Skip to main content

Tent vs. hammock camping: Great family vacation or serious mistake?

Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

Family camping is one of the best ways to get away from the daily grind, immerse in the beauty of nature, and create lasting memories. It’s easy to book a cabin or rent an RV for the weekend, but the most immersive experiences are those that involve just a thin layer of nylon between you and the elements. Tents and hammocks are the shelters of choice for the most adventurous families. Which is best? The debate continues.

Either tent or hammock camping can offer a great night’s sleep. Factoring in all of the required gear for a warm, dry setup in average weather, plus the amount and weight of the gear, is necessary. Both can be set up in minutes without a high level of skill. 

If you’re concerned about hammock camping and bears, don’t be. Tent and hammock camping can  be equally safe in bear country as long as proper food handling protocol is followed. But hammock lovers often claim that they have the superior shelter. Let’s take a look at how tent and hammock camping work out for families and find out if there’s a true winner.

Tent camping requires less gear

With family tent camping, you need a tent and possibly a ground tarp. The size of the tent dictates the number of people who can comfortably sleep inside. Families with young children usually sleep in the same tent. Older kids may want to sleep separately. Either way, it’s pretty simple to pack the tent or tents and be ready to go.

For a family to camp in hammocks, each person needs a hammock, tree straps, and a rainfly. These items may be sold as a set or individually. In summer, add bug netting. If temperatures will drop below 60 degrees, add an insulating layer such as an underquilt. The amount of individual gear makes hammock camping more flexible on the one hand and slightly more complicated on the other. 

Hammock camping may be more comfortable

Tent camping provides a greater sense of security for some. Sleeping on the ground requires no special training, and with everyone in the same tent, there is less concern over nighttime fears. From the standpoint of physical comfort, tent camping is warmer in cold weather, but sleeping on the ground is often less cozy than a hammock. A soft yet supportive camp bed is elusive for many tent campers.

In a properly hung hammock, anyone can sleep comfortably because it offers better support in a variety of sleep positions. However, 360 degrees of air circulation means that staying warm in cold temperatures requires extra gear. The increased feeling of exposure and slight sway while sleeping may feel less secure to some. Although hammocks may be arranged quite close to one another, some children may experience an uncomfortable sense of aloneness. It’s best to practice at home in advance and possibly have a tent available as a backup plan before that first family hammock camping trip.

Andrew Angelov/Shutterstock

You’ll stay drier in a tent

A waterproofed tent will stay dry inside through wind and rain. Hammocks are far more open to the elements. Although falling rain may be shed by the hammock’s rainfly, other entry points include water that runs down the ropes, rain that blows in through the ends, or drips and splashes wetting the hammock from below. For an adult, rain may be miserable, but for kids, it may be a minor disaster. The consistently most reliable protection from foul weather comes from a tent.

You’ll get more use from a hammock

A tent is a tent. It is great for sleeping and waiting out the rain. It can even be fun to use as a backyard fort. In the end, it is a nylon room.

A hammock fills the role of a tent but can be much more useful throughout the day. It is a fun place to sit around, read a book, or take a nap and a comfortable place to sleep under the stars. It may not be physically much more than a tent, but it’s more fun.

Let the conditions determine your choice

Tents require no special environment. They may be the only way to find shelter in open places like a treeless prairie or alpine or beach environments. They are most comfortable where the ground is level, rock-free, and dry.

Hammocks work wherever there are trees. They hang level even on steep mountainsides. If the ground is soggy or full of rocks, the hammock is just as cozy. 

Dziana Hasanbekava/Pexels

The winner

Traditional tent camping is an excellent way to get young kids interested in the outdoors. A tent offers home-like security and reliable protection against cold and rain. This is the best first choice for most families.

Experienced campers who want a fun new challenge will love the feeling of freedom from camping in hammocks. For the best experience, take the time to orient kids with the equipment and the feeling of sleeping in a hammock before going all-in. For adventurous families who love the outdoors, this could be an awesome vacation.

Editors' Recommendations

Mark Wolfe
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Mark Wolfe is a freelance writer who specializes in garden, landscaping, and home improvement. After two decades in the…
The 9 Best Tents for All Outdoor Excursions, From Backpacking to Group Camping
A first-person view of a man relaxing in a tent on a hill.

We all love the outdoors. Truly. And most of us want the most immersive experience we can handle every time we get out there to enjoy nature. Let's be honest though ... We've all got our limits. For some of us, it's the thought of inhaling the spider crawling slowly across our faces as we sleep peacefully beneath the stars. Some of us don't mind the bugs, but simply can't handle the thought of getting our best sleeping bag or jacket ruined in the rain.

Whatever your mental hurdle, the solution is simple: You need one of the best tents money can buy for whatever sort of outdoor adventures you're planning. We've rounded up the best advice we can muster on every kind of tent known to man, from superlight backpacking tents to backcountry mansions big enough for your entire extended family, their dogs, and a flatscreen TV. To top it off, we've got a few of our favorite picks for the best tents of 2021 in every category.

Read more
Going Camping? These are the Best Family Tents to Buy on Amazon
best family tents

One of the most important pieces of your camping kit is a good tent, and having to suffer with a lousy one can make wilderness adventures a lot less fun – doubly so if you’ve got kids in tow. A quality tent does more than provide shelter from the elements: It provides you with a small home away from home when you’re on the trail, giving you a cozy place to rest and relax when you’re not busy enjoying the great outdoors.

To accomplish this, a well-designed tent must be durable, reasonably easy to set up, and able to provide suitable comfort and protection from any type of weather you’re likely to encounter (your tent is shelter first and foremost, after all). It’s worth it to do a bit of research before you buy one, and we’ve already done the heavy lifting for you: Below is an up-to-date guide on the best family tents on Amazon right now, with picks that cover a nice range of needs and budgets.
Best Overall: Coleman Montana 8-Person Tent

Read more
The Best Four-Person Tents for Camping With Your Friends This 2022
Best Four-Person Tents

The only thing better than camping is camping with friends (or family … or your dog). If y’all like each other enough, why not invest in one big camping tent, rather than multiple shelters for each person? You’ll save money, pack weight, and the hassle of lugging all that extra camping gear on the trail. We’ve done the hard work for you to roundup the best four-person tents for backpacking, camping, or car camping. Now it’s time to start making those campsite reservations.
REI Co-Op Base Camp 4 Tent

For substantial four-person expeditions with the family, there’s REI Co-Op’s Base Camp 4 four-person camping tent. It features a mountaineering-inspired geodesic dome architecture that’s sturdy enough to tackle all but the most extreme conditions. We especially like the dual, wide-mouth doors that allow every camper to make an easy exit without waking or stepping over their tentmates. A full-coverage rainfly also ensures that everyone stays dry when the weather turns ugly.

Read more