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If you’re looking for a more comfortable hammock experience then you need to learn more about hammock ridgelines. There are many different ridgelines but what we are discussing today specifically is the types of ridgelines that you may need to correctly hang and support all the hammock gear correctly.
The main ridgeline is a cord that is tied between the two ends of a gathered-end hammock, to provide a perfect amount of sag in your hammock for optimal comfort. This helps ensure the hammock itself doesn’t hold the load of the weight, instead offloads to the structure itself.
Without using a ridgeline, your hammock may be much less comfortable. In this article, we’ll discuss what a hammock ridgeline is and how to use it properly for the best possible results in relaxation and sleep.
What are the main types of ridgelines for a hammock?
There are three types of ridgelines you can use when setting up your hammock, you can use a structural ridgeline, a non-structural ridgeline, and the final is a continuous ridgeline.
Each ridgeline has a specific purpose to help make your hammock setup as comfortable and sturdy as possible.
Structural Ridgelines (SRL)
A structural ridgeline is a piece of cord that helps you to hang your gathered-in hammock in sub-optimal areas where trees are not spaced out as you may have wanted. An SRL allows the hammock to still maintain the right sag to allow for a flat lie without feeling the extra tension.
These also allow for many extras to be added to your hammock like a ridgeline organizer, gear pouches, or other long lists of ridgeline accessory options, the SRL is a good thing to add to a hammock if they don’t come with one by default.
These are made using adjustable cordage, like a whoopie sling or universal constrictor rope (UCR) to allow easy changes in length to adapt to your needs.
This allows for much more ease to get the perfect match to any tree setup you can get in place and still have the comfort of a good sag.
A fixed ridgeline is exactly what it sounds like, a fixed-length cord running from one side to the other on the hammock which works in nearly all circumstances, many hammocks come with a fixed ridgeline already in place.
These are not structurally necessary for the hammock itself to hang, so this would be what many call a tarp ridgeline and these can be used as additional lines to hold anything you need like for clothes hanging, or for other needs or uses.
So where the structural ridgeline is part of the hammock connecting the ends of it to the main straps a non-structural ridgeline has no direct connection to your hammock set up and can be used for many needs.
A continuous ridgeline, or CRL, allows you to more easily center your tarp over your hammock placement without having to tie and untie hardware and knots.
This is done by the hardware you use and the way you set up adjustable knots and lines which then are set once and afterward just allow you the ability to slide the tarp over the top of the hammock as needed.
Do I Need a Ridgeline?
As a requirement, no, there is no specific need for you to HAVE a ridgeline, but if you want to be as comfortable as possible, and have all the features available to you, then yes, a hammock ridgeline is what you need.
The ridgeline enforces the shape you want to have in the hammock itself to lend you the best lie possible, this will then grant you the best sleep possible, and sleep leads to better recuperation which you will need on a thru-hike.
You may think of the extra weight as unnecessary but I can tell you the ounce for that line to run will pay off day after day as you get better sleep without the toss and turns others will have when skipping using a ridgeline.
Why You May Need a Ridgeline
The one core issue you will experience along any trail will be finding trees that are the right distance apart for your hammock to set up perfectly without issue, this will be even more difficult if you travel with a group and skip established shelter areas.
A ridgeline helps you manage the distance between trees that would normally inhibit proper optimal camping hammocks. These then allow your hammock body to still sag perfectly for perfect rest, this is the vital part of good rest with a hammock.
Let’s take a deeper look into the benefits of using a ridgeline so that you can weigh yourself whether the extra ounce for a ridgeline would be worth it to you on your next trek.
Benefits to a Hammock Ridgeline
So if you are thinking that maybe a ridgeline is for you but you need to be sold a bit more about why you should, let’s jump into the benefits of having a hammock ridgeline are:
Get the Perfect Sag
Managing the right sag on your hammock is what will make or break your comfort in it, this is what the ridgeline does for you, it helps give you that perfect amount of sag.
You can control how much sag by creating a structural ridgeline which will allow you to set up your lines and get just the right feel for what YOU need to be comfortable.
Hang Better in Poorly Distanced Trees
There will always be times when you need to set up your hammock in places where trees will be further apart than you would want them to be to achieve the right hang and hammock sag.
A ridgeline helps to keep your hammock at the right sag no matter the angle and distance the straps are pulled out.
Reduces Pressure on Your Hammock Material
One thing you definitely do not need on the trail is to have the hammock itself tear due to the weight being too much to hold on its own, a ridgeline takes this pressure on instead of placing it on the hammock.
Hold Your Bug Net
Your ridgeline can help lift your bug net which will get it off your face and give you some more headroom as you sleep as no one needs to have the net ride too close!
Keep Your Gear More Organized
Your ridgeline can also hold gear lofts for you allowing easy headlamp use and access, to toiletries, and other needed items within your arm’s reach without having to find them in a backpack at night.
As you can see, there are plenty of benefits to using a hammock ridgeline and very few reasons not to use one so on your next hike be sure to include this key piece!
Where Do You Connect a Hammock Ridgeline?
Understanding how to properly connect your ridgeline is important as you do not want it coming undone in the night and leaving you uncomfortable.
Connecting a Structural Ridgeline
This will connect from one end of your hammock to the other end and is what will give you the ability to adjust your sag.
You will want to use a simple knot, such as a taut-line hitch, which is adjustable and can be easily adjusted as needed without having to redo the entire thing.
Connecting a Non-Structural Ridgeline
These will be anchored to two trees typically and will support your tarp and miscellaneous gear items.
You will want to use a more secure knot for these, such as a trucker’s hitch knot, but many of these choices may depend on the hardware you have bought.
How To Create a Hammock Structural Ridgeline
A lot of creating a ridgeline when your hammock doesn’t have one is understanding the cordage options and their strength along with getting the right length created to provide you that perfect sag when under tension, so how long should a hammock ridgeline be?
The standard I have read is to be 83% of the hammock length. This means the cord running between your hammock ends needs to be about 83% of the length of the hammock. So an 11-foot hammock would have an approximately 109-inch long structural ridgeline.
From this point, you wouldn’t want to cut the cord yet to allow you to test and make sure that this works for you as some find that an inch or two more or less provides them a better flat lie for them.
So what kind of cordage options would be best, many may think of paracord or other familiar cords you do need to be wary as you need a cord that can support the weight you will apply to it, so what cord should you use for a hammock ridgeline?
Amsteel is a synthetic fiber that has high abrasion resistance, does not absorb water so it won’t stretch when wet, and has a break strength of 725kg which is incredibly high outside of Spectra.
Dynaglide cord is a great material for those who want an even lighter and more compact hammock as it is made from Dyneema just like Amsteel.
It also has a very high break strength of around 453kg which is more than what you will need but does come at the cost of being more expensive.
Spectra is a really strong and very light synthetic fiber that is used in a lot of different ways including fishing lines, kites, and now hammock ridgelines.
It has an even higher break strength than Amsteel with the 1/8th cord breaking around 816kg which is way more than what you need but can be great if you want or need a super strong option.
Zing-It is something I have been thinking about for use on my hammock ridgelines as it is a little cheaper than some of the other options along with having a high break strength of around 227kg for 1.75mm cordage.
I also like that it’s really easy to work with, and can be easily tied into knots.
I would say if you are just hanging up some gear or the line will be non-structural in purpose then go ahead and bring some paracord to use. Just for awareness please be aware that paracord is somewhat stretchy and this can get worse when wet which does not want you would want for a tarp or rain protection.
If you’re using a non-structural ridgeline that doesn’t need to support your weight, you may opt for a lightweight paracord. However, this might be a bit stretchy for a structural ridgeline, especially when wet.
I found a good resource on tying knots which I have been learning from below:
What Happens If I Choose Not to Use a Ridgeline?
If you decide to forgo a structural ridgeline, you may find that your comfort level declines unless you can find that perfect hang between the perfect set of trees leading you to a less enjoyable experience overall.
Impact on Hammock Sag and a More Flat Lay
This is the biggest issue with avoiding a structural ridgeline, on a thru-hike finding the perfect match of trees is not going to be easy nor simple, you are moving non-stop from one site to the next, and once you hit tired you will want to be done moving, not searching for a place that will work.
No Way to Hang Ridgeline Tools
You have everything you want and need in your backpack but when sleeping and you need something it is nice to have it in the hammock with you, if you leave the hammock you lose all the warmth you have stored up.
Another thing here would be that the cat hole trowel and TP can be in your hammock with a gear loft which allows for fast access in an emergency situation, you don’t want to get out of the hammock and then find your pack and start digging when an emergency is hitting!
Quick Tips For Your Ridgeline
Here are some quick nuggets on managing a ridgeline:
Leave Your Structural Ridgeline Attached
There is very little weight in the cord staying in place and this allows you to set up the next time with much more speed and efficiency. Try not to remove it unless it breaks or is wearing out.
Use of Adjustable Ridgelines
When possible try to make your ridgelines adjustable, this will save you a lot of time and fiddling around when trying to find the perfect hang.
Ridgeline Should Be Flexible and Not Taut
You want the ridgeline to have tension but it needs to still have some movement available as this will help aid in comfort overall.
Check for Fraying and Wear
Before and after each use, it is a good idea to check the condition of your cordage. Make sure there are no frays or weak spots that could lead to breakage.
If you see any damage, replace the cord before using it.
Final Thoughts on Hammock Structural Ridgelines
Setting up your hammock ridgeline correctly will allow you to have much better and unfettered sleep while out on the trail.
If you want to get into a comfortable and flat position, consider using a structural hammock ridgeline that can be set up quickly with little fuss and left in place.
Let me know in the comments what your experience has been like using a hammock ridgeline and what benefits or challenges you have found.