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What Does Primitive Camping Mean?

When the daily grind becomes tiresome, some might be looking for an exotic vacation spot in the Caribbean to escape. Maybe a swim-up bar with tiki huts and palm trees fills your dreams at night. For others, connecting with nature and getting away from modern conveniences is more their style. Instead of tiki huts, they want tents. Instead of lying by the pool, they want mountain climbing. If the latter sounds like you, you might want to try primitive camping.essential

Even if you’ve never camped before, you can learn independence and self-sufficiency. Or perhaps you’ve been tent camping but only in designated areas of local parks. Let’s look at just what primitive camping means and how you can prepare for a trip into the remote areas of the country. Let’s dive in!

Florida Primitive Camping

What Is Primitive Camping? 

The definition of primitive is as follows: “having a quality or style that offers an extremely basic level of comfort, convenience, or efficiency.”

Also known as backcountry camping, primitive camping is no frills. It’s quite a different experience than glamping and RVing. It’s even different from tent camping in a campground where there’s access to bathhouses and amenities. Primitive camping is remote and off-the-beaten-path. You don’t have access to running water, electricity, or bathrooms. It’s just you and the land.

Those adventurers who choose primitive camping over other ways to enjoy the outdoors practice self-reliance, sustainability, and independence. There is no help if you get into a predicament or any grocery stores if you run out of food. To safely camp in the backcountry, you must plan and prepare well.

What’s the Difference Between Dispersed Camping and Primitive Camping?

The terms “primitive camping,” “dispersed camping,” and “wild camping” have debatable differences and similarities. At their core, they are camping without the basic amenities of electricity, water, and sewer.

Some parks may call their non-hookup sites “primitive” or “dispersed” campsites (we refer to this as “semi primitive camping” below!). However, all of these terms can also mean being away from campgrounds for a more independent experience.

Usually, dispersed camping is done in designated areas. Often, national parks and forests have areas for dispersed camping. This usually means help can reach you more quickly than if you were somewhere remote in the woods. It might also mean access to running water if a potable water source, like a spigot, is in the area.

Dispersed camping typically isn’t quite as wild as primitive camping. You can usually get to your destination by car rather than hiking in with only what’s in your backpack. This means RVers could pull up to a dispersed camping site and stay for the night without hookups. It still offers a peaceful getaway from campgrounds, but it’s less like the “roughing it” experience of primitive camping.

Pro Tip: Primitive and dispersed camping aren’t the only camping options you have! Find out how many of these 15 Types of Camping you’ve tried before.

Disconnect from the daily grind while primitive camping.

How Do You Prepare for Primitive Camping? 

When you go out into the backcountry, away from the amenities and conveniences of modern life, there are inherent risks involved. However, if you prepare well, you should be able to avoid problems, at least problems you can control.

First, make sure you have proper shelter. If you’re planning to drive down a dirt road and stop alongside a canyon in Utah, a rooftop tent is a great option. It gets you off of the ground, which is safer from wildlife.

However, if you plan on leaving your vehicle behind and hiking to your camping destination, you’ll want to consider the weight of your tent. You’ll also want to make sure it’s simple to set up if you’ll be camping alone.

Second, you’ll want to invest in a good sleeping bag. If you’re desert camping, it might be hot during the day, but at night, temperatures drop dramatically. No one wants to head out for a weekend of primitive camping and die of hypothermia. Plan ahead and make sure to have a quality sleeping bag.

Have Ample Food Supply

Apart from the sleeping necessities, you’ll need to pack food and water for your trip. This isn’t too bad if you’re only planning on going away for a day or two. But when the adventure is longer, it takes quite a bit of planning.

Some campers will use water purification tablets if they know they’ll be near a water source. Then they don’t have to pack water jugs.

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If you plan on hunting or fishing for food, you still want to pack food supplies because your plan may not pan out. Keep supplies to a minimum, but you have to take what you need. Consider multi-functional cooking tools like a knife that can cut up vegetables and chop up kindling for a fire.

Also, think about how you’ll get the fire started and how you’ll keep it going through the night. You don’t want to have everything planned and then be stuck hungry and cold because you can’t get the firewood burning.

Packing list for camping flat lay.
A primitive camping packing list might seem extensive, but it is necessary to ensure safety and success.

Pack the Necessary Supplies

Because you’ll be away from medical services and possibly without cell service, you must take a first aid kit. Of course, no one plans to get injured while camping but things happen. It’s pretty easy to trip and fall while in the backcountry. Be able to take care of common scrapes and bites on your own.

You’ll also want to consider an emergency plan. Do you know where the nearest hospital will be? Do you know how far you have to go to get cell service? Take note of these things before you begin your adventure.

Although you want to keep your backpack light, especially if you’re leaving your vehicle behind, you’ll still want to grab sunscreen, a flashlight or headlamp, and some kind of toilet paper. Some campers pack a survival kit as well that includes things like an ax, rope, and other gear. Pack light, but be prepared.

Finally, depending on where you’re camping, you might need a permit. One advantage of primitive camping is no reservations. You don’t have to deal with crowded campgrounds or the hassle of planning reservations months in advance.

However, some national parks and other locations still require a backcountry permit to stay on the grounds. Make sure you know what you need to legally camp overnight.

? Ever hear of a Bug-Out Bag? Many of the survival supplies recommended for primitive camping can go into one of these handy bags for when you’re at home.

How Do You Go Camping Without Running Water?

Primitive camping means no access to running water. You’ll need to carry in all of your water. Alternatively, you can find a location near a water source like a river or a spring and use the water purification tablets mentioned earlier or special backcountry water filters.

If you’re planning on staying for several days, the thought of not taking a shower might disgust you, especially if you’re group camping. No one wants to smell body odor after three days of hiking and exploring.

Rinsing off in the cool waters of a nearby creek might not get you completely clean, but it will take off the dirt and grime and reduce the body odor. Pack a bar of soap if you plan on showering. The National Park Service recommends that you strip down 200 feet from the water source and 200 feet from your campsite.

If you don’t have access to water, you can also use body wipes to wipe down daily. Just get the biodegradable, eco-friendly kind. Keep hand sanitizer nearby and use it frequently.

If you’re not going to camp by a water source, make sure to pack your own!

What Is Semi Primitive Camping?

Semi-primitive camping is usually at a campground. However, it’s still a more rustic experience than pulling up in your luxury Class A motorhome. There are usually no hookups, although you might have access to potable water or privies.

There’s usually an area within the campground designated for semi-primitive campers. A fire ring might be there, but there won’t be much else. You’ll drive in and then set up your tent in this general location. Some areas may require walking from your car to the semi-primitive camping location.

You’re still “roughing it,”’ but in an area that’s closer to amenities. If you need help, it’s much easier to run back to your car and call for help or drive to the hospital than if you’re in a remote area of the Badlands. This is a great way to learn self-reliance and start your primitive camping adventures.

Man setting up camp site in forest.
Primitive camping is safe as long as you come well prepared for your adventure.

Is Primitive Camping Safe?

We’re not going to lie, primitive camping can be daunting, frustrating, and even a little dangerous if you’re not properly prepared. It’s not for everyone, and it’s certainly not for beginner campers.

If you’ve never camped in the wilderness away from modern conveniences, you might want to try it with a friend first. You’ll probably forget to pack something or pack too much, but we honestly don’t think that should stop you from giving it a try!

During the stay, you’ll realize what you need and what you don’t need. Plan on staying overnight only a day or two during your first trip to get your feet wet. There is a learning curve when you have to support yourself in the outdoors 100%. Doing so with someone who has experienced primitive camping will be safer and more fun.

If you long to be one with the outdoors and reconnect with nature, primitive camping is a great solution. Perhaps you’ll feel close to your ancestors from thousands of years ago. More than likely, you’ll see nature in a whole new light and have a new appreciation for Mother Earth.

Some of the big things to watch out for are the weather and wild animals. Unexpected and extreme weather changes can catch you off-guard and are probably your biggest threat. Cold, heat, wind, and storms can all be pretty scary if you’re not prepared with the proper gear and supplies.

Wild animals can also jeopardize your camping trip. You’re in the middle of the wilderness, which means in the habitats of numerous animals. Most will avoid human contact, but you’ve invaded their space, so some might be aggressive and territorial or simply be attracted to the smell of your food. Many National backcountry permits come with a requirement to use bear-proof containers for this very reason.

This seclusion also means no cell service and no way to call for help. But for some campers, these aren’t negatives at all. This is the exact experience they’re searching for. But it doesn’t come without certain dangers.

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Is Primitive Camping Worth It?

If you work 9 to 5 on a computer wearing a headset and drive two hours each way for your commute, the idea of primitive camping may sound heavenly. To escape from technology, traffic, pollution, and people, this is what you need.

For others, camping in an RV is more their style. Even without hookups, this experience provides more protection and conveniences. Others love tent camping but prefer to do it in designated camping locations where help is easily accessible.

Primitive camping isn’t for everyone. But if you want an escape, want to connect with nature, or want to learn self-sufficiency, maybe it’s your answer. 

Will you be looking for a primitive camping location anytime soon? Tell us in the comments!

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About Cait Morton

Co-Founder, Logistics Queen, Business & Content Manager, and Animal Lover

An Upper Peninsula of Michigan native (aka a Yooper), Caitlin is the organization, big-picture, and content strategy queen of our operation. She keeps everything orderly and on track.

With a background in Business Management, she supports and helps channel Tom’s technical prowess into the helpful content our readers and viewers expect. That’s not to say you won’t find her turning wrenches and talking shop – RV life is a team effort. She keeps the business and the blog moving forward with a variety of topics and resources for our audience.

Believe it or not, she is rather camera shy, though she co-hosts the Mortons’ personal videos and The RVers TV show.

Caitlin’s passion lies in outdoor recreation and with animals. Some of her favorite things to do are hiking, biking, and getting out on the water via kayak, SUP, or boat.

She also loves the RV life due to the fact that you can bring your pets along. Sharing information about safely recreating outdoors with your whole family – pets included! – is very important to her. Because of this, Caitlin spearheaded the launch of HypePets in 2023.

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