Hammocking is by no means difficult - in fact it's almost always much easier than a tent. Hammocking is also far more comfortable than a tent. Simply put, if your hammock experience isn't more comfortable than sleeping on the ground, you're either in the wrong size hammock or you're cold and need some decent hammock warmth.
The learning curve is fairly small in getting it right, but there are some techniques and rules of thumb involved. In the end, personal preference is the most important. Here are some tips to get it right.
Hammocking can be dangerous if done without a little care and common sense.
Don't hang higher than you're willing to fall.
Make sure your anchor points are sufficiently sturdy. Look above - ensure there are no broken or suspect branches waiting to fall on you. A few people are killed every year by falling tree limbs.
Inspect and verify the condition of your suspension components prior to use. Ensure that straps are straight and not twisted or folded over in the cinch buckle.
Cold sets in fast because the hammock is exposed to the air and wind - convection will remove your heat very quickly and efficiently. You'll start getting cold at temperatures less than 70°. Yes, really.
Insulation inside the hammock, such as a sleeping bag, is compressed by your body weight and rendered basically useless. A foam or inflatable pad can help, but they're difficult in a hammock - they bunch up, move around, or cause condensation.
The best solution is an underquilt. An underquilt is suspended directly beneath the hammock which solves the issue of compressed insulation inside the hammock and also alleviates the need for a pad. (More on carrying a pad as backup later on.)
We highly suggest practicing with your new underquilt before you go into the wild with it. It needs to be dialed in properly. Little adjustments can make a big difference - how loose/tight it is suspended, how loose/tight the end channels are cinched up, changing the angle of the suspension, etc. Play with it, experiment in your backyard when there's no stress involved. Have someone of similar size lay in your hammock so that you can visualize everything from outside the hammock. Once dialed in, you likely won't need to mess with it much after that.
For warmth inside the hammock, a topquilt is the best solution. You can use other things in a pinch, such as a sleeping bag - but don't try to get in the bag - that's sort of like herding cats. Unzip it most of the way, stick your feet in and simply lay it over you. A topquilt is more appropriate, as it isn't as bulky as a sleeping bag and there's no zippers to bug you and rub on the fabric.
Hammock quilts are either insulated with Down or synthetic materials. At Elemental Hammock we use Apex Climashield™ synthetic insulation - the best synthetic available. We will be introducing down quilts in the near future. Until then, and in meeting our goal of your successful hammocking, we recommend down quilts for the gram-counting hikers out there since down is a smidge lighter and packs a little smaller than synthetic. The difference isn't much, but it matters to some. Until we produce our own, we're happy to recommend a few good cottage vendors - contact us directly.
An amazing hammocker named Derek Hanson wrote a book called The Ultimate Hang. We highly recommend buying it and reading every bit of it. Derek's website is also full of very good hammock information and illustrations. Look at his Hammock Hang Calculator. Before doing any calculations there, only change the hang angle and pay close attention to what happens to the shear force as the angle is decreased. This is very important because the tension and pressures increase dramatically on the entire setup - the suspension, ridgeline, and the trees themselves. Hanging a hammock 'guitar-string tight' is not a good idea, and something is going to break eventually.
Back to the Hammock Hang Calculator - this is a fantastic tool for you to get the feel of how a hammock should be hung. Enter your hammock ridgeline length, distance between trees, etc., and it will tell you how to achieve a good suspension angle. Once you’ve done this a time or two, it will become second nature. It is suggested that the suspension straps be at a 30° angle. A fast and easy way to get close to the 30° angle is using the 'pointing gun' method in the photo below.
Ridgeline Tension - When you're in your hammock, you should be able to 'twist' the ridgeline to around 45°. If you can go much further your hang is a tad loose, and if you can't twist the ridge line at all or very little your hang is too tight. Preference is important, and you do have a little fudge room to experiment with.
Uh-Oh - No Trees!
Don't worry - thankfully trees are not required!
This can happen. You end up above the tree line, or in the desert, and there's just nowhere to hang a hammock. It is a bummer, but there are solutions.
One thing you can do is simply setup the hammock like a bivy on a ground tarp. This is when carrying a foam or inflatable pad as a backup comes in handy. Attach the suspension lines to anything - your hiking poles, some sticks, your motorcycle, whatever you can find that will hold the bug net up off of you. In a rainy situation this will need to hold your tarp up as well. It can be a little tricky, so practice this.
Another strategy is to purchase a portable hammock stand such as the Handy Hammock model. It packs small, it's light, and it can keep you off the ground. It is important to note that the Handy Hammock stand is only for hammocks up to 10'6" in length, and requires being able to drive stakes into the ground.