5 Reasons I Love Cowboy Camping

5 Reasons I Love Cowboy Camping

Sleeping under the stars.

Sounds magical, right? Lots of us say we do it – but then we go ahead and put a rain fly between us and the night sky. I think that’s a real shame. Here are 5 reasons why I love to ditch the tent on my trips in the desert southwest.

1. Get to Know the Night Sky

In my years of camping under the stars, I’ve learned the constellations and how they move through the sky. I’ve become intimately familiar with the phases of the moon, and I’ve seen more meteor showers than I can count.

I’ll never forget seeing a total lunar eclipse in the predawn light from my sleeping bag, or watching the Geminids glow blue and green from a campground in Lake Mead.

I took this photo from the summit of Kendrick Mountain on a balmy November night.

2. It Makes the Outdoors Feel Like Home

Nothing makes me feel more connected with nature than sleeping out. It’s like your campsite is your bedroom.

Sometimes I miss the days when I worked for a conservation corps and would sleep out a couple hundred nights each year. I was acutely aware of the phase of the moon and the weather, and felt a connection to my surroundings that I’ve never since replicated. I came close in 2018 though!

This photo was taken in the Grand Canyon, before settling in for a night of cowboy camping on top of the Redwall.

3. Sunrises From Your Sleeping Bag

There’s nothing like being woken up by the predawn light, then watching the sun fill the landscape with color in front of you – all without having to get out of your sleeping bag! It’s my favorite way to start the day and I feel privileged I’ve been able to see so many sunrises this way.

This photo was taken from my sleeping bag while camping below the Vermillion Cliffs in northern Arizona.

4. Less Stuff to Carry

You can spend a lot of money on lightweight gear – or you can just carry less stuff. That can mean bringing a small tarp instead of a full tent – or not bringing a shelter at all if the forecast is good (Note: I always have my groundsheet as an emergency backup).

For bikepacking this matters even more than backpacking. Space and weight are at a premium and anything you can leave behind will help – especially on our rocky singletrack here in AZ.

This photo is from Colorado Trail trip. I had a small backpack in addition to the bags you see. I did carry a tent for Colorado, but the photo still shows how little space I had to pack!

5. Convenience

Putting up a tent doesn’t seem like a big chore – until you get used to camping without one. Get to camp, roll out your groundsheet, pad, and sleeping bag, and you’re done! If you’re bikepacking, you can sleep right next to your bike and have easy access to all of your bags, right from your sleeping bag.

This might seem like a small bit of convenience, but it’s very important to me. The easier it is to camp, the more I’ll camp. The more I camp, the happier I’ll be. It’s a pretty simple recipe.

This campsite was on the top of the Tapeats Sandstone in 75-mile canyon. After a long day of hiking, I was set up and ready to sleep in just a couple minutes. I also went stoveless for maximum simplicity.

And that’s a wrap! I hope you enjoyed those photos, and perhaps it will inspire you to ditch the tent and join the cult of the cowboy on your next trip out! It’s a wonderful way to experience the desert southwest.

Speaking of wraps … you should¬†always have a backup plan. In that last photo you can see my groundsheet – a piece of heat shrink film from a window insulation kit. In a worst-case scenario I can drape that over myself and hold it down with rocks. It’s not perfect and I end up a bit damp from the condensation, but it’s enough to get through a night. That actually happened the night I took that photo, and it was just fine!

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PandaVision Photos: The Extended Guide

PandaVision Photos: The Extended Guide

First Things First: How It Works

To take a good photo, it helps to understand how PandaVision works nowadays. Back in the dark days of 2014 when we started taking orders, Nick would use some complicated voodo math to create a pattern. But then a couple years ago we switched to a new method, where we simply project your image onto a table and then adjust to the correct scale.

It’s basically like seeing your bike in person, except better – because it’s 2-dimensional and we can draw on it. We like this method because it gives all the convenience of ruler photos, but we still get to visually see the bike and make sure it looks right before committing a pattern to fabric.

Step 1: Ruler Placement

The first thing to do for a good photo is make sure your ruler or tape measure is placed well. The scale can be anywhere in the frame, we just need it to scale up the image. But here are some things to look out for:

  • Make sure that the ruler isn’t covering up any important braze-ons or bolts that might be important
  • Make sure it’s up against the frame and not standing out away from the bike at all


Another Option – The Humble Dollar Bill

If you live in the US, you can probably place an order with just what’s in your pocket – your phone and a dollar bill (ok, and some tape. You probably don’t have that in your pocket). Just fold the crispest bill you can find in half (hot-dog style), and tape it to your frame.

Anywhere works, but we suggest the down tube since that’s the thickest tube and thus the easiest way to avoid obscuring important details.

Make sure your tape isn’t completely covering up the ends of the bill – we need to see those for scale!

It's All About Perspective

Once you’ve got your scale in place, you need to get the right angle on the shot. Let’s start with some photos of what not to do, and then we’ll move on to the good ones:

The Camera was Too High

In this photo, the camera was too high. In order for the scale to apply uniformly across the bike, we need all parts of the frame to be the same distance from the camera. In this photo the bottom of the bike is farther away than the top, so we can’t scale the photo accurately.

One thing to look for to double-check your photo is the handlebars – in this case you can see the camera is a little above the level of the handlebars. It should be much lower, centered on the middle of the frame triangle.

This Photo is Too Close

This photo has the position correct (centered on the bike), but the camera was too close. We can tell because of the separation between the chain stays – there should be very little to no separation.

If you’re not sure you’re far enough away, then you’re probably too close. In fact, the farther away the camera is the more accurate the result. The only limit to this is the ability to read the ruler. We suggest 15 feet as a minimum distance, but if you have a really big frame and can borrow a DSLR, stepping back 30 feet and using a telephoto lens will give us the most accurate result possible.

Photo Perfection!

Here you see a perfect photo. This one was taken from about 20 feet away, and you can tell the perspective is right because you can only see one chainstay, one seat stay, and one fork leg.

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