People have asked me this more than just about anything else when it comes to bicycle camping: tent or hammock? Before we dive right in, I want to clarify that those aren’t the only options. You can also use a bivy or just a sleeping bag on a tarp. I’ve done it all and over the years, I’ve dialed in what I would consider a great system for selecting which will work for you.
The first and most-used option is the tent. With options ranging from around $100, up to $500. I prefer to use ultralight backpacking tents. Why? Because like backpacking, I like to reduce weight where I can, to give me space and weight to allot elsewhere. FWIW, I carry a hatchet when I camp, so I’m not a super weight weenie.
Tents are great. The good ones, like the Big Agnes UL1 go up in seconds, weigh next to nothing at 2 lbs packed and are very durable. I’ve made it through pretty nasty storms with no issues. The UL1 is around $330. Not cheap, and not exactly roomy, but I camp to spend time outdoors and literally need a place to sleep.
For bedding, I use the Western Mountaineering HighLite bag. It’s good to 35º and weighs 16oz.
Sleeping pads are essential for tents and hammocks. They were developed not for comfort, but insulation against ice and snow. My pad of choice is the Thermarest NeoAir XLite. I’d rather use a Thermarest and no bag, rather than just a bag in moderate temperatures.
So, equipment is down, when do I prefer to use a tent?
-If it’s going to rain or be below 30º.
-If I’m doing a multi-day trip
-If there are a lot of bugs, or other critters.
-If there aren’t a lot of trees in the camp sites.
Or, sometimes, I just want to get in some tent time. I’ve had a lot of bad experiences with a hammock and none with a tent, so it’s one less component in the equation that could go wrong…
Hammocks are really incredible for bicycle camping. They’re even easier to setup, have a fairly low barrier to entry, as far as finances are concerned, pack somewhat light, have no poles to break and clean easily.
Hennessy Hammocks are balleur, and I’ve yet to buy one, so for the time being, I have the ENO system. Now, there are dozens of companies that make hammocks, but the Hennessy has been the best system I’ve used. The bug netting and rain fly is all included. They range from $99 and 3lbs to $250 and under 2lbs with variables all over the spectrum that determines the pricepoint. Bottom line: there’s a Hennessy for your needs.
My ENO system, as pictured, sans bug netting, weighs close to 4lbs all in. Yikes.
That may seem heavy, but I like the ENO system because you can distribute the weight throughout your bike. Your rainfly can go in a saddle bag, straps in a pannier, hammock in another pannier. Unfortunately, for what I paid for it, I could have bought a Hennessy, but I bought it over a series of weeks.
The ENO system is also nice because if it’s going to be warm and not rainy, you can just bring the $70 hammock and straps, without having to lug around extra accessories. I.e. pack what you need.
There are two cruxes to bicycle camping with a hammock. The first of which is the obvious. Trees. You must have trees to hang your hammock. I’ve had issues with this three times. Once, in the redwoods. Sure, there are trees, but the straps wouldn’t fit. Other times, the trees were all low-lying cypress, oak or cedar and weren’t strong enough to support the hammock.
Another crux is the loss of body heat. Since your back is exposed, the wind will wick away all your heat. A sleeping pad helps and an emergency blanket over the pad will help, but it won’t be as warm as a tent. I’ve frozen my ass off for many nights even with a pad, a sleeping bag and an emergency blanket. It sucks. Luckily, ENO makes a hammock with a built-in sleeve for a sleeping pad, so you don’t have to hassle with a sliding mat all night. I’ve stuffed all kinds of shit into that sleeve to keep me warm on really cold nights.
So, here’s when I select a hammock.
-If it’s a wooded area with lots of trees – you need trees approx 10′-12′ apart, so the tent doesn’t sag funny.
-The temperature range is between 50º and 90º.
-There won’t be bugs, mosquitos, etc. Never use a hammock by a lake… unless you have the bug netting.
-You’re doing a S24 and you just want a place to sleep.
-The ground at the campsites might be more ideal for a hammock.
I know none of this information is revolutionary, but it’s a good reference for people to think about when they’re selecting gear for their next tour or camping trip. Got any other points you want addressed? Ask in the comments. Got tips to share? Please do!