Do You Use A Sleeping Bag With A Hammock?


Hammock campers will do anything to reduce the size and weight of their pack including leaving their sleeping bag at home. While camping in a hammock sounds like a minimalist adventure there is certain equipment needed to protect yourself from the cold and have a comfortable sleep hanging between the trees. 

A sleeping bag is not essential with a hammock, provided temperatures are 77 F (25 C) or above. You will need extra insulation when it is cooler, especially when there is wind. Sleeping bags can be used similar to a topquilt, and sleeping pads can also minimize heat loss like an underquilt.

Nobody wants to be hauling unnecessary gear while backpacking. On the other hand, if you are cold at night, you won’t get decent sleep, even if the hammock is comfy. Seasoned hammock campers all have their preferred systems. However, much of it depends on personal sleeping style and the gear we choose to bring. 

Benefits Of A Sleeping Bag In A Hammock

Hammocks are cooler than tents, which is fantastic when camping in a hot, muggy area. But most of the time, this is the one big drawback to hammock camping. This is where a good quality sleeping bag can make a massive difference to your comfort. It provides warmth and protection from windchill. 

Check out my recent article on how to make hammock camping more comfortable

Sleeping bag benefits include:

  • You already own one (probably)
  • Sleeping bags can be used both in a hammock and a tent
  • Sleeping bags are cheaper than topquilts 
  • Sleeping bags are warm
  • Sleeping bags protect from windchill

However, a lot of people want to forgo the sleeping bag because climbing into a hammock and into a bag is awkward, and, besides, sleeping bags don’t function the same in a hammock. In addition, sleeping bags don’t do a great job protecting your underside because the fibers are compressed.  

A sleeping bag’s lack of underside protection isn’t a big deal in a tent. You’ve got a groundsheet, the tent, probably a sleeping pad, and then your bag. The bag creates a brilliant air bubble, and the sides of the tent protect from windchill. But in a hammock, air circulates all around, especially on the underside. But all these objections boil down to user error.

 My latest article explains why high quality sleeping bags are expensive but worth every penny.

How Do I Use A Sleeping Bag In A Hammock?

Sleeping bags need to be used differently in a hammock than you would in a tent. They should be used more like a topquilt. Sleeping bags should be zipped up no further than your knee and used on top of you, not underneath. You will need an underquilt or a sleeping pad, or both, to protect the underside of the hammock. 

Using the underside protection with the side and top protection of a sleeping bag will protect you from wind chill and help create the incredibly valuable air pocket that will keep you warm. Also, using a sleeping bag like a quilt will make the entire experience less clumsy, especially when entering and exiting the hammock. 

However, not all sleeping bags are equal, especially when it comes to sleeping in a hammock. You don’t want an especially bulky and wide one. However, you do want high-quality and excellent insulation. Down will be warmest and last the longest. 

If, however, you love sleeping in a sleeping bag the old fashion way, your best bet is a mummy-type bag. These will hold you nice and tight and keep you warm if paired with a pad. You might require a friend to zip you up, but some find the inconvenience worth it. 

On the perfect camping nights I prefer using a sleeping bag liner for camping (article). They keep in some body heat and provide protection from the wind but also pack down a lot smaller than a sleeping bag or topquilt.

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Can You Sleep In A Hammock With Just A Sleeping Bag? 

You can, but it is tricky due to the lack of insulation underneath the hammock. Air circulates below you, whisking heat away, something that doesn’t happen with a tent. If you are stuck, your best bet is hanging the hammock low to the ground, limiting the amount of air that will blow past. 

A tarp laid on the ground below the hammock will also minimize cold radiating upwards. Some people also make tarps to hang right below the hammock, like a shell, in addition to the upper tarp. 

There are also some very clever sleeping bags that act like an overcoat. These go around the outside of the hammock and zip up like a giant alien cocoon. These are great if you are the type of person that loves mummy bags and being zipped up tight. However, these are horrible if you are claustrophobic or enjoy sleeping on your side. 

One example is Outdoor Vitals MummyPod. In a hammock, you use it as a pod, going over the hammock. But for tent camping, the MummyPod can be used as a mummy bag. Even if you don’t want to bother with an underquilt, it might be worth considering a sleeping pad designed for hammocks

Can it get too cold to sleep in a hammock?

People have camped in hammocks in temperatures well below freezing. It is a matter of planning, using quality equipment, and selecting a spot sheltered from the wind. A high-quality sleeping bag that is made for freezing temperatures is a must. You will also require a tarp and an underquilt. Some people also use a top quilt in addition to a sleeping bag.

Other hacks for cold hammock camping are using those emergency blankets that look like tin foil. These provide lightweight extra insulation. There is, of course, the sleeping pad option, which will help. A tarp for the ground could also help. 

Yes, trying to hammock camp in the Arctic might be a bit much. But seasoned mountaineers bivouac in extreme conditions all the time. It is all about the quality of your gear, from the layers on your body to your hammock system, and location. Wind is your enemy; the more successfully you block it, the greater your success. If you find yourself having to shed layers there are many great ways to store your gear while hammock camping.

The other common question is whether a sleeping bag can be too warm. I lay out all the details in this post.

Sleeping Bag Vs. Underquilt

Sleeping bags and underquilts are often pitted against each other. I feel that’s a bit like comparing your pants to your shirt. It’s not that pants are better than shirts, but that they provide comfort and protection for different areas of your body. 

Using A Sleeping Bag In A Hammock

Sleeping bags don’t provide the insulation at the bottom like an underquilt will. They need air pockets to work, and if you are lying on them, there is no air to heat up. Thus, heat from your body is conducted away, and you get “butt chill.” However, sleeping bags are excellent when on top and protecting lower legs and feet. That upper air pocket will keep you cozy. 

Pros Of A Sleeping Bag

Sleeping bags may sound old fashioned, but they still have their uses. 

  • Keep your topside warm
  • Can be used in tent camping
  • Often less expensive than a topquilt
  • Provide extra wind protection

Cons Of A Sleeping Bag

Sleeping bags are not perfect in a hammock; this is true. 

  • Unlike topquilts, sleeping bags are not designed for hammocks
  • Another item to lug
  • Will not prevent “butt chill”
  • Make some people feel claustrophobic 

Using An Underquilt In A Hammock

Underquilts are aptly named: they are a warmth for the underside of your hammock. These prevent the dreaded “butt chill” and also can provide protection for the sides. However, they do not act as a blanket or duvet for your upper half. In warmer temperatures, this isn’t an issue. But dropping below 70C, you’ll need more than a warm butt. 

Pros Of An Underquilt

Underquilts are not just a marketing gimmick to get you to buy more camping gear. They do have many positives

  • Provide excellent underside insulation and warmth
  • Allows free movement inside a hammock
  • Lightweight
  • Incredibly comfortable when compared to a sleeping pad
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Cons Of An Underquilt

While underquilts have many positives, they are not perfect. 

  • Cost more than a sleeping pad
  • Underquilts use up more space in your pack than a good backpacking sleeping pad
  • Are challenging to use if your hammock isn’t designed for an underquilt
  • Not multifunctional; they’re practically useless in a tent 

Best Sleeping Bag Shape For A Hammock?

Your ideal sleeping bag shape depends on how you are using it. If you wrap the entire hammock up with it, you need a mummy shape. If you are using your sleeping bag as a hardy, outdoor duvet, then you don’t want to be confined. You’ll still want it slim and not too bulky. You will also find a tapered shape easier, even if it isn’t fully on mummy cut. 

Hoods are not an advantage in a hammock unless you will sleep in the bag as you would in a tent. Some people love it, and it works great so long as the bottom is protected by an underquilt or a sleeping bag. But a hood can be annoying when using your sleeping bag like a blanket with a lower leg pocket. 

Other Methods To Keep Warm In A Hammock

There are more options for keeping warm in a hammock than underquilts and sleeping bags. Some of the following can be used to replace or as an add-on. 

Using Sleeping Pads To Stay Warm In A Hammock

A sleeping pad is the most common way to stay warm in a hammock when forgoing an underquilt. They come in three basic types:

  • Air pads
  • Closed-cell
  • Self-Inflating

Your most durable and best insulator is a closed-cell. Unfortunately, they are also the most difficult to set up. 

Your least durable is an airpad, but they are the easiest to haul when backpacking. 

The self-inflating is an in-between option. They pack better than a closed-cell but not as good as an airpad. They offer better protection than an airpad, but not as great as a closed-cell. 

The biggest problem with any sleeping pad, of course, is they can slip around the hammock. However, there are ways to get around this. For example, there are now double layered hammocks that have pockets for the sleeping pad. An excellent and high comfort one is Warbonnet Ridgerunner

There is also the option of buying sleeping pads shaped for hammocks. In addition to ones made like the Klymit, with its upward sides, there is the rounded shape as found in the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir

However, some people find it cheaper and easier just to get some foam and cut it to suit their exact specifications for their hammock. Because the foam is solid, it is excellent insulation. The biggest drawback to this option, however, is the bulk. Even if you are not backpacking, it can be cumbersome. Then again, you are not only staying warm but have the comfort of more money left in your bank account.  

Using Topquilts To Stay Warm In A Hammock

Topquilts are the best alternative to using a sleeping bag in a hammock when the temperatures drop below 70F. Unlike the sleeping bag, many are made to be used with hammocks, so they are often a better fit. Topquilts are incredibly lightweight and easy to pack. People who don’t want to be confined or get claustrophobic easily will find them a preferable option.

Some topquilts are actually old fashion sleeping bags without a hood. Some are more like a camping duvet that packs very lightly. Some are in-between, with a foot pouch to keep lower legs and feet toasty, making them the top option for people who do not want a sleeping bag but want something more than a glorified blanket. 

Some people do use them when sleeping in a tent. You’ll need an excellent sleeping pad and, if you want a hood, you’ll have to buy that separately. They are also drafty, which can be an advantage at certain temperatures and a nightmare at others. It really depends on how you sleep, the quality of your tent, and the climate conditions. 

Thus, if you often end up using sleeping bags much like a blanket, you might find a zipless topquilt with a foot pocket a dream come true regardless of whether you use a hammock or a tent. 

Check out my recent article on how to stay warm camping in a tent

Conclusion

Yes, underquilts are excellent at what they do, but they are not a replacement for a sleeping bag. It is rare to find areas to camp where the temperature will not fall under 70F at some point in the night. But if sleeping bags don’t suit you, check out topquilts. In the same vein, if you want to avoid underquilts, look into sleeping pads. 

Stay safe and warm, but most of all, have fun. 

Beau

Beau is an avid backpacker and camper who takes every opportunity to get outdoors and into nature. Having accomplished many different multi-day hiking and camping trips throughout the US, Canada, New Zealand and Australia he's always looking for great ways to lighten his pack and get the most out of his gear.

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