re coming. I for one can’t wait to get out and sleep in the woods!

What’s your best tips for sleeping soundly in the woods?

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,


P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook… and over at the Doing the Stuff Network.

P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there… 

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

Copyright: Content on this site (unless the work of a third-party) may be shared freely in digital form, in part or whole, for non-commercial use with a link back to this site crediting the author. All links in articles must remain intact as originally posted in order to be republished. If you are interested a third-party article, please contact the author directly for republishing information.


Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, Doing the Stuff, Self-reliance, Survival Skills | Tags: , , , , , , | 29 Comments

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