Arguably, one of the best parts of outdoor camping is chilling in a shady hammock in the early afternoon, with a book in one hand and a beer in the other. If I’m in a particularly glampy mood, I might even open up a nice bottle of wine and pull out my handy collapsible wine glass -- now that’s my idea of glamping. If my site has trees, you can almost always find me hanging in my hammock.
So imagine my surprise when - as I was lounging in my hammock at one of my favorite camping spots - the local rangers pulled up beside my site and beckoned me over to their truck. I was a little apprehensive, since they usually mind their own business unless someone is breaking a law. As I walked over to them, I did a quick scan around my site -- the fire was within regulations, we only had one vehicle and one tent as per the campground rules, so what could be the issue?
They explained to me that hammocks were not permitted in this area because they damage tree bark, leaving the tree vulnerable to local tree beetles (which have apparently devastated entire forests in the past) as well as preventing the tree from nourishing itself properly.
I was completely flabbergasted, as I had always pitched my hammock while camping and never heard anything about it. I asked if there were any rules to follow that might allow me to keep my hammock up, but alas -- no. At this particular campground, they have a strict no-hammock policy to prevent tree injury.
Don’t be discouraged; many campsites do allow hammocks as long as they are properly hung. There are numerous ways to prevent rope damage: for starters, avoid 550 cord because it is too thin and will cut the bark. Instead, opt for a hammock strap that is at least one inch in width. This will spread the weight over a larger area and minimize damage. If you don’t have a thick strap, you can also pad your cord with anything soft, like thick socks or that microfiber towel in your hygiene kit. Whatever you can do to prevent the rope from digging into the bark.
There are other factors to consider when hanging your hammock. For example, a hammock should not be hung within two-hundred feet of a water source (another rule I commonly broke before I educated myself of hammock etiquette) and hammocks should not be hung on certain trees that are known for being brittle (I have been warned to steer clear of oaks).
This may seem like a lot of fuss over something that you have probably already done a hundred times, but it really is important. As glampers, we are not only responsible for having a glamorous outdoor adventure, but also for preserving the natural environment that gives us so much joy. Besides, do you really want to be crushed to death by a falling tree branch while you doze in your hammock? I think not.
I encourage you to do the proper research on each specific area before you camp in order to determine the local rules and safety guidelines. If you're not sure how to hang a hammock from a tree, there are plenty of guides online (and helpful campsite neighbors). And when in doubt, the best source of information is your camp host or park ranger -- they are there to protect both the environment and our safety, and will always be happy to answer thoughtful questions from considerate campers. So before you hang your hammock -- ask!