Primitive camping is the less developed form of camping. It refers to a style of camping that focuses on nature, often in remote areas or wilderness with minimal human contact.
The “primitive” term has a much broader meaning than just staying in a primitive campsite. It can be used for almost any activity that involves being outdoors without modern conveniences. At the same time, it can be made easier by using more modern conveniences.
What is considered primitive camping?
The term “primitive camping” is used quite loosely to describe several different activities. For most people, primitive camping means staying in a remote area and insulating themselves from most modern conveniences. While this is very similar to dispersed camping, it does not have to be done in a designated campground or area.
The true primitive camping enthusiast will take this a step further. They will often attempt to remove themselves from all modern technology and even people by being a lone wanderer. They might choose to sleep in a tent, hammock, or forgo camping equipment altogether and sleep under the stars using nothing more than their body warmth.
However, you decide to do it, primitive camping is best defined as the “outdoors without modern conveniences”.
Is this safe?
Primitive camping can be safe when done by the right person. Many people who practice primitive camping make a point to learn “camp craft”. This includes reading up on the unique hazards of each location, testing out their ability to withstand those hazards, and doing everything they can to make sure they will be safe.
Some people only go as far as staying in campsites that have been pre-approved by other campers. They will read up on the location and make sure that others feel safe.
The most unsafe way to primitive camp would be to do it alone in an area with no history of safe camping. Being alone in the wilderness is never a good idea, even if you are a capable primitive camper.
There’s always a chance of something going wrong and someone getting hurt. If you choose to go out by yourself, make sure you leave with an “exit plan”. This means that you have chosen a place to meet up with other people if something does happen. Always tell someone where you are going and how long you expect to be there. If something happens to you, let them know where you are to help.
If it were not safe, the US Forest Service would not allow dispersed camping, which is the primary type of camping most primitive campers do.
Can you camp anywhere?
Yes. Technically, you can go to a primitive camp anywhere if you are alone. However, that is not the best way to do it because it takes away from the benefits of primitive camping.
Even in an area where it is not officially primitive camping season, there are additional things you can do to enjoy primitive camping still as often as possible. For example, if you go to a national park during their off-season, they will likely be much less busy than during their prime time. This will allow you to experience the park the way it was meant to be experienced.
You should keep in mind primitive camping which some people call “dispersed camping”. This does not mean that you need to be dispersed from other people. In most cases, this term is used in areas where camping is restricted or prohibited. For example, in some areas of the national forest, dispersed camping is prohibited, and primitive camping inside a campsite is required.
There are still great campsites across the United States that can be used for primitive camping. Some of these areas even allow dispersed camping, as long as you do so in an approved campsite and do not disturb other campers or wildlife. If you are out in an area with no restrictions on primitive camping, go right ahead.
What do you eat?
Depending on where you go and how prepared you are, eating while you’re out there can be anything from terrible to delicious.
There are many great resources online for grocery shopping and cooking for camping. You can find everything from complete wilderness kits that include everything you need to cook “breakfast, lunch and dinner” to a simple backpacker’s method where you bring a few hot dogs or some other simple meals.
Many tastes good if you know any of the native plants around you. Some methods call for wild plants poisonous to humans and should not be eaten without proper preparation.
Experts in survival skills are willing to work with you on your diet, then show you how to make it using primitive camping gear and methods.
What’s the difference between this and dispersed campouts?
When you are primitive camping, you try to become as “natural” as possible. You are trying to live off the land and do everything in your power to exist out in the wilderness. Dispersed camping is done in an area that has been designated for camping. While campers may have degraded it over many years, it is still very different from primitive camping because you are still expected to use some form of modern equipment such as a tent, fire ring, or other things.
However, since dispersed camping is technically considered camping, many people practice primitive camping despite being in an area where camping is not allowed.
Many do this because the US Forest Service will not officially allow it. This can be great for finding a hidden camp that no one has discovered before or setting up your gear just off the main trail.
As long as you are willing to risk being caught, there is no reason why you can’t take the benefits of primitive camping in an area where it is prohibited to do so.
Is this legal?
In most cases, yes. It depends on your location and what you choose to do while there. Most national forests allow primitive camping as long as it is not done inside an officially designated campsite.
If you practice dispersed or unofficially “primitive” camping, there is a chance you could get in trouble.
Dispersed camping is still considered “camping” by the United States Forest Service (USFS) and many other areas with dispersed camping rules. This means that you are still expected to adhere to some of the USFS’s guidelines.
For example, in some areas of the national forest, dispersed camping is prohibited, and primitive camping inside a campsite is required. Sometimes the USFS may set up rules for particular campsites, often called “designated primitive sites”. There are still many areas that allow primitive camping as far as general public lands. This means you can go out there and do your thing.
In a nutshell, Primitive camping is a great way to experience the joys of outdoor living. While you will find that there are a lot more advantages to primitive camping than there are disadvantages, it does take a bit of preparation ahead of time.