When I can, I like to cowboy camp; that is, to skip the tent and just sleep under the stars. It's a wonderful feeling to lay on your back and drift off to sleep as you watch the moon cross the sky. Plus, it takes far less time to pack up in the morning since you don't have a tent to put away.
The disadvantage is that the weather could turn on you. You may fall asleep under the stars but you might wake up to fat drops of rain hitting you in the face. Thus begins the mad scramble of trying to get your boots on and quickly set up your tent before you and all your gear get soaked. Or, the wind can pick up. I've drifted off to sleep before in peace and quiet only to wake up with thirty mile-an-hour winds blowing leaves and dust all over me. It would be too much of a headache to try and get the tent set up in wind like that. Instead, I just put my back to the wind and go back to sleep.
People often ask me if one could hike the entire AT without a tent and it's certainly possible. You'd have to cowboy camp or find a spot in a shelter every night - that's the part that I would hate. Shelters can be crowded and noisy. No thank you. I'd rather stop in at the shelters, water-up and enjoy the commroderie but then go find a quiet spot to camp by myself.
This is about as late in the year as I can get away with (comfortably) cowboy camping. Soon, I'll need the tent just to hold in some heat. Until then, when possible, I'll shun the shelter and sleep under the stars.