Shelter Options For Hovering Above Terra Firma
When setting up shelter, one of the basic rules in the survival world is, Get yourself off the ground. This is important because, in addition to avoiding cold and wet conditions, the ground can come alive throughout the night (and the day too) with all types of Mother Nature’s critters—from biting and stinging bugs to slithering snakes and larger animals such as raccoons, rats and others.
Being elevated above the surface can provide a worry-free night’s sleep when it comes to wildlife, as well as being quite comfortable suspended several feet in the air and not having to endure the hard, rock-strewn ground.
From suspended tents to simple hammocks to multipurpose platforms and more, today’s above-ground shelter options are both diverse and numerous.
Now, it’s time to elevate your understanding of “high-rise” shelters—where to set them up and choosing the best style for you (as well as considering the negatives, which might compel you to stay planted firmly on the ground).
Nothing will be left on the ground as we venture upward to your shelter suspended amid the trees.
BEFORE YOU BUY
Before you click “add to cart” when shopping online or bringing your choice to the register at an outdoor gear store, you need to have all your bases covered in order to choose the model that’s right for you.
The primary decision when choosing a suspended shelter is which type you’d prefer—a hammock or an elevated tent. Both have their pros and cons, and those, too, will vary by consumer, because everyone’s needs and wants are different. Once you’ve made your choice, it’s time to go a little deeper into your personal outdoor situation.
First, you need to consider how many people will be sharing your shelter. Suspended tree tents, as well as a few hammocks, offer room for more than one person. The combined size and weight of your “team” and gear will factor into your selection.
Second is the environment. What temperatures could you possibly face during your outing? If you predict cold, you’ll need to equip yourself with a roomier interior so blankets and extra layers can be added. Conversely, if your plan includes staying in tropical or sub-tropical conditions, having good ventilation and multiple zip-down screening options will come in handy on hot and humid days.
Next, ease of carrying is a concern for those traveling light or who are already bogged down with heavy gear. Remember: The larger the tent or hammock, the heavier it’ll be to carry. This fact might seem quite obvious, but with the excitement of buying your shelter, it could easily be overlooked. When shopping online, product descriptions should include the dimensions and weight of the shelter. Take note and find a comparable item around the house to get a true “feel” of what you’ll be adding to your load.
For most people, price is also a deciding factor. When you’re on a budget, you have a certain range to hold to; and that, in itself, limits you in some respects. If you have a maximum spending amount, you need to do an even deeper search. Read plenty of reviews, ask around in the outdoor community through Internet chat rooms and forums and, if you’re able to go to a brick-and-mortar store, feel the material to get a true sense of its durability and construction. A thrifty shopper needs to find the optimal balance between affordability and quality.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Whether you choose a suspended tent or a hammock, the location and materials you use to set up your elevated shelter shouldn’t be a quick decision on your part. It’s wise to start thinking about setting up your camp—especially your shelter—long before sundown occurs so that if you do encounter any issues, you won’t be scrambling when darkness hits. Rushed, incomplete or incorrect location setup of your suspended shelter could cause you physical harm and/or a night of anxiety as you ponder if you’re hanging in harm’s way.
The trees you select for attachment should be healthy and large enough to support your shelter, your body weight and any gear that’ll be sharing your “crib” for the night. Inspect your tree options thoroughly. What might look alive and well could possibly have a dead or decaying portion within its trunk. If you choose this piece to tie your shelter to, you could be in for a nasty surprise during the night. In addition, dead branches from adjacent trees that are intertwined far above your intended camp might come loose during your stay and fall on you.
Live, mature trees with sparse low-lying foliage are ideal for setup. Bushy branches and/or vines that touch your shelter can cause damage or create a bridge for creepy-crawlies to invade your shelter and attack you, ensuring you’ll get no sleep.
It should go without saying that any trees exhibiting previous contact with bears should be avoided, no matter how structurally sound they appear, how perfect their location is or their setup configuration with other trees nearby. If you notice trees with scratch marks, broken branches, worn-down patches and bits of fur scattered around, it’s a sure sign a bear has made that tree theirs, and you shouldn’t camp anywhere near it.
Your setup location should be relatively far from a large water source; anywhere from 150 to 300 yards to stay on the safe side. You can then avoid the interference from animals as they travel to drink through the night.
Finally, look at the ground below your proposed hammock or hanging tent site. If it has any large rocks, stumps or fallen logs, move the obstacles out and away from your shelter, or avoid that area and look elsewhere. Falling out of your tent at night or stepping down awkwardly and landing on the hard stones or uneven earth can cause injuries you don’t need.
EASE OF SETUP
This category is not as clear-cut as it might seem. For most people, a hammock would seem to be the easiest and fastest type of shelter to assemble and occupy. But, as a result of the new and innovative tent technologies available today, a hammock could have some stiff competition.
“Suspended tents and hammocks both offer a ground-free sleeping experience that aids in eliminating possible problems when sleeping outdoors.”
In order to properly distinguish the best all-around choice for setup, we first have to identify the players. Hammocks, as well as suspended tents, come in various shapes, sizes and configurations, as well as a plethora of options to suit a variety of needs.
A basic hammock is, of course, the easiest suspended shelter to set up. This type of hammock is usually no more than the central “bed” area, consisting of a solid piece of nylon or netting and an attachment rope at each end. These don’t include overhead covers, a comfortable suspension system or extras to hold your gear. All it takes is a few minutes to tie the ropes around nearby trees, and you’re done. However, this is definitely not the ideal shelter when you’re deep in the woods or camping for a number of nights. Comfort and a restful night’s sleep won’t be achieved using this option. In fact, it’s more suited for short naps in your backyard than it is for survival purposes.
“For a newbie, the straps, poles and cranking mechanism [on a hanging tent] can seem overwhelming at first but become second nature over time.”
The next style of hammock is a bit more complex, but only because it has added components. These could include a rain cover, flexible poles to construct a roomier canopy or added interior layers for a more comfortable sleep. The attachment to the trees, however, remains the same: essentially two points of contact to trees, one on each end.
More-complex hammocks include additional ropes to add stability or to stretch an oversized rain cover overhead. They might also offer insect netting that needs to be attached. These units take time to properly set up, but it’s well worth it for you. For what you get in exchange, this is one of the best styles of hammocks available today. It’s a true trade-off between time and quality of rest.
Hanging tents have less variation and fewer models to choose from. There are two main styles of suspended tents: those with a single point of connection and those with multiple points (three straps being the most common).
“From suspended tents to simple hammocks to multipurpose platforms and more, today’s above-ground shelter options are both diverse and numerous.”
A single-point-connection tent has the attachment apparatus at the top of the tent that has a frame-supported base (imagine a bird feeder hanging from a tree branch). These unique tents come in a variety of styles that range from very simple to larger, more permanent and intricate structures. It should be noted that these suspended tents don’t lend themselves very well to camping or survival applications. They’re often too small for comfortable sleeping and are designed more for aesthetics than regular outdoor use. However, the ease of setup for a basic model makes it hassle free and, if one chooses this, they can use it in a pinch to catch some shut-eye and rest up for the next day.
The most popular suspended tents are the ones with three points of connection (I have one of these). They vary in size and configuration, and setup times can vary greatly, depending on a few variables, such as finding the ideal three-tree pattern; the room available to lay out the materials and tools; and, most importantly, the familiarity one has with the method of erection. As with anything else, the more experience you have doing something, the faster and more efficient you become at doing it. For a newbie, the straps, poles and cranking mechanism can seem overwhelming at first but become second nature over time.
The overall takeaway is that if you plan intelligently during your outing and give yourself enough time to erect your suspended shelter, setup time becomes an irrelevant point. You won’t have to sacrifice the extra amenities for a fast setup.
‘HANG IN’ THERE
Suspended tents and hammocks both offer a ground-free sleeping experience that aids in eliminating possible problems when sleeping outdoors. Curious animals, insects and inhospitable ground all become non-factors during your outdoor adventure. In addition, the gentle sway of a hammock or the cushiony feeling of a suspended tent adds to your ability to get a great night’s sleep and, when you’ve trekked for hours or have been chopping through intense brush and foliage, getting long hours of quality sleep is a dream come true.
Want One? Look No Further
Luckily for the outdoor gear consumer, there are numerous outlets, both online and in-store, to purchase a suspended shelter. Here are some great manufacturers that are ready to take your outdoor sleeping arrangements to the next level:
Tentsile Tree Tents
One of the best suspended tree tent manufacturers on the planet today, Tentsile offers a great range of models to choose from. They range from single-person platforms to full, multi-person, “sleeping-in-style” versions. This company offers an abundance of accessories and add-ons to make your outdoor stay the best it can be.
Quoted as “The coolest tent(s) in the world,” Hennessey Hammocks offers suspended shelters with all the “bells and whistles” that totally turn your idea of a basic hammock upside down. Hennessy offers everything from extremely lightweight models for minimalists to full, heavy-duty styles for deep-woods use.
Treez Tree Tents
These tree tents, hand-built in the U.S.A., offer something for everyone. From entry-level, ultra-lightweight versions to expedition-grade styles (such as the Alpha and Omega models), this company does it all. In addition, you can customize your tent’s size and colors.
Simple setup and affordable pricing make Coghlan’s a great choice for a lightweight hammock intended for casual outdoor outings. When no-frills shut-eye is on your schedule, these hammocks are for you. Choose from several different styles and colors.
Nothing is simpler than a mesh hammock for two. This basic hammock is a staple at many campsites across the country. (Photo by Coghlan’s)
Want a roomy and comfortable hammock that blends into your outdoor surroundings? If so, DD Hammocks is the company for you. With deep-green, brown and camo patterns, you’ll disappear into the darkness as you sleep the night away.
Battle of the Best
Here’s a comparison of two giants of the suspended shelter world:
Weight limit: 880 pounds
Height limit: 4 feet
Hammock fabric: 21 OT PU coated polyester rainfly
Packed weight: 20.9 pounds
Unique feature: Anti-roll strap system prevents occupant from rolling to the middle of the tent
Includes: Poles, ratchet, straps, carrying bag, instructions
Hennessey Hammock’s 4 Season Survivorman Zip
Weight limit: 350 pounds
Height limit: 7 feet
Hammock fabric: 1 layer of 70D nylon taffeta; 1 layer of 40D nylon taffeta
Packed weight: 5 pounds, 9 ounces
Unique feature: Bright-orange interior is reversible for signaling purposes
Includes: Hammock, mosquito netting, detachable Hex rain fly, support poles, compression sack, webbing straps, open-foam pad, survival kit
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the April, 2021 print issue of American Survival Guide.