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12 Pro Tips for Camping Without a Tent

August 04 2020

sleeping child on a hammock

When you think of camping, you probably think of sleeping under the stars with no light pollution or waking up naturally and well rested at sunrise. And while many campers get preoccupied with gear and what ultralight or cutting-edge equipment to bring on their next trip, going rugged and ditching the tent is a bold move that has high reward.

However, it’s not as easy as leaving the tent in the garage. There’s much to consider and a few steps to take to ensure a good time. Read on for some great tips for camping without a tent!

Benefits of Camping Without a Tent

One of the better benefits to camping without a tent is having less to carry. Not carrying a tent, stakes, tarp, rain fly, or any additional tent items spares you the space if you are car camping. If you are backpacking, it saves both weight and space, making your walk through the woods lighter and more pleasant.

Furthermore, it cuts down on time. Having to set up camp can be tough, especially after a long day on the trail. If you have a longer day and are setting up during the night, not dealing with tent setup is great too. And finally, when you’re up and ready to move in the morning, you don’t have to deal with the fuss of taking down your tent.

It’s really a simpler kind of camping, sometimes called “cowboy camping” that helps you connect better and more intimately with the nature around you. Like we’ve said, camping outside permits you a view of stars and Milky Way as you fall asleep.

Cons/Downsides of Camping Without a Tent

plastic type camping cover

With all the awesome benefits of camping without a tent comes a few flip sides and cons. Obvious downsides to camping outside are the elements of nature, particularly water. If not planned well, you can get soaked with all your gear. Additionally, morning dew can leave all your belongings damp, depending on the season.

Wind is another con, which can lower temperatures. A tent with its rain fly can function as a place to hold heat inside of it from a few bodies, and not having that barrier leaves you vulnerable. Furthermore, wind can pick up dust and other detritus into your face, sleeping bag and other gear.

There is also the exposure to wildlife, particularly bugs. Your face peeking out of your sleeping bag is open season for mosquitoes. If you’re nervous about other woodland and outdoor critters, this item is also something for you to consider.

Finally, the lack of privacy is a downside, and even more of a bummer if you are spending the night in a public campground. Not having that barrier up allows strangers to see even more into your camp, and your tent can even act as a visual beacon for people to approach.

While there are some cons, there are many ways to get around them and prepare yourself for a good time.

The Best Tips for Camping Without a Tent

1. Checking the Weather Before You Go Camping Without a Tent

Nothing is worse than rain on a camping trip, especially if you don’t have a tent or any cover. This one’s a tough one as you cannot plan that far out with weather. Check the weather leading up to your trip to see if there are any future downpours. If you’re lucky and go camping right after rainfall, remember the ground could still be wet.

2. Bivvy Sac Instead of a Tent

bivvy sac

If the ground is still wet or you want protection on a longer trip, a bivouac sac, also known as a bivvy sac, is perfect. Essentially a tarp bag that holds you in your sleeping bag, a bivvy sac is the great next step for your outdoor gear. A bivvy sac can also seal heat in for a great year-round camping investment and let you see the stars in colder climates.

3. Sleeping Bag Liner

Not ready for the seriousness or the price jump of a bivvy sac? A sleeping bag liner is a great addendum for your camping set and layer game. Providing a few degrees of warmth during the night can help you get those hours of beauty sleep instead of that tent wall.

4. Layer Up for Sleeping Outside

layered up camper man

If you’re trying to save money or not ready to commit to the bag liner or the bivouac sac, bringing extra layers to bundle up will keep you warm. Remember to go for wool as it is water-wicking and down feather clothing items as they compress well. The major downside of bringing layers is that they take up a lot of space. While they work well, it may be in your best interest to eventually upgrade so you can sleep under the stars and conserve space in your pack.

5. Sleeping on Tarps/Using Tarps as Tents

There are two ways to use tarps instead of camping in a tent. The simplest way is to lay it on the ground and lie down in your sleeping bags. This places a layer between you and the earth, in addition to your sleeping pad, keeping the ground moisture from your sleeping bags. Place all your gear on top of it too in order to keep it warm.

tarp tent

The second way is to hang your tarp to provide shelter using clotheslines or rope, also known simply as a tarp tent. If you simply lie on a tarp, you are exposed to water from above, but this quick shelter provides sanctuary from rain. Watch the video from REI below for several ways to set up a tarp tent.


6. Hammock Camping Instead of a Tent

If you’re worried about ground moisture, why not be above it? Hanging a hammock is a great way to camp without a tent. You can spend free time in it and relax under a canopy of woods. If you’re worried about water, set up a ridgeline and hang a tarp to provide shelter.

7. Set Up Camp Far from a Water Source

You want to be at least 200 feet from a water source when setting up camp, as mosquitoes and other bugs tend to flock to water, especially still water sources. Furthermore, other animals tend to congregate around water and being closer to it will increase your chances of interaction. This is a good rule overall, but even more important when you are sleeping out in the open.

8. Protect Yourself with Bug Spray and Repellants

Probably not my favorite idea, but putting bug spray on you and your clothes will keep those smaller critters off you while you sleep. Try to use more natural bug repellants, as the more chemical based ones can be corrosive in the long term.

9. Know Your Local Wildlife

Call your ranger station to find out if wildlife should be any concern. While the quick thought may go to bears or mountain lions, raccoons are known to pick through your packs while marmots can simply eat the pack straps for their salt content. If it presents any opportunity to damage you, your gear, or your food supply, a tent might be a good idea.

10. Head for Higher Ground

Lower spots may seem like good ideas to avoid wildlife and to protect your camp for wind, but if there is any water, it will head downhill and flush your site. Head to high ground to avoid this, though it may be windier.

11. Stake The Proper Claim for Camping Outside

Clear the ground of any sharp items that may pop your sleeping pad or larger items to flatten your campsite. Also, try to keep away from large brush, which house wildlife passing in the night.

Try to look for dry ground to set your sleeping pad and gear on. If it’s a little damp, try looking for some dry leaves to soak up the water and place a layer between you and the wet earth to keep all your things dry.

12. Build a Camping Shelter

Finally, you can build a camping shelter to cover you from any elements. If you have free time or are looking for a challenge, bring some rope and look for places to set up shop deep in the woods. If you’re feeling even more of a challenge in getting away from your tent, try building an igloo!

Below is a video from TA Outdoors for some advice on using what is around you and building a shelter without tools.

While it may seem a little daunting, we hope you enjoyed our ideas for camping without a tent. These twelve will get you through some surprise situations and have you sleeping under the stars in no time and enjoying camping in a very primitive way.

Have any good places to go camping without a tent? Please let us know in the comments.