Tired of smartphones dinging with incessant emails and texts? Wish you had more time to enjoy the outdoors? Consider this: primitive camping is inexpensive, fun, and ideal for recharging batteries constantly drained by work, family, and other obligations.
Apprehensive about choosing a place to camp, pitching a tent, and camping like our grandparents did, sans a posh VRBO or luxurious RV?
What follows are our 7 essential tips for a successful primitive camping trip. Keep reading to learn all the important details!
What Is Primitive Camping?
For most, primitive camping provides a means of getting away from the hustle and bustle of modern life. For some, that’s hiking or bird-watching, while others might fish, forage for wild edibles, or hunt.
Primitive camping might simply mean relaxing next to a campfire (where allowed).
Pros & Cons of Primitive Camping
Primitive camping gets you back into nature. That means no evenings filled with Netflix in fancy RVs or cabins… You’ll find it’s pretty hard to beat telling stories, drinking a cold beverage or two, and delighting in the gooey delight of s’mores over the campfire.
Even without today’s tech, you’ll enjoy sensory experiences galore–like the “who cooks for you” hooting calls of barred owls, bald eagles snatching fish off the water, and observing different terrains and their own unique flora and fauna.
1. Do Your Research First
Part of the fun of primitive camping is planning at home prior to the journey.
Most primitive campers investigate potential camp sites with the help of cell phone apps like Recreation.gov, ReserveAmerica, The Dyrt, and HipCamp. Google Earth is also helpful, especially in its topographic, aerial view mode to locate suitable camp terrain.
But there’s still a place for paper maps. Especially when off-grid, like primitive camping in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA), invest in rain-resistant paper maps by McKenzie, W.A. Fisher, or Voyageur.
House your maps in a waterproof map folder for extra weather protection. You’ll find it’s a lot of fun to stop occasionally on your journey and mark your location with a highlighter to determine how far you have to hike or canoe to the evening camp site.
2. Where to Go
Most National Forests and Parks feature areas that are open to primitive camping. Some might have trails (even roads) close to primitive camping areas, while others may require some bushwhacking to get away from sites with electric hook-ups and bathroom/shower facilities.
You can also go trailbreaking on your own through many county, state, and national wilderness areas. Just make sure you have your entrance, travel, and exit routes planned ahead of time so as not to trespass through private property.
3. Where to Set-up: Best Campsite Selection
The best campsites are flat, which means fewer issues with water build-up and more comfortable tenting. Grassy or sandy areas are best; avoid rocky ground.
If in a wooded area, do not situate your tent near trees with dead branches. While the wind brace and shade provided by trees is a good thing for setting up camp, it’s best to position homebase around healthy, live trees should the wind pick up or it start to storm.
Another caveat: Stay clear of deer trails or other habitat signaled by recent animal activity. If camping in bear country, make sure to elevate your cooler or food storage when not in use with a rope and pulley system from a tall tree branch.
Lastly, avoid camping near areas with marshy, still waters. These are breeding grounds for mosquitoes and other bothersome insects.
4. Campground Cooking
Nothing beats cooking over an open campfire. We recommend packing a portable, folding campfire grate to grill carried-in frozen meats or fresh-caught fish. A medium-sized cast iron pan or lightweight griddle works well on top of a folding grate, especially for preparing egg-based breakfast scrambles or pancakes.
Throw a medium-sized jar of beef tallow in your pack (which doesn’t need to be refrigerated) and you’ll wonder why you ever used canola-oil cooking sprays in camp.
Given the possibility of wet, rainy conditions, a lightweight, single- or double-burner portable hiking stove and a couple (or a few) 1-pound bottles of propane or whatever fuel your particular stove requires can save the day.
5. Gear You’ll Need & Be Glad You Brought
At its most basic, primitive camping involves a waterproof tent; a rainproof backpack; a cooking stove; a lantern; sleeping bag(s); hiking boots; rain gear; ample water and/or water filtration device; and food/provisions in an easy-to-carry, back-pack-style cooler.
If you don’t plan to travel far from the vehicle, standard coolers work fine for holding frozen food and bottled water that can last several days. YETI-style roto-molded coolers, though, can be overly heavy to carry and are best to leave in the vehicle.
Make sure to pack a hatchet to cut dead wood down into kindling, as well as a traditional compass to guide your travels in place of a cell phone app. Make sure to carry a couple lighters, “strike-anywhere” matches, and keep your source of ignition in a waterproof bag.
Also make sure to pack a couple sources of light, like a small, lithium-battery-based lantern and headlamp with extra batteries.
Many primitive campers pack minimal dehydrated, canned, and frozen food, opting to catch fish from local streams, rivers, and lakes for meals. That could mean a travel spinning or fly fishing outfit, depending on your location and available fish species. You’ll find there is no better meal in the world than something you’ve caught, hunted, or foraged yourself in nature.
If you plan to catch and eat your own fish, do not forget a filet knife so you can clean and prepare your fish for dinner. A folding filet knife takes up little space and is affordable.
Besides a few changes of dry underwear and socks, make sure to carry a couple fire-starter sources, an extra headlamp and batteries. And don’t forget the first-aid kit, which might come in handy if you nick yourself cleaning fish or fall and get scraped up.
A roll of Gorilla Tape is also super useful, should you need to fix anything.
A multi-purpose tool like a Leatherman is also recommended, which includes a pliers, wire cutters, wire stripper, knives, saw, scissors, ruler, can/bottle openers, files, and screwdrivers. Keep the tool on your belt for on-the-ready use. It won’t do much good tucked into a bunch of clothes and other items, deep in the bottom of a dry bag.
6. Where Do I Go To The Bathroom?
Getting down to “business”, you’ll also need a place to do your business, especially after morning coffee. Consider a bucket-style toilet and biodegradable wipes and bags that you can bury away from the campsite with a small, folding shovel.
7. Leave No Trace
Lastly, the mantra of primitive camping and backpacking has always been “leave no trace”. Make sure to pick up your litter and pack it out with you.
With a little bit of planning, the right gear, and an open mindset, primitive camping can open up a vast outdoor world for exploration. And these 7 essential tips for a successful primitive camping trip will ensure you’re on the right track.
Now get outside and have some fun!