There are many exciting ways to ramp up your camping game but if you’re looking to get a totally new taste for adventure, why not try cowboy camping? Without the need for a tent or any specialist equipment, those brave enough to try cowboy camping have an opportunity to really get back to nature.
However, if you have been used to a more traditional style of camping, switching to something as rugged as this may take a little adjusting. But don’t worry, you have everything you need and all you have to do is get used to camping under the stars.
In this guide, we will be giving you the rundown on everything you need to know about cowboy camping to make your first experience an unforgettable one!
What On Earth Is Cowboy Camping Anyway?
If you’re totally new to the concept, you’re probably asking yourself ‘what is cowboy camping?’ While it may sound like an out-there idea, cowboy camping is a lot simpler than you might imagine.
Instead of using a tent and many of the creature comforts you are used to like a hammock or camping bed, cowboy campers have a much more rugged experience. This type of camping is what is commonly referred to as roughing it.
That is enough to instantly put a lot of people off but in truth, cowboy camping is a thoroughly enjoyable experience; when it is done right.
Modern camping has turned into something that is almost as comfortable as staying in a hotel. Think about the glamping tents that are being thrown up all over the country and the many camping accessories that make sleeping in a tent incredibly convenient. This is great, and as many of you will know, we fully back this type of camping.
However, for a lot of people, the idea of getting back to basics can be hugely appealing. Sleeping on the ground with nothing more than a blanket and a campfire has a primal feeling that cannot be replicated in any other way. For many people who regularly indulge in cowboy camping, the idea is to make do with what you have and simply survive. There is also the benefit of waking up with the sun on your face and feeling exposed.
Some people find an incredible rush in doing this and it allows us to get back to how our ancestors would have survived millions of years ago. If humans were capable of surviving in the wilderness back then, there is no reason that they can’t today; we just have to let go of our mod-cons and be prepared to sleep rough.
But learning how to cowboy camp properly may not only benefit you when you want a quiet weekend away. The rules and ways of managing things may come in handy if you ever find yourself in a survival situation.
Is there a difference between tarp camping and cowboy camping?
Another common method of camping in the wild is tarp camping. In many ways, this is similar to cowboy camping in the sense that there is no tent involved. However, the key difference is that tarp campers will use a tarp canopy as shelter as opposed to simply lying directly under the stars.
That being said, many other aspects of tarp camping are hugely similar to cowboy camping so you may still find much of the information in the article to be beneficial.
Why Should I Try Cowboy Camping?
These days, most campers will haul a huge tent and everything but the kitchen sink to an organised campsite and set up for a week or two. This is excellent for many people but if you want to experience camping in its truest form then spending time in nature is the best way to do it.
You must have a tough character to be able to get on in the wild and not be worried about getting a little grubby or going without some of the conveniences of tent camping. But if you can overcome that, you’ll see a lot of advantages.
- Cowboy camping is excellent for people who are on the move. If you have set out on a multi-day adventure, exploring remote countryside then the last thing you want is to be dragging excess equipment along with you. Furthermore, once the days hiking is over, you won’t have the hassle of pitching a tent and can simply lay down your sleeping pad and get some well-earned rest.
- Unlike other types of camping, which can sometimes be restrictive, cowboy camping allows you to sleep wherever you please. If you want to get a good view of the sunset from the top of a cliff, there is nothing stopping you. With no tent to consider, you are free to move around as you please.
- Many people will camp because they want to get back to nature. But they completely contradict this by taking a tent and as much cosy equipment as possible. If you truly want to experience nature and all the beauty it has to offer, then cowboy camping is the way to do it. If you have ever dreamed of watching the night sky as you fall asleep then cowboy camping might be right for you.
- Being able to camp out with very little will teach you some excellent life skills. It will make you much more confident and provide you with knowledge and experience that you would never be able to learn when camping in a tent.
What Are The Downsides Of Cowboy Camping?
It isn’t difficult to see that there are a lot of advantages to cowboy camping. But before we begin looking at some tips to make the most out of your adventure, it is important that we point out that cowboy camping isn’t going to be for everyone.
If you don’t like the idea of sleeping outside and having none of the creature comforts you would have when taking part in traditional camping, then cowboy camping might not be for you. However, even if you are prepared to go rough, there may be other disadvantages that see cowboy camping moving further and further down your bucket list.
When you head out into nature, you are going to have to share your bed with plenty of other creatures, The type of animals that you’ll be bunking down with will largely depend on where you are camping. If you’re staying in the UK, then the worst of it will probably be a few pesky mozzies on a summer evening and things like ants on the ground.
However, if you are heading off to faraway lands, you may need to contend with much bigger and scarier animals. For example, heading to parts of North America may expose you to things like bears and wolves and it doesn’t take David Attenborough to tell you that they may not take kindly to you being in their territory.
Other parts of the world like Asia, Africa and Australia may mean that you have to share your outdoor space with poisonous species of snakes and spiders, the latter of which tend to come out at night. While more and more Brits are planning backpacking trips and may like the sound of cowboy camping, it is imperative that you consider your safety. What’s more, you must remember that you are going into the animal’s territory and should be respectful of this.
One of the most notable differences between cowboy camping and its tend-based equivalent is that with cowboy camping, your bed is going to be on the ground. The good thing is that you won’t be limited as to where you lay your head. Without a tent to pitch, any patch of ground could be a potential bed, so you are free to find something relatively comfortable.
However, even the softest grass won’t be as cosy as a camping bed so if you prefer a bed that is a little less rugged, then cowboy camping might not be for you. It can be tricky to get comfortable but there is nothing wrong with taking a hammock if it will fold up in your pack.
The weather can be massively unpredictable, especially here in the UK. One moment it may be glorious sunshine and the next thing you know, you’re reaching for your raincoat. This is fine when you have a tent, as you can simply nip inside. But when you’re exposed to the elements, you may end up wet and cold.
If you are heading to other countries where the weather is a little warmer, it is important to keep in mind that the temperature can drop significantly in the night. What’s more, a gentle spring zephyr may feel more like an arctic gale when you’re trying to get some shut-eye!
Many people will be put off cowboy camping because of the thought of being vulnerable and exposed. To a degree, this is a realistic worry but when you compare how vulnerable you are in a tent to when cowboy camping, you begin to see that the two really aren’t that different.
For example, if you camp in a tent in a place where there may be bears or other predatory wildlife, the thin fabric is not likely to offer much protection. If anything, the structure may attract curious animals. Conversely, when you are cowboy camping, you have the advantage of being able to remain inconspicuous. Aside from the risk of getting wet if it rains, you’re probably more protected from large animals.
How To Cowboy Camp Successfully
Despite the minor drawbacks, many people enjoy cowboy camping and there is no reason why you can’t either. The key is to be prepared and while you won’t be taking anywhere near as much equipment as you would on a regular camping trip, taking the right equipment can make the world of difference.
What To Take
The concept of cowboy camping dictates that campers should take as little as possible. There are some hardcore cowboy campers who take nothing but a blanket and the clothes on their back. If you want to do this then there’s nothing wrong with that but most people will want to take a single pack with some basics.
Some people like to take a bivvy but this would be much more similar to tarp camping. However, doing this can also give you somewhere to keep your equipment safe and dry and is a good idea if you think that there will be a significant risk of insect bites or adverse weather.
But when you are looking at merely taking the basics, you will need at least the following:
- A sleeping mat to protect you from the ground and give you a degree of comfort. There are many self-inflating sleeping pads that offer a good degree of comfort but pack down to a compact size which makes them excellent for carrying as you hike during the day.
- A groundsheet offers protection from moisture and keeps everything dry. Try to find something that allows you to use the ‘bathtub’ method of folding the sides up to keep out ground water and bugs.
- A sleeping bag will keep you warm but some campers prefer to use a thick or wool blanket. The most important thing is that your bedding offers you comfort and warmth but it should also be lightweight to reduce what you have to carry throughout the day.
Aside from these items, you may also need to think about what accessories you are going to take to help you while you are camping. For example, are you going to need a small camping stove or are you happy to start a fire the traditional way and cook over that? For the most part, cowboy camping would involve the latter but there is nothing stopping you from carrying a small stove if you wish. One of the great things about cowboy camping is that you can tailor the experience to suit you.
However, it is important to keep in mind that the more gear you take, the more it will weigh you down. If it is at all possible, we would recommend packing a single, small pack and letting nature do the rest.
Finding The Right Place To Camp
Earlier, we discussed the fact that cowboy camping gives you the option to sleep wherever you please. Of course, there are restrictions to this and certain laws around the UK and across the world may limit where you are and aren’t allowed to camp. However, let’s assume that the world is your oyster, there may still be some things you need to consider.
If you are going to be sleeping on the ground, the last thing you want are sticks and stones poking you in back all night. Furthermore, you wouldn’t want to sleep on hard ground as this will likely see you waking in the morning feeling incredibly stiff.
When you choose your spot, try to find somewhere that the ground is a little softer. Placing down dry plantlife can make the ground a little more comfortable. You should also make sure that there are no wet patches as this can make for a very uncomfortable night’s sleep. But even if there are small bodies of water such as ponds or puddles, you may find that you spend the night with a lot of biting insects.
If you can, it is important to take a look over your chosen spot while there is still some daylight left as this will give you a better idea of its suitability.
There is no getting away from the fact that the weather may turn at any moment. That is one of the risks you are taking by cowboy camping, but there is a degree of excitement that comes with this. It gives you the challenge of finding ways to stay warm and dry without the luxury of modern equipment.
If you know the weather is going to be bad, it can be worth finding a place to sleep that is relatively sheltered. If you’re in woodland, this can be much easier. Finding a place with heavy tree cover may protect you from some rain. Furthermore, this coverage will also be particularly handy in protecting you from the wind.
However, if this natural cover doesn’t sound appealing to you, there is the option of taking a small tent or bivvy that is easy to put up as a back-up plan. You don’t need to erect it right away and admit defeat, but if things get too tempestuous, you can quickly put it up and take shelter.
At the same time, you should be considering how you will stay warm. When you are cowboy camping, you won’t have the added advantage of camping heaters and the like. Of course, one of the best things you can do is to build a campfire that will give you warmth for as long as you can keep it burning. But once you fall asleep, you won’t be able to maintain the fire so it is important that you come prepared with layers.
Dealing With The Wildlife
It is unreasonable to think that you won’t bump into some sort of creature, great or small, when you are on a cowboy camping adventure. However, where you are camping will depend on which animals are about. As we have already discussed, in areas where there is potentially dangerous wildlife, additional precautions should be taken.
Let’s start with insects; the weather will largely determine the types of insects that will be about and covering up with clothing is a great way to avoid being bitten. However, in the height of summer, you might not want all these additional clothing items so it is worth considering packing a mosquito net.
Having some citronella candles around the camp may be enough to keep small numbers of insects away and using insect repellent on your skin can help. However, while many of these products are effective, they aren’t 100% guaranteed.
To avoid having creepy crawlies or other smaller animals getting into your sleeping bag and other equipment, it is a good idea to refrain from laying your sleeping kit on the floor until you are ready to get into it. Even then, we would advise giving it a shake to make sure that nothing has found its way in. This is even more important when you are camping in countries where poisonous snakes, spiders and other creatures can be found.
Cowboy camping is a great way to sate your sense of adventure and get back to nature in the most simplistic way possible. Unlike tent camping, cowboy camping allows you to explore the world without the hassle of having to carry excess equipment. You will sleep on the ground and make the most of the little you can carry.
There are many reasons why cowboy camping is enjoyable including the ability to watch the stars as you fall asleep and not having to stop and pitch a tent every night. While there are some drawbacks such as bad weather and wildlife, these are typically things that can be addressed and shouldn’t, for the most part, ruin your adventure.