Thinking about my experiences with sleeping under the stars

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    Diane “Piper” Soini
    BPL Member


    Locale: Santa Barbara

    I live where I grew up, in Southern California near the Los Padres National Forest.

    When I was younger, I went backpacking without a tent a lot. I have friends who go without a tent. I went out this weekend with someone who went without a tent. Even though her pack looked very large and she has nothing that would fall under the ultralight umbrella, her pack weighed the same as mine. One way to go light is to leave things at home, which is how I used to do it before I found out about all the great things you can buy that didn’t come from K-mart.

    She thought it was funny that I brought a tarp to sleep under. Why not sleep under the stars? Well, I kind of don’t like it anymore. Recent times I can remember sleeping under the stars I felt like I would fall into the nothingness of the sky. When the wind blows I worry about my things blowing away or having sand stick to my teeth. A small breeze is fine but sustained wind makes me feel vulnerable. I also don’t like to wake up with heavy dew all over my sleeping bag. And even a tarp will hold in about 10 degrees of warmth and block a lot of wind and dew.

    Even so, it really is kind of silly. It’s not necessary on a beautiful night to hide under a piece of fabric. Perhaps I have gotten too soft. Or maybe I’ve gotten too conformist because these forums are full of people who live in rain forests and places with bad weather and because people with superior experience and prudent caution have brow-beaten me on internet forums for my dangerous, fool-hardy unpreparedness in the past. And also my own travels have taken me out of the Los Padres into lands with afternoon showers and hail and perpetual mists and weather reports that lie incorrectly. Dammit, when the weatherman says 20% chance of rain it’s supposed to mean “please let me say something other than ‘night and morning low clouds and fog giving way to partial clearing by the afternoon'”, not “it’s going to rain 20% of the time.”

    I have slept out many times without a tent throughout my life. In the wind (up on the edge at Mission Pine Spring with a cold fog blasting in from the valley below), in the dew (in the Piedras Blancas area), cowering from mosquitoes with a head net (on Hurricane Deck–why on earth there???). Or those times with the Magellan bed-top mosquito net I finally bought to tolerate the flies (at Schoolhouse and Lost Valley.) Or that time it started to rain so I pulled out the poncho that lived unused at the bottom of my pack for years, and then it turned out to be torn to shreds and wouldn’t have worked anyway, but oh well, it stopped raining so it’s fine (at the Cowboy camp on Lost Valley). That was the closest call.

    And what about that tube tent we tried to sleep in when we were girls one El Niño spring? That thing didn’t work at all. What good is a tent if it doesn’t keep you dry? Better than a tent is a weather report from a weatherman whose lies you understand. Or a cave like that one you found on San Jacinto.

    People have been shocked at my risk-taking. It seemed normal at the time. I took their alarmism to heart, made sure I had a tent or a tarp so I could feel responsible and safe, and since then have been very grateful to have one. But have I gotten soft? Have I become a tropical bird that lives its life below the canopy instead of above it and cowers in fear of the open sky? Hawks might find me. Blackness might swallow me. I might float away.

    I don’t have a point. Just been thinking about this today.

    Doug Coe
    BPL Member


    Locale: Bay Area, CA, USA

    I backpack mostly in the Sierra and mostly have only gotten out a few times a year. For years I carried a plastic 8 by 10 sheet and Visklamps a la Colin Fletcher…and never got rained on at night.

    In more recent years, my luck ran out a couple of times. By then I’d made a slight variation on a Ray Way tarp that was just enough for the conditions.

    A couple of years ago, a sleet/small hail storm caused a streamlet to develop and threatened my down bag sitting on my NeoAir. So, in desperation, I used my Duece trowel to trench. The next morning it was easy enough to fill and disguise it, thankfully.

    Now I’m on the hunt for a real shelter. One that can actually keep me dry and safe. Unfortunately, this will add to my pack weight when I’d rather be going the other direction.

    Oh, and I’m with you—back when we called it “sleeping under the stars”. No need to pretend I’m a cowboy.

    W I S N E R !


    “Have I become a tropical bird that lives its life below the canopy instead of above it and cowers in fear of the open sky? Hawks might find me. Blackness might swallow me. I might float away.

    I don’t have a point. Just been thinking about this today.”



    I enjoyed reading this, thanks.  No point necessary when you’re speaking poetry.



    Locale: The Cascades


    I echo Craig, it was quite an enjoyable read. Thanks for sharing.

    Iago Vazquez
    BPL Member


    Locale: Boston & Galicia, Spain

    Writing things down helps process.

    I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way to enjoy the outdoors. We change with time. Some times back to where we were before. Nothing wrong with that… And then we move on to something new.

    My wife and son are happy to take less weight. Most experienced outdoorsmen in our Scouting group look at us like we are unsafe in our under 3 lbs 2 person tents. Theirs are more than double the weight. How could they be comparable? They have asked, looked at the stuff, and deemed it inappropriate. The thing is they are curious, because now with age they have trouble keeping up with the young ones.

    My son is crossing from Cubs to Boy Scouts this year– should have crossed when the quarantine started and should have had a few nights out with them already. In the past they only camped with us about twice a year in very sheltered places. Moving forward they will see our gear in more conditions  so I expect to field more questions. Will some of them start trying a 3 pound tent or a two pound sleeping bag as opposed to a 5 pound synthetic? I am curious.

    Even if they reject our gear, it doesn’t mean they are wrong and I am right. The more experienced guys have more nights under the stars than I will probably have at their age. And I can’t certainly match their knowledge. We are all a bunch of people enjoying the outdoors.

    In a way I also see myself in them. I was looking at a new shelter for my son a few weeks back. I understand that materials evolve and fabrics improve. But I am a bit suspicious of deniers below 30 despite the fact that my 20 denier tarp has survived a couple of nights of nasty winds. I have seen varying reports on durability. So I will take an extra half pound for the piece of mind at the moment. Which with Scouts may not be a bad thing. Now that I think about it, 70d is looking better and better…


    Shane S.
    BPL Member


    Locale: P.N.W

    Nice read, no need to always have a point.
    Like many if you I have spent nights in various shelters, and lack thereof. Sometimes I paid the piper as a result. Other times it was rewarding.  Nowadays, I’m pondering getting outta my CF tent on some occasions and going to tarps for the openness and options. I really dislike fidgeting with zipper doors and mesh in the wee hours…when you gotta go…well….wee. Easy enough to convert to cowboy camping if the desire strikes on nice evenings.

    Kevin Babione
    BPL Member


    Locale: Pennsylvania

    Diane – I loved your post, especially how you describe it as sleeping under the stars.  I sleep in a hammock and usually take my tarp with me, but if the weather looks (both from the forecast and in person) like it will be nice then I don’t put it up so I can see the stars and the moon move across the sky.

    Because it’s a hammock I don’t have a perfectly clear view of the sky (it’s that “tree thing” that I require to stay off the ground), but I can usually see amazing stars and certainly the moon.  I’ve been rained on a couple of times, but it only takes me a minute or two to put my tarp up and, if the weather changes it usually gives me a little sprinkle first.  This is where sleeping under trees can help.

    Not only is it really nice to sleep under the stars, but it makes getting out of camp that much faster in the morning…

    Paul McLaughlin
    BPL Member


    I have had some interesting experiences “sleeping out” in various situations. The most exposed I ever felt was a spot up in the Emigrant Wilderness that was right on a ridge. I had stopped earlier to eat dinner by a lake, so this was just a sleeping spot. No trees around. It felt exposed, for sure. And that night I had an odd dream that I can still remember. In the dream I woke up in that spot, pre-dawn, and climbers in Himalayan type gear – big down suits, oxygen – were going up the slope past me, and looking at me in amazement. I guess my feeling of exposure as I went to sleep carried over into the dream, but magnified into even greater exposure.

    Oddly enough, I’ve slept on top of Mt. Whitney twice – a far more exposed spot in most ways – but because up there you nestle down between the boulders, it doesn’t feel as exposed.

    Sleeping under the stars on snow  – which I’ve only done once or twice – was also quite a different experience – perhaps because I had so many nights of snow=tent behind me.

    Diane “Piper” Soini
    BPL Member


    Locale: Santa Barbara

    Someone should collect the dreams that people have when they sleep in the wilderness under conditions that have them feeling vulnerable. My first time backpacking alone I had the reoccurring dream I get when I am feeling vulnerable that there is someone there and I’m trying to call out “Who’s there?” but I can’t because of sleep paralysis and I know it’s sleep paralysis in my dream and I’m trying really hard to call out to test whether or not I really am asleep. I also had a dream that same night that I could smell a gas leak coming from my fuel canister and I tried to get up to take care of it but again, sleep paralysis prevented me. My anxiety dreams are always like this, letting me know they’re not real but feeling so real that I really am trying with all my might to do something to fix the problem.

    I totally get how you can feel safer being nestled in the boulders vs. exposed on the ridge. I always look for a little nest to sleep in if I can.

    Elliott Wolin
    BPL Member


    Locale: Hampton Roads, Virginia

    I recall sleeping out under the stars one spring near tree line on Mt. Adams in a two-person 30 degF marmot sleeping bag with my wife on a clear and mild night.

    Also at about the 8000 foot level on Mt. Rainier above Paradise on a clear but windy spring night.  I had a winter-weight bag so I slept upwind of my friend who had a 20-30 degF bag (don’t recall).    Lots of meteors that night.

    Also at the 8000 foot level in the Enchantments one summer in a 30 degF bag.

    I don’t know why I don’t do this more often!

    AK Granola
    BPL Member


    Right after I bought my first tent, no longer using my parents’ tents, I visited Yosemite valley for the first time. I think it was March. The night was cold, but clear. I pitched only the inner of my tent, so that I could see the sky. But some time after midnight, I decided that I could see better outside the tent so I pulled my mattress and sleeping bag out on the “porch.” It was gorgeous but I think I fell asleep so quickly, i didn’t see much more anyway!

    I’m now too paranoid about people to sleep outside my tent without company. I like that in my tent no one can tell who is inside, and therefore perhaps less likely to be bothered during the night.





    Jerry Adams
    BPL Member


    Locale: Oregon and Washington

    The other day I was sleeping under the stars

    There was a weird feeling on my hand so I flicked it and yelled

    In the morning I noticed a piece of toilet paper was chewed by a mouse

    I sleep under the stars about half the time, when it’s not raining.  A couple times I’ve had to quickly get up and erect tent.

    Kevin Babione
    BPL Member


    Locale: Pennsylvania

    Karen – your post reminded me of a previous trip.  I took my (now 13) twin girls backpacking on the AT when they were just 4 and we slept under the stars.  They weren’t so sure about sleeping without a tent and were so tired from being outside all day that they fell asleep before I could kick off my shoes and lay down next to them!  The next morning I was asked where the stars were!

    You can read the full trip report by clicking here if you’re interested.

    BPL Member


    Locale: Northern California

    workers at the high sierra camp at Merced Lake all sleep out up on the smooth granite just above the structures. The sky is mostly open there. Stars are brilliant.

    I on the other hand hate bugs and like a bug free tent. Also mouse free. And I sleep cold, so like the wind protection and added warmth of a tent.

    The bear that lives near the high sierra camp often ambles past the crew at night on its way down to check out the hiker camp for food. No problems. I also hate bugs more than bears. I don’t worry about the bear, to be frank.

    But I’ve really missed out on great star gazing, which I love. It’s always too cold, even in summer at altitude, when I get up to pee at 4 in the morn.

    BPL Member


    <p style=”text-align: left;”>When I was a kid or teen I’d sleep out from time to time. Never backpacking. Just drive out, hang with friends, sleep wherever. No pad no tent. Just a sleeping bag and some bug spray.</p>
    My first solo overnighter more recently, no one within many miles, slept in a tent and still had dreams of animals creeping around my tent.

    Then I did a trip with friends, just threw my pad and quilt on a tyvek sheet and went to sleep. Was really nice laying and watching all the shooting stars for an hour before drifting off. This time I dreamed an animal ran up toward me in the night and leapt over me.

    Idk what’s up with the creepy animal dreams. The stars were amazing. It’s often too cold or windy for that. The tent adds 10 degrees and blocks wind. It also blocks dew, but the dew didn’t bother me that time, as I had a nice sunny day to dry it off.

    Tipi Walter
    BPL Member


    I often cowboy camped during my stealth (illegal) camping years when I was homeless and living out of a pack thru the 1980s—a tent sort of sticks out in a town cemetery—whereas throwing down a bedroll does not.  And cowboy camping works great under a bush next to a church.

    Then again, how many timesdid I wake up on a crystal clear night in a downpour at 3am?  Then it’s a mad scramble to crawl out from under said bush and throw up a tarp somewhere more open.  (Yes I even set up a tent in that town cemetery on occasion).

    I remember one time I was camping outside Greensboro NC and didn’t bother putting up a waterproof cover and felt rain on my face and jumped up to erect a tarp and dangit passed out and fainted and woke up a few minutes later soaked—jumped up too fast from a deep sleep.


    BPL Member


    Locale: Sierra Foothills

    Interesting discussion here, as usual.

    Over the years I’ve grown less and less comfortable sleeping out. Because I almost always camp during pristine Sierra summer weather, I think my issue is strictly psychological. I like the ‘burrow’ mentality of the tent. Used to sleep out all the time…now that tents weigh so little, I don’t mind taking one.

    One bonus is my new SMD Lunar Solo has a vertical mesh wall and awning that rolls all the way back. So I can see the sky why I fall asleep, then roll over and be in my burrow. Nice!

    Actually the only time I sleep out now is stealth camping in Bay Area regional parks and similar places, where one really wants to keep a low profile. And those trips are usually S24O-style with like-minded fellows, with a late evening setup, so there is comradery, and whiskey, in the mix…

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