How to Avoid the Cocoon-Effect When Using Hammocks
Camping hammocks may seem claustrophobic at first glance, but using one that is the appropriate size and set-up properly can be surprisingly spacious and comfortable. However, it's important to take a couple of factors into consideration in order to maximize space and flexibility once you climb in and lie down.
Properly setting up a hammock involves a little bit of geometry along with some trial and error. As a general rule of thumb, you want either side of the hammock to be attached to the straps at about a 30 degree angle. Imagine a horizontal line that extends from one strap on one tree to the one on the opposite site. You want the straps to be at the same height, and you want the lines attaching the hammock to be taut at this 30 degree angle. This is optimal for a couple of reasons.
First, this is an ideal starting point to see if the hammock sags too much or is too tight. You want the hammock to rest no more than 20-24 inches above the ground once you're inside, and you want it taut enough so that your midsection doesn't sink too much once you are laying down. You may need to adjust the height of the straps if that's the case. Anything above 24 inches will usually make the hammock too high to easily get in and out of, and you also run the risk of injury if you fall out while you're sleeping.
Another reason the 30 degree angle is so important is that if the hammock is tied at a greater angle, the walls can tend to be tight and press against the body. This is the cocoon-effect, and it will make moving around difficult, may cause cramping while sleeping, and it can also create a claustrophobic environment. Play around with different angles until you find the right balance between rigidity and comfort without feeling too confined.
The other important reason that you want just the right amount of sag vs rigidity is so that you will be able to spread out while sleeping. How you do this is by sleeping at about a 30 degree to the left or right of center. Align your body so that it crosses the centerline of the hammock in order to cause it to spread open and provide you with more room.
This position also helps to support your body more evenly and take pressure off of your back, arms and feet. This position will also help to prevent material from covering or flapping in your face. Remember, you don't necessarily want to sink into your hammock, rather let the flexibility of the hammock support your body as if you are floating in water.
Aside from these basic steps, it's also important to choose a hammock that is big and strong enough to support your height and weight. A hammock that is too small will force you to squeeze inside and severely-limit your range of motion.
Remember that the reason that hammock camping is so popular is because it is a very comfortable alternative to sleeping on the ground. However, it's up to you to choose the right hammock and position it, and yourself, properly in order to fully-enjoy its benefits.