The arrival of winter doesn’t necessarily mean that camping season is over—it just means you’ll need more specialized gear for the cold.
While many campers enjoy using a four-season tent or a hot tent with a wood burning stove during the winter months, others choose to go with a more minimal approach by using a hammock.
Winter camping with a hammock isn’t exactly for the faint of heart, though—especially in extreme cold.
It is, however, a great ultralight option for backpackers and backcountry travelers alike.
When planning on hammock camping in the winter, it’s important to choose accessory-compatible hammocks, like those with options for a rain fly or tarp, sleeping pad, and under quilt.
This gear will help keep you warm and protected from the elements.
Preventing the gear components of your hammock from freezing
In cold weather, certain types of tarp and hammock gear may be more susceptible to freezing.
Here are some considerations:
Hammock suspension systems, especially those with straps and buckles, may become more rigid in freezing temperatures.
This can make them harder to adjust and may impact their strength.
Straps and suspension systems made from materials that don’t become overly rigid in the cold, such as Dyneema or polyester webbing, can be beneficial.
Look for suspension systems that are easy to adjust even in freezing temperatures, such as buckles that remain pliable.
The fabric of the hammock itself can also be a factor.
Some materials may become stiff and less comfortable in the cold.
Choose hammocks made from materials that remain supple in the cold.
Ripstop nylon or polyester may be more resistant to freezing than some other materials.
Consider hammocks designed with built-in insulation or those that can easily accommodate underquilts and top quilts to provide warmth in cold conditions.
Certain types of cordage, like nylon, can absorb water, and if this water freezes, it can compromise the strength and flexibility of the ropes.
Choose cordage with low water absorption rates to minimize the risk of freezing.
Spectra or Dyneema ropes are examples of materials that repel water well.
Zippers may become more difficult to operate in freezing temperatures. Lubricating zippers with a cold-resistant lubricant can help.
Some gear may also be designed with zippers that resist freezing.
Look for products with zipper garages and lubricated zippers to enhance cold weather performance.
Metal components like buckles, carabiners, and snaps may become colder to the touch and more challenging to manipulate.
Gear with non-corrosive or corrosion-resistant hardware (buckles, carabiners, etc.) may perform better in freezing conditions.
Some tarp materials, like lightweight silnylon, may become stiff and less pliable in freezing temperatures.
This can make them more difficult to set up and take down.
Tarps with reinforced seams and durable stitching are more likely to withstand the stresses of setting up and taking down in cold weather without becoming brittle.
Tarps with coatings, such as polyurethane coatings, may stiffen in the cold.
This could affect their performance and make them more prone to cracking.
Look for tarps made from materials designed to remain flexible in cold conditions.
Some coated fabrics, like silicone-coated nylon, may perform better in freezing temperatures than traditional polyurethane-coated fabrics.
Spot selection and hammock setup
You may need snowshoes or skis and snow trekking poles if there’s a lot of deep snow and snow drifts.
Dealing with snow and ice hazards
When choosing a spot for your winter hammock camping, you want to avoid areas prone to snow and ice falling from trees.
Find a location that’s sheltered from the elements, ideally a dense forest, which will provide protection from snow, sleet, and rain.
You want to avoid open spaces like clearings or glades since they tend to be windier and colder.
Select trees that are sturdy, healthy, and well-spaced (around 12-15 feet apart) to serve as your anchor points for your hammock straps.
When setting up your hammock, always inspect the area around your campsite for ice or snow build-up on trees or branches that could break and fall onto your hammock during the night.
Setting up your tarp shelter properly
You should set up a tarp low and close to your hammock, wrapping it around the tree above your campsite and securing it with sturdy ropes.
First, attach a ridgeline between your chosen trees, above your hammock.
Make sure the ridgeline is taut and secure so it can support the weight of your tarp.
Next, drape your tarp over the ridgeline, ensuring it completely covers your hammock.
To create a more enclosed shelter, you can also hang your tarp in a diamond configuration, with diagonal corners tied to the trees and the other two staked to the ground on either side of your hammock.
You’ll want to angle the tarp so that it sheds snow and rain, and doesn’t let them pool on the surface.
Additionally, if you expect heavy snowfall or strong winds, consider setting up your tarp in a lower configuration, closer to your hammock, for additional protection.
Choosing and using the right insulation techniques
The main advantage of using a hammock while camping is that you’re elevated, so the cold from the ground won’t be transferred to your sleep system.
The downside is that your hammock will be exposed to the cold air.
Using a sleeping pad with your hammock
Using an air mattress or sleeping pad with your hammock can be an excellent way to add insulation and extra comfort.
Go for a mattress or pad with an R-value of at least five, which is ideal for winter temperatures.
You can also stack a mattress and pad to combine their R-values.
Using an underquilt
An underquilt is another effective insulation technique for winter hammock camping.
Hanging beneath your hammock, the underquilt creates a layer of insulation that traps warm air, keeping you cozy even in colder temperatures.
When selecting an underquilt, consider factors such as the insulation material, the temperature rating, and the size to ensure that it fits your hammock and meets your needs for warmth.
Using a top quilt
A top quilt is a versatile insulation option that can help keep you warm during winter hammock camping.
Similar to a sleeping bag but without a back, a top quilt can be draped over you inside the hammock, providing insulation without compressing under your body weight.
This helps to maintain its warmth and effectiveness in cold temperatures.
Pairing a top quilt with an underquilt or sleeping pad can significantly improve your comfort and overall warmth during winter hammock camping.
Proper clothing and layering
Start by wearing a moisture-wicking base layer to keep you dry.
This layer should be followed by an insulating layer, like fleece, to trap warmth.
Remember to wear a hat to prevent heat loss and keep your extremities warm with insulated gloves and socks.
How to remove your boots before getting into the hammock
When you’re ready to get into your hammock, you’ll need to remove your boots, so you don’t track snow or moisture inside. To do this, follow these steps:
- Stand close to your hammock and hold onto the tree straps or suspension system for balance.
- While balancing on one foot, carefully remove your boot and set it down on a mat or tarp near your hammock.
- Put on a pair of dry, warm socks (if not already wearing them) and repeat the process on the other foot.
- Once both boots are removed, carefully climb into your hammock, swinging your legs over, just like you would in warmer weather.
It’s also a good idea to have a small dry bag or waterproof stuff sack inside your hammock to store your wet socks and outer layers.
This will help you keep those items organized, and most importantly, prevent moisture from affecting your warm layers.
Extra winter hammock camping tips
Some campers prefer hammock camping no matter the season, but in winter, it’s important to take some extra precautions.
Here are a few additional tips to keep in mind.
Avoiding snow and ice from collecting in your hammock
When selecting a location for your hammock, look for a spot with natural protection from wind and snow accumulation.
Dense forests or areas near large boulders make great choices.
Make sure your tarp is slanted and taut, so snow will slide off naturally.
Condensation can be a problem when winter hammock camping, as it can make your sleeping area damp and cold.
To reduce condensation, allow for proper airflow around and inside your hammock.
Create space between your sleeping bag and the hammock, which improves ventilation.
A camping pillow can help with this.
Additionally, don’t close off your tarp completely; leave some gaps for air circulation.
Making use of limited space
Hammocks aren’t as spacious as tents, which means you’ll have a lot let space to store gear, clothing, and accessories you’ll want to access to.
When you set up camp, consider using a gear sling or ridgeline organizer to keep essential items close by and off the ground.
Store items in an efficient way by using stuff sacks or dry bags for organization, and place bulky items near the suspension system to save room inside, using carabiners to clip them in place.
More about winter camping:
- How to keep yourself warm while winter camping
- How to keep your face warm while winter camping
- The best places to winter camp in Ontario’s backcountry
Elise is an experienced backcountry canoe tripper and winter camper from Ontario, Canada. She loves cooking up a storm over the campfire, taking in all the backcountry views, and enjoying a piña colada or two while relaxing at camp. She’s also certified in Whitewater Rescue (WWR) I & II and Wilderness First Aid (WFA).