When you are looking to thru-hike a trail, regardless of the length you are trying to optimize your backpack kit to be small, lightweight, and full functioning.
On a more extended thru-hike, you will face low and high temperatures and very mixed weather which can include freezing snow and roasting heat.
One thing I enjoy about hammocking is its tremendous ability to adapt to the needs of each night of hammock camping, providing the hiker with a versatile and adaptable setup.
Below I will go over the main items ultralight backpackers use when hammocking and some specific product suggestions to help you build your own ultralight thru-hike hammock kit as pack weight reigns supreme in thru-hikes.
Reasons Why an Ultralight Hammock Kit is Essential on a Thru-Hike
Personally, I feel a hammock trumps a tent any day of the year, I know many will argue on this but the fact is sleeping off the ground leads to a much better quality of sleep and this becomes key on long hikes for body recovery and rest.
While shelter with a tent provides you walls and surrounding protection, it is much more limited in useable space and you are still subject to the ground, which can often be less than ideal.
Think of all the rocks, roots, and other ground disturbances which are well known to pop a sleeping pad in an instant.
An ultralight hammock allows you to set up in a much wider variety of locations as well as not being limited to finding level ground as a tent requires. You can take sleeping to new and interesting places like near streams or where there are poor ground areas where tents just couldn’t be placed.
In addition to the benefits above a key benefit to hammocks is the modularity they allow.
Why a Modular Setup Is Beneficial
Where hammocks can shine is in their adaptability as they are in many cases fully modular and you can buy and swap out pieces to fine-tune your system exactly to your liking.
For instance, if you like specific suspensions and straps, you can use them on nearly any hammock system regardless. Then you can look for different hammocks and tarps based on the needs and expectations of weather you will encounter.
Being able to choose parts helps you build the perfect mix for yourself, some choose no bug net at all, others may use a normal face bug net only and yet others like myself choose full coverage bug net.
Choosing the Ideal Hammock for Your Needs and Budget
There are some points to consider before you make any purchases or optimizations to your existing gear, most have to do with the expectations of the new trail and what you feel is best for your needs:
What Is the Expected Weather for the Area?
What are you expecting on your thru-hike, if cold can reach zero degrees are you properly prepared to survive it, if rain will be heavy you may want to look at a tarp with doors or an all-enclosing tarp.
You need to know what you will face before you can be properly prepared for it, I would highly recommend planning your hike around the weather conditions and not the other way around as this can lead to issues.
What Is the Expected Type of Terrain For the Hike?
Are you facing plenty of trees or is it more flat and rocky terrain that will provide fewer options for hanging?
This will heavily influence what type of straps you want to use as well as how long they need to be and in some cases if you want to ditch the tree huggers altogether.
If you are facing a lot of exposed rocky areas with few trees, you may need to look at other methods to support your hammock such as using rocks with even longer straps or cordage to support alternate hangs.
Length of Your Hammock Choice Matters
While the cost for shorter hammocks may be appealing in general the longer the hammock the more diagonal lay you can reach which leads to a flatter sleep and more comfort which is important on a thru-hike.
I would suggest no matter your height you look to an 11-foot hammock as it provides the most options for different types of hangs and gives you plenty of room to adjust on the fly as needed.
Breakdown of Hammock Parts
There are many parts that lead to some initial confusion for people looking to use a tarp that makes them quit before ever starting, below I wanted to simplify and break down the most common parts you will see and their use.
Hammock (7-12 oz, $50-150)
Your hammock is the main piece of gear everything else needs to work with to get you the results you are looking for from the complete kit.
There is an amazing array of different fabrics and choices when it comes to ultralight hammocks, as well as a range of different lengths and weights.
There are four primary fabrics that can be used for real lightweight construction, most have a significant amount of giving which some find amazing, me being one, and others find irritating and less comfortable.
Most of these specialty fabrics will only be available from cottage vendors as they require better handling and care in assembly and they are easy to damage which makes them not mass production worthy.
In addition, these fabrics will have low weight limits due to their inherent fragility, it’s not that they will fail in use but that they will have a pretty specific weight limit and exceeding can lead to catastrophic fails so always make sure you choose the right fabric for your personal weight.
One last thing is that there are many shorter hammocks available but for most people, you will not want to buy anything shorter than 10′ for most thru-hikers where comfort will matter I would say choose 11′ for the most beneficial lay.
There are always new fabrics being developed but there are really four key choices below when you are looking to really drop weight on your kit.
Monolite may be the coolest but it is at the same time it is the most fragile. Monolite is basically see-through and nearly resembles the same appearance as a bug net but while being strong enough to hold a person.
This is amazing as it makes your entire hammock a viewable system to see your surroundings without the fabrics ever getting in the way. The weight is great for an ultralight build but it is also easily damaged so you need to be careful.
This fabric is not for everyone but if you are looking for the lightest possible setup and don’t mind spending some money this could be the one for you.
A hexon fabric 11′ hammock that is simply built without ridgeline or bug net will weigh in at around 7 oz, this means it is one of the most amazing options for an ultralight approach.
The only downside to hexon 1.0 is that it has a severe weight limit of 200 pounds, this makes it a perfect option for ultralight thru-hiking. If you are looking for a super-light and airy feel to your hammock with great views, this could easily become your favorite option.
MTN 1.3 XL
Very similar to Hexon 1.0 but offers a bit more strength which means it can hold up to 260 pounds which is a great weight capacity for ultralight hammocks.
The only tradeoff is that it weighs a bit more than Hexon 1.0 but for the extra bit of strength, I think it is worth it. The feel and look are very similar to Hexon 1.0 and you will not be disappointed with the results.
The XL in the name means that it comes in a wider amount of fabric which also allows for more diagonal lay and a bit more comfort.
The most common fabric in the lower weight class, 1.1oz ripstop, can be found in many ultralight options and it is a great choice for those looking to keep weight down without breaking the bank.
This fabric will hold much more weight comfortably which is plenty for most thru-hikers and it has a great feel and less overall stretch which is perfect for many hammocks.
This is a lightweight, but durable ripstop fabric. It has a soft feel to it.
For most people, a bug net will be unavoidable as it helps to keep the pesky insects from attacking you while you are trying to sleep.
There are a few ultralight options on the market that will help you keep weight down but still allow for some comfort. Let’s discuss some of these options below:
Integrated Into Hammock
As it sounds this is actually part of your hammock which means it will save you some weight as the bug net is limited to the open area of the hammock only meaning no separate sack to store which can help to keep you organized.
The only downside is that you will be limited to the shape and size of the bug net as it is sewn into the fabric which means that without replacing the hammock itself you are tied to the bug net.
Separate From Hammock
This is a common option with an open hammock, these encircle you and your hammock and typically are strung up over your hammock and they offer a great amount of space to move around along with more overall coverage.
The benefit is that you can take them on and off as you need which means if there are no bugs around or you want to sleep without obstruction you can simply remove them.
Half Bug Nets
As it sounds this is a bug net that covers half your body on the hammock, they are typically granting protection from bugs to the top half of your body that is exposed and no coverage to the legs which are covered in a quilt.
The benefit is that they offer less weight and can save you some money as you don’t need to buy a separate full bug net, the downside is that you will have less coverage from the elements and insects.
For those who are going truly crazy lightweight, you can choose to have only a head net that will protect your face from bugs while you are in the hammock.
The benefit is that it weighs basically nothing and is used in hiking anyway and can save you some money as you don’t need to buy a separate full bug net or half bug net.
This is a line that runs from the head to the foot of your hammock and helps ensure a near-perfect hang regardless of the hang distance between trees which allows you more freedom in choosing a hang spot.
The benefit of this is that you don’t have to worry about the perfect hang as much and can save time in setting up your hammock. The downside is that it adds a bit of excess cord and weight and some people find it unnecessary.
Picking Sturdy & Lightweight Suspension Parts That Won’t Fail (1-6 oz, $20-80)
These items link your hammock to the tree and actively manage your suspension off the ground.
There are many options available that will save you weight and money without being too drastically different, much of this will be the hardware and speed at which you can set up and tie off.
Choosing Tree Straps
Long gone are the days of just using lines on trees as that type of use causes havoc and damage to the trees and has led to the banning of hammocks in some parks.
Now there are wider webbing straps, typically without end loops, which are an inch or wider to distribute the load over a much wider area of the tree which helps to cause much less chance of damage to the tree.
Tree hugger straps are similar to webbing but provide loops at both ends, ensuring the tree’s health while also adding a level of safety for you as they help to grip the tree and keep your hammock secure.
Two Solid Choices For Tree Straps:
- Dyneema – Weighing in around 1 to 2.4g per foot Dyneema is the best option and has an amazing amount of ability to hold weight with straps supporting 1000+ pounds of force.
- Kevlar – Weighing in around 1.8 to 3.5g per foot Kevlar is a close match to Dyneema but is typically easier to manage.
Choosing A Suspension Method
There are so many types of compatible suspension systems and options available for a new hammocker that it can be hard to decide, but for someone looking to go lightweight, the options can help you find a perfect match.
Connecting your hammock suspension to the continuous loops of your hammock will be the first thing you do, from there you can either use whoopie slings, cinch buckles, or many other choices to tighten your suspension.
Personally, I prefer the tree strap and whoopie sling approach but with this pairing, you need to know the tree width you expect on your trek, otherwise, you may need to carry longer tree straps to ensure you can loop the trees in the area you camp.
Selecting a Tarp That Will Keep You Dry Through Any Storm (3-8oz, $150-500+)
Here is where the costs can start to go a little crazier, tarps come in many fabrics and shapes with Dyneema being a crown jewel for its water repellency and ultralight weight but the price is astronomical and it doesn’t compact down at all.
You will want to consider the shape of your tarp as well, a generic flat tarp may be one of the lightest weights but may take some more time to set up while a catenary cut tarp will have a little extra weight but will save you time in the field.
The lightest “off the shelf” DCF tarp is made by Hammock Gear at around 5 oz. Some of the other manufacturers have tarps that are a little heavier, but this is typically due to having more guy outs which could make the tarp more secure.
An asymmetric design is one where the ridgeline is not perpendicular to the edges of the tarp, so when laying on the diagonal your head and feet protrude out and the tarp runs protection to the same areas and angles.
The advantage of this shape is that it can provide better coverage than a symmetrical design in certain wind and rain conditions while still providing good ventilation.
The disadvantage is that it can be more difficult to set up and may not provide as much coverage in other conditions.
This is the system you use to keep your tarp taut, there are many ultralight options that will save you on weight and setup time so you can stay dry without carrying the extra bulk.
This suspension is far less worrisome than your hammock itself with some liking a continuous ridgeline setup to adjust, for most here the fewer buckles the lighter the setup so focusing on line and some knot skills will save an ounce or so.
Use Z-Line or similar cordage that is super lightweight and won’t stretch in water, get rid of that old paracord, this is ultralight!
You don’t need a ton of these, depending on your tarp and the points provided you can do 4-8 to keep your tarp taunt in most conditions with more coming from tarps that feature doors.
These should change depending on the needs of the terrain you will be traveling through as harder soil versus sandy soil need different anchors.
For ultralight you should focus on titanium as they are the strongest and lightest weight, like these MSR groundhog stakes.
There are typically three fabric options for a tarp, SilNylong, SilPoly, and the Dyneema. Each has some benefits and drawbacks as gear so it is important to decide what you will be wanting from your tarp.
Dyneema Composite Fabrics (DCF)
This fabric has the highest waterproof rating and weight-to-strength ratio making it a desirable option, however, it comes at a high price and does not compress down like the other two options.
Probably the best option for most as it weighs very close to Dyneema but has much better compressibility and unlike Sil-Nylon, it absorbs near no water making it a perfect match for many.
The traditional ultralight tarp fabric is not as waterproof as the other two but has good compressibility for ultralighters, SilNylons big issue is that it absorbs water and this can add to drying issues and having to carry it heavier after rainfall.
Insulation Choices For Staying Warm on Cold Nights
As anyone who has spent nights outside having that extra insulation to cut the chill of the night can make all the difference, ultralighters have a few different approaches to this.
There is a wide selection of shell materials depending on the vendor and their options which can range from a super ultralight 7D to more heavy-duty but heavier 20D material.
The choice here is typically interior next to your skill material versus exterior material, where you may want heavier-duty fabric as it will have to handle more wear and tear.
The shell itself will heavily weigh into your gear end weight as the down is not overtly significant to overall weight, choosing the right material on your shell will help drop those ounces fastest.
There are two choices for insulation on a quilt, down or synthetic.
Down is the most popular ultralight insulation as it compresses small and provides great warmth to weight but it does have some drawbacks.
The first huge impact to down is that it begins to lose its insulating properties when wet so in a humid or continually wet environment, you may find yourself getting cold if you can’t dry out your quilt.
The second is the cost, as ultralighters are always looking to cut dead weight. A good down can be expensive, however, it will last much longer if properly cared for so the investment may be worth it to some.
The other ultralight insulation on the market is synthetic which has come a long way in recent years to become an ultralight competitor to down.
The first big win for synthetic is that it maintains its insulating properties when wet so you don’t have to worry about losing warmth if you are in humid and consistently wet environments, however, it still doesn’t dry out as quickly as down.
The other significant factor is weight, synthetics will always be heavier than down for the same warmth rating so ultralighters tend to shy away from it, however, it is getting better and may one day overtake down but it isn’t in the foreseeable future.
There are a wide array of additional features you could add to your insulation, like a draft collar, clips and ease of setup items, and many other different nice to haves.
These all come at the cost of additional ounces so you will want to consider if the benefits justify the weight penalty carefully.
There are tapered and non-tapered quilts and you will want to decide what is best for you but if the weight to benefit is core then you should always choose the tapered option as it removes extra fabric and materials overall dropping weight while not losing warmth.
Tapered quilts will save weight and pack down smaller but may not be as comfortable for some people, so it is essential to decide what is most important to you.
Non-tapered quilts will be a bit heavier and bulkier but may be more comfortable for some as they can twist and turn more without issue.
Additionally, you will see “wide” as an option on most sites when you build a quilt, these options are more for people who are laying on flat ground where the excess width is a need near no hammock users should choose wide unless they expect lots of ground time.
There are two typical lengths for underquilts depending on your personal needs: full length and 3/4 length.
A full-length underquilt covers you underneath your hammock from your neck area to your lower foot and toe area.
The 3/4 length is preferred in lightweight approaches as it weighs less as only covers less of your body focusing on the core and upper leg leaving the lower legs uncovered for a sit pad or other insulation use in place.
This is what protects you from heat lost to the air flowing over the top of you and the heat you expel by laying on your back.
For a hammock user, you want a 20 oz or less quilt with at least a 20-degree comfort-rated top quilt which means laying comfortably at the temperature listed.
Pay special attention to temperature listed as many will list a “limit” which means you will be cold at the stated temp and need to get into a more fetal ball.
Though there are others like Loco Libre and numerous others with longer lead times who custom tailor each gear and are worth a look too.
Below I built out an ultralight performance setup focused on weight for an ultralight backpacking hammock kit and then I listed out my current hammock set which is more of a budget approach to getting the lightest hammock set possible with maximum performance.
Perfect Ultralight Thru-Hiking Hammock Kit
To get the lightest overall gear set you need to focus on ultralight gear items that don’t sacrifice too much comfort, so here is what I would recommend for an ultralight backpacking hammock kit.
The items I chose and the weights are as follows:
- Poltergeist Hammock By Trailheadz Hammocks – $130.00 – 10 ounces
- Tree Straps and Whoopie Slings Included with Hammock – $20.00
- Dyneema Flex Tarp By Hammock Gear – $339.00 – 6.20 Ounces
- 20 Degree 950FP Premium Burrow Underquilt By Hammock Gear – $309.95 – 14.20 Ounces
- 20 Degree 950FP Premium Burrow Top Quilt Sewn Footbox By Hammock Gear – $354.95 – 18.46 Ounces
Cost Total: $1152.95
Weight Total: 48.86 ounces (3.05 Lbs)
Ultralight on a Budget (My Personal Kit)
I chose to go with Hummingbird Hammocks for my main core of the hammock camping kit as they offer ultralight gear options that are also very high quality and can take a beating. I have also found their customer service to be excellent.
The items I own and the weights are as follows:
- Long Hammock By Hummingbird Hammocks – $79.95 – 8.2 oz (232 g)
- Martin Bug Net By Hummingbird Hammocks – $44.95 – 5.85 oz (166 g)
- Tree Straps and Whoopie Slings By Hummingbird Hammocks – $49.95 – 2.3 oz (65 g)
- Heron Tarp By Hummingbird Hammocks – $144.95 – 8.6 oz (244 g)
- 30 Degree Economy Incubator Underquilt By Hammock Gear – $199.95 – 21.59 ounces (Economy Vs Premium)
- 15 Degree StormLoft Long Top Quilt By Outdoor Vitals – $259.97 – 26 ounces
Cost Total: $779.72
Weight Total: 72.54 ounces (4.53 Lbs)
Frequent Hammock Issues and Questions
As I get questions, I will append them here, but here are some common ultralight hammock issues and questions to get you started.
What is Cold Butt Syndrome?
This occurs when you have poor insulation on your back and rear which airflow pulls and draws the heat out of the bottom of your body leading to what people describe as “cold butt”.
What is Porch Mode?
This is where you use your trekking poles to lift up one side of your tarp instead of tying it directly to stakes in the ground, this provides you a massive increase in livable space to enjoy in intense heat or other inclement weather.
Final Thoughts on Ultralight Hammock Setup for Thru-Hikes
As you have seen, camping hammocks have many parts which make them excellent to adapt to your needs, but also a little confusing on what you need to get started.
I hope this ultralight hammock setup guide has helped clear some things up for you, but if not please feel free to reach out to me or leave a comment below and I will be happy to help you sort out your kit as I am a hammock convert!