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What Is Cowboy Camping and Should You Try It?

You can go camping in many ways. You can camp in a tent or a camper, or you might have all the luxuries of glamping in a fancy RV. Cowboy camping is another way to get outside and enjoy the beauty of nature. And no, you do not have to ride a horse or wear a cowboy hat.

It’s fun to explore your options and investigate new ways to camp. Here are a few questions you might have and some answers to help you along the way. Let’s explore cowboy camping!

What Exactly Is Cowboy Camping? 

Cowboy camping is when you camp like Wild West cowboys. On round-ups or trail drives, cowboys slept on a basic rollout set-up under the stars. They had to protect their herd, so needed to be able to jump up and move at a moment’s notice. They also needed to fit all their gear on the back of their trusty horse for the entire ride, so it would have been unrealistic to carry too much gear. 

Cowboy Camping In The Wilderness

Today, this camping style means that you camp with no shelter, and you sleep on the ground. Often cowboy campers sleep on a pad and a sleeping bag under the stars. You bring very little with you on your journey. It’s a simple camping style that has some notable pros and cons. 

Who Cowboy Camps Anymore?

Believe it or not, people still practice cowboy camping. It’s a specific adventure style, and many avid outdoor explorers love to shake things up. Escaping your comfort zone often leads to growth, and this trend can give you a new appreciation for nature. 

Hikers looking to refine their approach often invest in this camping style, and you can practice at any time. Backpackers looking to lighten their load by skipping the tent can also find this method nimble and rewarding.

camping on ground without tent
For an adventurous camping adventure, camp like a cowboy.

Is Cowboy Camping Safe? 

There’s an element of danger in everything, especially when camping. You’ll be more exposed to nature while cowboy camping, but being mindful will help to keep you safe. You have to know where to set up your camp to reduce contact with wildlife, stay somewhat sheltered if the weather turns, and still sleep comfortably.

You must also choose a proper time of year and have a basic set of survival skills just in case. Tents do a lot to keep you dry and warm, so preventing hypothermia is one of the most important things. Be sure to check the weather forecast for rain and low overnight temperatures before setting off on your trip. Also, remember that elevation changes can cause huge temperature swings.

Cowboy camping also leaves you exposed to insects and other critters overnight. Be sure to have insect repellant and a plan against any regional critters that might crawl into your gear. However, with the proper gear and some knowledge, cowboy camping can be as safe as traditional camping if you know how to prepare appropriately. 

Pro Tip: Test your wilderness knowledge by discovering how many of these Basic Survival Skills you can do.

Man sitting by campfire while cowboy camping
Cowboy camping means sleeping under the stars with no tent.

Benefits of Cowboy Camping 

There are many benefits to this form of camping. Though it may seem like more of a challenge than a blessing, check out some of the positive aspects of roughing it. 

It Will Save You Time and Money 

You don’t need a lot of gear to go cowboy camping successfully. Additionally, you won’t need to spend thousands of dollars to get a proper dose of the outdoors. All you need is a canteen, a comfortable sleeping bag, a sleeping pad, and a backpack with a few essentials. 

Setting up and taking down a tent can save time on the trail. Multi-day hikes can take even longer if making and breaking camp is cumbersome. If you’ve got many miles to go, you’ll get much more hiking time with this method.

Boy sleeping in sleeping bag in big grass field while cowboy camping
Cowboy camping is a fun way to get your kiddos out in nature.

It’ll Connect You to Nature

Connecting to nature can be a form of medicine for some people. We could probably all benefit from being closer to nature. Cowboy camping is an excellent opportunity to touch, smell, and feel the outdoors personally. You can wake up with morning dew on your sleeping bag, have the clear night sky as entertainment, and feel the fresh breeze on your skin.

It Tests Your Limits 

This camping style is also an ideal way to push yourself out of your comfort zone. Instead of hiking the Appalachian Trail or taking up overlanding, you could try camping with few creature comforts. It doesn’t require you to abandon what you know of camping, but cowboy camping certainly changes the game. 

Where Is the Best Location for Cowboy Camping? 

Choosing the right spot to set up your campsite is vital. Depending on the time of year, you may not want to camp next to a standing body of water, as there will likely be more mosquitoes and bugs at your campsite. Definitely avoid muddy areas or low areas in the case of rain and puddles.

It’s best to keep off main game trails or hiking trails too. Avoid making your bed in tall grasses, making it harder for the wildlife to see you. They should know you’re there. You don’t want animals to stumble upon you as you sleep. 

Ideally, you should find dry, higher ground. Having a tree or some other brush or boulders to provide minor shelter from condensation, wind, or even a sprinkling of rain is ideal. These barriers also help many campers feel more secure and can provide an insulative wall to reflect the heat of your fire.

Pro Tip: Don’t know what to pack for your camping adventure? We uncovered what you need for your first camping trip!

Person sleeping in a hammock while the sun sets
Some cowboy campers will opt to sleep in a hammock to avoid laying on the ground.

What Gear Do You Need for Cowboy Camping? 

Every camping trip calls for different gear, but there are some essential elements of a successful cowboy camp. Generally, you need a ground cloth, a sleeping bag, blankets, an optional sleeping pad, a few ground stakes, and a tarp for coverage if it rains. 

You could also opt for a hammock instead of sleeping on the ground, but that changes the experience. You could also use a mosquito net to help protect you from bugs. However, some think using a mosquito net or a hammock doesn’t count as cowboy camping. 

And don’t forget the coffee! Cowboys were infamous for their cowboy coffee, but it doesn’t have to taste bad. Find out how to make great-tasting camping coffee.

Should You Try Cowboy Camping? 

If you want to try cowboy camping, you should. It’s a great way to challenge your camping resolve. Adventure is what you make of it, and you don’t need all the finer things in life to enjoy your time. Take a chance on something new, and simplify your next exploration.

After you’ve tried cowboy camping, you might want to give these other camping types a try: Do You Know the 15 Types of Camping?

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About Cait Morton

Co-Founder, Logistics Queen, Business & Content Manager, and Animal Lover

An Upper Peninsula of Michigan native (aka a Yooper), Caitlin is the organization, big-picture, and content strategy queen of our operation. She keeps everything orderly and on track.

With a background in Business Management, she supports and helps channel Tom’s technical prowess into the helpful content our readers and viewers expect. That’s not to say you won’t find her turning wrenches and talking shop – RV life is a team effort. She keeps the business and the blog moving forward with a variety of topics and resources for our audience.

Believe it or not, she is rather camera shy, though she co-hosts the Mortons’ personal videos and The RVers TV show.

Caitlin’s passion lies in outdoor recreation and with animals. Some of her favorite things to do are hiking, biking, and getting out on the water via kayak, SUP, or boat.

She also loves the RV life due to the fact that you can bring your pets along. Sharing information about safely recreating outdoors with your whole family – pets included! – is very important to her. Because of this, Caitlin spearheaded the launch of HypePets in 2023.

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Thursday 14th of July 2022

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