When you think about a hammock, first picture that comes to mind is relaxing without a care in the world. It’s a hot sunny day out in the forest and you’re feeling a nice breeze around you, caring nothing about troubles in the world… However, as the night approaches, things start to get a bit colder and the extra air circulation starts to feel less nice.
To prevent the heat loss, as well as the pesky mosquitoes that will surely be around, the best option is the purpose-built under-quilt specifically made to keep heat from escaping outside without making your hammock too crowded on the inside.
Now you must be asking yourself why bother getting a quilt for hammock camping when you already own camping bags.
The answer is simple – any sleeping bag will work in a hammock, but not nearly as good as a hammock underquilt would. Camping quilts are, in essence, just fully unfurled sleeping bags. And just as sleeping bags, they’re made by stuffing some fill (typically down, but also synthetic) into a nylon shell. They’re designed so that you hang them underneath your hammock to give you an additional layer of insulation between your bottom and the elements.
Under-quilts have an added benefit of providing greater freedom of manoeuvring in your hammock, as well as making it easier to remain warm and cozy through the night, as there’s no fear or risk of falling off a sleeping pad. That’s why most campers prefer under-quilt than the old sleeping bags for their hammocks.
The difference between an under-quilt and a top-quilt is pretty much what you’d think after hearing the terms – on goes underneath the hammock, and the other over it. As a rule, under-quilts can be used without top-quilts, but the other way round is far from recommended. Yes, you can use a sleeping pad instead of an under-quilt, but it’s less optimal.
On a similar note, top- and under-quilts can be used interchangeably, but top-quilts are generally narrower, so they won’t be a good fit if you’re rocking a double hammock. Also, top-quilts are not the ideal choice if you tend to toss and turn in your sleep, as this can open a gap between the quilt and the hammock for the cold to creep in.
Besides, remember what Bear Grylls taught us – one layer below is worth several above. Granted, he was talking about sleeping on the ground, but the principle somewhat applies here as well, seeing how the cold air will invariably sink to the bottom.
Choosing your first under quilt is known to be one of the toughest aspects of owning it, much like with any other piece of camping gear. There are many manufacturers that make high-quality under-quilts, which is both a curse and a blessing. On the one hand, the sheer amount of choices on the market can be a bit overwhelming, to say the least, and all the sales-y fluff attached makes it unbearable to shop.
On the other hand, this pretty much guarantees you’ll find something that will suit your needs to the tee. So, with that in mind, we made a short hammock underquilt buying guide to help you get started.
When it comes to choosing an under-quilt filling material you really have only two options (that’s painting it with a broad brush), the choice being either down or some sort of synthetic material. Basically, it almost always boils down to personal preferences.
Down is highly effective at preventing heat loss, as well as being packed to an astoundingly small size. If you’ve ever owned an old jacket filled with dawn then you must know how ineffective it becomes if the filling gets wet. Not only does it become less effective at insulating, but it also gets heavy as all hell, which is a major downside for campers and backpackers.
On the flipside, nowadays the technological advances have enabled us to make increasingly effective water resistant and even waterproof materials to keep the filling (and, in turn, you) from soaking up moisture. Of course, if you plan on venturing into a zone where the climate is overwhelmingly humid, it’s still a significant factor to take into account. What might help you in this regard is bringing a tarp that will help you stay dry.
On a balance, most campers prefer down filled underquilt because of the well-balanced weight and warmth ratio, even with the somewhat less approachable price tag.
On the other hand, a high-quality polyester insulation provides even more warmth and won’t lose its heating capacity if it gets wet. They are completely water resistant, and easy to manage on the cleaning factor since you can just dump them into the washing machine after camping. They are traditionally more affordable, as well as durable, but it’s less popular among campers and backpackers because of its bulkiness and inability to hold shape.
This choice ties in nicely to the previous section, as it also affects the weight and durability of the under quilt. Typically, you’ll want as little weight as possible, so you should pick the lightest fabric out there – about an ounce per square yard is the ideal ratio you want.
Given the fact that under-quilts hang down from your hammock without actually touching the ground or your fine self, they don’t have to face too much abrasion, so durability is not as big an issue as weight. On the flipside, consider the fact you’ll probably snag it here and there unintentionally, as well as wash it occasionally (hopefully, after each camping trip), so you can’t go with just the usual nylon.
Rip-stop nylon, however, is a great choice in this regard, as it’s not that much heavier than the regular one, but it’s better at keeping things together. It is somewhat pricier, though, but not nearly enough to break the bank.
On that note, some hammock under-quilts will have different materials for the two sides to maximize the benefits from each material. So, you’ll have a rip-stop nylon interior shell to make it durable and a silnylon (silicone & nylon, for those of you not in the know) for the exterior shell to protect it from splashing. As well as to cut down on weight a little bit.
Naturally, an important factor when choosing the right under-quilt is to get a model that fits your hammock. They usually come in three sizes, lengthwise: half-length, three-quarters, and full length, and choosing the right measure is entirely based on your personal needs. Of course, even the smallest size will keep the greater part of your body comfy and warm, and only some parts, such as the extremities, will suffer from the cold.
On the flipside, smallest by necessity means the lightest, which is something that should be a top priority for any backpacker. If you do decide to go this route, keep in mind to bring some extra socks, perhaps even a stylish sleeping cap, to keep full coverage – it’s not perfect, but it’s a decent trade-off for lugging less weight. Provided you’re not a winter camper, a half-length hammock underquilt should accommodate most scenarios.
On that note, the three-quarters length seems to be the most popular under-quilt hammock choice for its optimal weight-to-size ratio. Again, a pair of thick socks and a cap should be close by, in case things get a little too cold. Finally, for full insulation, the full size length is definitely the way to go. If you tend to camp during winter or in cold areas, this should be your first choice, even with the added weight in play.
There are also some models which are wider and longer than others in their category to accommodate for different types of hammocks and/or campers. These aren’t exactly custom made under-quilts, but they aren’t as mass produced as the three types we listed above, either. This is certainly something you’d want to take into consideration, especially if you tend to bunk in a double hammock, or just prefer having more wiggle room for lonesome self
If you want to have maximal insulation for your hammock, you’ll need to make sure that your under-quilt is big enough to be able to accommodate not just the hammock, but you with it. It mustn’t be too snug, as this will limit your freedom of movement, but on the flipside, you also don’t want it to be too big and have gaps where all that cushy warmth can escape while you sleep.
That said, there’s only one way to be sure – visit your locale retailer and ask if you can try it out or if they can unfurl it in the store. Short of that, if you prefer doing your shopping online, read as many user reviews as you can, and be sure to ask questions before committing to any one product.
Planning on venturing to the mountains or camping during fall or winter? Well, there are a few precautions you’ll need to take before setting off.
An experienced camper will know of the necessity of bringing an under-quilt in his backpack when venturing to meet the unpredictable weather. This product can be a perfect choice in the temperatures that go between 15C and all the way down to -15C. Hammock under-quilts are fairly versatile as they allow you to sleep carefree no matter the temperature outside. If it’s cold, tighten the suspension cords and have the quilt wrap around your hammock; if it’s warm, loosen them and let air pass in between, cooling you as you doze off.
On that note, no matter where you go, if you want to stay comfortable in difficult weather conditions you need to keep the bare essentials with you. A professional company always tests its products under extreme conditions and makes sure that the buyer gets the best. The fabrics are made to be lighter and the full-length under-quilt has all the properties that are required for the mountaineer.
We’ve discussed at length all the various fabrics and fillings for a hammock underquilt, and their respective advantages and disadvantages, but we haven’t touched upon the most important piece – the suspension system. Typically, the manufacturer will include all the hanging hardware you need with the quilt.
You’ve got the primary suspension (which goes through the S-biner), as well as the secondary suspension (which comes knotted on the S-biner). Then you have a length of shock cord with cord locks at each end which you can use to cinch up the ends at need. We’ll discuss this process step by step in the following section.
Many folks are put off from camping in a hammock simply because they’re not sure how to set it up and use it, and when they’re told there’s more gear to hang and strap, they’re even more reluctant to go for it. If you’re one of those campers, then you’ve come to the right place to get rid of those fears.
There are essentially two types of hammocks, if we go by how they attach to the suspension system, the spread-bar (less stable, but great for tanning) and gathered-end (much more stable). Seeing how gathered-end hammocks are the more popular option among campers and backpackers, we’ll focus on how to attach your under-quilt to this type. That said, here’s a step by step guide:
On a more serious note, though, there’s really nothing to it – it’s a simple matter of clipping one suspensions system to the other and making sure you can adjust the air gap between your quilt and the hammock. On that note, different manufacturers will have slightly different systems, but all of them will have some sort of attachment hardware (S-biner, micro carabiners, clips) and a tightening system (bungee cords with cord locks).
Taking care of an underquilt is quite similar to maintaining an ordinary sleeping bag, no matter what type of filling it has. In other words, you should keep it in a dry and cool place when you’re not using it. This is because hammock under-quilts, much like hammocks themselves, are often made of nylon, which is a fabric susceptible to sunlight, as it tends to quicken the degradation process (so, there’s more sense to camping in shade than you might think at first).
On a similar note, you should make sure to avoid using a compression stack for storage, as it will have an adverse effect on your bag. What this will do is leave it in a compressed state (well, duh) over a long period of time, which will make it lose some of its comfy loft.
When it comes to cleaning, it all very much depends on how much contact the under-quilt had with the ground. Still, even if you take impeccable care and only camp in pristine locations, you should give it at least a good brush when you get home.
If you need to deep-clean it, however, there are two ways to go about it – machine-wash it or do it by hands (this is obligatory for down quilts). Most manufacturers will note whether their under-quilt is machine-washable or not. If you can’t find any info about whether your particular model is machine-safe, always assume it’s not.
If you’re doing it by hand, some mild soap and warm water should do the trick. Whichever way you do it, make sure you don’t wash the carabiners (you’d be surprised how many folks need to be told this).
As for drying it, it’s recommended to air-dry it even if you wash it in a machine. It won’t take more than half an hour on a sunny, breezy day. When it comes to down, machine-drying is actually advisable. Just remember to keep it on the lowest setting and put some tennis balls inside with it to break up the clumps and get the loftiness back.
While cleaning and maintaining can indeed be a time consuming process, it will prolong the life expectancy of your under-quilt by a considerable margin.
In conclusion, choosing the best hammock underquilt isn’t as crucial as choosing the hammock, but picking the wrong one will ruin your day. With that in mind, let’s briefly recap what you need to look out for when shopping for one.
First, the weight – this is especially important if you’re a backpacker and need to keep it to the minimum. Aim for 1 ounce per square yard or thereabout. Secondly, the material – calendered rip-stop nylon and down fill are the optimal combo when it comes to weight-to-insulation ratio.
Finally, the size – if the conditions in the area you’re camping in are not severe, you can get by with a half-length quilt to cover your torso (and the most vital organs, wink wink), complemented with some thick socks and a sleeping hat. If, however, you prefer alpine climates, a full-length quilt is a must.
We hope that after reading this guide you feel confident about picking the appropriate hammock underquilt for your hammock. Do you feel we missed anything? Any thoughts to share with fellow readers? If so, please feel free to leave us a comment and share the article!