The Realities of Winter Hammock Camping
In the last year, I have been all over the country living in my hammock. I decided to go homeless by choice in August 2017, so that I could be a nomad and live on the move in my favorite hammock system of all time. The Warbonnet Blackbird XLC is by far and away the best overall hammock system in the world in my opinion. I loved it so much, I got rid of my house so I could travel and live in it full time. They even have a new model they just released, in which we will do a write up on later. But the changes made to the Blackbird XLC are exactly what was needed to take the system to the next level.
During these travels, I’ve lived in my hammock in Puerto Rico after the Hurricanes devastated the island. I lived on the front of an airport, to beaches along the coast, to the front porch of buildings. I traveled from a tropical environment to a winter environment and that made a world of difference in how I set up my hammock to endure the weather. We recently camped out in just above zero temperatures in Northern PA and stayed extremely warm in our shelters even in a foot of snow.
Insulating Hammocks in Below Freezing Weather
The main problem with hammock camping in cold weather is the issue with convection underneath you. Wind blowing below you will suck heat away from you quicker than anything else and that is why you must know how to properly setup for winter hammock camping. There are many ways to set up for winter hammock camping conditions, but not all are equal.
Different ways of setup:
- Top Quilt and Underquilt- This is my preferred method for winter hammock camping. But it is also the most expensive and least modular for other uses. The top quilt is only 3/4 of a sleeping bag, eliminating weight from the bag where it isn’t needed. When in a hammock, it does no good to insulate underneath yourself with a typical sleeping bag because the insulation becomes compressed and provides no warmth. That is why an under quilt is so important because it makes up for the lack of insulation underneath you. And since the under quilt isn’t compressed by your body, it will provide substantial warmth. Down is the material of choice for insulation on hammocks, especially if conditions are consistently below freezing. The only time synthetic insulation would be better is if the conditions were constantly wet. Even then most down quilt manufacturers use silicon-treated down these days, so them getting wet is less of an issue than in the past.
- Sleeping Bag and thermal pad- The next best option isn’t as warm, but it allows you to utilize sleeping bags you already own instead of having to purchase quilts that can really only be used for winter hammock camping. The problem with this option is that traditional sleeping bags are difficult to get in and out of in a hammock. The underneath portion of your sleeping bag is useless and a thermal pad is absolutely essential for staying warm. No matter how good your sleeping bag is rated, you will still get cold underneath you without a thermal pad.
- Utilizing Tarps for warmth- One of the most important options for warmth is how you use your tarp. I’m a firm believer in having a tarp that will block the wind and rain from all directions. These triangular or partial coverage tarps aren’t good enough for cold conditions. Because if the wind can blow across your hammock because the tarp doesn’t block it all the way around, you are likely to get cold. The Warbonnet Superfly tarp is the best I’ve seen so far in these types of tarps. It is constructed to act like a tent around your hammock and if you want to block the wind in cold conditions you’ll need to put your tarp flaps all the way to the ground. This will block the wind effectively and make your shelter much warmer.
- Blackbird XLC Top Cover and Under Quilt Cover- Recently Warbonnet changed some aspects of their Blackbird XLC. They added a top cover that can be purchased at any time because they aren’t custom to each hammock anymore. And they also have two vents added to them, which are essential for letting out moisture from your breath. The top cover itself will add around 15 degrees of warmth to your winter hammock system, but the problem with the original design was condensation build up inside the hammock from your breath throughout the night. This was a very big problem before because your breath would freeze to the inside of the hammock, causing your insulation to get wet. They have also designed a new underquilt cover, that is designed to block more wind and help keep your underquilt compressed against the hammock. This was a problem before with any underquilt, because if you moved too much the quilt could slip off. And this new design prevents that as well as adding more wind protection for winter hammock camping.
- Thermal Pads- I truly believe that whether you use a sleeping bag or quilt system, that you truly should use a thermal pad for both setups. Its amazing how much warmth a Therma-rest pad can warm you sleep system up. In fact, I’d say it’s the single most important thing for staying warm when winter hammock camping.
Benefits of Winter Hammock Camping
If you have followed our social media, you know that we are HUGE advocates of winter hammock camping for many reasons. Here the reasons we choose hammocks above other shelters:
- Fast setup and flat ground not needed. You can camp on the side of hill, next to a waterfall, or anywhere you can find trees. There are even ways to setup them up without trees.
- No need to clean the ground up on your site or prepare sleep area.
- Super Lightweight and Packable. The warbonnet blackbird XLC weighs only around 3 lbs for the whole system and more if you add quilts and other accessories.
- SuperFly tarp can be used as a tent if hammock not needed.
- Most comfortable night sleep you can get in the woods. The blackbird XLC forces your body to sleep in an anatomically correct position and has eliminated all my back pain. I’ve considered hanging one in my bedroom when I quit being homeless.
- Lightweight and Packable
- Durable and comfortable- I’ve had the same hammock for 3 years and it has no noticeable wear of any kind, even after living in it full time for the last six months.
Of all the choices available for cold winter camping, hammock camping with quilts is by far and away our favorite. The only downside to hammock camping versus other types of camping is you can’t have a fire next to any hammock system. The material is too lightweight to have a fire anywhere even close to it. We recommend keeping your hammock a minimum of 20 yards away from any fire. Other than the lack of exterior heating capability, the only other downside is you must have trees to hang the hammock. But even if you don’t you can put your superfly tarp straight to the ground and it can double as a floorless tent. All in all, you can’t go wrong with a Warbonnet XLC hammock system. If you can’t afford one, ENOS is a great secondary option. But they aren’t even close in comparison to quality, comfort, or utility uses.