When you think of camping, images come to mind of sleeping in a tent, eating your dinner around an open fire and roasting marshmallows for the mandatory s’mores dessert.
A new type of camping has cropped up recently called “glamping” but this is more like a luxury form of relaxing rather than roughing it in the woods. But what comes to mind when you hear the words “Cowboy Camping?”
Well, get ready, it is probably one of the most authentic types of camping ever.
What is Cowboy Camping?
In its simplest form, cowboy camping is sleeping outside, in a sleeping bag without a tent or any kind of net to protect you from bugs, insects, or animals.
It has been associated with those who backpack through the backcountry and it is nowhere near a family type of campground. Those places have too many amenities, starting with a recreational vehicle (RV) that has a bed and usually a bathroom inside.
Cowboy camping will have none of that! It is you, maybe a few friends, a sleeping bag, and the star-filled sky. You close your eyes while outdoors and you may wake up to a few sounds you have never heard before, but when you look up you will become lost in the wonder of the hundreds of twinkling stars that are creating your nature-based ceiling.
Early in the morning, you will get to see the first signs of the sun rising and hear the early birds chirping away as you wonder exactly what they are saying. You are experiencing the great outdoors without any help from a cell phone tower, a television, or even a laptop.
Are you ready for this?
Is Cowboy Camping For You?
While most campers agree that cowboy camping is not for everyone, they all seem to agree that everyone should at least try it once. The experience is beyond words but there are things you should do in advance to make it a wondrous experience rather than a scary, bug-filled night from hell.
The Pros and Cons of Cowboy Camping
Look for an area that isn’t known for its bear population. It would be difficult for even the most seasoned camper to close their eyes and drift off to sleep knowing that they could be nudged awake by a giant Grizzly.
While most people love furry little animals, it will be different if you are meeting them on their own turf. For so many of us, our only encounters with little semi-wildlife creatures are at a pet store – mice, rats, gerbils – or in our own backyards.
While catching a glimpse of a squirrel or a raccoon brings a sense of wonder to us as they scamper by, do you really want to wake up to one who is chomping on a nut while watching you sleep? Even a sweet little deer is going to be more afraid of you than you will be of it if you try to get too close.
It wouldn’t be cheating to bring bug spray and if you are going to be outside in the elements it’s probably a must. With parts of your body exposed to the great outdoors, you may find yourself itching areas you never thought a bug could find even with a biology book.
Weather is another consideration you should prepare for and take very seriously. Check the weather forecast in the area you have chosen for your initial cowboy camping experience. Don’t be afraid to reschedule if there is nothing but rain ahead, especially if it is going to include thunder and lightning.
Some of the positive parts of cowboy camping are that you are not bogged down with having to lug so much gear around with you. All you need to have on hand is a sleeping bag and yourself. You can pick up at a moment’s notice and try another location if you find the place you are at is not working for you.
Potential Dangers of This Kind of Camping
Besides many of the dangers listed in the previous paragraph, there are other potential dangers that you may find that might not make cowboy camping worth trying for you.
- Make sure you thoroughly check out a place before you are ready to set down your bedding and get some sleep.
- Don’t set up camp near any open bodies of water. These are places where insects and mosquitos tend to gravitate to.
- As tempting as it may be, don’t sleep too close to an open fire. It may feel all warm and cozy, but if the wind increases even a little, flying embers could create havoc and start a fire while you are sleeping.
- After you do fall asleep on your first night of cowboy camping, make sure to shake out your sleeping bag when you wake up. This way you can make sure a snake or spider hasn’t crawled in while you were dozing.
- Bring a ground cloth so that you don’t end up sleeping on the wet ground.
- Have a back-up plan ready to go in case it rains, or if you find yourself in an area that is populated by too much wildlife.
If you are an adventurous person, none of the dangers listed here are going to deter you from trying cowboy camping. Even if you have a little hesitation, those who did go cowboy camping even just once agree that it is the panoramic view of nature that you experience that is breathtaking.
All of the other concerns seem to slip away when you have the hundreds of stars as your ceiling and the morning sun as your wake-up call. Here are some things you can do to prepare yourself for cowboy camping.
12 Tips to Get You Ready for Your First Cowboy Camping Trip
1 – Find the right location for your trip. It could be somewhere that you have always wanted to visit, or a place that you and your friends decide will make for a memorable trip.
2 – Decide on the time of the year so you can have a good idea of what to expect from the weather. You know the main seasons, winter and summer will bring you snow and heat, but spring and fall could give you a better chance to camp through milder, more enjoyable weather.
3 – Pack your clothing to ensure that you will be able to stay dry and warm. Wearing layered clothing is the best way to cover this situation.
You can always remove something if you are wearing thermal long johns or a heavy sweater, but if you don’t have those things to add if you get cold you may be shivering the night away.
Try to top it all off with a jacket that can resist the wind and the rain in case there is an unexpected shift in the weather.
4 – Footwear is important for two reasons – you will be doing more walking and even a little hiking may be included so you want your feet to be comfortable.
You want your focus to be on finding just the right campsite, not wondering how much farther you have to go because your feet are killing you.
You also want to make sure your feet stay warm at all times. When your feet are at a comfortable temperature your body will follow and you will be more able to enjoy your trip.
5 – If you need your morning coffee to get you going in the morning you don’t have to worry about having to give it up. Preparing hot coffee while camping outdoors is even easier than your Keurig!
All you have to do is bring a pot, a jar of coffee, some bottled water, and your favorite coffee mug. Boil the water using the fire pit, add a few tablespoons of coffee and let it steep a little.
6 – Besides coffee, what else should you bring so you aren’t starving? Look for foods that don’t require refrigeration, that are pre-made, and things that are frozen and will be thawed by the time you want to consume them. Some ideas include:
- Bacon that is already cooked is sold in most grocery stores and is not refrigerated.
- You can make your own biscuits or muffins before the trip and bring them along.
- Overnight oatmeal that you have put together in a mason jar would be compact and sustain you all morning long.
- Bringing a loaf of bread won’t be that cumbersome and you’ll be glad you did if you stick a jar of peanut butter in your bag.
- Apples or crackers with your favorite wedge of cheese are simple enough to have on hand.
- A good old spaghetti dinner would be the easiest way to deal with dinner when you are out cowboy camping. Bring a large pot that can hold enough water to boil your box of pasta. When it’s done cooking, just throw in a jar of your favorite tomato sauce and let it combine with the pasta until heated through.
- If you are toting a cooler on your trip you could always have the original cowboy dinner – franks and beans! A package of hot dogs and a can or two of baked beans (just don’t forget a can opener) will make this trip truly authentic.
- Fruits, like bananas, apples, and grapes can serve as sweet snacks throughout the day.
- Candy bars and bags of nuts are good pick-me-ups and portable enough to keep handy in your pocket.
- You’ll learn exactly why trail mix is called that when you grab a bag at the grocery store and carry it around as you hike a trail or two.
No matter what you start off with, just make sure you dispose of all foods after each meal. You don’t want anything laying around that will attract wild hungry animals, especially while you are sleeping outside.
7 – Just about every article about preparing for camping emphasizes the importance of staying hydrated. You don’t have to worry about keeping a case of water cold, especially if you are camping in the winter months.
The main thing is to be able to grab a bottle of water and keep from becoming dehydrated while being exposed to the elements on your camping trip.
You can freeze a few small bottles of orange juice and enjoy them at breakfast or during the day so your body’s sugar level doesn’t drop too low.
8 – Bringing along some insect repellant doesn’t make your trip less of a cowboy camping event. It just means you will be the one who is not slapping mosquitos off himself or scratching every couple of minutes.
9 – You might want to make a run to the nearest dollar store or pharmacy and pick up a small first aid kit. You never know if you might need a quick bandage or a little peroxide to ward off an infection.
10 – You may want to pack a roll of paper towels and one or two large plastic bags. If there isn’t a trash facility nearby you could always gather up everything in a plastic bag and drop it in the nearest trash bin you find.
One experienced camper used a plastic bag to keep his extra clothes in and used it as a pillow.
11 – One other thing you may want to bring along is a small book or journal so you can jot down notes about your trip: the location, animals you have seen, and your feelings as you connect with the great outdoors.
12 – Even though you may not be concerned with talking on your cell phone, make sure that it is completely charged when you get to your camping site. You are going to want to capture every breathtaking photo opportunity you can while enjoying nature at its finest.
If you are going to take the leap and try your hand at cowboy camping, some campers say you should start out slow and try sleeping outside in your own backyard first. Just remember to be safe but enjoy every moment.