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Tentless/Cowboy Camping Issues and Experiences

Old 02-27-19, 01:34 PM
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Tentless/Cowboy Camping Issues and Experiences

Sometimes it can be nice to sleep out directly under the stars, weather permitting. But there are potential problems. I wouldn't do it in tick country, for example. And mosquitoes can be a problem.

Assuming no bad weather, no ticks, and no mosquitoes (or effective repellent), what other reasonable concerns might point to not camping out this way?

​​​​In some seasons and places, not having to carry a tent at all should be possible. It could lighten the load and expense, and save space.

Has anyone here done it much? What experiences did you have camping this way?

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Old 02-27-19, 01:43 PM
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Old 02-27-19, 02:12 PM
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It might make for uneasy sleep if they are close.

I don't know how realistic it is to be concerned about rattlesnakes and scorpions. I've heard stories, but don't know how common the problem is.

Scorpions and other nocturnal bugs crawling into a sleeping bag.... I don't know how common or how rare that is.

There are some nocturnal arachnids and centipedes that are freaky looking, but not that dangerous AFAIK. Vinegaroons are around, and I wouldn't want them crawling in with me. Same with centipedes.

Tents make sense in preventing all these, but maybe they are unnecessary. They're kind of a pain to carry and deal with.

And it's really nice to be unenclosed under a great night sky.
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Old 02-27-19, 02:26 PM
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I don't like tents much. I have spent many nights in tents, and I don't sleep well in a tent.

On my longest tour, I didn't take one. I survived. Sleep deprivation became an issue, but I can't say how much of that was due to not having a tent. Got completely drenched by a rainstorm one time, and tormented by mosquitoes more times than I can enumerate. Oddly, I don't remember whether dew was an issue. I can tell you that one night late in my tour I happened to be riding with another tourist who offered to share his tent, and I gladly accepted. I remember that it poured that night, and I was glad to be in a tent; I don't recall whether we knew it was going to rain that night (but my guess is: we had a pretty good idea that it would).

Now that I've discovered hammocks, I don't expect I'll ever want to tour without a hammock.
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Old 02-27-19, 02:55 PM
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Originally Posted by rhm
I don't like tents much. I have spent many nights in tents, and I don't sleep well in a tent.

On my longest tour, I didn't take one. I survived. Sleep deprivation became an issue, but I can't say how much of that was due to not having a tent. Got completely drenched by a rainstorm one time, and tormented by mosquitoes more times than I can enumerate. Oddly, I don't remember whether dew was an issue. I can tell you that one night late in my tour I happened to be riding with another tourist who offered to share his tent, and I gladly accepted. I remember that it poured that night, and I was glad to be in a tent; I don't recall whether we knew it was going to rain that night (but my guess is: we had a pretty good idea that it would).

Now that I've discovered hammocks, I don't expect I'll ever want to tour without a hammock.
Thanks for the helpful feedback. (I think I'll just start putting the unhelpful snarks around here on ignore.)

I agree, hammocks can be great. They also get me up away from snakes, scorpions and I lot of other bugs. You can be open to the night sky, and have a tarp ready if there's any chance of rain.

I also feel unpleasantly enclosed in a tent.
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Old 02-27-19, 02:57 PM
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I have both a tent and bivy sac. In good weather without rain I like the bivy. In rainy weather it sucks if you can't find shelter as you then need a tarp and might as well take a tent. They also aren't great if you spend a lot of time in camp during mossy season.

Believe it or not, the biggest concern I had two years ago was cows stepping on my head. We were in grazing country with free roaming cattle moving through the campsite. I had a stand off with a bull on the way to the biffy.
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Old 02-27-19, 03:00 PM
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Originally Posted by mtb_addict
I started using a quilt last year (instead of sleep bag) for backpacking. So I think it's better becasue it's not closed off...if a Black Widow crawl crawl under the quilt, it's much easier for it to find it's way out.
With a sleeping bag, there's only one way in and one way out, and it may get trapped inside until you wake up.
Thanks. Good point.
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Old 02-27-19, 03:15 PM
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Originally Posted by Happy Feet
I have both a tent and bivy sac. In good weather without rain I like the bivy. In rainy weather it sucks if you can't find shelter as you then need a tarp and might as well take a tent. They also aren't great if you spend a lot of time in camp during mossy season.

Believe it or not, the biggest concern I had two years ago was cows stepping on my head. We were in grazing country with free roaming cattle moving through the campsite. I had a stand off with a bull on the way to the biffy.
Yeah, I've camped in open range cattle country. They are heavy. Wouldn't want them stepping on me. The scariest thing that happened was when I accidentally separated three, including a young one, from the main herd. The herd became aggressive and came after me. It was truly scary.

People joke about cows as if they are harmless. I looked it up after the incident, and they can stomp and kick, and do stomp and kick aggressively and with intent in some situations, and have killed people that way.
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Old 02-27-19, 05:06 PM
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I've heard them wandering around at night, going by right next to the tent.
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Old 02-27-19, 05:26 PM
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I've done it several times and it's always been an awesome experience. I do it when I'm sure it's clear and close to zero percent chance of rain. Nighttime critters have scurried across me at times. I would not advise if you're a snowflake

Sleeping under the stars in Big Bend Desert
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Old 02-27-19, 05:36 PM
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Originally Posted by BigAura
I've done it several times and it's always been an awesome experience. I do it when I'm sure it's clear and close to zero percent chance of rain. Nighttime critters have scurried across me at times. I would not advise if you're a snowflake

Sleeping under the stars in Big Bend Desert
Nice. I appreciate your approach.
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Old 02-27-19, 05:46 PM
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Bad weather, ticks, mosquitoes? That would be New England in the warmer months. Light weight for me would be a bug net and a tarp. Good tents only run 2-3 pounds.
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Old 02-27-19, 06:29 PM
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Originally Posted by mtb_addict
Lyme disease...scary.
Being scared won't protect you. When I toured in the infected areas I was sure to use Permethrin on clothing and equipment. Also did a daily bodily inspection.
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Old 02-27-19, 06:31 PM
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Yes, it is. I have a close friend whose ex-husband died a few years ago from consequences of Lyme disease. They are attracted by the carbon dioxide animals exhale, including while sleeping. So it's not such a good way to sleep in Lyme country/seasons.

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Old 02-27-19, 06:36 PM
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Originally Posted by BigAura
Being scared won't protect you. When I toured in the infected areas I was sure to use Permethrin on clothing and equipment. Also did a daily bodily inspection.
Good practices, but not sure it's enough to sleep out, with no tent or netting.... if there are a lot of infected ticks around.
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Old 02-27-19, 06:52 PM
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Originally Posted by Bikesplendor
Good practices, but not sure it's enough to sleep out, with no tent or netting.... if there are a lot of infected ticks around.
The picture I posted was in the Texas desert which is close to 0% for Lymes. Other times I slept under the stars was not in prime Lyme disease areas. My point is be aware of real dangers but don't be paranoid.
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Old 02-27-19, 07:01 PM
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Yeah, I would feel pretty Lyme safe in much of the Southwest. Not in Connecticut though, nor many other areas. Don't know if permethrin is 100% effective for ticks. Is it?
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Old 02-27-19, 07:18 PM
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Originally Posted by Bikesplendor
Yeah, I would feel pretty Lyme safe in much of the Southwest. Not in Connecticut though, nor many other areas. Don't know if permethrin is 100% effective for ticks. Is it?
100% --> nope... But I have found dead ticks inside my permethrin treated tent. You're mostly going to contact ticks while walking through brushy areas.

Wild Camping Connecticut Forest
(yes I slept inside my permethrin treated tent)

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Old 02-27-19, 07:33 PM
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In Michigan I strongly recommend a tent. The bugs are thick here, and lyme is prevalent.
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Old 02-27-19, 07:39 PM
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I keep considering traveling without a tent, thinking I could just use a foot print / bag / tarp - like one of these: https://www.shop.cookecustomsewing.c...?categoryId=12

Then I add up the weight and I'm lighter 1p Big Agnes. And for all the tick and mosquito reasons mentioned, I stick with my little nylon coffin.
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Old 02-27-19, 08:18 PM
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Definitely use a tent, even a small one. Like mentioned above, there are ticks, mosquitos, and other stuff out there at night. In the deserts I'd be concerned about rattlesnakes, scorpions, and a few other small critters getting into the bag with me if I was not in a tent. Even on warm nights I'll still use a tent, just leave the doors open (but the screening in place) so the air can flow through for ventilation.
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Old 02-27-19, 09:05 PM
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Originally Posted by skidder
In the deserts I'd be concerned about rattlesnakes, scorpions, and a few other small critters getting into the bag with me if I was not in a tent.
The idea that rattlesnakes will crawl into your sleeping bag is hyperbolic paranoia. I've never heard of this happening outside of peoples dreams and ghost stories. Scorpions may not be as aware of humans but they are in no way after you.
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Old 02-27-19, 09:28 PM
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Originally Posted by mrv
I keep considering traveling without a tent, thinking I could just use a foot print / bag / tarp - like one of these: https://www.shop.cookecustomsewing.c...?categoryId=12

Then I add up the weight and I'm lighter 1p Big Agnes. And for all the tick and mosquito reasons mentioned, I stick with my little nylon coffin.
Yep. I have a North Face 1 man tent that, when stripped of all unneeded paraphernalia, weighs in at 2lbs. It's only 3'x7' but it's a tent!

Originally Posted by skidder
Definitely use a tent, even a small one. Like mentioned above, there are ticks, mosquitos, and other stuff out there at night. In the deserts I'd be concerned about rattlesnakes, scorpions, and a few other small critters getting into the bag with me if I was not in a tent. Even on warm nights I'll still use a tent, just leave the doors open (but the screening in place) so the air can flow through for ventilation.
My bivy is an early genetation Integral Designs gortex with zippered mosquito mesh and a single fiberglass hoop over the head. Keeps things out just like a tent.
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Old 02-28-19, 06:09 AM
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There are Lots of reasons people developed shelter, and reasons animals capable of making shelter or sleeping up off of the ground do so. I tend to feel the same way nature seems to naturally direct me. Obviously people have slept out under the stars and not died millions of times, but shelter does tend to make things safer. I also don't drink water that hasn't been filtered, even though often chances are Very high that it won't make me sick, etc, etc... If I were gonna sleep outside with no shelter of any sort, I'd at least sleep up off of the ground and check the weather report.
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Old 02-28-19, 07:05 AM
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I have a friend in West Virginia who was bitten by a copperhead that had entered his sleeping bag.
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