Hi @N8RLVR, this is such a great question. I see that you plan to do most of your camping in the Midwest. I've camped and backpacked throughout the Midwest (and in the West as well), so I'm going to try to cater my advice towards Midwest camping. I've also used a variety of sleeping methods, including a hammock and a tent, during my trips, so the advice below is coming from someone who has experienced both types of sleeping options.
Choosing between tent and hammock camping depends on several factors:
- Climate (Weather/Temperature)
- Backpacking vs. Camping
- Is this a solo trip?
If you are somewhere where trees are sparse/nonexistent (above the tree line, for example), you will want to use a tent for camping. Some places also have restrictions against hammock set-ups, so make sure you confirm that wherever you will camp allows you to use hammocks. If you are somewhere that's heavily wooded/doesn't have established campsites, hammocks can be helpful, though, because you don't have to worry about finding flat ground that's big enough for your tent.
Weather and temperature are two important factors to consider when deciding between camping with a tent and a hammock. If you expect rain, snow, or high winds, I highly recommend using a tent. Although you can buy a rain cover for a hammock, I find that when you are camping in any kind of weather a tent is much more enjoyable (plus you typically have room to sit up/move around in a tent, which is extremely helpful in general, but especially when faced with undesirable weather). I would also take temperature into consideration. In the Midwest temperatures can range significantly not only season-to-season, but from day to night. Hammocks are great for warmer nights, but even with the various blankets/insulators on the market for hammocks, I would still recommend a tent for cooler nights. Tents will help trap your heat inside and, as I mentioned before, provide you with the ability to move around without becoming exposed to the chilly night air.
Especially in the Midwest, insects (particularly mosquitoes) are an important factor to think about. You can escape these buggers in a tent, but it's very difficult to comfortably escape bugs in a hammock, even with a bug net. Again, the tent also allows you to be able to sit up and move around while still being protected from insects and the environment. If you don't think insects will be a problem, then hammock camping should be fine.
4. Backpacking vs. Camping
Another factor to consider is if you plan on backpacking (where you have to carry your gear into your campsite) or car camping (where you can drive up to your campsite). Tents tend to be heavier and take up more room than hammocks, which are typically smaller and lighter. Hammocks can be a good option for backpacking, but the downside of not bringing a tent is that if you get stuck in any sort of weather, all you have for sleeping is your hammock, which can be very little fun when a random Midwest thunderstorm decides to roll in. For this reason, I tend to stick with a one-person or two-person tent when I am backpacking (obv. increasing tent size if I'm not doing a solo trip). However, due to the hammock's lack of weight and size, I will often times bring the hammock along as well, in case there is a night where the weather allows me to sleep in a hammock. Changing sleeping positions/methods can be a great way to keep aches and pains from your body!
If you are car camping, I would say the most determining factors are the others that I have mentioned in this response. You don't have to worry about size/weight issues, so it really boils down to location, weather, temperature, insects, and if you're sleeping alone.
5. Is this a solo trip?
If you are car camping alone, it's really up to the other factors (location, weather, temperature, insects) to help you choose between sleeping in a tent or a hammock. However, if you are backpacking alone, it's important to consider the fact that you will have to carry the entire tent yourself, which can take up a decent amount of space.
If you are car camping with someone else (and you would share sleeping space), having a 2-person or 3-person tent can be very handy (especially if you are introducing a friend or family member to camping OR the person you are going with doesn't have a tent!). The downside of sleeping in a hammock is that the other person would have to have a tent or a hammock in order to join your camping trip. Having a tent that can accommodate a couple of people is a great way to bring others with you who may not have the gear themselves. If you are backpacking with someone else, bringing along a tent (and the luxury that comes with it) is much easier, as you can divide the tent components between your packs (this decreases the amount and weight of a tent that each person has to carry). Again, remember that if you were to backpack with someone else, you would need a 2-person+ tent (not a 1-person).
For me, the bottom line is this: I prefer tents, mainly because:
- Added feeling of security in case I encounter bad weather while camping/backpacking
- Ability to invite less experienced people (or people without a tent/hammock) on my trips
- Protection from bugs/the environment (temp. especially)
- Room to move around while remaining "inside" (remaining protected from weather/bugs/etc.)
- Don't have to worry about finding trees that work with the hammock
If you are on a budget, hammocks are definitely cheaper, but make sure to factor in added costs that may arise (rain cover, insect net, blankets, sleeping pad, insulation add-ons, etc.), which can end up costing just as much as a tent + sleeping bag/pillow/pad in the long-run. Tents tend to be more expensive, but with modern technology the amount of space and weight that these tents have has decreased significantly, which is especially important to consider if you plan on backpacking.
For tents, although I do own a 1-person, I tend to use 2- or 3-person tents when I camp/backpack, because I am usually with at least on other person. I love REI Co-op's Half Dome and Quarter Dome series.
For hammocks, I love Sea To Summit's Pro Hammock. It's sturdy, dependable, light, and easy to compact.
Hope this helps, and feel free to ask me any questions you might have!
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.