Med thumb hammock main

It seems so easy: get a hammock, tie the ends to two trees and voilà — outdoor siesta time. And yet, getting comfortable in the thing is elusive. That’s likely because you’re setting up the sling all wrong, at least according to Derek Hansen, author of “The Ultimate Hang: An Illustrated Guide to Hammock Camping.” One major mess up? “People hang them too tight,” says Hansen. “We try to make them flat like beds, but we end up making them uncomfortable.” Here, then, are the correct steps for hanging and sleeping in a hammock.

1. Choose the right hammock

Find a hammock that’s rated for your weight. “Cheaper hammocks may throw in components that aren’t safety rated,” says Hansen, which means you might come crashing down in the night. Among reputable brands, Hansen recommends Eagles Nest Outfitters (ENO), Kammok, Grand Trunk Goods and Byer of Main. All-in-one camping hammocks like those from Hennessey Hammocks, Clark Jungle Hammocks and Tentsile come with integrated bug netting and tarps. “They all pack down really small — they’re maybe the size of a large cantaloupe, even the ones with bug netting.” For a more comprehensive guide to hammock-buying, check out Hansen’s list here.

“If you’re laying end-to-end you’ll bow like a banana”

2. Pick proper trees

“This is a safety factor,” says Hansen. “Use two living trees at least 12 and 15 feet apart if you’re camping so you’ll have the distance you need to put a tarp up, or between 10 and 12 feet if you’re just hanging a hammock.” As to the size of the trees, make sure they’re as wide as your outstretched hand — at least 6 inches. “You want something that won’t bend or move when you get into the hammock.” Can you palm the tree and grab around it? It’s too small. If you’re setting up at night, then it may be hard to tell if the tree is alive, so look up to make sure there are no large, dead branches overhead. 

3. Hang the anchors head height

“You don’t want the hammock to hang any higher than 18 or 24 inches above the ground – sit height,” says Hansen. “Too high and you’ll raise your risk factor; too low and it’ll be uncomfortable.” Figuring out the correct height takes a bit of math, but five to six feet above the ground is the approximate height of the anchors if the trees are 12 feet apart.

4. Use a wide webbing strap

You’ll need an anchor point that doesn’t cut into the tree’s bark. “Use a one-and-a-half to two-inch wide strap to create that anchor strap,” says Hansen.

5. Give it a good sag

That is, don’t hang the hammock too tight. “Brazilian hammocks without the wooden spreader bar are designed to hang like a big smiley face,” says Hansen. “Even if you’re talking about an American-style hammock with the knotted rope loops and wooden spreader bar, hang it too tight and it’ll be too tippy because the center of gravity will be too high.”

6. Lie diagonally

Aim for a 15-degree diagonal when you’re lying in it. “If you’re laying end-to-end you’ll bow like a banana,” says Hansen. “You’ll strain your back.” But if you’re on a 15-degree diagonal, you’ll sleep in an ergonomically flat position.