Ten Things I Learned From #31NightsOut

By Brendan Leonard

Last spring, we issued a challenge to outdoor folks:

Try to spend 31 nights sleeping outside between Memorial Day and Labor Day. The Big idea: Spend a month sleeping under the stars without quitting your job. I had a blast trying for 31 nights out myself, and I learned a few things over the course of the summer.

1. It’s worth risking a bad night out sleeping in a tent over a good night sleeping in a bed. 

I have no scientific proof to back it up, but I can remember every day I rolled myself out of my sleeping bag after sleeping fitfully and having a few minutes of “nature time” during breakfast. All the days I got out of bed to make coffee before work just kind of bleed together.

2. Being able to sleep in your car helps. 

I hate to think I have an unfair advantage over anyone, but I gotta say: having a van with a mattress in it allowed me to get several nights of sleep outside this summer with minimal planning. I’ll admit it.

3. You don’t necessarily have to cook dinner and breakfast there. 

Yes, camping is more fun with camp food, but if the goal is to get as many nights as possible outside, doing away with camp breakfast and/or dinner makes the planning less daunting. Grab a sandwich or a burrito on your way out, and a granola bar or two for the next morning (and maybe a canned espresso drink) and boom, you’re ready to go.

View from the tent in Cirque of the Towers.

4. Campfires are not necessary. 

Obviously they’re nice. But they’re not mandatory for a decent night out in the middle of the summer, when it’s light out until after 9 p.m.

5. It doesn’t have to be an instagram worthy campsite. 

Not every campsite is photogenic, and believe it or not, there are some benefits to just enjoying the experience instead of trying to communi- cate it to our social media followers.

6. However it is really interesting to see what other people are doing on instagram.

I was happy to see a lot of great shots of people doing “balcony bivies” and camping in friends’ front yards just to get a couple more nights outside this year.

7. Hot drinks are the best.

Sure, whiskey is great. But when it’s getting chilly in the mountains, hot tea or hot chocolate is a more sustainable (and lighter) morale booster right before you jump in your sleeping bag for the night.

8. Pack heavy when you can

The saying is, “The more you know, the less you need.”
But I also think the more you hike, the less you mind
hauling in heavy stuff for a short distance. Campsite’s only two or three miles up the trail? I’m bringing cans of chili, maybe some TastyBite, some brownies. It’s as close as some of us will get to glamping.

Brendan Leonard journals by headlamp in the tent at Titcomb Basin.

9. Friends invited vs. Amount of sleep

The more friends you have around, the later you’ll go to bed. This is a very simple equation. If you really want to get to sleep at a reasonable hour (i.e. camping on a school night), invite fewer people to hang out with.

10. Next year we’ll start earlier and end later.

Quite a few people got close to 31 nights out by Labor Day, but not quite. For 2016, we’ll make it a longer season to give everyone a bigger chance of success—even though any number of nights sleeping outside is success, really.


  1. Josh 2 years ago

    I love what you guys are doing, and this was a great article! I’m trying to work being a working professional for a tech company while living part time on the road and working.

  2. Melanie Mikusa 2 years ago

    Looking forward to 2016 challenge. What are the dates this year?

  3. Todd West 2 years ago

    Makes me wanna get out there now! But if you’re camping close to your car, don’t forget to take your 400watt yeti to power up your bose speakers, iphone and light-a-life lamps.

    • Brian 1 year ago

      Um, how about your Goal Zero Rock Out speaker, instead ! ;)

  4. jules 1 year ago

    I’ll have 3 nights under the stars at New Brighton State Beach this month (Jan.) and… many more this year!

  5. Daniel Herrera 1 year ago

    It’s great seeing you guys out there. I agree living under a modern shelter without a outdoor experience kinda dull’s our natural senses but living in a large Metropolitan city its kinda difficult to find a great spot to camp out. I’m so happy to see you guys enjoying nature keep it up…

  6. Matt Meiresonne 12 months ago

    Hey Brendan,

    This is awesome man.

    I’d LOVE to do this.

    unfortunately, there’s not too much of an internet connection in the mountains :(

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