Disclaimer: The author of this article freely admits that he is unabashedly in favor of sleeping in a hammock over sleeping on the ground in the dirt!
There is a lot of debate over which sleeping system is “better” for camping outdoors, and all sides make valid points. We have chosen to use hammocks as our preferred system, and if you’d like to know more about our reasoning you can check out this article.
This article and video are not comprehensive arguments with the intention to persuade anyone into choosing one system over the other, but they do highlight what seems to be a distinct advantage that a hammocker would have over a ground sleeper (whether they use a tent, tarp, bivy sack or pretty much any other ground based system). The following scenario is something that anyone who backpacks in mountainous areas could encounter. (Note: if you are well above tree-line or in an area lacking forestation, obviously this wouldn’t apply.)
Imagine that you’re hiking along a somewhat exposed ridgeline and a thunderstorm pops up/blows in. Let’s say the temps are hovering around 40 degrees (F). Before you can don your rain gear you get pretty wet. You need to seek shelter from driving winds, rain and lightning, so you descend from the ridgeline on the leeward side. As you hustle down the slope, you come to a stand of trees where you feel more protected and sheltered. However, because it is so cool out and you’re now wet, you notice that you’re shivering, and you know that in these conditions hypothermia is a possibility.
You will have to take some action to stay warm. Keeping moving is one way, obviously, but with the storm raging, staying in the area you just found is safer. The best option is to change into some dry clothes and get out your insulation to warm up, and possibly even heating some water for a cup of tea or coffee and a snack. None of this will do any good while you’re exposed to the pouring rain though.
If you’re in a tent, at this point, you may have to keep moving downhill and hope that you find a flatter or at least somewhat less steep area that’s clear enough to set it up. This could present a challenge. If you are packing a tarp, now is the time to use it. Once you have your tarp up, you will have a small sheltered area that will provide respite from the rain that you can use.
However at this point, if you have a ground based system, you still can’t really break out your insulation and wrap up in it effectively because you have no level place to lay down. You could change clothes and have a snack, heat some water under your shelter, and that may be enough.
But, if you’re a hammocker, then you can string up your hammock and insulation underneath your tarp, and climb in safely suspended over the mud and rivulets of water running down the hill, and also have a snack and hot beverage while you take advantage of your sleeping insulation to help warm you up. You can then gather yourself and prepare to head back out into the storm if necessary, or just wait it out in warmth and comfort. The following video is offered to show how practical a hammock system would be in this situation.
How likely are you to be caught in a situation like this? I’ll let you decide. But if you were, a hammock would provide a distinct advantage over other ground based sleeping systems.
Thanks for considering this scenario with me and happy trails!