How to Cowboy Camp the Right Way


What do you think of when you hear the phrase “cowboy camping?” If you picture sleeping under the stars with a sleeping bag and tent or hearing wildlife in the middle of the night, you’re on the right track.

While the concept may sound pleasant and appealing, remember – it’s not for everyone. If you think it may be something you enjoy, though, learning a bit more about it may be just what you need.

Keep reading to learn about cowboy camping, when and where to go, and a few camping hacks to ensure you have a fantastic experience.

What Is Cowboy Camping?

Before diving any further into the specifics of cowboy camping, it is time to learn what it is – and isn’t. Cowboy camping is camping outside with a hammock, tent, or another type of “rustic” shelter. Some people refer to this style of camping as “roughing it,” too.

If you are planning a cowboy camping excursion, there are a few things you should plan to leave at home. These things include:

  • Tarps
  • Tents
  • RVs
  • Bug nets

The concept of cowboy camping dates back as far as you can imagine. While this is true, it has roots in the westward expansion and exploration of America, between the 1600s and 1800s, when “real cowboys” were still a thing.

The Modern Resurgence of Cowboy Camping

You may blame the resurgence of cowboy camping on hipsters who want to reconnect with nature or on minimalists who want to enjoy all the outdoors offer, but there is something you can’t deny – there’s a certain appeal to this style of camping.

Today, modern versions of this camping style occur at free camping areas across the U.S. You can simply pack your car, drive into the middle of nowhere, and choose a camping location. Even though the American west was considered the traditional backdrop for authentic cowboy camping experiences, today, it occurs coast to coast.

The Cowboy Camping Philosophy

The philosophy of cowboy camping is all about being comfortable with what you have and enjoying the simplicity of the situation. While sleeping on the ground may not be appealing to everyone, there is something cathartic about it. Just imagine sleeping next to a fire with just a blanket between you and the outside world – sounds nice, right?

This style of camping helps you create a new connection with nature. You don’t have synthetic materials standing between you and the natural world. You get to feel the breeze, wake up with the sun, and connect with nature in a way that isn’t possible when you sleep inside a tent.

Keeping it Simple

It is important to note that the main idea of cowboy camping is to keep things simple. You take less gear, which means fewer things to carry and deal with. Some of the top reasons you should consider a cowboy camping adventure include:

  • Connect with nature
  • Save time when setting up and taking down your camp
  • Build confidence
  • Find more areas to camp
  • Travel faster and lighter

With cowboy camping, you have the chance to see what nature can provide. While you may want a few things and “comforts of modern life,” there are some people who sleep in the dirt, under the stars and “live off the land.”

It’s up to you how to set up your cowboy camp. While this is true, at the heart of this activity is simplicity. Be sure to keep this in mind as you plan for your trip and pack your gear.

Pros and Cons of Cowboy Camping

As mentioned before, cowboy camping isn’t for everyone. For example, if you aren’t used to this closeness to nature, the thought of this style of camping and exposure can be intimidating. You are essentially vulnerable as you sleep on the ground, in the wilderness.

However, the only way to ever overcome this fear is to face it. If you go cowboy camping enough and have pleasant experiences, it is something that will become natural and fun.

The good news is, there are some ways that you can ease into it and increase your likelihood of pleasant experiences.

While there are some negative aspects to cowboy camping, the positives certainly outweigh them. For example, when you go cowboy camping, setting up your campsite is simple and easy – just throw a blanket on the ground, and you are ready to go. You don’t have to worry about struggling to set up a tent, and when it is time to go, packing everything up just takes a few minutes.

You will also get a considerable boost in your confidence and your abilities. The personal rewards offered by added confidence, bravery, and adaptability will impact other parts of your life. This is perhaps the most appealing aspect of cowboy camping.

The How, When, and Where of Cowboy Camping

One of the most essential aspects of cowboy camping is choosing your battles. Some of the most important elements of your cowboy camping experience are found here. Knowing what you want and what you are willing to deal with is paramount in the outcome of the activity.

The Weather

When deciding if you will cowboy camp, you need to take a close look at the weather. You need to make an educated guess of what may happen based on the existing conditions and the forecast.

If bad weather is likely, nothing else really matters. If you are dealing with good weather, it’s a green flag now is the time to cowboy camp. When conditions are bad, this is a personal call. You have to decide if you are willing to risk it.

The Bug Situation

You should also consider the insects and animals nearby. If you are camping in a cooler area, bugs won’t be as problematic, and you are going to feel more comfortable being bundled up. In warmer areas, you may have to deal with all types of critters and bugs.

A smart tip to avoid a bad bug situation is to try to find individual camp sites away from muddy areas or standing water. This can help reduce the amount of biting or winged insects nearby.

As mentioned above, bundling up is a great way to keep bugs at bay. The more layers you wear, the more likely you are to avoid annoying stings and bites.

You can “bathtub” your groundsheet, too. This means lifting the perimeter of the sheet off the ground as much as possible. Do this by putting down rocks, sticks, even your shoes under the sheet. If bugs are walking by at night, they won’t be able to get into your sleep area. This method also works for snakes.

Where and How to Cowboy Camp

The right place to cowboy camp is really up to you. This is dependent on your tolerances and preferences. While this is true, there are some factors to consider that can help ensure you have a pleasant experience.

Once you have thought about the weather and insects, the next step is to choose where in the area you want to camp. The first thing to look for is a tree you can camp under. If you know that the water and other factors will remain good, then a tree may not be necessary; however, having a bit of cover can be beneficial.

Sleeping under a tree will also help to reduce condensation on your sleeping bag and gear because they suck moisture out of the air and ground. Some people even sleep on a picnic table.

If no trees are nearby, consider rock cover or brush/bush cover. Try to find something that will block excess wind while providing a natural wall to help reflect heat and insulate your sleeping area. Also, when there is something on one side of where you are sleeping, it can help reduce the feeling of being vulnerable to the elements.

Essential Cowboy Camping Gear: From Sleeping Bags to Coffee

While cowboy camping is about enjoying nature and having a minimalist approach to the campsite, there are a few things you need to take along.

While you don’t need any gear for this experience, having a few things with you is beneficial. The few items that you want to make sure you take along include:

  • Ground cloth – helps to keep you and your gear protected and dry
  • Sleeping pad – helps to keep you off of the hard ground
  • Sleeping bag – prevent bug bites and stay warm

There are a few other things you may want to take along, as well. For example, camping coffee is a must-have for many people, and if this is the case, you will need the proper equipment to make this. Consider what you will want and need, while still staying true to the cowboy camping philosophy. If you’re bringing your horse, horse trailers can double as protection and storage.

Helpful Tips for Your Cowboy Camping Adventure

Cowboy camping can be a great way to connect with nature and enjoy the great outdoors. However, before you go, keep these tips in mind.

Check the Weather

Mother Nature can be quite fickle; however, if a storm is forecasted or if the weather looks problematic, it may be best to put your tent-free excursion on hold. Remember, weather and conditions can change quickly. You should be prepared for any scenario. Winter cowboy camping can be fun, but it’s best to be prepared.

Consider Cowboy Style Weather Protection

If you are in a situation that involves strong winds, snow, or cowboy camping in the rain, it may be helpful to create an A-frame or lean-to using a tarp, rope, and tent stakes. The ultimate luxury in cowboy camping is to put one tarp on the ground and one over your head (this is also known as tarp camping). If your camp site has a picnic table, it can be useful as well.

Wildlife is a Real Threat At Your Camp Site

It is possible to maintain the minimalist camping style with your sleep setup and still protect yourself from wildlife. Remember, bears and other critters are around, and you need to ensure you protect yourself. To do this, be sure to put your food in wildlife-proof containers and keep your pack off the ground (if possible).

Leave No Trace

Cowboy camping is about connecting with nature – not causing it harm. As a result, you should follow the principles of “Leave No trace” to help minimize the impact your adventure has on the environment.

Final Tips for Your Cowboy Camping Experience

When it comes to cowboy camping, much of the enjoyment comes with experience. The more you camp like this, the more tips and tricks you will learn to help make the experience more enjoyable.

Before embarking on your first trip, try it out in your backyard. This is going to help you get a feel of what to do and expect, within the safety of your own home and property.

Remember, cowboy camping is not for everyone. However, the benefits it offers are worth the time and effort you put into the experience. If you have never tried this style of camping, see what it has to offer – you may find it is just what you needed.

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