How to Cowboy Camp- My Experience

If you’re involved in camping it’s possible that you’ve heard people talk about cowboy camping or ‘roughing it’. And these two phrases basically mean the same thing – living or surviving without the possessions and comforts that you’re used to. For those of you who are new to camping, let me explain what cowboy camping is.

Cowboy camping also known as ‘minimalist camping’ or ‘roughing it’ is camping without a shelter such as a tent or a hammock, in short cowboy camping is living or surviving in nature without the possessions and comforts that you’re used to.

Cowboy camping is about removing the modern barriers that we’ve put up between ourselves and nature for the sake of comfort. It’s all about making do with what we have and reminding ourselves that our natural habitat is actually not the life we are living and our ancestors can vouch for that.

One thing you have to know is, cowboy camping isn’t for everyone. if you were to ask younger me to go cowboy camping he would think you are crazy, I mean I was attached to the simple comforts of modern life, but am not here to say you should go do a crazy survival or anything I just want to share my experience with you guys.

So in this article I will talk about

  • Avoiding insects
  • Avoiding wildlife
  • How to choose a place to cowboy camp
  • When is the perfect time to cowboy camp
  • How to combine hiking with cowboy camping
  • Finally, I will talk about my cowboy camping setup

How to avoid insects while cowboy camping

Insects are one of my biggest concerns when cowboy camping. Our tent usually forms a comfortable barrier between ourselves and all the weird creepy crawlies on the outside but when you’re cowboy camping you’re intentionally removing that barrier and it can definitely leave you feeling very vulnerable and exposed.

The first and most straightforward way to reduce the number of insects that will creep into your sleeping area is by choosing a flat surface where there is no grass. grass is like a shelter for insects, if they are on a flat surface birds will eat them so it’s their natural instinct to be in the grass where they are less visible.

Choose a nice flat surface, if you have a sleeping pad its that is a big advantage, but never forget to put something on the ground that can act as a barrier between the sleeping pad and the hard ground you don’t want your sleeping pad to be punctured especially if you don’t have the repair kit with you.

Put a tarp or a tent footprint, if not you can use a plastic sheet, inflate your sleeping pad and put it above the tarp. A great way to keep crawling animals and insects from getting into your sleeping bag is to raise your groundsheet from the sides and creating a tub, the crawlers will have trouble climbing in.

Flying insects on the other hand are much more difficult to get rid of. mosquitos are probably the worst insect on earth that can make your life hell, mosquitos lay their eggs on the water so stay away from marshy areas and puddles there will be swarm of them there

Never forget you can use a bivy, I mean some can argue that it is not cowboy camping if you use a shelter but who cares, I mean you don’t have to suffer, If you want to keep the bugs (especially mosquitoes) at bay, a bivy will do a great job.

The other way is to use an insecticide. not the insecticide used for plants, there are insecticides that can be used for indoors, you can spray that on your sleeping pad, but never use it on your skin.

There are also certain cream and lotions which deter insects, I don’t know much about those because I haven’t tried them but do some googling on that

How to avoid wildlife while camping

An important realization to come to is that realistically speaking – the tent didn’t offer much protection from wild animals in the first place. Although a tent can be psychologically reassuring, we need to realize that any animal with intent on getting to you would probably not be deterred by the thin tent material.

Animal populations are generally well monitored and documented, so you won’t have much trouble figuring out what kind of animals are regularly spotted in the area if you check online. Obviously, you’d be wise to camp accordingly. Tent or not – it’s probably best to stay away from bear country.

If you do go camping in a bear country it would be great to carry bear sprays, they are an effective way to keep yourself safe if you got attacked by a bear.

Bear sprays are like normal pepper sprays but they have a higher concentration of pepper and they are powerful. also, make sure you don’t set your sleeping place on a pathway down to a water source or any kind of path animals pass through.

Other threats are snakes, tents might not provide cover from bears and other wildlife but they sure can protect you from snakes.

The most effective way to avoid snakes is by choosing a campsite with no snakes, it is that simple, asking locals or some googling can help you find out if there are snakes and if they are a threat to your life

The other thing to do is to camp in groups if someone gets a snakebite there are going to people to call an emergency and do important procedures, but if you are alone it might be hard to help yourself out.

How to choose a campsite for cowboy camping

There is no perfect place to cowboy camp there are always going to be hardships, no matter how well you plan, nature is unpredictable, and you’ll probably find yourself in circumstances where you’ll have to use your wits and natural instincts to survive, I mean that is why it is called ‘roughing it’, but there are places that are more suitable and safe than others that is why research is very important.

When it comes to your plan it won’t be the same for everyone, someone who is camping in Texas is not going to have the same gear nor the same plan as someone that is camping in Ireland, which is why doing research is very important.

I recommend that you camp with someone who has done it before or with a group of people, there’s strength and encouragement in numbers and honestly cowboy camping in particular can be a bit scary when you are alone.

So the best advice that I can offer you is, do the research before making plans and go with a few (preferably experienced and trustworthy) people the first few times around.

When is the perfect time to cowboy camp

Clear sky: Clear skies are without a doubt the best conditions to be camping in. When people think of cowboy camping, they can usually picture themselves laying in the grass underneath the stars, contemplating life and whether that sound was a wild animal or not.

Well, you can only see the stars if the sky is clear of clouds. But clear sky often means that temperatures will be low during the night and high during the day. If you’re not going to be trekking during the day, it’ll be a good idea to find or make shelter to shade you from the sun. I recommend that you carry a tarp so that you can make a temporary shelter if you need to.

The low temperatures during the night will mean that if you’re not prepared, your chattering teeth will probably keep you awake. There are some people for whom cowboy camping means sleeping in the dirt without so much as a sleeping bag. That path isn’t for everyone, and most people carry with them a basic sleeping pad and sleeping bag to keep them comfortable and warm at night. This is highly recommended.

Different conditions while cowboy camping

Rain: I can’t think of many people who intentionally go cowboy camping during the rainy season, but weather can be unpredictable, and even the best of us has gotten caught in a downpour when we thought we’d be basking in the sun. Rain can be a huge problem when you don’t have a tent, you and your gear may take a long time to dry out after getting wet. If you ever get caught in the rain the tarp that I previously mentioned will be your best friend. If you’re in a pinch you can wrap yourself and your belongings in the tarp for some protection. In the best-case scenario, you have two tarps and a bit of time, which will allow you to put up a temporary lean to shelter with one piece of waterproof material underneath you and the other above.

Wind: When you’re sleeping on the ground even a bit of wind can prove to be an adversity, a sudden gust of wind can blow dust into your face. And a persistent breeze can really mess with your sleep. An excellent way to protect yourself against this is to set yourself up next to natural shelters like a boulder or a large bush which you can face to protect yourself from the breeze.

Snow: This probably won’t come as a huge surprise but for temperatures below 10 C (50 F) you’re going to have to pack some extra stuff and take a few simple measures to make sure you don’t freeze to death. First and foremost, you will probably need more than one sleeping pad and a groundsheet. If the ground has snow or ice on it, it’s probably not the best idea to put your sleeping gear directly on it. The groundsheet will protect your sleeping gear from moisture from the ground.

The colder the ground and the atmosphere around you, the faster you’ll lose body heat which is the reason that the conservation of it is of primary importance when winter camping. When you’re picking out a sleeping bag, make sure you get one that has a low-temperature rating.

It’s also a good idea to get a mummy bag, preferably one with a hood. Less space inside the bag means it’ll take less time to warm up, and heat primarily escapes through the head, so the hood will prove useful – trust me.

When it’s freezing outside, you’ll want to keep your face warm, and the most obvious solution will probably be to put your head inside the sleeping bag. Unless you have no choice, don’t do that. The moisture from your breath will accumulate in the sleeping bag and make you even colder. The best way to deal with this challenge is to pack a mask beforehand, this will definitely come in handy later.

One thing very important when you choose a date to go cowboy camping is important to watch the weather forecast, if there is even a sign that there might be a rainy night you should definitely avoid it.

However weather forecasts are not accurate, that is why having a bivy is important if it starts raining you will sleep in it.

What are the essential gears for cowboy camping

People often disagree about which camping gear you have to do away with to technically be considered a cowboy camper, but most agree that your tent is going to have to go. I have a specific set of gears I take for my cowboy camping trips but as a general, these are the important gear you should take with you.

This are The Essential Cowboy Camping Gears

  • sleeping bag
  • tarp, bivy or a hammock (optional)
  • tent footprint(ground cloth)
  • portable stove (for long trips)
  • sleeping pad

final tips

  • Shake your shoes out before putting them on. This is pretty self-explanatory; all kinds of insects and small animals will be more than happy to make your shoes their habitat and won’t welcome an invasion by your feet.
  • Hang your bivy, ground cloth and sleeping bag out to dry before re-using it. Dew and condensation will probably collect over your equipment during the night and it’s always a good idea to keep your gear dry to discourage the formation of mold and mildew on it.
  • Keep some peppermint spray handy to keep mice and other rodents away from you and your stuff. Mice can be a huge nuisance; hate to wake up to find a tear in my sleeping bag. Luckily there’s a simple remedy to keep the rodents at bay. They hate the smell of Peppermint and if you spray some on your gear, they won’t bother you at all.
  • Spray Permethrin on your sleeping bag and ground cloth. Permethrin is a commercially available insect repellent and pesticide. Which means that it keeps the insects away but if they come into contact with Permethrin treated material they will get knocked out. It’s pretty obvious why this would be helpful but this chemical can be harmful under certain circumstances so make sure to be careful when applying it to your equipment. As long as you read the instructions and follow them you will be fine.
  • Keep a few pegs handy to keep your ground cloth in place in case there’s heavy wind.
  • Bring a torch or a head lamp with you and keep it close to you while you’re sleeping. As someone who lives in the city, I sometimes forget exactly how dark it can get in the wild. It’s actually terrifying how dark it can get so, in case something happens in the night – you don’t want to be fumbling around in your pack trying to discern whether what you’re touching is a flashlight or a water bottle. A head lamp is even better in case you need to use your hands.
  • Don’t forget to have a water purifier. If you’re going to be on a long trip especially you’ll need a water purifier. There are different ways to make sure the water you’re drinking is clean and safe but that’s a whole other subject and I recommend that you do some research on the topic and purchase a good purifier.
  • Grab yourself a sleeping bag liner. A sleeping bag liner is basically a sheet that goes inside your sleeping bag to prevent it from getting dirty. These are super light and equally useful so I suggest you get one.