Rock-A-Bye, Camper, Under Treetops

Spend the night under the stars


The Great American Campout takes place Friday, June 24 – Saturday, June 25. Sponsored by the National Wildlife Federation, the event is designed to connect campers of all stripes across the country with nature, wildlife, and each other. 

The National Wildlife Federation encourages camping anywhere, in any form – even if it’s inside your living room for the sake of practicing setting up a campsite and bonding with your family. Whether you choose to build your camp with sofa cushions à la childhood couch forts, cruise to the nearest campground in your RV, or head deep into the wilderness on foot, here are a few ideas for fun things to do with your camp crew. 

Many of us still prefer to make our camps outdoors. Nothing, after all, replicates the sense of inner peace and kinship with nature you feel as you fall asleep underneath a blanket of stars. More experienced campers who know that feeling may want to get even closer to the stars by testing a less practiced camping alternative during this year’s Great American Campout

Hammock CampingThis adventurous, new, (let’s say) freeform trend that’s gaining appeal for its popularity and health benefits is hammock camping. 

More than just a fun swing in the breeze, new research proves that sleeping in a hammock has positive, long-lasting effects on your health. The growing “momentum” behind this science comes from findings that show the pendulum-like movement of a hammock deepens your sleep and enhances your brain activity. 

According to an article published by National Public Radio, a smooth, rocking motion “increased the length of N2 sleep, a form of non-REM sleep that takes up about half of a good night’s rest.” The article cites a study conducted at the University of Geneva (Switzerland) in which participants were continuously oscillated – or rocked – to sleep. The motion made people who took part in the study fall asleep faster and experience deeper sleep than control subjects that slept without motion. 

The depth of sleep was charted through what researchers describe as “sleep spindles,” or brief bursts of brain activity during sleep. Sleep spindles signify periods of intense, restorative sleep and are linked to a person’s ability to remember new information, which relates to brain plasticity.  

Plasticity refers to the brain’s ability to rewire and repair itself, particularly after undergoing trauma. The study suggested that a gentle, constant rocking motion during sleep might heal individuals who’ve had strokes or other brain injuries or possibly even treat those who have sleep disorders like insomnia. 

While a simple, swinging motion presents thrilling regenerative possibilities for the mind, sleeping in a hammock can also be revitalizing for the body. Not to mention, hammock camping can be a more practical way to hit the trail, too. 

Many who’ve given hammock camping a shot are quickly convinced of its superiority to tent camping because of the quality of sleep. Being soothingly rocked to dreamland is one way to describe falling asleep in a hammock. Some go so far as to say that a full night of hammock sleep is like “floating,” especially compared to sleeping in a tent pitched on rocky, root-covered, sloped, or wet terrain or being confined to a narrow sleeping pad. 

Hammock camping gives you the experience of feeling a cool night breeze against your skin and inhaling pure, fresh air while dozing off with nothing between you and the sky besides a canopy of trees. That may be a little too much exposure to the elements for some folks, but hammock advocates would point out that you can now accessorize your hammock with coverage conveniences similar to what you’d find on and inside of tents, including breathable, zip-up, mesh mosquito nets and protective, weather-proof, cover-all tarps. 

Woman in a hammockEven on the matter of storage – an area where die-hard tent campers are sure they’ll prevail – hammock camping setups now include gear lofts, which resemble expandable, sealable mini-hammocks, that are perfect for holding daypacks and devices. 

Tents still have their benefits, not the least of which is that the youngest Scouts and most seasoned explorers alike know how to pack and assemble one. Tent camping is also the easiest way to camp if you plan on heading out with several friends or your pets. Consider, however, the versatility of packing a lightweight hammock if you’re hiking with only a small group or a significant other. A hammock on those trips is certainly more efficient to carry, keep dry, and set up than even the most minimalist tent. 

Then, why not make the most of sleeping outdoors on this year’s Great American Campout? And, while you’re at it, why not make the most of sleeping outdoors in new ways? Your sense of adventure has led you this far already so keep an open mind. 

If you’re interested in hammock camping, check out one of Mast General Store’s favorite brands, ENO, based in Asheville, North Carolina. Eagles Nest Outfitters, Inc. (or “ENO”) specializes in hammocks and their accessories, so you’re sure to find all you’d need whether you’re trying out hammock camping for the first time or adding on to your hammock camping rig. 

If you’re still not convinced that hammocks could be inside your camping comfort zone but you still want to try something new, here’s a list of “outside the tent” suggestions from the National Wildlife Federation to help you enjoy this weekend’s Great American Campout to the fullest. 

However you celebrate this year’s Great American Campout – whether rocking on the breeze, glamping it up, or hiding with your kids behind a cozy pillow fort – just be sure to disconnect from your devices, gather your friends or family around the campsite, and take in the fulfilling moments of togetherness. 

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