Cold butt syndrome is something you want to avoid at all costs when you're hammock camping.
But the hammock sleeping pad vs underquilt debate keeps on raging on.
Let's look at the pros and cons of each one to decide which equipment you should use.
Hammock Sleeping Pad vs Underquilt
Bottom insulation is important when you're hammock camping because you will get cold at night without one. Hammock underquilts are more comfortable and you'll get better sleep. Hammock sleeping pads are more versatile so offer you more options when camping.
I love hammock quilts when I know I'm going camping in forests, but I use a sleeping pad if I think I might sleep on the beach or up a mountain.
Let's take a quick look at what you'll be dealing with:
- What is an underquilt?
- What is a sleeping pad?
What is an underquilt?
An underquilt is an insulated quilt that sits directly underneath your hammock. It's designed to help insulate your body to help you stay warm throughout the night. It's almost like an unfurled sleeping bag that covers your whole body.
What is a sleeping pad?
Sleeping pads are made designed to keep you insulated and warm in your hammock. The most popular ones today are inflatable pads or closed-cell models made from dense foam. A sleeping pad goes inside your hammock and you lie on top of it.
Hammock Sleeping Pad Positives
- More spacious
The most important benefit of hammock sleeping pads is their versatility. Have you ever been tarp camping before? Sleeping on the ground under a tarp is amazing.
If you have a sleeping pad you'll be able to sleep on the ground because it offers you bottom insulation. Sleeping pads keep you a bit warmer on the ground versus in hammocks.
I know it's unlikely you'll need to sleep on the ground but you never know. If the opportunity strikes you'll be able to sleep in these places:
- In abandoned buildings
- In your car
- In the mountains
- On sandy beaches
If you need to go back to your car to turn on the heat a sleeping pad makes it more bearable. You'll also be able to take it when you go tent camping in the future.
When I wanted to start hammock camping I had massive plans, but I couldn't afford some of the equipment. Luckily sleeping pads turned out to be pretty cheap.
There are two popular kinds of sleeping pads you can use when hammock camping:
- Foam sleeping pad
- Air sleeping pad
Foam sleeping pads are great for saving money because they're the cheapest, but they don't compress to the same size as inflatable sleeping pads.
Inflatable sleeping pads are perfect for hammock camping because they're small and easy to blow up. It won't take you long to deflate them in the morning too.
Does your backpack have a sleeping pad holder? If you can strap the sleeping pad to your backpack it will save tons of space in your backpack.
Think about all the other things you'll be able to carry with you. I don't like carrying my sleeping pad on the outside of my pack unless it's a quick weekend hammock camping trip.
If you try to stuff an inflatable sleeping pad in your backpack it won't take up much space. In general, they're more compact than hammock underquilts.
Hammock Sleeping Pad Negatives
- Moves around
When you place a sleeping pad on top of a hammock the weight of your body won't be enough to hold it in position throughout the night.
Does that mean your sleeping pad is always going to move around? No, but it's still rather annoying when it does and it will impact your sleep.
Thankfully some hammocks come with a sleeping pad compartment. You just need to slide the pad into position and it's not going to go anywhere.
But if you don't have one of those hammocks you're stuck. When it moves around it can affect the amount of insulation you're provided with too.
I would stick to a wide sleeping pad with side rails to minimize movement if you're worried about it moving when you're sleeping.
Foam sleeping pads tend to hold some condensation by the time you wake up in the morning. It's one of the reasons why they're worse than air sleeping pads.
Inflatable hammock sleeping pads won't affect you in the same way. Some better models are quite good when it comes to water.
If your sleeping pad is drip repellant it's going to stay dry unless you don't put your tarp up correctly and it gets drenched.
Hammock underquilts that don't have durable water repellant (DWR) coating on the outermost layer don't do well when it's snowing and raining.
A good inflatable hammock sleeping pad isn't going to deflate when you're sleeping, but that doesn't mean it's not a possibility.
If you get a cheap or defective sleeping pad it's more likely. Once your pad starts to get old the chances of it deflating during the night increase too.
You don't want it to happen in winter because you'll be cold and you'll need to fix it asap. If there is a hole that needs to be repaired you'll be in trouble.
The chances of this happening are low but it's possible. At least with a hammock underquilt, you don't need to worry about anything happening to it during the night.
Hammock Underquilt Positives
- Covers your body
- Stay Warmer
I want to jump into every single hammock I see. They're just so comfortable I could spend the rest of my life in a hammock even at home.
Hammocks are so popular because they're comfortable to sleep in and underquilts don't ruin it because they sit underneath your hammock.
But trying to sleep on a hammock sleeping pad is different. They're not uncomfortable. Just not as comfortable as underquilts in my opinion.
Covers your body
I know some hammock campers like 3/4 length underquilts, but most designs will cover your entire body from your head to toe.
Heat is distributed evenly across your body and you'll be warm all night. You won't have to worry about your feet or shoulders getting cold.
Some hammock sleeping pads aren't great if you're a tall person. Unless you're under a certain height they might not cover you from head to toe.
Even if they do your shoulders might get cold because they're too thin. And it's impossible to tell what will happen if they move in the middle of the night.
Per square inch, hammock underquilts will keep you warmer than sleeping pads. It's a more effective piece of equipment, especially in winter.
It's an important feature considering you're buying one to help you stay warm hammock camping.
The exact temperature rating of underquilts and sleeping pads will depend on the models you use. More expensive bulkier ones will probably keep you warmer.
But unless you're going hammock camping in extreme conditions you'll find an underquilt or sleeping pad that will keep you toasty.
Hammock Underquilt Negatives
- Harder to set up
A hammock underquilt that will keep you warm below freezing will cost more than a sleeping pad that keeps you warm at the same temperature.
It's likely going to be the most expensive hammock camping purchase you make if you go for a great underquilt, but don't let that put you off if you can afford it.
If you can't afford a top-quality hammock underquilt it doesn't mean you need to use a sleeping bag instead because you can find good deals.
If you don't want to go camping in the snow some underquilts are reasonably priced. So even though the cost is listed as a negative it's nothing to worry about.
Underquilts don't have make-or-break negatives unless you need to camp on the ground. Do you think a few pounds weight difference is going to make a big difference?
It's something you would look to avoid if it's random equipment, but an underquilt will be one of your most important pieces of hammock camping equipment.
The weight of sleeping bags isn't much different. But weight shouldn't be a factor when making your hammock sleeping pad vs underquilt decision.
Harder to set up
Hanging an underquilt from either end of your hammock isn't as easy as blowing into an inflatable sleeping pad 10 times, so you could say it's harder to set up.
At least it's still much quicker and easier than setting up a tent. It will take you a while until it becomes second nature to you, which is frustrating in the beginning.
Do You Need A Sleeping Bag If You Have An Underquilt Or Sleeping Pad?
You always need a sleeping bag even if you already have a hammock underquilt or sleeping pad. When hammock camping you'll need a hammock, sleeping bag, tarp, and you can choose between an underquilt and sleeping pad depending on where you're going.
You can leave your sleeping bag at home if you have a hammock top quilt, or even a pile of wool blankets if you're taking your car with you.
Anything that will go on top of you and keep you warm is good enough. Sleeping bags are just the most popular because they have the most benefits by far.
But you still need a sleeping bag even if you have an underquilt or sleeping pad because you need something that gives you bottom insulation.
What Temperature Do You Need A Hammock Underquilt Or Sleeping Pad?
If the temperature is over 70 degrees at night it might be comfortable enough to sleep without a hammock underquilt or sleeping pad. But you should use one of them all the time in most cases, or have one in your backpack just in case.
Are you going to be camping on a tropical island in the dry season? Once it drops below 70 degrees it's easy to get cold without bottom insulation.
If you're going away for days you can't hope it doesn't get too cold. Sometimes the weather will change almost instantly and you'll need protection.
Are Hammocks Comfortable To Sleep In With Underquilts And Sleeping Pads?
Hammock sleeping pads and underquilts will keep you comfortable enough in cold temperatures because you'll always be warm. Underquilts are more comfortable when you're lying down because you won't have to lie on them, unlike sleeping pads.
I hope you don't think sleeping pads are uncomfortable to sleep on because they're not. It's just a bit better with an underquilt underneath your hammock.
Is It Warmer To Sleep On The Ground Or In A Hammock Using A Sleeping Pad?
It's warmer to sleep on the ground when you're lying on a sleeping pad. Once you're lying higher up on a hammock the effectiveness of the sleeping pad drops a little. If you have a good sleeping bag and pad you won't notice the difference.
Don't try to sleep on the ground with a hammock underquilt because it won't work. When it's squashed against the ground it will offer you no insulation.
Can An Underquilt Be Too Warm When Hammock Camping?
A hammock underquilt can never be too warm because it just insulates your body from underneath the hammock. If you were feeling too hot you could always open your sleeping bag to let more air inside. Bottom insulation can never be too warm.
Can you use a sleeping pad instead of an underquilt to stay cool? If it's still really warm using a pad take off some clothes or open your sleeping bag.
Do You Need An Underquilt For Hammock Camping In Summer?
You don't need an underquilt if you're only going to be camping in the woods on warm nights during summer. A good hammock sleeping pad will be enough to keep you warm and it won't be expensive. The R-value of sleeping pads is quite impressive.
If you live in a country where it's colder during summer or you plan on traveling to hammock camp you might want to use an underquilt instead.
Should You Use A Sleeping Pad In A Hammock In Dense Forests?
It's good to use a sleeping pad in a hammock when you're sleeping anywhere with bushes and other objects covering the ground. An underquilt is durable and hard to rip, but it's still going to hang down deeper than a hammock.
Try to find a hammock camping spot somewhere away from broken branches and rocks that could wear down your equipment.
Hammock Sleeping Pad vs Underquilt Conclusion
Sleeping pads and underquilts will protect you with bottom insulation when you're hammock camping. Most people should use an underquilt if they can afford one. If you might have to sleep on the ground you should take a sleeping pad with you.
It won't make a huge difference unless you're hammock camping in really harsh conditions. Underquilts do have a big advantage when it comes to comfort.
Along with warmth they protect your entire body, they won't move around, and lying directly on a hammock is more enjoyable. But sleeping pads are cheap.