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How tree bark works

You might know about hammocks, but what do you know about the things that usually hold them up – trees?

Your hammock is only part of the equipment you need when you hammock camp. Hammocks cost money so you look after them. Trees are free – do you know how to use one with care?

Imagine the same tree being used all year round by hammock campers.  Ropes, cord, amsteel & webbing all being tied in roughly the same place.  It’s the bark that takes a beating and it can only take so much.

How does bark work?

Outer bark protects the tree from insects, injury and disease. Some trees have bark that can protect against fire damage, some have bad tasting chemicals to deter insects.

The next layer under the outer bark is the phloem ‘flow-um’. This is how food is supplied all over the tree. Sugars are created in the leaves by sunlight and transferred down to all parts including the roots.

If you were to cut a band through the bark all the way around the trunk, it would kill the tree because it would sever the food channel.

The next layer under the phloem is the cambium – you can’t see it, it’s about 2 cells thick.  This is the new growth, it’s what makes the tree thicker each year by adding to the sapwood/xylem.

The sapwood/xylem is under the cambium layer. This is the youngest growth, it carries water and minerals up from the roots to all parts of the tree.  Inside the sapwood layer is the heartwood, most of which is dead because it no longer transports water around the tree.

Some trees have thicker bark than others, some have flaky bark, such as birch trees – keep that stuff handy, it’s brilliant for tinder, but all trees will suffer at least some damage from hammock camping.  Even if you weigh just 40kg, use tree huggers and don’t rock around in your hammock, the tree is still carrying you.

Let’s try to make hammock camping as low-impact as possible for trees

  • Only use trees thick enough to support you (ideally at least 6” thick)
  • Don’t use trees that have loose or damaged bark already
  • Don’t use thin cord or amsteel/Dyneema directly around a tree
  • Use tree huggers or something flatter than regular rope
  • Don’t hammer or screw anything into a tree
  • For your safety, don’t use dead trees


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