Back to Nature: Camp Like a Cowboy

Painting by Jen D’Enise

Whether you’re looking to unplug alone or plan to take the kids with you for one last summer hurrah, planning a camping trip where you camp like a cowboy can be the ideal way to get back to nature. There’s nothing like a few nights under the stars listening to the crickets to clear the mind and heal the soul. Ready to roll? Let’s go.

Back to Basics

Quite often, a seemingly simple camping trip can turn into quite an undertaking when you factor in one or more tents, cooking gear, lighting, food etc. Before you know it, half the house is packed and suddenly the lure of the great outdoors, is not so alluring after all. That’s where cowboy camping comes in. It can really stoke the flames in getting your adventurous side fired up. Think back to basics. All you really need are a few blankets, a sleeping bag, or a bed roll, a tarp of some sort, a can of beans, some hydration, a lot of good stories and a clear night. Then let nature take its course.

Do Your Research

When embarking on a tentless camping trip, make sure to check your local weather and find out if a camping permit is needed in the area where you plan to lay your head(s). You should probably scope out the area ahead of time to figure out a good spot. For example, the Grand Canyon Trust has a cowboy camp set up for those who want to get away from it all and “Drivin’ and Vibin’, a fun online resource, has compiled a list of its favorite free camping sites around the U.S.

Make sure you look for a spot that’s safe and shaded. For example, stay away from water, as those areas tend to breed biters in the night. Instead, focus on areas with lots of tree shelter and think higher ground. Should an out-of-the-blue downpour occur, you’ll be happy you’re not camping out in a valley. Educate yourself about the local wildlife and pay attention to any rules or regulations (i.e., keeping food in bear-resistant containers; or no open fires).

Set Up Your Camp

Once you’ve decided on a place to camp, it’s time to set up your sleeping space. It’s a good idea to place your sleeping bag(s) or bed roll(s) on a ground tarp or cloth. It can also double as a last-minute shelter that you can prop up over your sleeping area with some sticks and branches in case of showers. For those who wish to step it up a notch, a sleeping mat or pad may mean a little more luxury. Though keep in mind, real cowboys probably don’t use pads. But that’s okay. We won’t hold it against you. And when it comes to food, like everything else with cowboy camping, keep it simple. A can of beans (don’t forget to bring a multi-purpose tool), some bread and peanut butter, etc. will likely do the trick. You can always catch your dinner too! But now we’re getting complicated again.

Dress the Part

Since you’re not going to have an RV or tent to duck into or a bug net to protect you, make sure you dress the part. Layer up. Layers will protect you from the heat, cold and any pesky mosquitos that may be thirsty for some cowboy blood. Thyme oil is a proven natural bug repellent, so you might want to pack a bottle. And, don’t forget your cowboy hat and cowboy boots too. No real cowboy leaves home without them.

One last word of advice, if you’ve never cowboy camped before, you might want to give it a go in your own backyard first and see how you do. So, are you a yellow belly or more like someone who’ll die standin’ up? No matter the outcome, have some fun and get outdoors.

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