My Ultimate Sleep System for Hammock or Tent

Updated: Mar 19, 2019

There are dozens of sleeping systems on the market, and they all get the job done, but some are better than others. A simple sleep system has a sleeping bag, a mattress and a pillow.

I’m selfish. If I don’t get a good nights sleep, then I am not a very happy camper.

I do backpacking too, but I am primarily a paddle camper and I like headwaters to the sea trips. On these trips there is a wide variety of camping sites. Sometimes there are trees for my hammock. Other times I have to sleep on the ground with my rain fly as a makeshift tent.

My sleep system accommodates a range of camping sites and styles. It can be as warm or as cool as I need, depending on the weather and location and altitude.

I use the Big Agnes Fish Hawk 30º sleeping bag with 650-fill, water-resistant downtec. I’m 5´9¨ and weigh 175, so I use the Regular size bag. If I were larger or taller, I would upgrade to the Long.

The Fish Hawk weighs just 2 pounds 7 ounces and packs in an 8¨x 15¨ stuff sack. It will stuff smaller than that, but I don’t like to have a hard ball in my pack, especially against my back. I prefer to leave it flexible so it will fill odd areas of my backpack and conform to the sides of the pack.

If I need to be warmer than 30º I can add a Big Agnes sleeping bag liner and fasten it in place with the loops inside the Fish Hawk. That gives me another 5º to 10º comfort range. If I need to be warmer when the air temperature is well below freezing, I put my summer sleeping bag inside the Fish Hawk. That combination is good to about 0ºF.

I like Big Agnes bags for several reasons. The Free Range hood has a draft-free collar, and I can open or close the tie with one hand. The hood allows me to move around, lift my head and sleep on my side without restriction.

It has a built-in pillow pocket. I use the Big Agnes Round Mountain pillow because it only weighs about 2.5 ounces and folds to almost nothing. It has a material that feels nice, not sticky.

The pillow inflates to 16¨x9¨x3¨, but I don’t use it completely inflated. I inflate it to almost full then lay on it and let air out until it feels comfortable.

All of the Big Agnes sleeping bags feature a pad sleeve for the air mattress. I use the Big Agnes Air Core Ultra Insulated regular size 20x72. It has synthetic insulation that is good down to 15º and it has the new high volume valve for quick inflating and deflating.

The Air Core Ultra Insulated expands to 3.5 inches thick for ground sleeping, but when I use it in my hammock, I only inflate it to about 1 inch. The air mattress packs down to 4¨ x 8¨ about the size of a 1-liter Nalgene bottle.

The last item in my sleep system is my favorite dual-purpose piece of outdoor equipment. The Big Agnes Pumphouse Ultra is waterproof and about the size of a 20-liter dry bag. It is the perfect size for carrying my sleeping bag, pillow, air mattress and my pajamas. That’s use number one.

The second use is as an air pump so I don't have to inflate the air mattress manually. Open the pumphouse, connect the valve to the air mattress, hold the wide end open so it will fill with air, then roll the bag closed forcing the air into the air mattress.

It takes 1 pump bag of air to inflate the air mattress to 1-inch thick for use in my hammock. It takes 4 pump bags of air to fill the air mattress to 3.5 inches if I am sleeping on the ground. Once the air mattress is nearly full, I lay on it and let air out slowly until it feels totally comfortable.

Inflating your air mattress by blowing into it when you are exhausted and winded at the end of the day, or you are camping at high altitude, can be a real test of character and patience. It used to take 14 lungfuls of air to get to 1-inch think. Now I really appreciate the blessing of this Pumphouse.

The Air Core Insulated air mattress works well for me in the hammock. The mattress is attached to the sleeping bag so it moves with me. It doesn’t go scooting out the side of the hammock which is a big complaint of hammock users. Uncontrollable sleeping pads are one of the reasons many hammock users are using under quilts instead of mattresses.

The width of the Air Core mattress spreads the sides of the hammock so I can get in easier. The inflated mattress prevents the hammock taco-ing and closing in on me. When I settle in my hammock and scoot diagonal for a flatter lay the mattress is right there for me, providing support and keeping my shoulders, hips, feet and head warm.

This is my ultimate sleeping system for the way I like to camp. Hopefully, you can glean ideas to improve your own sleep system, or suggest ways I can improve mine. Good luck and happy camping.

Andy Lee is the author of Five Hundred Miles to the Sea; Adventure Canoe and Kayak Camping Book 1 and the administrator of the Facebook group Adventure Canoe and Kayak Camping. He is chief paddling officer at

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