Hammock camping, the BSA way

Girl in hammock

When done correctly, hammock camping can result in a better night of sleep, a lighter backpack, and a smaller impact on the environment. On the other hand, an improper hammock setup can cause an idyllic scene to come crashing down — often literally.

Hammock camping has certain advantages over tents. They can be cooler during the summer due to increased air-flow. They can be more supportive for your back, they don’t disturb the ground cover underneath, they’re lighter than a lot of tents and they can be set up quickly.

Due to an increased interest in hammock camping, the National Scouts BSA Program Committee has issued the following hammock guidelines as part of its most recent program updates.

Read in the instructions to your hammock. Carefully!

Remember the age-old saying, “If all else fails, read the directions?” That applies to hammocks especially. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for maximum and minimum hanging distances — the distances between the solid supports (such as trees) that serve as the anchor points.

If the distance between the anchor points is outside the range specified by the manufacturer, you could stress or overextend the connections.

Securely fasten and check all knots when securing the hammock to the anchor. Inspect the ropes, too, to be sure they’re not frayed. Never use a bungee cord or leftover rope as a substitute — use the original or the manufacturer’s replacement ropes only.

Anchors are important

A hammock’s anchors should always be immovable — never something that can move unexpectedly, like a trailer or vehicle bumper. If you choose to anchor to a tree, first inspect the tree to be sure it’s not dead or otherwise unstable. If the tree has lots of woodpecker holes, broken tops, missing needles or leaves, or eroded ground around the roots, look for another spot.

Check for any elements of the tree that may fall on you, too, such as damaged or dangling branches and animal nests.

A quick look at the weather forecast will let you know if there might be strong winds. Even branches that appear to be strong can easily blow down in a strong wind, putting you at risk. If winds are going to be higher than normal, it’s time to change plans.

Click here to learn more about hazardous trees.

Leave No Trace

When using live trees as anchors, be sure not to damage the outer bark with the hammock mounts. Consider the use of wider straps to disperse the pressure on the bark.

Set it up at the right height

The bottom of the hammock should not be higher than 3 feet off the ground. Never stack hammocks like a bunkbed.

Check the hammock’s weight rating before getting in, as going over that limit can have serious (and painful) consequences — and be sure to test the hammock by leaning on it or sitting in it before adding your full weight.

Speaking of weight limits, single-person hammocks are meant for just that — a single person. Don’t load up your hammock with multiple people, no matter how much fun that sounds.

Check the ground underneath your hammock

Never hang a hammock over water, concrete, a steep drop-off — or anything else that could be dangerous. The ground below your hammock should be as smooth and even as possible and clear of debris.

Have fun … but be responsible

A hammock isn’t meant for horseplay, so no spinning or using it as a slingshot. Never stand in a hammock — that’s a sure way to hurt yourself, not to mention damage the hammock.

Click here for more on hammock camping.


About Aaron Derr 436 Articles
Aaron Derr is the senior editor of Scout Life and Scouting magazines, and also a former Cubmaster and Scouts BSA volunteer.