An Ode to the Dirtbags: Tips on Cowboy Camping

An Ode to the Dirtbags: Tips on Cowboy Camping

This blog goes out to all those who wear their dilapidated puffy jackets with pride, to those who embrace the perpetual accumulation of dirt under their fingernails, and to those whose socks stand up on their own free will. While we wear nose plugs to converse with you, we thank you for your years sleeping in the dirt and the wisdom you have shared with us to write this here blog for all those clean-smelling folk who are just beginning their initiation into the dirty, dirty world of cowboy camping.

Tip #1: Find a good spot

The most important part of a successful cowboy camping endeavor is the spot at which you lay your head. At first, this may seem like you need a keen eye to find just the right spot, but there are a few important things to keep in mind as you look for a spot to sleep as you wander down the trail such as:

Make sure it is flat: a sloping surface will cause you to slide in the middle of the night and you will wake up several times to adjust.

Make sure there are no poky things to pop your pad: there is nothing worse than waking up, shivering, with a flat pad.

Try to protect yourself from the wind and animals: when cowboy camping, you are exposed to the elements, so finding places you can be protected from makes for a great spot. With that said, make sure you are not invading an animal's home, it won't make for a good time.

Large, flat rocks/boulders are best: my best night's sleep under the stars while cowboy camping has been on large, flat boulders in the middle of the desert and the PNW. There is something about being off the ground and on a rock that just allows me to sleep great!

Tip #2: Use a ground sheet to keep your pad safe

There are times when you can not guarantee that your inflatable pad is going to be safe while you are cowboy camping even if you do everything correctly. Because of this, if I am going cowboy camping, I will bring with me a ground sheet (the best is a two-person tent footprint) that you can lay down underneath your pad.

Why the two-person tent footprint? Three reasons:

Extra space for your gear: I find it nice to give myself some extra space around my sleep system to lay things out like my backpack, boots, book, camera, journal, and water bottles. This just helps with organization and cleanliness.

Make a Human Burrito: Since you are exposed to the elements while you cowboy camp, I have found rolling yourself into a human burrito with a two-person tent footprint to be a “hack” for overcoming unfavorable weather conditions. In full honesty, if you get rained on while cowboy camping, it isn’t fun, but with a two-person footprint and a good spot, you can make it through the night and wake up feeling rested.

Pad Protection: When you lay down a tent footprint over the ground you have already checked for poky plants, you are just adding that last layer of protection to keep your inflatable pad fully inflated throughout the night.

Tip #3: How to be extra warm if the night gets cold

After counting sheep and falling into the dream world, waking up to a cold front is not a pleasant experience, especially if you don’t have a way to get warmer. The good news, there are a few sneaky tricks to increase your warmth while cowboy camping on a backpacking trip:

Add layers: This is the obvious answer, but I wanted to make sure to add it here as a reminder.

Do sit-ups: If you create some heat in your sleeping bag, it will spread throughout the bag, get you warm, and give you that beach bod we all dream of showing off.

Put your legs into your backpack: If you are cold, reach for your backpack, spread it open, and scoot your way into the bag. This will add a layer around you to protect you from the wind and hold in your warmth.

Add “fill” to your bag: If you have extra space in your bag, this will create pockets of cold air that you don’t want. So, add things from your backpack into your sleeping bag to take up this extra space. Note: don’t put metal or cold things in here that will take your heat away.

Eat some calories: If you have food you can spare, one way to generate heat is to add calories to your body.

Tip #4: Don't forget your cowboy coffee

When the morning sun lands on your face and begins to warm you, and your body, there is only one thing that makes this moment better, a warm beverage. For most outdoor lovers this is a perfect cup of coffee, but for others, this could be tea, hot chocolate, maté, a London fog (mainly reserved for the fancy folk), and many more. So, break out your stove and flick that lighter with a cold hand so you can boil some water and fill your belly with a warm beverage to make your golden sunrise even better.

”About the author: Dalton Johnson is an adventure photographer and writer focused on non-motorized adventures in the mountains and oceans. Check out his work on his website or follow him on Instagram (@daltonjohnsonmedia). If you have any questions or comments, please reach out to Dalton on Instagram DM, or via his website.