Mar 22 2011

Something for Swingers: Hammocks for Cyclotourists? Why Not?

Whether you’re on the road or not, a good night’s sleep is all-important. Which is why I recently replaced my shorty Therm-a-Rest with a Big Agnes Insulated Air Core mattress. It seemed a good idea at the time. And it still does. But when I wrote up my first impressions of the Big Agnes for, I was surprised by the amount of mail I got around the column. Some correspondents shared my high opinion of the Big Agnes. Others didn’t. And a few made a suggestion I hadn’t seriously considered: Why not try a hammock, they asked? Well, why not, indeed? I’ve slept in hammocks before, and Farwell had an on-again, off-again affair with a GI jungle hammock, back in the day. (The waterproof bottom panel did double duty as an “indoor” pool, he remembers.) Which got me thinking. Had I missed a bet? Let’s list the pros and cons:

Hang High!

  1. Sloping, soggy, or stony ground? That’s no problem in a hammock.
  2. Hammocks are (or can be) lightweight—lighter than any tent—and…
  3. They pack mighty small.
  4. They exemplify no-trace philosophy, too. (But be sure to pad the ropes!)
  5. If you’re bothered by the thought of things that go bump in the night, a hammock can lift you out of their path. Unless you’re in big cat (or big snake) country, that is.
  6. There’s no better way to blend in. If your hammock is green or brown, it’ll be hard for passersby to tell where the trees end and the hammock begins.
  7. Tight budget? There’s a hammock to suit every purse. You can even make your own.
  8. Hammocks are downright comfortable. For some. Better find out if this means you, though, before you buy.


Swing Low

  1. You need someplace to hang your hammock. If there aren’t any trees or other convenient anchoring points, or if they’re too far apart, or if the site regulations prohibit hammocks outright, you’ll be sleeping on the ground.
  2. Speaking of trees… Sometimes they come crashing down. In the night. When you’re asleep. If this happens to one of the trees supporting your hammock, you’re in for a rude awakening. If you’re lucky. Are you feeling lucky?
  3. Is it raining? Then you’ll need a tarp over you. And you’ll probably have to tweak the rig every time the wind shifts. (Memo from Farwell: Don’t buy a waterproof hammock. It makes the worst kind of water bed.)
  4. Storms can be scary. Even if no dead limbs fall on you, the swaying may make you seasick. And a coffin-sized cell seems darned cramped after eight hours or so.
  5. Bzzz… Mosquitoes and other bloodsuckers love to hang out with folks in hammocks. Netting is a must in bug season.
  6. Too cold for bugs? Then you‘ll probably be cold. Unless you put a pad under your sleeping bag, that is. But this adds both weight and bulk.
  7. Sleeping in a hammock is easy. Living in one is hard. Getting dressed, eating, going over your maps… That’s when you’ll miss your tent most.
  8. You can’t easily bring you bike (or your gear) into your hammock with you. So you’ll need a tarp as well. More weight and bulk.
  9. Privacy? No way! Better eat your Powdermilk biscuits. Hammocks are not for shy people.
  10. You don’t like sleeping alone? Than you’ll need to plan ahead.
  11. Hammocks are downright uncomfortable. For some. Better find out if this means you, though, before you buy.


Bottom line? The lows outnumber the highs, at least in my estimation. But every camper has to strike his or her own balance. And hammocks have a lot of fans, especially among weight-conscious cyclotourists who frequent well-wooded areas and don’t expect to be hit by many storms. Will I try one? We’ll see. I must admit I’m tempted. So stay tuned.

For an earlier take on hammocks from my column, see “Hanging Out in a Hammock.”

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