What is Primitive Camping? – The Ultimate Guide

When it comes to camping, there are two types of people: campground campers and primitive campers. Campground campers are the people who play guitar by the fire, drink a few beers, and then visit the nearby bathroom. Primitive campers, on the other hand, are out in the wilderness. They rely only on their survival skills and the items that they have brought with them.

Primitive camping is camping with only the items that you have packed. Primitive camping is done in a remote location where you must bring or provide everything for yourself. There are no bathrooms, running water, electricity, or cell service. You must rely solely upon the items you have brought with you.

Primitive camping is the pure outdoor camping experience. It isn’t for everyone, but if you’re up to it, it is an incredibly rewarding experience.

How To Go Primitive Camping

In true primitive camping, your camping gear is transported by non-motorized vehicles. Your car should not be located near the campsite and should not be a part of the camping adventure. Instead, your gear is transported by bicycle, horse, on foot, or by a non-motorized boat.

There are two main ways to experience a primitive camping trip: backpacking and organized primitive camping.


Backpacking refers to camping with just your backpack and the gear that you can fit into it. Usually, backpacking consists of hiking for several days and setting up your camp as you go.

Backpacking is the purest form of primitive camping and should be reserved for advanced campers only. You will need to plan and prepare extensively in order to successfully backpack. This type of camping requires you to rely heavily on your knowledge, experience, and survival skills.

Organized Primitive Camping

Organized primitive camping refers to camping in designated primitive camping areas. Often, campgrounds will provide access to primitive camping sites that are far away from their traditional campsites. These places will have you leave your vehicle in the parking area and require you to hike to the designated, remote area.


9 Reasons To Go Primitive Camping

You may be asking yourself, why would anyone ever want to do this? There are many reasons that people enjoy primitive camping. Here are nine common reasons that campers enjoy it:

    1. It’s a challenge and an adventure.

      Many people enjoy the adventure and challenge of leaving behind the things that they are so dependent upon. Surviving days without running water and electricity is very difficult and offers a challenge that survival enthusiasts love.

    2. There is peace and quiet.

      Primitive camping is peaceful. It is a great escape from the noise and stress of everyday life. You can leave your cell phone at home and experience the way that life was meant to be lived.

    3. There are no campsite neighbors.

      Unlike regular campgrounds, there is no limit on the amount of space you have. You are able to bring a gigantic tent. At night, you can play music and be as loud as you want without worrying about being disrespectful to your camping neighbors. On the other hand, you do not have to worry about your camping neighbors being loud and disturbing you.

    4. It’s a great bonding experience.

      Primitive camping is a great bonding experience for your family and friends. Spending a few days together without can strengthen bonds and relationships. This is especially true for fathers and sons.

    5. It is usually free.

      In most cases, backcountry camping is free. It is rare to find fun activities that are also free. Obviously, you have to pay for whatever gear you decide to bring, but there are no costs associated with the actual trip. No hotel fees and no airfare tickets.

    6. You will see a ton of wildlife.

      Compared to traditional camping areas, remote locations expose you to a ton of beautiful wildlife. The further your campsite is from people, the more wildlife you will see.

    7. You will experience nature.

      Nature that is untouched by man is beautiful. We don’t get to see wilderness too often, and it truly is something to behold. There’s fresh air, clear rivers, breath-taking mountain ranges, and so much more.

    8. The night sky and stars.

      When you are far away from populated areas, there is a lot less light pollution. You will see stars like you never have before. An entire sky full of millions of bright, visible stars. It’s incredible.

      Stars in Night Sky above Camper

    9. It’s an unparalleled feeling of freedom.

      Primitive camping gives you an extraordinary sense of freedom. There’s really nothing quite like it. Give it a shot, you won’t know until you try it.


What Should I Pack?

The planning and preparation stages of primitive camping are one of the most important parts of the process. You need to carefully consider what you’ll need, organize it, and efficiently pack it. You also don’t want to over pack, so you should only bring the essentials. Consider what you need in terms of shelter, food, clothing, first aid, maps, and miscellaneous items.

If you are camping in the cold winter months, you have a few extra things to consider as well, especially in terms of clothing. Check out our winter camping tips for some necessities that you should bring.

To help you pack effectively, we have created a primitive camping checklist.


Primitive Camping Checklist

Preparation is key! Here are some of the essential items that we recommend bringing with you.


  • Tent, stakes, and poles.
  • Hammer (for tent stakes)
  • Sleeping bags and pillows
  • Rope
  • Hatchet or axe
  • Flashlights and batteries
  • Matches and a long lighter


  • Hiking boots
  • Jeans
  • Shorts
  • T-shirts
  • Sleep wear
  • Sweatshirt or light jacket


  • Portable camping stove and fuel
  • Cookware set and utensils
  • Fire starters and lighter fluid
  • A long lighter
  • Water bottles or containers
  • Food

Other Essentials:

  • First aid kit
  • Camping knife
  • Emergency radio
  • A map of the area
  • Toilet paper
  • Lightweight chair (optional)
  • Permit


What Do You Eat?

Before you embark on your primitive camping adventure, you have to think about what you are going to eat. Most campers will go hunting, catch fish, or pack simple meals to bring with them.

Food Source

If you are planning to hunt or fish, you will need to bring the appropriate gear with you. Hunting equipment and the tools to prepare hunted food will be essential. For fishing, you’ll need to pack compact fishing rods, reels, and bait. If you are not experienced, we do not recommend attempting or relying on fishing or hunting as your primary food source.

Even if you are an experienced hunter of fisher, that does not guarantee that you will successfully catch food during this trip. It is important to pack a backup food source and bring it with you on your trip.


Additionally, what you are planning to eat will determine the cooking supplies you need. Remember to bring the supplies required to cook your back up meals as well. Most primitive campers will either bring a small camping stove or cook over a campfire. Either way, a good camping cookware set is a great investment. Starting a campfire is easy, and using the “log cabin” campfire style is a great way to cook food. It is also a good idea to pack a dependable camping knife for food preparation, cooking, and hunting.


Be sure to bring a high-quality, portable axe or backpacking hatchet along with you. You will likely need one to prepare firewood for cooking and to provide heat. Depending on where you camp, you may not be permitted to cut down any existing trees. Instead, you should look for wood that is on the ground and then cut it into the necessary sizes. There should be plenty.

Drinking Water

You have two options when it comes to drinking water. The first option is to pack all of the drinking water that you need for the entire trip. The second option is to bring water purification tablets or a water filter, in which case you will need to be near a water source. 


Where To Go Primitive Camping

Primitive camping is all about going off the beaten path. It’s about embracing nature and exploring those backcountry areas where few others have been. In the United States, the best places are National Parks and State Parks. There are 59 national parks that span over millions of acres.

Primitive Camping by Mountains

The rules on backcountry camping vary between different parks. Some allow backcountry camping anywhere, while others require you to use designated campsites. The designated campsites are vast areas chosen specifically for backcountry camping, so you will have no problem finding a remote area for your adventure.

Here are a few of our favorite primitive campsites:

  1. Chesler Park – Canyonlands National Park in Utah
  2. Turquoise Lake – Lake Clark National Park in Alaska
  3. Andrew’s Creek Camp – Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado
  4. Clouds Rest – Yosemite National Park in California
  5. Heart Lake – Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming
  6. Olympic Coast – Olympic National Park in Washington
  7. Picnic Key Beach Camping – Everglades National Park in Florida


Tips For Successful Primitive Camping

  1. Determine if any permits are required to camp in that park or forest.
  2. Tell your emergency contacts when you are leaving and when you are expected to return home. Tell them where you are going to set up camp and what route you will be taking to get there. Notify them when you have safely returned from the campsite. In the event that something happens to you, this can save your life.
  3. Do not go backcountry camping alone.
  4. Test your gear before you go. Make sure you know how to use everything.
  5. Be prepared for any weather, forecasts are not guarantees. To be safe, we recommend bringing a portable emergency radio on your trips.
  6. Store your food properly to preserve it and to avoid visits from unwelcome animals.
  7. Be aware of your surroundings at all times. The wilderness is unpredictable and can be very dangerous. Stay cautious and stay aware.
  8. Find a good area to set up camp. To learn how, check out our guide on how to choose a good campsite.


Leave No Trace

An important part of primitive camping is to “leave no trace”. As a camper, it is your responsibility to leave the area exactly the way that you found it. To preserve these beautiful areas and protect the wildlife, take all of your garbage and belonging with you.

Keeping our parks clean ensures that others can experience their own camping adventures in the future. Camp, have fun, but clean up after yourself! Leave no trace.


Happy camping!

What are your thoughts on primitive camping? Have you done it before? Did we miss some important information that you think we should include? Let us know your thoughts and feedback in the comments below.


  1. Yes, good points. A stationary car in the sun soon becomes as hot as a furnace. Not a place you want to store a cooler. 
    I’ve not camped at the Grand Canyon, and you might see other campers there with a better solution… However, I would set-up a camping tarp shelter. One big enough for a kitchen and seating area, and ideally cover the tent too. I would then keep the canister in the open but in the shade of the shelter, out of the direct sunlight.  The air moving around the shaded canister should keep it cool enough.  Of course the natural refrigerator is running water. Placing items in a stream can help keep them cool. But I suspect that won’t be an option at your campground.

  2. I have been to Everglades National Park in Florida. An amazing place that has an exorbitant number of wild animals if you venture too far. Do carry proper water, trust me you won’t regret later.


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