Primitive Camping Guide (What it is, What to Pack, and Easy Tips)

Primitive Camping

Ready to camp primitive style? Photo: Alan English CPA/flickr

Interested in primitive camping?

Well, you’re in the right place!

Whether you are comfortable with car camping and are looking for the next challenge, or are seeking a more peaceful experience, primitive camping offers the chance to get away from it all.

If you’re new to the whole thing, no worries.

Read on to discover exactly what primitive camping is and the things you should pack.

Plus we’ll give you some helpful tips that will have you roughing it like a pro in no time!

Guide to Primitive Camping

– Updated 2/9/2020

What is Primitive Camping?

Primitive camping, sometimes called backcountry camping and dispersed camping, involves setting up camp outside of a maintained campground. While this means you will have to pack your equipment and carry it to a remote area of a forest or park where you will set up your campsite, your extra effort will be rewarded with the opportunity to enjoy nature without the noises or distractions you may experience at a campground.

What to Pack

Prepare to be completely self-reliant when getting ready for a primitive camping trip; everything you need as far as food, water, first aid and shelter will be packed in. The weight of your backpack should not exceed 25-30% of your ideal body weight, meaning that you will have to think carefully about everything you pack.

Basic Essentials

Once you have the urge to try primitive camping it is likely you have nailed down your list of essentials for car camping; when camping in the backcountry, chances are that you will want to par this list down.

A first aid kit is a must as you will be far from services and assistance so you want to be prepared for emergencies. Make sure to bring necessities like sunscreen, soap and toilet paper. If you are not sure if there will be a water source where you will be camping (like a creek or river), bring enough water to meet your needs during the trip so that you won’t wind up dehydrated.

Camping Gear

Enjoy the solitude and peace of going primitive

Enjoy the solitude and peace of going primitive. Photo: Virginia State Parks/flickr

Items meant for backpacking are ideal as they will weigh less and usually be easier to compress into your backpack.

You might be hesitant to spend a lot of money on backpacking equipment until you know you will do it regularly; I know I was. Renting camping gear for your first trip is an option, as well as bringing your heavier items and starting by hiking a shorter distance into the backcountry.

You will need to bring a sleeping bag and some sort of shelter. A backpacking pillow won’t add much weight but will provide you comfort while you sleep. Make sure to bring a lantern, flashlight, and/or headlamp (don’t forget the extra batteries).

A backpacking stove is portable and light, which makes it a great option for cooking when setting up camp in the backcountry. Bring a compatible fuel source and a lightweight pot for cooking, along with a cup, plate and utensils.

If you will be camping near a water source, a water filter or purification tablets will allow you to purify the water so that it is safe to drink, which means you can avoid the extra weight of packing in your water.

There’s an incredible channel on YouTube called Primitive Technology that shows absolutely amazing inventions that you can make out in the bush with things you find, but let’s be real – most of us aren’t this guy, so it’s a good idea to pack smart. It could save your life.

Other important camping gear: a pocket knife, small shovel, waterproof matches, a lighter and rain gear. Sturdy, comfortable hiking boots are necessary for primitive camping as you will be hiking with a heavy pack.

Types of Food

Lugging a big cooler of perishable items is not an option when camping miles from your car; fortunately there are plenty of options for freeze-dried and dehydrated food. Bring a lightweight aluminum pot; you will just need to boil water to make a filling meal. Dried fruit and nuts are excellent snacks with plenty of protein. Peanut butter is another great option; it will fill you up and does not have to be refrigerated.

Another option is to forage for your food in the wilderness. It’s a challenge, but it’s can also be really fun and rewarding. This video will give you some basic tips so you can easily find different types of food when roughing it:

Helpful Tips

Two big concerns for those considering camping outside of a maintained campground are how to use the bathroom and how to keep warm. Read on for some easy tips for conquering these worries:

Where to go to the Bathroom

Here are the basics for using the bathroom in the backcountry:

  • Choose a place that is 200 feet from water sources, stream beds, trails and campsites.
  • Find a spot where there is maximum sunlight is ideal as decomposing will happen faster.
  • Dig a hole that is 4-6 inches deep; after finishing your business you can fill in the hole.
  • Don’t bury your toilet paper; you will want to pack this out using a zip lock or small paper bag.
  • For further bathroom tips, reads our guide about the 5 best brands of biodegradable toilet paper for camping.

How to Keep Warm

Starting a campfire is key in keeping warm and you can warm up some rocks by placing them near the campfire. After allowing them to cool to where you can touch them, wrap them in towels and put them at the foot of your sleeping bag. Try taping a mylar thermal blanket to the ceiling of your tent;  it will reflect much of the heat from the tent back down to you.

Sleeping with a hat on will help you remain warm as a lot of your heat is lost through your head.

Leave no Trace

At the end of your trip, you want to leave the area where you camped just as you found it. Make sure to pack out anything that you packed in for your trip; this includes toilet paper and trash.

With a little extra effort, you can enjoy the solitude of the wilderness with no distractions by taking a primitive camping trip.