During my thru-hike I started with a tent, switched to a hammock, and ended without a form of shelter. At the beginning of the trail I had a two-person, 5-pound tent. I already owned it, and I didn’t want to spend any money on a new shelter. I carried my 5-pound tent all the way to Pennsylvania. My parents came to visit me there, took pity on me, and drove me to the Baltimore REI to replace my gear. I picked out an ENO hammock, and I absolutely loved it. I carried it all the way to Maine. I mailed it home in Monson because I was heading into the 100-Mile Wilderness and my pack was heavier than it had ever been. For the last section of the trail, I just shelter hopped.
There are pros and cons to each form of shelter. I’m still not entirely sure which I like better, but I do know the pros and cons of each option.
- Tents do an excellent job protecting you from rain and snow.
- Your body heat gets trapped inside the tent, keeping you extra warm.
- It’s pretty easy to find tent sites anywhere along the trail.
- Tents are quick and easy to set up.
- Tent poles and stakes add extra weight.
- You’re sleeping on the ground, so it’s going to be uncomfortable.
- Hammocks are really comfortable. When I had my ENO hammock, I got my best sleep on the trail.
- They’re lightweight.
- You can throw a bug net over top for the middle of summer, and you can hang a tarp over head for when it rains.
- They’re great for hot, summer months because your body heat doesn’t get trapped inside.
- Theirs no room to keep your gear inside of the hammock with you.
- You need trees to set it up.
- If it rains really hard, you’ll probably get wet, even if you have a tarp.
- Hammocks aren’t great for cold weather, because they don’t trap body heat.
No Shelter, or Just a Tarp
- You have a very light pack.
- You can cowboy camp a lot, meaning just sleep under the stars. Many hikers prefer cowboy camping.
- You have to make it to a lean-to if the weathers bad.
- You can’t start the trail without shelter. There’s too many people on the trail in Georgia, and you probably won’t get a spot in a lean-to if it’s raining.
I enjoyed your comments comparing tents and hammocks. My only comment would be that an Eno is a very basic hammock, designed for short-term use in favorable conditions. A higher quality hammock/tarp/quilt/underquilt system would keep you dry in wet weather and warm in the coldest temperatures and, as you said, give you the best sleep you’ve had on the trail.
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hammockforums.net has loads of great information on hammock camping if anyone wants to learn more.
Very well thought out pro’s and con’s.
Having a really bad back I have always wondered how a hammock would work out but I am very hesitant to make the purchase, what would you recommend for a first time hammock user that wouldn’t break the bank?
Well the ENO hammocks are the least expensive, but they don’t include a tarp or ropes to hang it. Hennessey Hammocks have a setup that includes everything you need, and they’re supposed to offer the most support.
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thanks for the post! I’m considering a hammock for my thru hike and it really helped me. but what did you do (or other hikers did) with your backpack at night while it was raining?
thanks for the post! I’m thinking about a hammock for my thru hike and your post really helped me! but what did you or other hikers do with your backpack at night when it was raining?
Hi Sandra! Good question. If I was camping at a shelter, I just stored my pack in the shelter while I slept. If it was light or moderate rain, my pack was normally fine under my hammock/ tarp. On nights with crazy rain and no shelter, you can just keep your pack in the hammock with you under your feet. It’s a bit uncomfortable, but it’s only for one night.
Keep your pack in a garbage bag. Everything will stay nice and dry.
Hi Megan, I’m planning on hiking a section of the AT this summer from NY to Maine starting in Mid-June. I was hoping to use a Hennessy Hammock however I didn’t realize how expensive it would be for an under quilt, considering I’ll probably still need either a top quilt or sleeping bag as well. What kind of insulation system were you using with your hammock, and did you find it warm enough most nights? Should I be prepared for temperatures below 10 degrees, or even down to zero (50 and 30 Fahrenheit) at that time of year? I’ve really enjoyed reading your blog, and it was a big part of what inspired me to commit to doing this hike. Thanks so much for sharing, and I hope you’re able to give me a few (more) tips so I can figure my shelter out.
Hi Aaron, for my hammock set up, I just used a sleeping pad underneath of me for extra warmth and I slept in my sleeping bag. This worked well for me because I didn’t set up my hammock every night and I liked to sleep in the shelters sometimes. If you want a more light weight option, I knew one hiker who used one of those sun reflectors that are for a car’s dashboard. He liked it just fine. Basically, you can get creative and you don’t really need to buy the expensive quilt.
As far as the temperature goes, I can’t really say because I was in the north towards the end of summer. I would just research what the average temperature would be in each state during that time. You might want to have some extra layers mailed to you before you go into the Whites though. The weather can change rapidly there.
Were there sections of the trail where finding trees for the hammock would’ve been a problem? I already own a full hammock kit put together over the years (Eno hammock, Python straps, Hennessy asym fly, independently made underquilt) so the expense is sunk, thank god, now its just a matter of whether I can depend on being able to use it all along the trail. (I live in North Carolina, so trees are a given everywhere but the beach.)
P.S. I love this blog! Its great to get appropriate clothing recommendations, hair care, and advice on dealing with dudes. Thank you!
Hello! You should be set to use your hammock everywhere on the trail. Trees pretty much surround the trail the entire way to Maine. I know quite a few hikers who exclusively used hammocks during their hike.
Yay, thank you! I think I’ll switch out my underquilt for a 3/4 length closed cell pad so that I can sleep in the shelters if its pissing down rain. I really appreciate you!!!