How To Sleep Outside Without A Tent: A Beginner’s Guide

Whether you’re looking to save space and weight or hoping to save money on your next camping trip, you can sleep outside without a tent in many ways. 

In this post, we’re sharing how to sleep outside without a tent in various situations. Some variations require specific gear while others simply require some creativity.  

How To Sleep Outside Without A Tent in 7 Ways

1. Hammock

A hammock is the most common alternative to tenting. They’re lighter to carry and arguably more comfortable while providing cover from the elements.   

Although a hammock provides cover from the elements, it is thin and doesn’t keep wind and cold out like a tent. You still need a sleeping bag and pad to provide ultimate comfort. 

A hammock setup

Additionally, there are places where hammocks can’t be used. In areas without much tree cover, such as deserts and above tree lines, there would be no place to set up your shelter.


  • Gets you off the cold, hard, and sometimes wet ground
  • They pack down smaller and are lighter than tents
  • With the addition of a bug net, there are no bugs guaranteed


  • Specific conditions, such as tree distance and trunk girth, are needed
  • Requires trial and error to find comfortable positioning
  • Can damage trees, and there are places they are not allowed

2. Natural Shelter

Creating or finding a natural shelter in the wilderness is generally utilized in emergencies or when you’re planning a longer-term stay. 

The simplest structures to build are Lean-Tos and debris piles. A Lean-to is a one-sided structure with an inclined roof. Debris Piles are great emergency shelters. Pile a bunch of leaves and leaf litter together and climb into the middle for insulation and light reprieve from the weather. 

temporary rock shelter

Caves, hollowed-out trees and logs, and rock overhangs make great natural shelters. It is essential to pay attention to what might already be using that space as a shelter. Look for fur, scat, and animal remains. If you notice these around the shelter, looking elsewhere is probably best. 


  • Requires little to no effort to set up
  • You don’t need to carry anything extra with you
  • It will make you feel even more at one with nature


  • Finding a natural shelter isn’t guaranteed
  • You might be sharing your space in a natural shelter 
  • It can take time to build/set up

3. Bivy Sack

Bivy Sacks, or Bivouac Sacks, are perfect for anyone who does a lot of solo backcountry camping. There are Bivy Sacks and Bivy Shelters. 

A Bivy Sack is simply a waterproof sleeve that you slide your sleeping bag into. This helps keep your sleeping bag dry and increases the temperature by about 10 degrees. 

Snugpak Bivy Bag

Bivy Shelters are low-rise tents. They are just high enough to keep the fabric off your face and securely closed to prevent bugs and moisture from entering. 


  • It is incredibly lightweight and easy to pack 
  • Very simple setup and take down
  • It will keep you warm and dry and bad weather


  • There’s no room to move around inside, can be claustrophobic
  • You will need other arrangements to keep your gear out of the elements
  • Bivy Sacks do have room for moisture where it cinches closed

4. Tarp

Tarps are waterproof, incredibly lightweight, and easy to pack into a shape that works for you. These rectangular, waterproof pieces of fabric have multiple uses and allow you to adjust your sleeping situation to your area and the conditions you’re experiencing. 

Other pieces of equipment are needed to make a tarp work. Ropes, poles, and/or stakes are needed to set your tarp up in the best way for you. Ultimately, utilize your tarp to block wind and rain from a consistent direction. 

tarp shelter

In fair weather, tarps can be used to sleep on top of. When you don’t need to block rain and wind, your tarp can be a barrier between your sleep system and the ground. The ground tarp strategy helps to keep your sleep system from the moisture of the ground, and it helps to keep it clean. 


  • It is lightweight and doesn’t take up a lot of space
  • A multi-use item you can use in multiple ways throughout your trip
  • Is open and airy providing airflow


  • Doesn’t provide the same protection as a tent
  • Lacks privacy since one side of your structure is open
  • Won’t keep you as dry as a tent would

5. Cowboy Camping

Sleeping outside without a shelter is called cowboy camping. You may utilize a sleeping pad and sleeping bag, but you do not have any form of shelter around or over you. 

Sleeping outdoors without a tent

Generally, the term cowboy camping describes sleeping out under the stars on a crisp, clear night. Many thru-hikers adopt this style due to its extremely lightweight setup. It also doesn’t take much time to set up or break down camp when you’re not using a shelter.


  • It is incredibly lightweight and doesn’t take up any space
  • Quick and easy setup 
  • Enjoy stargazing and gorgeous sunrise views without leaving your sleeping bag


  • No protection from the elements
  • You are one with the bugs
  • There isn’t any privacy

6. Permanent Trail Shelters 

Along many backpacking trails, there are preestablished shelters. Sometimes these shelters are free of charge on a first-come, first-served basis. Some trail shelters require payment and/or a permit to stay; sometimes, these shelters even offer amenities. 

Trail shelter

Most permanent trail shelters can sleep 8 to 12 hikers at a time. This makes them a great place to meet new like-minded people and share information about the trail you’re on or where you’re headed. 


  • Allows you to pack less for your sleep situation
  • No shelter setup time


  • The shelter you want to stay in might be full
  • There is no bug protection.
  • Privacy is limited

7. Car Camping

Car camping allows you to spend the night outside with minimal setup and a lot of protection.  Because you can have your whole sleeping area set up before you leave, you can ensure maximum comfort with little setup time once you reach your destination.

A man camping in a car

Make the back of your vehicle into a bed. You can do this with traditional sleeping pads or invest in an inflatable mattress that conforms to the shape of your vehicle. This allows you to car camp in various places and sleep outdoors without additional camping gear. 


  • Safer than a tent since you can lock yourself inside
  • Can create an incredibly comfortable sleeping space
  • Impermeable weather barrier


  • You have to sleep where your car is parked
  • Leaves less storage space for gear while sleeping
  • You could be fined

How To Sleep Outside Without A Tent in Bad Weather

Although we don’t recommend sleeping outdoors without a shelter in extreme weather, it can happen. This is why you should always be prepared for all weather conditions when camping. 

Outdoors on a bad weather

Essential Tips for Camping in the Rain

If you enjoy spending time outside and weekend holidays in nature, you’ll find yourself camping in the rain at some point. Although rain might not be anyone’s ideal camping condition, you can make the best of it with these 10 tips for camping in the rain.

A tarp over a tent - tips for camping in the rain

10 Tips for Camping in the Rain

Camping is a great time, no matter the conditions. Here are 10 tips for camping in the rain to ensure an epic, rain-or-shine vacation. 

1. Waterproof Your Gear Before you Leave

If you haven’t already waterproofed your gear for the season, take the time to rainproof your gear before you leave. 

GEAR AID Revivex Durable Water Repellent

The best practice for maintaining the integrity of your waterproof gear is to wash it every 5-6 uses. This keeps the membrane clear of dirt, oil, and smoke, which will block the membrane’s pores and affect its performance. After washing gear, throw it in the dryer for 20 minutes on medium-low heat to reactivate water-repellent treatments. 

Regardless of how often you do this, you should wash and dry gear thoroughly before applying a spray on DWR treatment. Durable Water Repellent can be applied to tent rain flies. ground clothes, rain jackets, and more. Use a spray to ensure that only your item’s exterior receives treatment, and let dry for 24 hours or more. 

2. Don’t forget your Rainfly or Ground Cloth

Your tent rainfly and ground cloth are essential to your comfort when camping in the rain. 

TRIWONDER Camping Tarp

The rainfly is like a cover for your tent. It stretched over the structure to protect it from the elements. Many tents come with a rainfly that meets the specific footprint of your sleep system and rigs up to your tent structure. 

A ground cloth is a waterproof sheet placed between your tent floor and the ground to protect from moisture. They’re lighter and smaller than tarps and are often designed to fit your specific tent size and shape. 

When used together, these two items help prevent unfortunate sleeping situations when camping in the rain. Nobody wants to take up in puddles! Please remember these two very important pieces of equipment.

3. Pitch Your Tent on High Ground

When you arrive at camp, look at your campsite and choose your tent spot wisely.

One of the important tips for camping in the rain is pitching your tent on high ground. Choose the best location to ensure dry success.

A couple of tents pitched on high ground - tips for camping in the rain

Setting up under a thick canopy of healthy tree limbs might help to keep you and your tent dry during setup. If there’s no danger of falling branches, you can stay put or choose to move your tent after setup. 

The best long-term location is flat ground with good drainage. Look for natural drainage routes if your campsite is at the bottom of a slope. Steer clear of these crevices in the dirt to keep your tent’s floor as dry as possible. 

4. Sleeping Pad

We recommend that everyone use a sleeping pad for insulation and cushion when tent camping.

KAMUI Blue sleeping pad

KAMUI’s self-inflating sleeping pad is made of water-resistant fabric and will raise you two inches off the ground. This means that both you and your sleeping pad are protected from moisture. 

 Additionally, KAMUI self-inflating sleeping pads can be connected horizontally and vertically with buttons. You can stack sleeping pads for additional back support and distance from the ground. If you’re sharing your sleeping space with others, connect your sleeping pad horizontally to create a space where no water should seep through. 

5. Bring Tarps

Tarps are great multi-purpose items to bring along to any campsite. A tarp can usually do the trick if you’re looking for sun, wind, or water protection. Bring tarps, bungee cord, and/or paracord so you can rig up your tarp however you see fit. 

A tarp setup beside a tent - tips for camping in the rain

Hang it over your tent for additional rain protection or use it to create a dry space for hanging out and eating dinner. Regardless of how you use it, you’ll be happy you brought it along. 

If not for anything else, line your trunk with the tarp when it comes time to pack up camp so all the water can sit on top of the waterproof fabric. 

6. Pack the Pop-Up

Once you bring a pop-up tent when camping, you’ll never want to camp without one again. Pop-ups make for a great reprieve when camping in the rain. A place where you can stand up, move around, and not get wet can make a huge difference in the enjoyment of your camping experience. 

Instant Shelter Pop-Up Canopy Tent

Place pop-up tents over your cooking area, create a hangout space with camp chairs and games, or place it over your sleeping tent for additional protection. 

Linking multiple pop-up tents together is another great way to take advantage of dry space. Additionally, using tarps to extend the dry area to create walls is a great use of resources. 

7. Stay Off the Ground with a Good Camp Chair

Anybody who enjoys camping should have a good camp chair, especially when it’s raining. When camping in the rain, you’ll likely be sitting around a lot. If you’re going to be sitting, you might as well be dry and comfortable. 


Portable camp chairs allow you to sit comfortably throughout your camping trip whenever you’d like. This is especially important when it’s going to be wet, and you’ll likely be spending a lot of time sitting under a dry space.

The KAMUI Camping Chair is great for its comfort, packability, and larger feet. These larger feet provide additional stability in sand and mud, which you’ll likely experience when camping in the rain.  

8. Don’t Forget your Waterproof Gear

Forgetting your camping and hiking gear made for the rain would certainly make the trip less enjoyable. 

Waterproof gear-tips for camping in the rain

A rain jacket, rain pants, and waterproof shoes are necessary for outdoor activities in the rain. Adding a bucket hat also helps to keep the rain off your face. 

9. Food that Doesn’t Require Cooking 

Standing outside in the rain and attempting to cook over a camp stove or a fire is pretty miserable. 

If you know you’ll be camping in the rain, plan on bringing food that doesn’t require cooking. It’s even a good idea to bring a few options on every camping trip just in case. 

2-1 Delicious gourmet meal in a single serving

The effort to cook at camp in the rain is extensive and demoralizing. Being able to eat your meals without worrying about cooking makes the experience much easier. 

KAMUI’s Camping and Backpacking Food is great for camping and hiking trips. Whether consumed because of weather conditions or convenienceit is a great addition to any camping gear list. Add hot water to the pouch, and enjoy the taste of authentic Japanese food in 15 minutes. You can also use room-temperature water, but you’ll have to wait around 60 minutes for the meal to rehydrate.

10. Fun Rainy Day Activities

If you go camping in the rain, chances of partaking in your normal outdoor activities are slim. 

Pack fun activities you can do, rain or shine! Think of easy-to-pack, easy clean-up games that everyone can enjoy such as card games, multi-player board games, and charades-style activities. 

Enjoying a view of a waterfall after a downpour

If you are camping in the rain alone or with a partner, you may want to read, write, or create art while stuck under a rainproof shelter. Musical instruments are always a hit as well! However, I’d only recommend bringing them if you play them in a dry place. 

If all else fails, embrace the rain and do some puddle hunting. With proper preparation, rainy day hiking, biking, and paddling can be a safe and enjoyable experience.

What Should I Do After Camping in the Rain?

IRIS USA 103 Quart WEATHERPRO Plastic Storage Box
  • Air Out and Dry Your Gear
    No matter why your gear may be wet, air out and dry it after every camping trip. This means setting up your tent to dry in the sun, a garage, or a living space and throwing other wet items over a clothesline and/or in the dryer.
  • Store Wet Gear in Bags for the Trip
    Bring bags to store your wet gear to prevent your vehicle from smelling and becoming wet. These bags or totes can be reusable, or they can simply be repurposed clean garbage bags.
  • Wash Gear that Needs Washing
    Some gear will require a wash. Whether muddy, smelly, or otherwise dirty, throwing your gear in the washing machine after a trip is normal. However, to improve longevity, you should wash your camping gear every 5 to 6 uses.
  • Reorganize your Camping Supplies
    Once everything is clean and dry, reorganize your camping supplies. Ensure everything you bring is accounted for and returned to its original location in preparation for future camping trips.
  • Take Notes for What You’d Do Differently
    After a camping trip in the rain, take notes about what you’d do differently. Sometimes, this requires planning, and other times, it requires purchasing new gear. Either way, it will allow you to be better prepared for future camping trips so that you have the best time in the outdoors. 

Camp in Any Weather

A father and his kids having fun in their car bed setup

Don’t let rainy days keep you from getting outdoors. If you plan and prepare accordingly, you can enjoy camping in various weather conditions.     


Creating a barrier between you and the ground will be the key to your comfort when sleeping outside in the cold. Ensure the sleeping pad or pads you are sleeping on have a high r-value to help protect you from the cold ground. Additionally, look for an appropriately rated sleeping bag. 

KAMUI Sleeping-Pad-Green-horizontal


Find a naturally sheltered area. Sleep in a hammock to stay off the wet ground or set up a tarp to prevent rain from falling on you while you are sleeping. Hang boots and backpack upside down from a tree to keep the inside as dry as possible.  

Water-tight storage boxes are also great gear to invest in if you might be stuck outside in the rain. They’re perfect for storing camp kitchen items and more while not in use. 

Dry bags are also a great investment for outdoorsy folks. Keeping electronics, maps, and other at-risk valuables in a dry bag helps them stay dry in all kinds of weather. 


Find the direction the wind is blowing from and create a block in that direction. You can do this by setting up a tarp or finding a natural feature. If setting up a tarp, angle it down to the ground in the direction the wind is coming from and make sure it is well secured.

How Do I Protect Myself from Bugs Sleeping Outside Without A Tent?

When camping, you are sleeping in the bugs’ home. Bug bites may be uncomfortable but can also spread diseases such as Zika and West Nile. Avoiding bug bites is crucial to your health and enjoyment. While you can’t always avoid them, here are a few ways to try!

Grass shelter

Mosquito Netting

Place mosquito netting around your sleeping area to protect you from bugs while camping. Certain setups, such as hammocks, have specific bug net systems that make set up and break down quick and easy. Be creative with your mosquito netting a design a great bug-free sleep setup. 

Sunyear Camping Hammock

Bug Spray

Use good old-fashioned bug spray to keep the insect away. DEET insect repellents are by far the most effective. However, they are full of harsh chemicals. Bug sprays with picaridin as their active ingredient are better for their users overall. 


Treat gear with Permethrin. Permethrin is an insecticide that, when put on clothing, repels mosquitos. You can treat clothing and gear such as boots, pants, socks, and tents or buy permethrin-treated clothing and gear. 

Repel Permethrin Clothing & Gear Insect Repellent


Enjoy a 20-foot zone of advanced mosquito protection with various rechargeable Thermacell systems. Enjoy a bug-free sleep without harmful chemicals on your skin or clothes. 


Wear long sleeves and long pants to keep bugs off your skin. Choosing thicker materials, such as wool and nylon will help prevent bits through your clothes. Additionally, wearing clothes in blue and green hues might also prevent bug bites as those are complex colors for bugs to register. 

Ideal clothes when camping

Conclusion – How To Sleep Outside Without A Tent

Without a tent, sleeping under the stars is your best bet. You can completely rough it with only a sleeping pad and bag or take shelter inside your car, a natural shelter or squeeze yourself inside a bivy.

As long as the weather permits and all safety measures are considered, sleeping outside without a tent offers alternatives that depend on available resources. It should be fun because it contributes to the adventure and brings us closer to nature.