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How I Finally Got A Great Night's Sleep While Camping

Tree Tent Case Study

I never much enjoyed camping.

Don't get me wrong: I actually enjoy most parts of it.

I enjoy spending time around a campfire with friends. I enjoy cooking over an open fire. Most of all, I enjoy eating what we cook.

But when it comes time to sleep, the enjoyment dies.

No matter how nice my tent and no matter how thick my sleeping pad, I always end up with a rock or a root jabbing me in the ribs all night long.

And I’m a side sleeper, which makes sleeping on the ground even more uncomfortable.

It’s for that reason, I haven’t gone camping in a long time. I miss all the good things, but not enough to make up for the painful night of no sleep.

To make matters worse, my current girlfriend loves camping.

She grew up camping with her dad and brothers and really misses it. But she knows how much I hate sleeping in a tent and doesn't want me to suffer. So we never go.

Instead, we just get together with friends in the park for a barbecue. At night, we go home to sleep in our own beds.

I feel terrible that my girlfriend has had to give up something she loves so much because of me.

Unbelievably, that has all changed.

I recently did a little experiment on myself and learned first-hand that it is possible to get a wonderful night’s sleep while camping.

In fact, you can sleep better even than in your own bed.

That’s because even the softest mattress is still a surface beneath you that exerts pressure on certain parts of your body.

No matter how soft that pressure, it adds up over the course of a night.

But if you remove all pressure, if you float on air, can you see how that would make sleeping so much better?

Well, you can do just that!

 

How Running This Website Led To My Newfound Enjoyment Of Camping

I’ve been using hammocks for much of my life. I know how comfortable they can be and how great a hammock is for sleeping.

I also know that many people use them for camping, but I didn’t want to give up the advantages of a tent, namely the ability to share it with my girlfriend and the more complete enclosure it provides.

So I simply became someone who doesn’t camp....

I'm lucky, because my girlfriend has been very understanding and was willing to give up something she really enjoyed for me.

But I've always felt so bad she had to make this sacrifice. I know what camping means to her and her family.

Now she no longer has to make this sacrifice.

It all changed when we added a new product category to this website.

Introducing the Solution to my Sleep Problems...The Tree Tent

tree tent in the jungle

I know what you're thinking.

Don't they use these in the rain forest to get away from the critters?

Well, yes. To get away from the hard, wet and often cold ground and from anything that lives there.

They combine the best features of the hammock and the tent, while foregoing all of the worst features of each.

And you can use them anywhere, not just the rain forest. As long as you have trees (one of the major drawbacks; more on that below).

As soon as I saw the first tree tent, I knew I had to get out and try one for myself. It seemed like the perfect solution to my camping problem.

I bought one months ago and have been waiting to test it out on a camping trip, but every time we tried to plan a trip with friends it fell through.

Finally, I got sick of waiting and decided to just head out into some nearby woods with my girlfriend and spend the night.

It was completely spontaneous and there were definitely some oversights.

ultralight 2 person tree tent
This photo shows the exact model I bought. It is an ultralight version made for 2 people.

It was a warm day and I took 5 hammocks with me to try out as well (I do a lot of testing for this site), so I decided to leave the sleeping bags behind.

This was a mistake (more below).

I also forgot to bring a flashlight and no fires are allowed in the woods, especially with the current drought. We were completely in the dark once the sun went down.

Annoying for camping; devastating for photos. I didn’t get any usable images after dark.

Apart from that, the test went well. The tent was incredibly comfortable and I slept better out in the woods than ever before.

More importantly, I learned a lot from just that one night.

I can now wholeheartedly say that tree tents are definitely better than traditional tents for sleeping.

But there are some negatives as well.

 

Tree Tent Review: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Ok, so there’s not really anything ugly about tree tents. They’re actually pretty beautiful.

Just look at the photo above of the Tentsile Flite+ and the hundreds of photos online of other Tentsile tree tents, like the Stingray, the Connect, the Vista, the Stealth and the Una.

So there's no ugly, but there is a lot of good and some bad.

Maybe bad is too strong a word. Let’s just say there are some drawbacks.

 

Sleeping in a Tree Tent

Let’s start with the most important question. Is a tree tent more comfortable than a tent?

Quick answer: Yes! WAY more comfortable!

comfortable sleep in tree tent

But it does take some getting used to. And there are a few potential problems, if you’re sharing the tent with someone else.

Movement

The model I have has a strap running down the middle that you can tighten or loosen.

Tightening it creates a bit of separation between the two sleeping areas when you are sharing the tent with someone else. Loosening it allows the middle to sag, making the tent ideal for one occupant.

strap to split tree tent in two
Tightening that strap creates separation between the two sides/sleeping berths

Even with the strap tightened, when one person rolls over, the other side will bounce.

That said, I was surprised at how little my girlfriend's movements affected me (and I'm a light sleeper). In fact, I actually enjoyed the light bouncing sensation.

Extremely light sleepers might find themselves disturbed if their partner tends to move around a lot while sleeping, but it won't be an issue for most.

Weight Difference

A larger potential issue is weight imbalance.

My girlfriend is around 60 to 70 pounds lighter than I am and my side of the tent was hanging a bit lower as a result.

I think I can adjust for that by hanging my side slightly higher and/or strapping it tighter. That’s something I will try next time I take it out.

If the weight difference between the two occupants is much larger, the tent would tilt a lot more.

In that case, you’d probably want to get one of the heavier and larger models that come with three ratchets, instead of just the one (more on the ratchets below in the section on setting up the tree tent).

Foot Space

foot space in 2-person tree tent

The end for your feet gets pretty narrow.

There is plenty of room for your feet, but if two people share the tree tent and use sleeping pads (which you'll want to do in cooler weather), the pads will overlap.

One possible solution is to cut the pads to a point on the foot side, so that they fit perfectly into the tent space.

Alternatively, you can just use the Skypad from Tentsile. They designed it specifically for tree tents.

In the larger two-person models (I have one of the smaller, lightweight models) there is a bit more space, making this whole issue less of a problem. With the 3-person models, it doesn't seem like it would be much of a problem at all.

Tree Tent Models Comparison

You can see a comparison of all the different models here.

Head Position

This is not something I noticed during my test night, but an issue I read about here on The Ultimate Hang.

He mentions that your head will naturally roll to the side if you are lying in one of the pockets and not directly in the middle.

I only spent a short time on my back, so I did not experience this.

But just from the physics of the tent, I could definitely see that the slight slope could cause your head to roll toward the middle.

I recommend using some kind of pillow to solve this problem. Unless you are using the tent on your own. Then just sleep in the middle.

I sleep on my side, so I need a pillow regardless. In this instance, my girlfriend and I both used one of the packed up hammocks as pillows. That worked well for us.

Draft

One problem you get whenever you hang in the air is a draft from below. Even on a fairly warm night, this can lead to you freezing.

It's a little better in a tree tent than a hammock, if you've got the rain fly on.

It hangs below the tent floor when it's empty, but when someone is in it, the floor sags below the fly sheet. It blocks some of the air flow, but only a bit.

rain fly blocking some of the draft
The rain fly blocks some of the draft, but you definitely still feel it.

We got pretty cold.

It was a fairly warm night (probably around 60 to 65 degrees), but having only a thin layer of material between us and the breeze definitely made us wish we had brought our sleeping bags after all.

On colder nights, I'd want a sleeping pad (like this one) below the sleeping bag.

On really cold nights, I'd get a hammock (the t-mini for a 2-person tent and the trillium for a 3-person tent) to hang directly beneath the tent and put something insulating in the space between, like some blankets or even just clothing.

Hanging Out In Your Tree Tent

There is enough vertical space inside the tent to sit up, but because you don't have any back support, it is not all that comfortable for a longer period of time.

For that reason, you really have to be laying down in the tree tent if you want to hang out inside.

hanging out in tree hammock
A peak beneath the rain fly. Enough space to sit up, but no back support. Sitting isn't comfortable for long.

If you're alone or with the other occupant(s) of the tree tent only, this would be fine. But if you're with a larger group, you'd want to have some chairs to sit on.

Alternatively, you can hang a hammock from the straps of the tree tent and sit in that. This would be my preference, but I didn't get a chance to try it out on this little trip, because I hung the tent too low.

 

All of those were small issues.

Overall, my girlfriend and I both found the tree tent far more comfortable than any tent or hammock for sleeping. At least with two people. If you are on your own, a hammock is also extremely comfortable.

For me, the biggest frustration with the tree tent was the setup. It takes a while to get the hang of it when you set it up for the first time.

Setup Could Be a Huge Problem (Depending on the Availability of Trees)

It took me a good hour to set up my tree tent the first time and I definitely started getting a bit frustrated.

I know that it gets a lot easier the second time, but that doesn't do you much good when you're struggling through the first setup.

And I was in an area with plenty of trees.

plenty of trees for setup
Maybe even too many trees...

If you don't have trees or some other set of 3 anchor points, you won't be floating in the air at all.

You'll have to set yours up on the ground, which negates all advantages of the tree tent and basically turns it into a cramped and even more uncomfortable tent.

As mentioned, my location had plenty of trees.

My biggest problem was balancing the straps to get the same amount of tension on each side of the tent floor.

I had to keep undoing and retying my knots and undoing and re-ratcheting the ratchet. Note that this would have been much easier with 3 ratchets, one on each strap (which is what you get with most models).

But my tree tent is one of the lightweight models, which only have one ratchet, as opposed to 3.

This makes the setup much more difficult, due to the need to retie the straps over and over again (Tentsile even recommend on all their product pages that you only switch to a one-ratchet setup after you've first gotten some experience setting your tent up with three ratchets).

 

How To Set Up Your Tree Tent And Avoid The Common First Time Mistakes

Full disclosure: I made all those “first time mistakes”.

The instructions say it takes around 10 minutes to set up a tree tent. And I can see that being true. Eventually.

setting up takes time
It definitely took me longer than 10 minutes to get it this level and taut.

It took me an hour. And I imagine it takes most people around the same amount of time the first try.

But you can cut down on that a little bit.

I’ll show you exactly what to do and, more importantly, include some pro tips for the areas where the provided instructions are adequate, but not great (they leave you on your own to figure out some of the details).

Now that I’ve set up my tree tent myself, I can fill in those blanks.

The setup below is based on the ultralight 2-person model I have, but is similar for all models. The main difference is in the number of ratchets (much more on that below).

The basic steps are:

    1. Find suitable trees
    2. Tie Straps To Trees
    3. Attach Straps To Ratchet(s) And Tent
    4. Balance Corners And Tighten Straps
    5. Insert Pole(s)
    6. Attach Rain Fly
    7. Get In And Relax!

Before we get to the actual setup, I want to briefly address these photos you've probably seen floating around Instagram or Facebook.

tree tent over water

Beautiful, right?

Makes you want to get out there and hang your own tree tent over a little creek or over the crashing waves on a beach.

Good luck with that.

After setting mine up, I can tell you it would be quite difficult to set your tent up over water without getting it wet.

Not impossible, but difficult.

You'd have to attach the straps to the trees and have them close to the correct length from the beginning. Then you'd keep the tent rolled up and attach each corner in turn.

With only one ratchet (like my model), this would be very difficult.

It becomes more doable with three ratchets and with one or two people to help. Either way, you'd definitely need to practice a bunch of times over dry land before attempting to hang it over water like those photos.

That said, if you do set yours up over water, feel free to email us a photo (info@hammocked.com). We'd love to see it and would share the photos on our site too.

Ok, on to the setup. There's a video showing how to set up the tree tent at the end, for anyone who prefers that to reading.

 

1. Find Suitable Trees

find 3 trees in triangle
You don't need a perfect triangle of trees. Notice how the distance to the tree is much longer in the front (more on that in the 'pro tip' in step 3).

Once we got into the woods, I started looking for a clearing with three trees surrounding it that were arranged in a triangle.

I spent about 30 minutes looking for the “perfect” spot.

Once I found it and started to set up, one side of the tent was way too loose. All three sides need to be equally tight, or the tent will tilt to one side.

This meant I had to abandon my “perfect” spot and search for another one.

Note: it turned out later that I could have made that first spot work, but I couldn’t figure out how at the time. I’ll get into this a bit more in a minute.

I found another spot where the trees were a bit further apart, but still evenly spaced, figuring that would make it easier. It did.

The truth is, you really just need three trees with enough space between them for the tent and a foot or two for each strap.

They don't have to be evenly spaced, as long as they are more or less in a triangular configuration. In fact, closer trees is actually better.

Pro Tip

Having the trees closer together is actually better, since you don't have to tighten the straps as much to keep the tent from sagging.

 

You want to make sure the trees you use are large and thick enough to support the tension created by the hammock tent. Ideally, use mature trees with thicker bark so as to minimize damage to the trees.

 

2. Tie Straps To Trees

strap tied to tree for tree tent

The straps have a loop in the end, so you can simply wrap them around the tree and pull the loose end through the loop. Tighten around the tree trunk and let them hang.

Make sure they are all fastened to their trees at the same height. If not, your tent will not be even.

Pro Tip

If you make the straps just long enough to hold the tent, you can hang the tent one corner at a time while unrolling it and keep it from ever touching the ground. This is not easy, especially if you only have one ratchet, and will take some practice before you are able to do it correctly. It is the method to use if you are attempting to hang it over water.

 

3. Attach Straps To Ratchet(s) And Tent

ratchet attached to tree tent

Most tree tents come with three ratchets, but the lighter ones (including the ultralight two person model I have) only come with one.

This cuts down on the weight considerably, but it makes setup much more difficult, especially the first time you do it.

If you only have one ratchet like I do, make sure you attach it to one of the back/side corners of the hammock (where your head goes when lying in it) and attach the other two straps to the front (where the feet go) and the other back/side corner.

This is something I did wrong on my first hang.

Pro Tip

Attach the longest strap to the front end of the tent (where your feet go).

Hanging the back end closer to the trees helps keep the hammock taut and the center from sagging (this is what I did wrong on the first attempt and should have just rotated the hammock, instead of moving to to a completely new location).

 

If you only have one ratchet, begin by attaching the two ratchet-less straps to the loops in the hammock.

I recommend using the cow hitch knot, since it is easy to undo and you will likely have to undo it multiple times to get the balance between the three corners right.

 

To attach the ratchets, first push the loop in the strap that is affixed to the ratchet through the tent loop, then pass the ratchet through the strap loop and pull tight.

 

To attach the tree strap to the ratchet, guide the end of the strap through the slit in the column that turns when you ratchet the handle.

Make sure to pull the strap tight to the tree, then pump the handle a few times until the strap has been turned enough so that it no longer comes out.

 

You need to pull the strap tight with the tree before beginning to ratchet or you end up having to ratchet up too much of the slack. The ratchet does not have the space on the column to wind up that much of the strap.

 

4. Balance Corners And Tighten Straps

leveled and tightened hammock tent

This is the hardest part, especially if you only have one ratchet.

With three of them, you can keep tightening each until all three sides of the hammock are equally balanced.

With only one ratchet, you have to undo the ratchet-less straps in order to tighten them further.

I had to do this several times, but I could have saved myself some trouble if I had followed this procedure.

Pro Tip

Once the tent is hanging from all three straps and the one with the ratchet is pretty tight, go back and undo the two straps without the ratchet.

Pull the first one tight and tie it off again. Then pull the second so that you make the side with the other ratchet-less strap as tight as possible.

Don’t worry if the side connecting that corner and the ratchet is tight; worry only about the side connecting the two ratchet-less straps for now.

Once that side is tight, go back and tighten the ratchet up.

You may have to undo it and reattach it, if you end up having to ratchet up too much slack.

Tighten the ratchet as much as possible and you should now have the base of your tree tent hanging perfectly.

And remember to try and keep back end of the tent (where the head goes) closer to the trees than the front end. As mentioned in a previous Pro Tip, this helps keep the hammock base taut.

 

Go ahead and hop into it to test it out.

If you notice one side drooping lower than the other, you either don’t have the tension high enough in the two straps on that side or the straps are not attached to the tree trunks at the same height.

Rehang until you get it right, otherwise you will not enjoy the full comfort your tree tent can offer.

 

5. Insert Pole(s)

pole holding up tree tent

This is the easiest part.

My tent only has one pole, but yours may have more. Either way, they all work the same way.

First push together all the small pieces to construct the pole, then guide it into the fabric tunnel that is meant for the pole.

Push one end of the pole into the plastic socket on one side, then do the same on the other.

This will increase tension in the pole and open up your tent. Now you can actually get into it and really give it a try.

 

6. Attach Rain Fly

rain fly sheet protects from the elements

This part is also easy.

The fly sheet has a seam down the middle. Cover the tent with the rain fly and align the seam with the spine of your tent.

Attach each corner of the rain fly to one of the straps, by wrapping the cordage on the rain fly around the straps a bunch of times, then hooking them together.

Once all three corners are attached, use the ground pegs and the rope to peg the fly sheet to the ground.

You can use one peg for each side and attach both ropes to it or you can use a separate peg for each rope. Using separate pegs is more work, but it is also more secure. Plus it gives you more space to get into your tent.

The rain fly not only keeps the wind and the rain away, it also reduces the draft beneath the tent, which is actually what ends up cooling you down during the night.

 

 7. Get In And Relax

Ok, I lied in steps 5 and 6. This is the easiest one of all!

Unless you hung it too high to get in it, that is!

Here is a video showing the whole process. It is not a well-made video (sorry), but I hope it shows you how to get your tree tent set up and ready to use.

 

Final Thoughts

After spending a night in my tree tent, I am obviously far from an expert.

But perhaps my first impressions will help someone deciding whether to get one of their own, so I will briefly list what I see as the biggest advantages and disadvantages of the tree tent over a regular tent and a hammock.

Tree Tent Vs. Hammock: Advantages

The biggest advantage of the tree tent over the hammock is that it is comfortable for more than one person to share.

I also found it more comfortable than a hammock for just myself, since I am a side sleeper.

I'd also say it offers better protection from the environment, but I've never used a hammock with an under quilt, so I believe this point may not be valid if you've got a properly equipped hammock setup.

Tree Tent Vs. Hammock: Disadvantages

The biggest disadvantage is obvious: weight. Even the lightest models weigh more than a hammock.

The one I have, for example, weighs 7.2 pounds. If you split it among two people, that's still 3.6 pounds.

Personally, I don't find that to be too much, but I also have never done any real backpacking where I need to carry all of my equipment for days, weeks or months on end.

I know that people who do that would find 3.6 pounds extremely heavy.

Some may see price as a disadvantage, but once you split the cost between the number of occupants the tree tent can accommodate, it generally ends up being cheaper than a full hammock setup with tarp and insect mesh.

Finally, the need for three trees could be seen as a disadvantage.

Generally, I think if you have two trees for a standard hammock, you'll also be able to find three trees.

The only issue I see, is that the trees might not be strong enough. A tree tent exerts far more force on the trees that a hammock.

Tree Tent Vs. Standard Tent: Advantages

The biggest advantage over a regular tent is comfort.

No matter how much padding I used in a tent, I could always feel the ground.

In the tree tent, I felt like I was floating on air. Maybe because I was.

Tree Tent Vs. Standard Tent: Disadvantages

The biggest disadvantage for me was the draft.

The air flowing below the floor cools you down much faster than the ground. Even if the ground is freezing, the air will be freezing more.

That said, I was in an area with plenty of strong trees. If you are not, the need for 3 strong trees in more or less of a triangle configuration becomes a huge problem.

No trees (or suitable substitute) means no tree tent.

 

As mentioned, the tree tent I bought is this super-light 2-person model.

The main reason I chose that one is the light weight. It is also priced a bit lower than the other 2-person models, in case you're on a budget.

If you plan on carrying your tent in a backpack, this is the best model.

If you split the weight between 2 people, it comes in lighter than any other models, apart from the ultralight one person version.

Plus, you can reduce the weight even more, by shortening the straps (or replacing them with lighter ones).

That said, the main use of a tree tent is for car camping, not backpacking.

It will never be as light as a streamlined hammock setup. But if you don't need to carry everything on your back, the tree tent shines.

If you're considering one, but are not sure which model is for you, check out our in-depth comparison of the different tree tents.

It will make the differences clear and help you decide which one is best for you.


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