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#123608 - 11/10/09 02:41 PM Cowboy Camping?
AliasDave Offline

Registered: 11/10/09
Posts: 1
Loc: CA, USA
Has anyone here cowboy camped frequently while thru-hiking? It just seems it would be so much of a less hastle than to have to set up a tent or tarp. I would still take a tarp with me for the chance it could rain.

Any advice would be awesome! Thanks

#123611 - 11/10/09 03:36 PM Re: Cowboy Camping? [Re: AliasDave]
OregonMouse Offline

Registered: 02/03/06
Posts: 6632
Loc: Gateway to Columbia Gorge
There is still dew to contend with, unless you can camp right under a tree. There are also such things as mosquitoes. In my case, I insist on a bug-free space for my dog as well as for me, which is why I use a tent.

A lightweight breathable (DWR top) bivy--the kind many recommend for use under a tarp to repel splash when it rains--might be your best option. It should keep the dew from wetting your sleeping bag. You can get them with mosquito netting. Since they have waterproof bottoms, you won't need a ground sheet. The Titanium Goat Ptarmigan bivy is one example.

Edited by OregonMouse (11/10/09 03:39 PM)
May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view--E. Abbey

#123612 - 11/10/09 04:49 PM Re: Cowboy Camping? [Re: AliasDave]
ringtail Offline

Registered: 08/22/02
Posts: 2296
Loc: Colorado Rockies
The answer is always maybe. In Colorado the bug season is only about 3 weeks. I cowboy camped a lot before I moved to a hammock. A head net is enough for bugs, but has disadvantages also. You need to find your own sweet spot of weight, features and comfort.
"In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not."
Yogi Berra

#123613 - 11/10/09 04:50 PM Re: Cowboy Camping? [Re: AliasDave]
Pika Offline

Registered: 12/08/05
Posts: 1789
Loc: Rural Southeast Arizona
Here is a long answer to a short question. Sure, a lot of through-hikers "cowboy camp", in my case not so much to avoid hassle but because I love to look up into the starry sky while I'm drowsy-snug in my sleeping bag.

In fact, I don't think one avoids that much hassle by just tossing your bag and pad down to sleep. Quite often, even with clear skies, you will wake up with dew or frost on the top of your bag and you have to spend time drying it. Also, I find that a tent helps to control small items of gear that otherwise tend to wander; I loose fewer little things when I spend the night in a tent.

And finally, not as infrequently as I would have liked, I have gone to sleep with the stars shining and have awakened in the wee hours with rain falling on my face. Two AM on a high ridge with wind blowing and rain falling is not the best time to try putting up a tent: Trust me! frown
May I walk in beauty.

#123640 - 11/11/09 08:03 AM Re: Cowboy Camping? [Re: AliasDave]
Glenn Offline

Registered: 03/08/06
Posts: 2617
Loc: Ohio
I used to cowboy camp all the time, but as I got older, the saddle just became too heavy to lug around. smirk

Actually, I've always loved sleeping under the stars, but in the eastern US bugs can take the shine off very quickly. For a long time, I used a bivy sack with as much mesh as possible, and it worked pretty well; I backed it with a tarp in case of rain. The combo was lighter than a tent, and often much easier to set up.

Then came ultralight tents, in particular the MSR Hubba and Hubbless (aka Carbon Reflex 1), which had full mesh inners and were no heavier than my tarp-and-bivy combo. They set up easily, and I always leave the fly off if it's not raining. It's the same as sleeping under the stars while enjoying the breeze and the bug-free space.

Don't know if it's the mesh or pure dumb luck, but haven't had any particular problem with dew. (If it's foggy, or I know the dew will be unusually heavy, I put the fly on but roll the vestibule completely out of the way.)

Edited by Glenn (11/11/09 07:21 PM)

#123659 - 11/11/09 12:25 PM Re: Cowboy Camping? [Re: Pika]
phat Offline

Registered: 06/24/07
Posts: 4107
Loc: Alberta, Canada

I have done this several times - once on purpose, and two unintentonally [1] - I had issues with dew in the morning every time. Not a big deal if you have a covering on - but remember even "cowboy camping" is traditionally done with a canvas tarp cover - this gets the dew. - and a blanket underneath

My problem with doing this is most of the areas I go to are subject to unpredictable and extreme weather changes - so I can go to bed with clear skies and have a thunderstorm in the middle of the night.

Often if I don't suspect bad weather, what I do these days is to set up my hammock, hang my tarp, and throw one side over the back - so I am essentially open on the front. if I wake up with the weather changing I can then trivially stake down the open side in about 15 seconds and I'm good - this lets me lie out and fall asleep watching the stars, and still be able to not have a complete middle of night goonshow if the weather turns.

[1] - once on purpose on a horse trip - with blanket and canvas bag.. two times unintentionally on "stress relief" backpacking trips with a nice dose of single malt, warm fire and pad next to it, and falling asleep outside without getting into my shelter!

Any fool can be uncomfortable...
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#123663 - 11/11/09 12:50 PM Re: Cowboy Camping? [Re: AliasDave]
Dryer Offline

Registered: 12/05/02
Posts: 3590
Loc: Texas
Most of the time. Lay down, go to sleep. I'll be doing that this weekend in the desert. They only time I mess with a tarp or fly (hammock) is if it's really cold, or rain is pending.
Otherwise, gimme the night sky! I do carry a 1/2 bug net sometimes and support it with my trekking pole.
paul, texas KD5IVP

#123691 - 11/12/09 01:25 AM Re: Cowboy Camping? [Re: AliasDave]
Jimshaw Offline

Registered: 10/22/03
Posts: 3949
Loc: Bend, Oregon
When I was 24 I spent 4 months hiking and camping in CAlifornia. I had an 8x10 piece of plastic for a ground cloth and when it rained I pulled half over me. I used a piece of old shear curtain for a mosquito net. Many awful sweaty nights were spent avoiding the hordes of mosquitos on the other side of the net. I also did not carry a coat. I remeber getting a piece of blue foam and it really beat sleeping right on the ground.
Jim crazy
These are my own opinions based on wisdom earned through many wrong decisions. Your mileage may vary.

#123699 - 11/12/09 07:14 AM Re: Cowboy Camping? [Re: Jimshaw]
Glenn Offline

Registered: 03/08/06
Posts: 2617
Loc: Ohio
And it still beat walking 6 miles to school, in the snow, uphill both ways, with your little brother on your back, right? grin

I keep having to re-learn that I really don't need to drag all that crap into the woods just to spend the night - it ends up being a question of how much of it am I willing to carry and fiddle around with to get a bit of comfort. The answer keeps being less and less.

#123710 - 11/12/09 12:16 PM Re: Cowboy Camping? [Re: AliasDave]
GrumpyGord Offline

Registered: 01/05/02
Posts: 898
Loc: Michigan
In Michigan where I do most of my hiking the mosquitoes would carry you away. I have been inside a tent at night where it sounded like a whole fleet of black helicopters out there. Also I have frequently gone to sleep under clear skies and have a thunderstorm roll in at 1:00 AM. Due to the great lakes if you don't like the weather in MI wait a few minutes. Also I am getting to the age where being comfortable is part of the game. I no longer have to prove that I am tough.

#123711 - 11/12/09 12:22 PM Re: Cowboy Camping? [Re: phat]
sabre11004 Offline

Registered: 05/05/07
Posts: 513
Loc: Tennessee
Same here...I hike mostly in the GSNP, The AT and other trails in the eastern United States. AS you probably know if you have ever hiked in any of these areas, you know how unpredictable the weather can be. You can bed down at night with no wind and temps in the mid 50's and wake up in the morning with temps in the mid 30's and it raining in your face with winds blowing at 20-30 knots.Not fun as some else mentioned. I think that just for safety reasons you should always carry some sort of "shelter" with you at all times, even it is just a poncho, but none the less some thing that you can use as a shelter if you find the "need" to have one...Personally I just think that it is safer...sabre11004... awesome awesome awesome
The first step that you take will be one of those that get you there 1!!!!!

#123713 - 11/12/09 12:30 PM Re: Cowboy Camping? [Re: GrumpyGord]
sabre11004 Offline

Registered: 05/05/07
Posts: 513
Loc: Tennessee
I agree that at our age (57) comfort is always becoming more and more important. However with that being said I do make an effort to lesson the weight of other things instead of my "comfort kit" so to speak. I will work to lighten my cook kit, my first aid kit, my food and food container and a lot of other stuff but my pads, my bag, and my tent, I usually go with whatever "gets me through the night" if you know what I mean. If you can make those concessions, usually it is pretty easy to stay comfortable, for me it is any way...sabre11004... awesome
The first step that you take will be one of those that get you there 1!!!!!

#199896 - 12/16/17 03:39 PM Re: Cowboy Camping? [Re: sabre11004]
41253 Offline

Registered: 12/28/14
Posts: 93
In the absence of rain or bugs it's the only way to go. I cowboy-camped for a total of seven nights in the Grand Canyon last summer. I had a tarp that I set up a few times but never got under it. I'm addicted to starlight so don't like to be under tree cover if I can avoid it.

I have one anecdote regarding condensation: a while back four of us were camping near Sandia Peak outside of Albuquerque. The weather when we went to sleep was clear and the stars were great. I was outside in an old 45-degree bag and a homemade Tyvek (the clothing kind, not crinkly house wrap) bivy. The bivy has a large floppy section that I can pull over my head like a blanket. My sister was also under the stars and two others were under a tarp. In the morning it was chilly and there was a lot of dew on everything including the top of the tarp. My sister's bag was completely saturated. It weighed it ton. My bag was perfectly dry, even though I had pulled the Tyvek over my head sometime during the night and had been breathing into my "sleeping system" for most of the night. The fact that I was using a light sleeping bag (barely sufficient) may be important: I don't know if I would have stayed as dry in a heavier bag without my body heat escaping and taking moisture with it.

#199939 - 12/21/17 02:15 AM Re: Cowboy Camping? [Re: 41253]
BrianLe Offline

Registered: 02/26/07
Posts: 1149
Loc: Washington State, King County
I cowboy-camped for a total of seven nights in the Grand Canyon last summer.

I cowboy camped for a couple of nights in the Grand Canyon too, a few years ago; my hiking friends thought I was unwise, but ditto I had a poncho tarp that I put up maybe once and didn't really use. The issue I noticed was the wind, though --- hard to block it and it was a little distracting.

I also had a ringtail jump on my chest in the middle of the night; kind of a cool experience once I realized that it hadn't damaged my sleeping bag.

This is quite an old thread resurrected, but responding to the original post anyway --- what the heck! --- that post was:

Has anyone here cowboy camped frequently while thru-hiking? It just seems it would be so much of a less hastle than to have to set up a tent or tarp. I would still take a tarp with me for the chance it could rain.

I've thru-hiked multiple trails and cowboy camped relatively seldom --- several times in SoCal, and a couple of times in New Mexico, and that's about it. This is partly situational, and to some degree I expect personal style. But I'm not a fan of bugs, and if they're out at all I'm inclined to be in a tent, ditto any real chance of rain or significant dewfall. What I find happens is that I get so used to the tent that sometimes I don't think after a while about cowboy camping even if the opportunity arises. After a few weeks on trail the tent really is like home, I know exactly where everything is in the night, nothing is going to go rolling off or underneath the ground cloth, and I spend a little less time in the morning making sure that I have everything --- especially for those times when I'm packing up before the sun is up.

But I know that people do cowboy camp a lot more than I do, and I've quite enjoyed the times that I have.
Brian Lewis

#199967 - 12/23/17 08:53 AM Re: Cowboy Camping? [Re: BrianLe]
balzaccom Online   content

Registered: 04/06/09
Posts: 1865
Loc: Napa, CA
I'm pretty much in the same boat as Bryan. Done it in Death Valley. Done it a few times in perfect weather in September in the Sierra. But if there is a chance of rain, bugs, dew, or prowling animals, I used a lightweight tent ...

check out our website and blog:

#199977 - 12/24/17 09:08 PM Re: Cowboy Camping? [Re: balzaccom]
wandering_daisy Offline

Registered: 01/11/06
Posts: 2835
Loc: California
My cowboy camping is always with a basic bivy. I simply want to be able to zip up and be separated from bugs, or rain, or other forms of creepy-crawlies if needed. I am not fond of rodents inside my sleeping bag. My bivy weighs 1# 4-6 oz (I have three to choose from).

I love the way you can see the stars when in a bivy! On short trips (2-3 days) I really prefer this. Depends on my goals, but sometimes comfort at night is NOT my main objective.

#201067 - 06/03/18 01:41 PM Re: Cowboy Camping? [Re: AliasDave]
troutstalker Offline

Registered: 06/02/18
Posts: 37
Loc: CO
I Cowboy camp frequently while backpacking in Colorado but always have my tarp if need be. A headnet is all I use for bug protection along with some Picaridin spray if need be.


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