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How Do I Hang My Hammock?

Table of Contents
  1. Introduction
  2. Cord-Based Systems
  3. Webbing-Based Systems
  4. Advanced Hanging Techniques


Photo by FreeTheWeasel

1. Introduction.
Now that you have your hammock, you have to hang it. But what's the best way? Should you go with the stock method that came with your system? Should you just slap some webbing on there and wrap it around the tree? What's the lightest method? What's the most convenient? There's no right answer to these questions, of course...it all depends on your priorities for what you want from your system. This page gives an overview of several available options. It isn't all-inclusive, but it does provide enough considerations, pics and links to get you started. Let's begin with a definition:
The purpose of hammock suspension is to support the hammock safely without damaging the environment. Everything else - low weight, bulk, complexity and expense - are secondary concerns.

Now let's break this apart:

  • Support the Hammock... The suspension has to keep the hammock off the ground. This brings a few requirements, and there are options for each that will be discussed below.
    • The suspension must connect to the hammock.
    • The suspension must connect to the trees (or whatever you're hanging from).
    • Since the trees won't always be the same distance apart, the system should be flexible enough to cover a wide range of hanging sites.
  • ...Safely... Hammocks can put hundreds of pounds of force on each support. It isn't simply your weight divided by two...it's a trigonometry function where the cord or webbing is the hypoteneus of a triangle. Using the angle of the support to true horizontal, the force on the support is: h = (.5 x user weight) / sin(support angle). This also brings a few requirements:
    • The suspension must be strong enough. Be very careful using cord or webbing that doesn't list a working load or breaking strength. The lowest acceptable range is generally 700 lbs, and some people will not use less than 1000lbs breaking strength. Do not use 550 cord (parachute cord). I've broken 550 cord twice using it on a hammock, and I cut it directly off a parachute so I know it's the real thing.
    • The correct knots/lashings must be used. Knots can significantly reduce the strength of cord and webbing. Some knots reduce the strength more than others, and certain knots are designed specifically for webbing. Additionally, some knots will bind when they're weighted and you'll have to cut the support to get the hammock down. So pick non-binding knots or lashings when you choose your system.
    • The tree must be strong enough. Trees 6" in diameter are usually strong enough to support a hammocker. Make sure the tree is alive and there are no widow-makers nearby. Some trail shelters are capable of supporting a hammocker...others are not. People have torn door frames out of their homes, pulled their walls out of square and ripped garage door supports from the ceiling by hanging their hammocks from them. Learn from their mistakes.
  • ...Without Damaging the Environment. Given the force on a hammock support, the wrong cord can easily damage a tree. In extreme cases, this could even girdle the tree and cause it to die. This is obviously bad for the environment, and it can encourage restrictive regulations at government-owned that prohibit anything from being tied to trees. Fortunately, this has an easy solution...use tree huggers or webbing on the tree. Anything that spreads the force across a larger surface area lessens the impact on the tree. If hammockers can limit the impact on the trees, a hammocking site is generally more Leave No Trace compliant than a tent or tarp site because we don't flatten the ground.

Secondary Concerns. Once the primary considerations for the hammock suspension are covered, it's time to consider the details of your system. This is where the trade-offs start - more convenience usually means more weight, bulk and complexity. Carabiners are a good example of this - it's much quicker to wrap the webbing around a tree and click the biner on than to use the Hennessy Lash...but a load-bearing carabiners weighs over an ounce each. On a thru-hike, that's 2-4 extra ounces for a couple thousand miles. Only you can decide if that's worth it.

Materials are another consideration. Suspension is usually made from low-memory stretch cord like Spectra or polyester or polypropylene webbing. Low-memory stretch means that, once the material is stretched out from you laying in it, it doesn't remember how to pull back to its original position...it stays stretched out so your hammock doesn't end up on the ground every morning. High-memory stretch material like nylon pulls back to its original position...so you'll end up hanging much lower every morning than you started the previous night. Paracord (550 cord) is made from nylon so it can stretch to absorb opening shock...in addition to not being strong enough, it stretches too much to be an effective hammock support. Slap Straps by Eagles Nest Outfitters are currently made from nylon...many hammockers have tried and discarded this approach because of this. If you like the system, make your own from polyester or polypro webbing.

Two Key Decisions. There are two key decisions to make for your suspension.

  • Will you use cord or webbing? Webbing is generally heavier and bulkier, but can be simpler to make and use. Cord is lighter and has less bulk, but also means using tree huggers and knowing how to lash them correctly.
  • Will you use hardware? Ring buckles, cinch buckles, figure nines, etc - all can make setup and teardown very quick and easy, but also introduce more complexity, more parts to fail, more weight and more bulk.

Each of these will be discussed in the following sections.

2. Cord-Based Systems.
Cord-based systems use rope or cord to connect the hammock to the tree. As discussed above, some method must be used to ensure the system does not damage the tree. This is usually tree huggers like the ones included Hennessy Hammocks products. Tree huggers are simply 1-1.5" wide lengths of webbing with loops at each end. The length needed depends on how big the trees are where you hike. You can get longer tree huggers as an option on the Hennessy website, from Strapworks, or make your own.
I needed longer huggers so I made the ones on the right. I used 1" nylon webbing for a finished length of 52". The stock Hennessy tree huggers (Backpacker model) are on the left for comparison. Ignore the no-tail cat.

Nylon is ok to use for huggers because there isn't much room to stretch (compared to the full length of the support).

Sometimes I'll take one long hugger and one short hugger so I'm more prepared for bigger trees. Other times, I'll just bring an extra hugger so I can combine it with whichever end needs more length. Instructions for that here.

2.1. Connecting Cordage to Hammock
This picture of a Hennessy Explorer Ultralight shows an example of permanently attached systems. These aren't designed to be changed, but many people do change them. Under the cover the hammock is whipped, with a special way to attach the structural ridgeline.
A larkshead or girth hitch is one of the simplest methods of attaching webbing or cord to a hammock. See the detail below for how to make this system with cords. The weighted hammock keeps the hitch tight.
A double sheetbend is used to connect two lines together, often when they're different sizes. This works well for connecting hammocks to suspension lines, whether it's cord or webbing. This picture shows a slippery double sheetbend on a homemade two-layer hammock, with Spectra as the support. Double sheetbends are advantageous because the hammock doesn't have to be whipped first and, if you make it slippery, it's easy to remove if you want to change something. But they also take more of the hammock's length than whipping and a larkshead. If you plan to use a double sheetbend, add an extra 8-12" to your hammock body length to account for the knot.
You can also run a cord thru a channel sewn into the hem of the hammock. This puts all the force of the support onto a sewn seam, so it seems like it introduces unnecessary risk of failure when there are stronger methods available. Still, some commercial hammocks, like Eagles Nest Outfitters, use this method and I haven't heard of any failures at the channel.
Detail - How to Larkshead Cord to a Hammock
My Spectra supports are just 9' lengths of rope with a bight tied in the end. I attach the support to the hammock as described below, then use tree huggers and the Hennessy lashing (aka lineman's lashing or figure-8 lashing) to attach the support to the tree huggers.

First, tie an overhand knot into a bight of rope.

Second, form a larkshead in the end to slide the hammock into.
Third, slide the hammock end through the loop, ensuring the whipping is on the outside of the Spectra.
Fourth, tighten the rope and you’re done.

Each time you set up the hammock, make sure the Spectra hasn’t slipped over the whipping. Mine is stiff enough that this has never happened.

Although it isn’t cotton, I think the free end near the knot will act as a dripcord for any rain running down the cord.

2.2. Connecting Cordage to Tree
This is the standard Figure-8 Lashing detailed on the Hennessy Hammock stuffsack and website. It's also called a Lineman's Knot or Lash, and hammockers often call it the Hennessy Lash. It's pretty easy to tie once you learn it...much simpler than it appears from this picture. You can see a video of how to tie this on on the Hennessy website and on Shane Steinkamp's page.

The major benefit to this method is weight and simplicity - it's probably the lightest method and it doesn't require any hardware to break or malfunction. The downsides are that it's a bit of a hassle to learn, to make a small adjustment you have to redo the entire lashing, and since the tree huggers are separate they can be forgotten on the tree.

Some folks use carabiners in their setup to make things quicker, at the cost of a little bit of weight. This picture is from a Garda Hitch setup on a Hennessy Hammock, detailed below.

Using carabiners quickens setup, but it can also keep the entire setup in one piece so you don't forget the tree huggers when you break camp.

Here’s another simple way to use a biner. Put a carabiner on the tree huggers, then just a “double slip knot” in the Spectra. It's basically a half-hitch inside a half-hitch. It holds and it’s quicker to tie and adjust than the Hennessy hitch.
Detail - Combining Tree Huggers
Sometimes you get to a campsite and the perfect trees are a little bigger than the tree huggers will fit. In this case, if you've brought an extra hugger you can combine the two into one long strap so it'll fit...and you don't need an additional gear to do it (like a carabiner). I often combine straps like this when I'm hanging my son's hammock next to mine from the same tree.
First, set the two huggers side by side. Here, the Hennessy is the black one on the left and my homemade one is the dark green one on the right.
Thread the green one through the loop on the end of the black one.
Thread the other end of the black one through the loop on the green one.
Pull it tighter.
And it should look like this when it's finished.

These pull pretty tight when you put weight on them so it can be a bit of a hassle to get them apart, but it's not too bad.

2.3. Garda Hitch with Ring Buckles
One difficulty in hanging a hammock, especially for newbies, is making sure it is hung with the the right tension and is centered between the trees. With lashing and webbing wraps, a small adjustment requires completely redoing the suspension. Ring buckles, with webbing or cord, allow adjustments with very little effort. When using cord with ring buckles, the Gard Hitch aka Alpine Clutch connects the cord to the rings. Simply pull on the free end to tighten the hammock, and spread the rings apart or misalign them to loosen.

There are several ways to add rings to a hammock to use the Garda Hitch. I have pics of a few of the methods below...have a look and hopefully you'll find it useful in creating your own system. FYI - there are several Garda Hitch threads on Hammock Forums...here's one.

Here's a very easy way that I use for my DIY hammocks.

  1. Get the hammock, one Air Core Plus adaptor for each end, two descending rings for each end, a length of spectra for the main support, and the tree hugger. I also use a carabiner on the tree hugger.
  2. Tie and overhand-on-a-bight on each end of the Air Core Plus.
    • One loop should be 3-4" long...this one will be larksheaded around the rings.
    • The other end can have a smaller loop...this will be larksheaded to the hammock.
    Now you have the hammock, then a larkshead to the Air Core Plus, then a larkshead to the rings.
  3. Secure the cord to the tree hugger. I just tie an overhand-on-a-bight to one end, then clip the biner to one loop on the hugger and to the cord.
  4. Run the cord thru the rings for the Garda Hitch, and you're done with that end.
  5. Repeat steps 2-4 on the other end and you're done making the system.
  6. Now all the pieces should be connected as one unit. To set up the hammock, just wrap a hugger around the tree and clip it in. Go clip the other side. Adjust the hitch to tension the hammock how you like it, and...
  7. Relax!
Ring buckles attached to a Hennessy without making any permanent mods. The rings are clove hitched to the stock Hennessy spectra support. Instructions here.
Same as above, expect it has a prussik adaptor instead of clove hitch. Still no permanent mods to the HH. Instructions on same page as above.
Here's an option to put ring buckles on the tree hugger. This allows you to use the Garda Hitch on the HH without any mods, and is a very easy way to add rings to a DIY hammock. Just larkshead the spectra to the hammock as shown above, put the rings on the huggers (instructions here), and hang your hammock.
You can also use ring buckles with a Garda Hitch or with webbing on a bridge hammock. This is the JRB Bear Mountain Bridge Hammock (BMBH). I connected the spectra to the ring on the top of the hammock's suspension triangle with a larkshead, then ran the webbing to the ring buckles attached to the tree hugger as shown here.

You can also put the ring buckles at the tip of the suspension triangle if you want to modify your BMBH or make your own DIY bridge. See the Grizzly Adams pictures in the webbing section for more details on this.

3. Webbing-Based Systems.
Webbing systems can be the simplest suspension to make if you connect directly to the hammock and use the 4-Wrap lashing. Adding in some hardware - like ring buckles, cinch buckles, tri-glides - can make it much more convenient to use, and it is still simple because there are no tree huggers to worry about. Webbing does tend to weigh more and be bulkier than comparable cord-based systems.

Some random notes:

  • Webbing should have a minimum working load of 700 lbs. Ed Speer, Strapworks, and several other online vendors carry suitable webbing. I strongly recommend against using webbing that doesn't clearly list a working load or breaking strength.
  • Get polyester or polypropylene webbing since it's low-memory stretch. Nylon webbing will stretch too much.
  • You don't need tubular climbing webbing. It weighs too much and it's usually made of nylon anyway.
  • Use X-boxes or bar tacks to sew loops in the ends of webbing, and always use 100% polyester thread. Cotton, even cotton blends, will decay with outdoor use.
  • If you use knots, be sure to pick one that's suitable for webbing. Webbing is designed to handle the load across its entire width, and the wrong knot can put too much stress on one edge...if that edge fails, it will rip across the entire width.
3.1. Connecting Webbing to Hammock
As I said above, I think the larkshead or girth hitch is one of the simplest methods of attaching webbing or cord to a hammock. For webbing, I have a sewn loop in one end and I just run the free end thru the loop to create the girth hitch that cinches down on the hammock. The weighted hammock keeps the hitch tight.
In his book Hammock Camping, Ed Speer recommends this method for attaching the webbing. After gathering the hammock ends, tie the end of the hammock in an overhand knot. Then wrap the webbing around the hammock and sew a loop into the webbing, small enough that the overhand knot can't slip thru. This method is easy and reliable, and the knot takes the place of whipping. But it is difficult more difficult than the other methods to undo if you want to make changes.
As mentioned in the cord section, the double sheetbend is a popular way to attach the supports. You don't need whipping with this method, and it's pretty easy to undo if you want to make changes if you use a slippery double sheetbend, as pictured.
You can also connect webbing thru a channel sewn to the end of the hammock, like the Crazy Creek pictured here. Two downsides I find with this method...first, all the force of the support is transfered to the seam on the sewn channel. This seems like an unnecessary risk to introduce when there are stronger and lighter methods available. Second, the Crazy Creek method means running two lengths of webbing to the tree, which nearly doubles the weight of the suspension system.
If you like this method, I suggest running the webbing thru the channel and forming a larkshead right at the channel. Then the support only has one piece of webbing running to the tree, which saves weight and complication.
3.2. Connecting Webbing to Tree

Running Thru Sewn Loop

Biner on Sewn Loop

The Speer 4-Wrap method is useful for webbing with a free end that doesn't use any hardware. You basically wrap the webbing around the tree several times, and each wrap add surface area to create the friction that holds the hammock up. You have to alternate directions by wrapping around the support end...it's pretty easy and Risk has excellent directions here.

The major advantage to this setup is that there are no moving parts to malfunction...it's very simple. The downsides to this method are that it isn't as easy to adjust as the others and a lot of webbing means more weight than a simple cord/hugger system (but still comparable to hardware-based systems).

The ideal for a 4-Wrap is to get ~4 wraps, but as long as you get enough friction it doesn't really matter how many you get. This one has about 2-1/2 wraps, but since it's a big tree it had plenty of friction to hold me up. You can finish a 4-Wrap with a half-hitch to the support, or just tuck it under one of the wraps like this.
3.3. Ring Buckles on Webbing
Ring buckles were one of the first DIY systems to make hammock suspension adjustable. It had been talked about on the Yahoo hammockcamping group for a while, but TeeDee's thread on Sgt Rock's HikingHQ is what finally convinced me to order the parts. The ring buckles are one of the most useful systems I've found, but I mainly use them with cord and the Garda Hitch now.

The concept behind ring buckles is simple - connect to rings together using a larkshead, and run the hammock support thru the rings just like an old fashioned belt or a motorcycle helmet. With strong enough webbing, the rings should create enough friction to hold a hammocker securely. I use 1" polypro webbing from Speer Hammocks and 4 x SMC Descending Rings with 1.5" internal diameter. SMC rings are available from many climbing shops, including REI. I connect the rings to the hammock with Air Core Plus from backpackinglight.com. See my step-by-step instructions if you want to make your own.

Discuss this project on the Ring Buckle Supports thread at HammockForums.net.
Here's a picture of SMC descending rings as buckles, using Air Core Plus with larksheads at both ends to attach the rings to the hammock, and Ed Speer's 1" polypro webbing supporting the hammock from the tree.

Photo by slowhike
Some people say the webbing slips thru the ring buckles, and usually lowers them slowly to the ground. Putting a simple half-hitch in the webbing right behind the rings stops the webbing from slipping. This takes about 2 seconds and the system is still very easy to adjust...just pull the free end and the half-hitch slips right out for you to make the adjustment.

I've only had the webbing slip when it wasn't lined up correctly. If I take care to keep the webbing lined up thru the rings it's always held me steady.


Photo by Miu
Some people want to try the ring buckles before they permanently modify their hammock by cutting off the spectra. This picture shows how Miu attached ring buckles to her Hennessy to test out the buckles.
Here is a ring buckle set on a JRB Bear Mountain Bridge Hammock (BMBH). I just put the rings on a tree hugger as shown here, then ran the stock BMBH webbing thru the rings. I didn't make any permanent modifications to the BMBH but I did need a tree hugger...these don't come with the BMBH so you can make your own or get them from a Hennessy.

Photo by Grizzly Adams
If you like this system, you can permanently modify your bridge hammock by putting the descending rings at the tip of the bridge's suspension triangle. This picture shows Grizzly Adams' DIY bridge with ring buckles. He's using webbing but the Garda Hitch will work just as well in this mode if you want to use cord.

Photo by Grizzy Adams
Here's a close-up of the ring buckles on Grizz's bridge. The outer two pieces of cord are from the suspension triangle, and the middle one is for the ridgeline.
3.4. Cinch Buckles on Webbing
Cinch buckles are another way to quickly adjust webbing suspension. Crazy Creek uses these buckles on their webbing, but I didn't like how their webbing system worked so I got some more buckles and made my own using a webbing adaptor. Blackbishop made some without a webbing adaptor and I like these better, if the cord is stiff enough to keep the buckle aligned.

Lots of hammockers prefer cinch buckles over ring buckles, even though they weigh a little more, because they never slip, the webbing doesn't misalign, and you don't need a half-hitch to back it up. Although I've never slipped with the ring buckles when the webbing was aligned, the cinch buckles seem a little more foolproof.

Discuss this project on the Cinch Buckles thread at HammockForums.net
This picture shows how I like the cinch buckle setup. I tie some Spyderline into a loop, then use a double-wrapped larkshead around the buckle. Then I add another larkshead to secure it to the hammock. When used with a biner on the tree, I never have to separate any of the pieces so I don't have to worry about leaving a strap behind, and setup/teardown is as quick as clicking two biners around the webbing.

Photo by angrysparrow
Here's a closeup of the cinch buckle showing how the extra wraps keep the buckle aligned by not giving any room for the buckle to slip sideways.

These buckles can be bought from onerope1.com - Cinch 1".

This is the first version I made, using a webbing adaptor to keep the buckle aligned. Step-by-step instructions here.
3.5. Tri-Glides on Webbing

Photo by cgul
Tri-Glides are a JacksRBetter product that allows use of 1" webbing without having to remove any pieces or adding the weight of rings or buckles. The webbing still has to be threaded thru the tri-glides for each setup so it isn't quite as quick as rings or cinch buckles, but at only 22 grams a set this is an excellent combination of simplicity, adjustability and weight.

4. Advanced Hanging Techniques.
4.1. Two Hammocks Under One Tarp

Photo by Seuss
One of the most often heard complaints about hammocking is the difficulty in group camping. It's certainly easier to hang a single hammock under a single tarp, but with some creativity two campers can sleep under a single tarp. Here Seuss shows how two hammocks can share a single tree for one support and different trees for the other...usually the head end to keep the shoulders separated more. This often requires a bigger tarp to get adequate storm coverage.
While the pic above has the hammock tied to two different trees, I usually wrap my hammock off of one side of the tree and my son's hammock off the other side of the same tree. It's enough separation for us to be comfortable and I'm close enough to check on him during the night...make sure he's on his insulation, not sweating, etc. This picture is Joker and me at the 2007 Mt Rogers Hangout under a MacCat Standard tarp.
Here's a picture of Ed Speer's double hammock stand from the Sept 2006 SEHHA hangout in Hot Springs, NC.

Photo by FreeTheWeasel
FreeTheWeasel demonstrates how to hang two hammocks vertically on the same tree. If the tarp is big enough to provide coverage and you can get in, do what works!
4.2. Hanging in Trail Shelters
Hanging in shelters can be just as convenient for a hammocker as for a ground dweller, but it's important to remember the forces the supports can exert on the shelter's walls. If the shelter looks rickety, don't hang. And if it looks like it can support you, pick your supports carefully and listen for creaks.

You should also be aware of what other hikers think about it...it's a pretty controversial topic on WhiteBlaze.net. The big thing is that you're not only putting your own safety at risk...if the shelter fails you hurt them as well, and the maintenance crew has to come build a new one, etc.

One advantage to others when you hang in a shelter, though, is that you're not taking up the floor space. No one may want to hang below you, but at least they can put a pack under you and you're not breathing in each others' faces.

Clark Hammock in an AT Shelter
Photo by Hikerhead

HHs in Tri-Corner Knob Shelter, GSMNP
Photo by Repeat

4.3. Hanging with Rock Climbing Gear.

Photo by nigelp
Some locations don't have many trees to hang from, so rock climbing nuts and cams can open up a whole new set of possible hanging sites. In this picture NigelP hangs with rock climbing gear. Check this HF thread for more discussion.

Photo from nigelp
Another view of niglep's setup.

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