Imagine waking up surrounded by your best friends in a giant cuddle puddle — just like the sleepovers you had when you were a kid, snuggled in your comfy sleeping bag, the sounds of birds singing, and the sun gently warming your entire being, reminding you the day has begun? That’s what cowgirl camping feels like to me — well, most days.
Cowboy/ cowgirl/ cowperson camping is the act of refusing to set up your tent (sometimes out of laziness and sometimes for the sake of simplicity) and instead laying out all of your sleeping materials in the cold hard, surrendering yourself to mother nature’s mercy.
I first was introduced to cowboy camping in the Army, although not really by choice and it definitely did not feel as magical/ whimsical as it does on the Pacific Crest Trail now. My first experience with cowboy camping was fine, a little intimidating but the exhaustion from the day's activities allowed me to collapse into a deep sleep almost immediately. What struck me about that first experience was how beautiful the morning was. I woke up before my peers and got to experience the serene peace of dawn. I only got a few moments of serenity before the day's chaos began but the experience stuck with me.
When I came out to the PCT this year, I brought my 2 pound 1 person North Face Triarch tent, a Thermarest Z-Pad, and an Enlightened Equipment Enigma quilt for my sleeping system. I used my tent for the first week in the desert and very quickly realized I hated being confined, and not being woken up naturally by the sun. My tent felt like a cocoon, safe but away, separate from my environment. I wanted to be immersed in nature, after all that's what I came out here for.
So I began cowgirl camping. My first night cowgirling on trail was on a ridge by myself. I walked 15 miles that day (that was so much to me in the desert — LOL). I dry camped in a spot with maybe room for a few cowgirls, and to my surprise two friends who I hiked with earlier that day showed up and asked to camp with me. I was ecstatic. I love camping with new friends and was grateful for the company. (S/O Wonder Woman and Smiley, miss you girls!)
The following morning was one of the most magical mornings I had ever experienced to date. The weather we woke to was cold, with a slight breeze. The sun was peeking through the huge wispy clouds that felt so close that we could touch them. It was ethereal watching the clouds roll through the mountain tops and witnessing the sun rays peek-a-boo through the clouds. I hurriedly made a cup of steaming coffee to warm my bones as I sat in my fluffy, comfy, sleeping quilt. Being able to watch the morning unfold, while in the comfort of my sleeping bag is one of my favorite experiences on trail. I love being immersed and at one with my surroundings. Plus it's an added bonus being able to pack up camp a bit quicker since I’m a slower hiker than most of my hiking companions!
Cowgirl camping has had such a profound impact on my thru-hike. I love waking up to my tramily members smiling, sleepy and puffy faces with their gnarled morning hair. It makes my heart so happy to be able to share my nights and mornings with them. So much so that I sent my tent home to force myself to be present with my surroundings and cowgirl camp every night. Yes, I am that committed and that crazy about cowgirl camping.
The only real con/ concern for the no shelter badass lifestyle is that when mother nature decides to rain, she usually doesn’t hold back. Luckily, I have a Garmin GPS device that gets signal maybe once a week. It helps me check weather reports and plan my nights accordingly. Also, thanks to climate change (wow, never thought I would say that!), I haven’t been soaked while sleeping yet. During the two storms so far — yes, only two in my three months on the PCT — I have found shelter immediately. The first instance was just drizzle and I jumped into my hiking companion Sunny B’s spacious and luxurious Big Agnes Tiger Wall tent. The second instance that it rained I was camped safely inside a hut on trail.
Sometimes mother nature really smiles upon the stupid. In short, with proper planning, you too could not carry a shelter, hang out with your best friends and wake up to the wonder of the wilderness’ full glory every morning. 10/10 recommend and will be doing it over and over again.
Also, it’s 2021 guys, can we please find a gender neutral/ nonbinary term for cowboy/ cowgirl/ cowperson camping? Comment your ideas, we need to change this asap.
Happiest of trails to my fellow dirtbags,
Cartwheel aka Carti V aka “V” in the real world is a California born and raised twenty something latinx hiker trash who enjoys long walks, singing cringey karaoke songs and extreme dreaming. She is currently on the Pacific Crest Trail trying to fulfill her dream of becoming a thru-hiker.