What is Cowboy Camping?

Cowboy camping, sometimes referred to as “roughing it” is a style of camping which is based on minimalism and the “leave no trace” mentality. 

Cowboy camping consists of bringing the bare minimum when camping, and is done mostly without a tent or any substantial form of shelter.

As a result, cowboy camping is more common in areas of the world where heat is well maintained throughout the day and night, such as America. It can be dangerous when attempted in places that do not have the specific conditions in place to make the experience safe and enjoyable. If you’re planning on cowboy camping, always be certain of the weather forecast and the temperatures you’ll be camping in. Part of the joy of cowboy camping is being able to watch the stars at night, so arriving only to realise that you’ll be stuck in the rain isn’t an ideal situation. 

Tarp Camping

Tarp camping is similar to cowboy camping in the sense that it also relies heavily on minimalism, except it includes a piece of tarp which can be used as a makeshift shelter. This type of camping is more ideal for situations where it has the potential for rain which could potentially ruin an otherwise perfect trip. Due to the ethics and ideas imposed on tarp camping which are in the same vein as cowboy camping, it’s fair to draw comparison with the two. 

Why Cowboy Camp?

Cowboy camping is more than just a buzzword used to describe a type of camping – it has its own philosophy and belief system to go along with it. The idea behind cowboy camping is to appreciate simplicity and to consider what possessions are necessities and which aren’t. It’s a way to connect with nature in a more intimate way, not separated by a tent or other covering. 

In a world where we have a lot of technology and materialistic possessions, it’s nice to take a break every now and then. The idea behind cowboy camping is being able to do that to the extreme, and feel refreshed and revitalized afterwards. It’s easier to enjoy the scenery and night sky when not cooped up inside a tent, which furthers the experience.

If you find that the conditions are right for cowboy camping, you may find that it’s also cheaper than it would be if you were to invest in more equipment. Camping on a budget can lead you to try out some things you wouldn’t usually try, and the chances are that if you enjoy camping, you’ll probably enjoy cowboy camping as well, provided the weather is in your favor. 

How to Cowboy Camp

While cowboy camping doesn’t require much in the way of equipment, it does however require some pre planning to ensure that your trip will run as smoothly as possible. The biggest point of contention when it comes to cowboy camping is the weather and heat. As you’re camping without a tent, there is little to no protection if the weather takes a dive. 

  • Cowboy camping is best done when the weather is warm and dry, and when the nights are also warm. Be aware of the temperature during the night as, even though the days could be quite warm, a sudden dip in temperature normally occurs at night and can make things very uncomfortable if you’re sleeping without a tent. 
  • Even though cowboy camping hails minimalism and simplicity, there are some essentials that need to be carried. Food, water and a first aid kit are essential when camping under any circumstances. If your food is for cooking, ensure you have access to a means of making a fire. There are ways to make a fire without using matches or a lighter, but there are easy-to-carry tools such as firesteel which can also help you and keep your equipment lightweight. 
  • Having previous experience with traditional camping is ideal as you’ll already be accustomed to the act of camping, minus the sleeping outdoors aspect. If you’ve never been camping before, make sure you’re used to traditional camping before embarking on a cowboy camping adventure. 

Equipment for Cowboy Camping

The easiest way to figure out which items are essential for camping is by using previous experience. If you’ve camped in the past, you’ll know which items you’ve needed to use and which ones aren’t a necessity. With the knowledge of what you consider essential and what isn’t essential, you can pack easier and lighter. 

Some essentials for cowboy camping include: 

  • Ground Cloth – To keep you try and offer some sort of comfort when lying on the floor. Depending on where you’re camping, you could get dusty or otherwise dirty if you weren’t lying on a protective layer. 
  • Sleeping Bag – A sleeping bag is the ultimate piece of camping gear. It provides not only protection, but warmth and comfort which are needed to get a good night’s rest. 
  • Sleeping Pad – Offers a more robust option if you’re lying on the ground. This will help even out any unevenness and offer a little more cushioning. 

Benefits of Cowboy Camping

There are a bunch of different benefits of cowboy camping, both mental and physical. Cowboy camping should only be attempted by people who are comfortable with camping and have at least had some previous experience.

Travelling Lightly

Having lightweight camping equipment is a must for any individual who plans on walking or hiking to their destination, but one of the great things about cowboy camping is that not only is your equipment lightweight, but also mostly nonexistent. Having little to no equipment to carry opens up more opportunities for camping, as the area you can choose to set up in can be smaller. Additionally, you can potentially travel further with your equipment, and won’t tire yourself out when setting up and dismantling. Cowboy camping saves a lot of time when it comes to setup, as a tent isn’t needed to be built. 

Finding the Best Spot to Camp

Mentioned earlier, one of the overlooked benefits of cowboy camping is having more freedom when looking for somewhere to set up. When camping traditionally, you may need to look at a lot of variables when choosing the best place to pitch a tent, the beauty of not having a tent leaves you with more options when finding somewhere to camp. This can leave you with the option of finding an area with the best scenery and the best view of the morning sun. 

A Confidence Boost

Another benefit of cowboy camping is that it can give you a much appreciated confidence boost. Being able to camp without a tent and with minimal protection can leave you feeling empowered. Remembering that you’ve conquered cowboy camping can help ease feelings of anxiety in the future and serve as a remembrance for the fact that you don’t need many possessions to succeed and thrive. 

Feeling Closer to Nature

The feeling of being close to nature is food for the soul. One of the biggest benefits and reasons to go cowboy camping is for the experience of being close to nature. It’s a refreshing break from the world that we’re so used to living in and the fresh air and sights can easily make you feel rejuvenated and in awe. Sleeping under the stars is a feeling that can’t be replicated when camping with a tent. 

Disadvantages of Cowboy Camping

The disadvantages of cowboy camping echo most of the ones experienced when planning a traditional camping trip, except there are some additional concerns due to the added exposure to the outdoors.

It can be Uncomfortable 

Sleeping on the floor is an advantage when it comes to not taking up as much space as you would do with a tent, but that means nothing if the terrain is uncomfortable to sleep on. Finding softer ground may prove difficult, and may force you to walk further or find an area that isn’t as scenic as you intended in order to get a good night’s sleep. 

The Weather can be Unpredictable 

No amount of pre planning can help when the weather decides to go against forecasts. Weather reports can sometimes get it wrong and it can have disastrous effects if you’re planning on cowboy camping. The weather is always a gamble when camping, and you’re best using a little bit of gut instinct as well when viewing weather reports. 

Bugs and Animals 

The risk of bugs is usually present anywhere you decide to go cowboy camping, and being found or stumbling upon wild animals depends entirely where you choose to camp. With larger animals, the rules remain the same in that you should keep food well away from your camping area so they aren’t tempted to approach you.

Bugs can give you a hard time, especially at night as your body will be a source of warmth. Stocking up on bug repellent can help deter them, but it’s also a good idea to invest in a bivy to act as a layer of protection. Some bivy are shaped like a one-man tent, but ones that are similar to a sleeping bag can also be purchased. Bivys are used in the same way that mosquito nets are used, to ensure bugs can’t get to you. 

Final Thoughts

Cowboy camping provides an experience which is very rarely offered when camping in a more traditional sense. It can make you feel more confident, whilst also showing you the beauty of nature in a way you’ve never seen before. 

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