So you want to give hammock camping a try but you don’t want to shell out a lot of cash to do it. Or…maybe you’ve spent a night or two in a hammock and you know you like it but you just don’t have the bucks to shell out for the latest gear to keep you warm, comfy and off the ground. Unfortunately, hammock camping, like most obsess…errrr…addict…ummm, no…hobbies, yeah, that’s it, hobbies, can be rather expensive. A starter hammock without a built-in bug net will typically cost $45 to $65. Add another $25 to $40 for suspension. A silnylon tarp, ridgeline, tie-outs and stakes will set one back at least $100 and warm weather top and underquilts, can be upwards of $300 combined. Live in an area with lots of skeeters, no-see-ums or vampires? You may also want a bug net…there goes another $50 or more.
One could easily spend 500 bones on a ‘starter’ set up …but you don’t have to. It can be done for a good bit less but there will be some tradeoffs. To have low cost gear it can be low weight or low bulk, but rarely, if ever, both. Also, there will likely be some ‘sweat equity’ in the form of ‘do it yourself’ involved. But hey when you get down to it, gear making is usually a lot of fun and you get the satisfaction of being able to say “I made this”. Call it bragging rights. Maybe you’re not handy at DIY…I bet you know someone that is that can help. So how does one go about making a warm weather hammock camping set-up for less than $500? Well, here’s how I did it. Your mileage may vary…
One thing to keep in mind here…the gear you might make won’t be the lightest in the world but it won’t weigh a ton. It’s ideal gear for car camping where weight or bulk isn’t an issue but it could be used for a backpacking trip in a pinch. Now you probably wouldn’t want to take a long-distance hike up and down mountain trails but for a weekend trip, it’d be just fine and it’ll help you really appreciate the lighter and less bulky gear you’ll probably get someday down the road.
Let’s start with the hammock and suspension. Off the shelf hammocks are nice but it’s not hard at all to make a hammock. First, purchase a crinkle taffeta table cloth…yes, that’s correct, a tablecloth…from Tableclothsfactory.com. One of these crinkle taffeta tablecloths makes a GREAT hammock body, they come in a dozen or so colors and only cost $13 plus shipping (sign up for their mailing list, they run free shipping or 20% off specials on a fairly regular basis).
For my own hammock and one I made for Connie I used a the crinkle taffeta tablecloths but instead of gathering and whipping the ends I sewed a channel in each end and ran part of my suspension through the channel. My structural ridgeline was simply a piece of 1/8” braided polyester rope.
Hammock suspension can come in several different forms. Personally, I like ‘straps and ring buckles’ which consist of a pair of 15-foot 1-inch polyester (NOT NYLON – nylon stretches) tree straps, two pairs of aluminum ‘belay rings’ from REI or other store that carries climbing gear, and a pair of 7/64 inch Amsteel continuous loops (also called ‘Chain Links’).
Good, light straps and Amsteel continuous loops can be obtained from several different vendors. I happen to like Dutchware.com for straps and Arrowhead Equipment for continuous loops . Or…you can make your own continuous loops if you like. Check out the instructions here. Amsteel can be purchased by the foot from Dutchware, Arrowhead, or one of a number of other vendors. All in all you’ll probably spend $25 to $35 on this type of suspension.
Straps and rings are very simple to use. Check out this video.
OK, now that you’ve made a hammock, you have your suspension and you’re ready to get comfortable, you’re probably going to need some insulation. Most folks will need some insulation, particularly underneath, when the temperature outside is around 70 degrees or below. Some folks can get away with a sleeping bag and a WallyWorld closed-cell foam sleeping pad for insulation. Those just don’t work for me…too many bedtime aerobics to just end up sweaty and uncomfortable. I prefer top and underquilts. Catch is, top and underquilts are often the most expensive pieces of hammock gear. Again, they don’t have to be.
Enter the army surplus poncho liner, or ‘PL’, for short. Both top quilts (PLTQs) and underquilts (PLUQs) can be made from poncho liners and a combination of the two can keep most folks comfortable from the mid to upper 50s to the low 80s. Honestly, I don’t camp too much when the lows are above the low 80s…I just don’t care to sweat all night. So how does one go about making a PLTQ and a PLUQ?
Here’s a link to a HammockForums post about the PLTQ I made a while back.
PLUQs can be made in either in sew-up or no-sew versions. Here are links to how-to’s by Derek Hansen, a HammockForums member.
I’ve made half a dozen sew-up PLUQs now for me, my kids and friends and can make one fairly easily in 2 to 3 hours if I work straight through.
Cost? Poncho liners in decent shape can be obtained through eBay for $10 to $20 each plus shipping. Add some shock cord, grosgrain ribbon, cord locks, thread and mini carabiners and you’re looking $50 to $65 for a top quilt and underquilt.
How ‘bout some protection from the elements? Rain in the forecast? Maybe a heavy dew? Or maybe you just need some shade. Gotta have a tarp. I’ve tackled tarps a couple of ways. My first tarp was made with a blue wally-world tarp.
Check out the HammockForums post about its construction here. Total cost was around $25.
Update: Do you have to modify a tarp to make it work? Nope, a regular, straight-from-the-package poly tarp will work just fine.
Want something simpler. Try a Tyvek tarp.
Pick up a 9’x9’ piece of Tyvek home wrap from your local builder’s supply store or home improvement store. Attach a loop of mason’s twine (braided twine if you can find it) to each corner using the ‘pebble and string’ method and you’re almost there. Add tie outs made from braided mason’s twine or 1/8” utility cord to two opposing corners for your tie outs.
Update: Not too handy at DIY or just prefer to buy something ready-made? Give Yukon Outfitters’ Walkabout Rainfly/Tarp a good look. I bought a couple for my kids. A diamond-shaped tarp with fairly good coverage for $40 and if you can be patient for a but, Yukon Outfitters and Woot.com run them on sale for $25 to $30 fairly often. Check it out here.
A tarp ridgeline can be made with a 25 to 30 foot piece of utility cord with a loop and mini carabiner at one end, a Nite-Ize Figure 9 near the other end and two prussick loops and a couple more mini carabiners or NiteIze S-biners in between to hang the tarp from. Total cost $25-$30. If you know someone who is in construction, you might be able to mooch a piece of Tyvek. I lucked up and got a piece from a friend.
Update: Want another take on how to put together a hammock and tarp? Check out fellow Hammock Forums member Sidneyhornblower’s “Cheap Hang” video on YouTube for his take on hammock camping for cheap. Here’s the link.
Last but not least, especially around here in warm weather, bug protection. A bug net is an item I have to admit that I purchased. But…since I need a few more for Connie and the kids, I’ll probably go the DIY route. One design in particular has caught my eye. Check it out in this HammockForums thread:
Update: Made a bugnet that I’ve been really pleased with recently. Cheap (less than $20), easily sourced materials (mostly WallyWorld) and some simple straight line sewing will keep the skeeters at bay. Check it out here.
Simple construction, easy to use and relatively low cost (around $35 or so each).
That’s it folks…a basic hammock-camping set-up for $200 or less and a bit of effort. Not sure you like the way I did things? No problem, there are multiple other relatively low cost solutions for each component. Do some searches on HammockForums and YouTube for other ideas more to your liking.
One more thing…down the road as you upgrade your gear, don’t let your starter stuff just sit on a shelf and gather dust. Think about pass it on down to someone else who is starting out and is in the same boat you were.
Now go make yourself a hammock and GET OUT!
Update – March 5, 2016: Not interested in going the DIY route? No problem. Check out this companion entry to Hammock Camping on a Budget: “Hammock Camping on a Budget Revisited: OK, Whats Next?” for my strategies for buying quality hammock gear without breaking the bank.