Do Hammocks Hurt Trees?

In Articles, General Information by Adam

do hammocks hurt trees?

One of the main reasons that most people buy a hammock is to relax in nature, but what if our hammock is doing more damage to the trees than good? As the popularity of hammock camping increases, this question gets asked more and more. Do hammocks hurt trees? Can hammocks kill trees? Well, I looked into it so you’ve come to the right place to find out.

To answer the question broadly; Yes, hammocks can hurt trees, however, they don’t have to if they are set up properly.  I support Leave No Trace camping and advise everyone to use tree safe methods to hang your hammock, even if you are just setting it up in your own yard.

Stating the Obvious

Obviously, it’s it possible to permanently damage and even kill trees by acting without common sense. Anchoring a hammock to saplings or trees that are obviously too small to hold a person’s weight is not something that should ever happen. It is recommended that you do not set up a hammock on trees that are less than 6 inches in diameter, however, every type of tree is different. If you use a tree that’s diameter is larger than 6 inches and it begins to sag, I recommend finding a larger tree.

What is Doing the Most Damage?

Most of the damage that occurs to trees from hammocks come from tying on with a rope, or cord. What happens is that the rope gets pulled too tightly against the tree and it will begin to wear away at the bark. Think about the all of the times that you were carrying something heavy in a plastic grocery bag and the handle began to dig into your fingers; well that’s what is happening to the tree.

Surprisingly enough, when it comes to permanent setups an eye-hook is a better solution than tying or wrapping anything around the tree which, as noted above, can be problematic. Tying around a tree for long periods of time can cut off the trees ability to circulate nutrients throughout itself which can actually kill the tree over time. This would be similar to cutting off the blood flow in a human only much slower. If you want to be completely eco-friendly then consider a hammock stand.

Camping Hammocks and Tree Safety

Portable Hammocks, such as ones you take camping, are usually only being set up for a short period of time. Because of this, it does not make sense to create permanent anchor points, therefore,  you will be left with little option other than to tie onto a tree, branch, or post. We don’t need to be worried about “choking” the tree because the hammock will only be set up for a number of nights and not months. We do still need to worry about the bark though. From here there are a variety of ways you can tie on using a mixture of different materials; some are better for trees than others.

It may be tempting to use some rope that you have sitting around to rig up your hammock, but that may be the worst option when it comes to promoting healthy trees. Ideally, you want to use the widest, flattest, material possible to tie on with. This is why tree safe hammock straps (which is my recommendation) are made out of flat nylon roughly 1-1.5 inches wide. You may also be able to find webbing that suits your needs. When you are strapping it on you are trying to spread the weight over as large of an area as possible.

What’s the Big Deal About Bark?

tree bark hammock

A tree’s bark is its skin. It keeps the tree safe from the elements, insects, and infections. When you damage the bark you are essentially creating an avenue for all of those things to attack the tree. Remember when I said trees have a layer similar to our bloodstream?  Well, that layer is called the cambium and it is just under the bark. It is true that bark does heal, but it takes a very long time and the damage is often irreversible.

Tree bark is so important to the life of a tree that arborists, who are tree professionals, will strip a circle of bark around a tree to kill it when need be. This is called girdling, and although it is very unlikely that you could to it by mistake, it demonstrates how vital the bark is. Arborists would also recommend learning how to repair tree wounds, but I think you should just use tree safe methods!

How Are Eye-Hooks Safe?

I mentioned at the start of the article that eye-bolts are a good idea for permanent hammock set ups. After reading this blurb on tree bark you may be thinking; “How can that be?”. Eye-bolts do pose some threat to tree safety but far less than “choking” it with straps does.

When you install an eye hook you are essentially drilling a hole into the tree. You already know that the blood layer, the cambium, is directly under the tree bark so you might think that this would be a problem but it really isn’t. Leaving the hole plugged with the hook helps prevent anything from entering into it. In the coming days, the tree might also produce sap around the hook sealing it further. I wouldn’t recommend doing this in the woods, I prefer to leave no trace and still be eco-friendly, but it’s a good option for your backyard.

Hammock Stands Don’t Do Any Damage

If you already use a hammock stand then you probably have been thinking of this the whole time. Hammock stands are the ultimate setup for tree safety; there doesn’t even have to be a tree in sight! But for all of the eco-benefits that stands have there are certainly some cons. That is why it is important to know how to safely tie onto trees.

Hammock stands don’t have the flexibility to be used in different situations and are hardly portable. It would be close to impossible to take a stand on a hike let alone on a portage. They are also often expensive and in some cases, people are spending more on a stand than on their hammock. There are also those who people might just need to use trees to complete their front lawn hammock project. Although I suggest using stands when possible, trees will be always be used by people, sometimes with good reasons

Hammock vs Tent: Which is More Eco-Friendly

Although I may seem biased (and probably am), I have to say that hammock camping is more environmentally friendly than tent camping. I personally love both types but I think the eco-benefits of hammock camping are clear. Remember, I suggest that you use tree friendly tree straps or this really doesn’t apply.

One benefit that hammock camping has is you are not taking up a lot of space. With traditional camping, you need to find a flat area which ends up being impacted by your tent. In some places, it is hard to find a natural space large enough to set up a tent which means that the natural environment ends up being disturbed just to set up camp.

Other Things to Do to Be Environmentally Friendly

Most of the things that we can do to be environmentally friendly do not necessarily have to do with our hammock setup but with our other camping habits. Many places have environmental laws concerning camping and those should be followed at all times. For a general guideline of common practices check out the leave no trace principles at the LTR website.

For those who don’t want to read every detail, a summary of the leave no trace principles would be to leave nothing behind, take everything with you when you leave (but nothing you didn’t bring), and try to leave no sign of impact. To do this you need to dispose of your waste properly, respect wildlife, and leave no sign of your fire. One principle of leave no trace is about keeping to a small campsite which should be no problem with your hammock. It’s the other things that are difficult!

So You’ve Decided to Use a Tree

So you’ve read this post, have done your research, and have decided to use a tree or two to hang your hammock. Whether you’re using an eye-bolt (or other hooks) or straps (eco-friendly or not), I think you should monitor the trees you are using. It may be a good idea to use an eye-hook on most trees but that doesn’t mean that it will work well for every type of tree there is.

If you are using straps I suggest that you just take a quick look at the bark every time you take your hammock down. I also recommend that you not leave your hammock up for months at a time due to the “choking” mentioned earlier.

If you are using eye-bolts I’d suggest looking at them every couple of uses after you first install them and every few weeks after that; this suggestion is for both the tree’s safety and your’s. You wouldn’t want the hook coming out and find yourself crashing to the ground. It is also possible that the hook may have to be replaced with a bigger one as the tree grows.

Conclusion

I hope that you are now armed with all the information on eco-friendly hammock hanging that you need. Remember that hammock straps aren’t eco-friendly just because they aren’t being drilled into trees. If you really want to minimize your impact use eco-friendly tree straps in the woods and hammock stands at home. Please remember to always be as eco-friendly as you can but make sure you still enjoy nature!

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