Why and How to Cowboy Camp Under the Stars on the Trail

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I love camping and enjoying the outdoors but hadn’t ever really considered cowboy camping as when we camped in Washington state we would frequently experience rain or drizzle in the night. This meant you never decided to camp without a cover to ensure you didn’t wake up soaked.

What does cowboy camping mean in backpacking? When you choose to cowboy camp when backpacking it means you are deciding to camp out in the open without the use of a tent or sleeping cover. It allows you to be more a part of nature and to hike with less overall weight in your pack.

Enjoying the night is an amazing experience and I have started a slow route to building my faith in weather by taking smaller trips where I stay out. This has allowed me to see the stars and listen to all the outside noises and really enjoy the outdoor experience.

Let’s dig into some of the distinct advantages and disadvantages around cowboy camping and maybe, like myself, you will start to include some nights outside of the cover.

tent camping with the night sky - What Does Cowboy Camping Mean in Backpacking

What Does Cowboy Camping Mean?

This is the “roughing it” aspect that camping used to mean, it is spending the night outside without a cover like a tent, hammock, or tarp. The basics being only enough to keep you warm like a groundsheet, Tyvek or similar, and then a pad and sleeping bag or quilt for over top.

Advantages To Cowboy Camping

There are many advantages to cowboy camping over traditional camping that most will do. It has the ability to help speed up camp set up and allow for wide-open stargazing. This helps you to limit the gear you need to bring in your pack and allowing you to better reconnect with the surrounding environment.

Quick Setup For Camp

One thing which hampers getting your miles in is needing to evaluate when to stop to start the setup of camp. Since a typical tent spot will need clearing of debris and the time during daylight to assemble removing the tent makes setup for camp very fast and efficient.

Open Air and Stargazing

There is something to be said about being open-faced to the sky without cover, your face exposed to the night air and also to the full night sky. The ability to gaze across the sky without the same over-lit skyline from the city, it is an amazingly powerful experience.

Taking in the stars allows your inner child and wonder to come back to the front, allowing you to expand your thoughts beyond the immediate here and now. There is almost nothing more fun to me than watching the night sky, finding the constellations and using them to understand my bearings even in the darkest night.

Reconnecting With Nature

I personally love listening to the outside, the chirps, and other noises that come from life itself. These noises that we have forgotten over time and replaced with cars and city noises like honking horns and tv or music.

When you listen and really open your ears you start to hear things in a different way than prior, most the time in a way which will stay with you and you’ll yearn for each time you head out.

Ultra Lightweight On Sleep Gear

One of the clear cut benefits to cowboy camping is that you will just carry a much lesser load of equipment when you choose not to bring a tent or similar cover with you. On average dropping your tent and the additional gear for your tent will lessen your load by 2-4lbs!

This means faster set up and also tear down in the morning in addition to the less pack weight aspect, allowing you to enjoy the experience in a much different manner than one who uses a tent or hammock.

Disadvantages To Cowboy Camping

With all the benefits to cowboy camping, why don’t more people attempt to camp this way? For the most part, the drawbacks are seen as overpowering to the benefits, not because they are worse but that we have been prepared by society to be worried about the outdoors and that a “home” is safe.

While on a trek most will feel that their tent, hammock, or tarp is their “home” and hence safe from the dangers that exist. While a little truth may be there in the reality a bear looks at your tent as a burrito, not some impenetrable fortress.

Dealing With Insects

For many this may be harder to deal with in their minds than bears and bigger animals, many people are very afraid of bugs and insects. This worry will cause them to outright decide that they will not camp without an enclosed area for protection and defense from the spiders, mosquitoes, and other bugs.

I am definitely not scared of bugs, definitely not a fan of cuddling up to them but this isn’t as prevalent as you think it is.


If this worries you then start small with maybe trying it only in your backyard which means if you get spooked you can easily go back inside the house, much simpler then traveling somewhere and having an issue.

Weather in front Coming on Strong - Eyes Up and Always Looking For Trouble - What Does Cowboy Camping Mean in Backpacking
Weather Coming on Strong – Eyes Up and Always Looking For Trouble

Dealing With Weather

This can be a game-breaker and cause you to be in a bad state if unprepared for. If you are planning to head out for a long hike or multi-day trek then you need to know the weather upcoming is to ensure you are properly prepared.

This is something that is much more pressing when you aren’t bringing something to cover yourself as if a storm comes out of nowhere you are in serious trouble without a tent or way to get out of the weather.

Dealing With Wildlife (Snakes, Bears, etc)

I will definitely admit my personal anxiousness from movies is around snakes getting close due to my body heat. This is widely exaggerated though looking at real-life trips and having never dealt with it ever, whether desert or forest areas I have stayed in.

While I have little worry about bears and bigger animals they are something you should know overall about and whether they frequent the area you plan to stay in. You want to make sure and hoist bear bags away from camp to make sure they have fewer reasons to be close to your camp also.

When Should You Cowboy Camp?

The best times to consider cowboy camping are more in warmer months aiming from the end of spring into the fall as you will get the clearest nights in these times. This will ensure the most time where you will have the best chance at good weather, though many times will also be the time of greatest insect populations as the days warm.

Is it Safe to Camp Without a Tent?

There is no reason why cowboy camping without a tent would be considered dangerous by itself, due to the things listed above as drawbacks need to be considered. Ensuring your safety should always be your primary concern when you travel to make sure you get to come back.

If you want to pack for primarily cowboy camping you can pack a tarp that would be used for emergency shelter to give cover in an emergency.

Watch On YouTube: Homemade Wanderlust Discussing Cowboy Camping

Best Cowboy Camping Gear

Final Thoughts on Cowboy Camping

I hope today I have talked some of you into taking the plunge to cowboy camp at least once in this year and hopefully beyond to move into more chances. Taking the time to expand your level of comfort in the outdoors is a way to help build your love of the outdoors and allow you to be more at peace with yourself and nature.

When you cowboy camp you relieve yourself of many of the trappings you are stuck with in real life and it will expand your horizons as to your like with nature and our world. Comment below if you cowboy camp and add anything you loved or hated about your personal experience as it is loved by myself and others!

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