Can You Hike the Appalachian Trail With a Hammock?

  • December 18, 2020
  • / By Matthew Cordero
camping with a hammock tent

Hiking the Appalachian Trail requires serious preparation. There are several things one must bring to ensure comfort and survival on the trail, including the proper shelter. Because of this, many people wonder if hammock tents can be used as a tent replacement for the hike.

It’s possible to hammock camp the Appalachian trail but it will mean you need to find the perfect trees to hang your hammock each night. If you can’t find perfectly distanced tree’s and the lean-to’s full, you might end up sleeping on the ground some nights.

There are a few things to consider when choosing the appropriate hammock for the trail. Read on to learn how to choose a hammock tent and other considerations to help you plan for your trip.

camping with a hammock tent

It takes anywhere from 5 to 7 months to complete a hike on the Appalachian Trail. Every night, hikers sleep in or around shelters, which are also referred to as the “lean-to”. These are basically simple wooden structures found on the trail.

With a little over 250 lean-to’s all in all, they serve as a place for hikers to rest as well as socialize and exchange stories. However, the shelters can fill up fast and it isn’t possible to reserve a spot. It’s on a first-come, first-served basis. On top of that, shelters aren’t ideal to sleep in because they can be filled with snakes, animals, and bugs and can also be very dirty.

That’s why it’s so important to have your own shelter in your backpack when hiking the Appalachian Trail. Despite the presence of lean-to’s, they may not seem appealing to sleep in. For this reason, many hikers often prefer sleeping in their own shelters.

The benefits of using a hammock tent on the Appalachian Trail include:

  1. 1
    Flexibility: You can prop up your hammock virtually anywhere along the trail as long as you have two trees near each other. There’s no need to find smooth or flat ground, enabling you to avoid busy camping areas. You also need to keep in mind that you will need to be prepared for sleeping on the ground; some parts of the trail have no trees and you’ll need to stop. In these cases, though rare, you can use your hammock to sleep on the ground. Just use the tarp to make a tent-like structure, then place the pocket tarp or bag liner on the ground.
  2. 2
    Stay dry: Sleeping in a hammock means that you and your gear aren’t touching the ground plus you have protection from the rain because of your tarp, so all remains dry especially if there is a lot of condensation. Those that camp on the ground have to spend more time drying out their gear compared to hikers that sleep on hammocks. Additionally, if there is heavy rain, you can just set up the hammock above them.
  3. 3
    Comfort: As long as you sleep in the right position for a hammock, you can enjoy restful sleep on a hammock each night most especially during the summer. Tents tend to trap body heat in, so a hammock will allow you to stay cool even during warm nights.
  4. 4
    Easy setup and takedown: All you need are two trees, hooks, and posts to setup your hammock. Once you wake up in the morning, simply release them and pack it up.
  5. 5
    Versatility: Hammocks aren’t purely for sleeping; you can also prop it up and relax on it while cooking. It can also be used as a dry bench.

The challenges experienced by hikers when using a hammock are:

  1. 1
    Skill: Setting up a hammock takes practice and some skill. You have to learn about position, tension, and the right angles which can all be rather complex when it’s your first time. If you are using an ultralight hammock, you also need to learn how to tie basic knots. 
  2. 2
    Location: You may have to walk a bit more in order to find the perfect place to setup your hammock. It has to have the right space and proper support.
  3. 3
    Winter conditions: A hammock doesn’t trap body heat, which makes it ideal for use during the summer. But during the winter, it can be extra cold. To solve this, you can use an under quilt or insulated pad.
  4. 4
    Sleeping position: Sleeping on one’s back is the appropriate way to sleep on a hammock. This may present a problem for people who are used to sleeping on their stomachs or on their sides.

Camping Hammock Features and Accessories To Consider for Your Hike

Investing in a good lightweight or ultralight hammock will go a long way, but here are other accessories to consider in order to make your evenings more restful and comfortable:

Hammock Tarps

Having a tarp during your hike will make a huge impact on how happy and comfortable you are. It will protect you from rain, wind, and the sun.

Top quilts

A top quilt makes for efficient distribution of insulation and warmth.

Under quilts

Attach an under quilt to the exterior underside of your hammock to trap warm air and provide insulation from convection.

Bug screens

Bug screens are made of a mesh structure attached to the hammock. They help keep the nasty bugs out while you’re resting.

Sleeping pads

Sleeping pads do a great job at distributing weight while adding insulation to your hammock.

Rain fly

Don’t risk getting yourself or your belongings wet during unexpected heavy showers. A rain tarp gives extra insulation from the cold plus improves coverage from the rain.

The weather during your trail will also play a role in the hammock accessories you should be bringing. For example, if you’re hiking during the warmer summer months, you could forego the under quilt and sleeping pad altogether. Just be prepared for unexpected rain.

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s a good alternative to a hammock when hiking the Appalachian Trail?

Hammocks and tents are both commonly used as a shelter when camping the trail. Each of them have their own advantages and disadvantages, so if you are considering other options aside from a hammock, a tent may be your best bet

Tents provide more coverage than a hammock from snow and rain. It will also keep you warmer since tents trap more heat. You can easily set up camp virtually anywhere on the trail if you bring one along with you. On the other hand, tent stakes and poles are much heavier, and sleeping on the ground can be extremely uncomfortable unless you’re lucky enough to find smooth, flat ground throughout the trail.

There are also some hikers that cowboy camp, which means that they don’t mind sleeping under the stars. For this purpose, you can use nothing else but a tarp. This is common among ultralight packers because it weighs much less than both a hammock and a tent, though you have to make sure you get to a lean-to especially if there is bad weather.

Can you use both a tent and a hammock in the Appalachian Trail?

Absolutely! There is no strict rule stating that you should use the same equipment all throughout the hike. In fact, many hikers begin the journey at the southern terminus using a hammock, and eventually switch to a tent. At the end of the day, it will depend on your hiking style and experience.

Hammock Tent Recommendations for the Appalachian Trail

Check out these great examples of camping hammocks best suited for the Appalachian Trail. They are also available online and on Amazon:

- Everest Double Camping Hammock
- Lawson Hammock Blue Ridge Camping Hammock
- Ridge Outdoor Gear Camping Hammock