How to Protect Trees from Rope Damage
Preventing damage to trees from ropes and straps is one of the most important things to do when hammock camping. Trees are susceptible to various diseases, insect infestations, rotting and other ill-effects associated with exposure once their protective layer of bark has been removed. It also only takes a small amount of missing bark to leave even the largest of trees vulnerable. Consequently, being careful when tying hammocks or other items to trees is an important habit to develop, especially if you are focused on leaving no trace.
Some hammocks come with protective sheaths that slide over ropes to prevent them from digging into and ripping away bark. However, many do not, and even the ones that do may not provide adequate protection. The best way to prevent damage to trees is to provide ample cushioning around the area where the rope will be attached.
You can use a variety of material based on what you have on hand, such as old shirts, socks or cloth. Bandannas are also an excellent option to consider, and they should be large enough to wrap around any small to medium sized tree. No matter what you use, make sure that you can provide protection around the diameter of the tree so that no part of the rope will gouge the bark. This may involve doubling up or adding some additional padding when necessary.
Avoid Vulnerable Trees
As you are scouting your site, try to look for healthy and sturdy trees that have a thick layer of bark around their trunks. Avoid trees that are scratched, already have their wood exposed or otherwise look fragile or less-than-ideal. Keep in mind that attaching a hammock to these types of trees can exacerbate any problems and contribute to their destruction.
Unfortunately, especially in popular and well-traveled areas, many people attach their hammocks to trees that have already been scarred by other campers or hikers. Some think it's easier to hook up to notches that already exist or that they will provide additional stability. This isn't always the case, and your hammock may end up contributing to the stripping down of the tree.
Another good idea is to use one set of trees per day and then switch to a new spot. This will go a long way toward minimizing your footprint and causing permanent damage or undue stress to a handful of trees.
While this may seem a bit over-zealous since it's just you and a couple of trees, just consider the hundreds of thousands of other people who camp in wilderness areas each year. This makes trees near popular spots particularly vulnerable. At the end of the day, it's up to all of us to hike and camp responsibly and keep our impact to the environment to a minimum, and providing a little bit of cushioning can go a long way toward helping trees remain strong and healthy for generations to come.