Matt Johnson

What Does Primitive Camping Mean?

Author: Matt JohnsonPhotos/Graphics: Mike HawthornePublished: Oct 28, 2022Updated: Dec 12, 2023

Primitive camping means exactly what it sounds like. It is a type of camping that is done in a more natural setting, typically away from developed campgrounds. This kind of camping usually involves hiking to a remote location and setting up camp for the night.

Many campers like the appeal of avoiding crowded campgrounds and leaving behind modern amenities for some backcountry camping.

If you plan on going primitive camping, you should know a few things before you go.

It involves a bit more preparation than other types of camping, but the experience of staying at primitive campsites can be gratifying camping experience.

What you need to know before you go primitive camping.

Primitive camping is a great way to get back to nature and experience all that the great outdoors has to offer. However, you should keep a few things in mind before you go on a primitive camping trip.

Find a location to set up a primitive campsite.

First and foremost, always check with the landowner before pitching your tent. You need to make sure that you have permission to camp on their land and find out if there are any restrictions or rules you need to follow. There are plenty of places to camp for free, and you want to avoid getting in trouble for trespassing.

For example, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land is open to primitive and dispersed camping, but you must ensure that you camp at least 200 feet away from any water source.

Its also worth noting that some places outright ban primitive camping except for designated areas such as National Parks. Depending on the state, but some state parks don’t allow primitive camping and others have specifically designated primitive campgrounds within the state park.

Additionally, some places even require a backcountry permit before setting up your primitive camp. So be sure to check the requirements for the general area you’re going to.

Bring the essentials on your primitive camping trip.

Once you have permission from the landowner, it’s time to start packing for your trip. When packing for the trip, less is more. You want to pack light so you can easily carry everything on your back. After all, there will be few or no amenities, so if you want it you need to bring it. You won’t be RV camping, you’ll be tent camping so you need to pack accordingly.

Bring only the essentials such as food supplies, water (or one of the many water purification systems on the market), shelter, a first aid kit, pocket knife, sleeping gear (i.e., sleeping bag), toilet paper, and clothing for the environment.

Of course, this isn’t an all Inclusive list, but it’s a good start for your backcountry camping trip.

Although survival gear is a top priority, if you have the means to take more modern conveniences, then go for it. Things such as a sleeping pad and a standard tent will go a long way in getting a good night’s sleep.

Don’t forget to pack a map and compass so that you can find your way back if you get lost. Remember, you need to survive in the wilderness, so be prepared. It’s called primitive camping for a reason.

In the end, your survival skills will dictate the necessary supplies you’ll need to bring on your next primitive camping trip.

Leave the backcountry camping site as beautiful as you found it.

Another essential thing to remember is to leave-no-trace. This means there should be no evidence that you were ever there when you left.

Be sure you’re packing out all of your trash, not disturbing any plants or wildlife, and being mindful of your impact on the environment.

Many primitive campers adhere to the leave-no-trace philosophy, and it’s a great way to respect the wilderness.

Is primitive camping free?

In general, yes. Of course, exceptions exist, such as if you need to obtain a permit or pay a fee to camp on certain land. But for the most part, primitive camping is free. You must find a good spot and have all the necessary gear.

Is primitive camping worth it?

If you want to enjoy nature in it’s rawest form, then yes, primitive camping is worth it.

As long as you have the proper gear and don’t mind not having basic amenities, it’s a great way to explore secluded areas.

Is primitive camping safe?

There are inherent hazards whenever you go into the wilderness, and primitive camping is no exception. There are wild animals and other potentially hazardous things you may encounter.

You’ll definitely want to have a basic first aid kit for any instances where you find yourself injured. There’s a good chance you might not have cell service, so emergency services might be out of the question.

If you’re in bear country, then having bear spray with you is a good idea.

Another concern would be dehydration, especially if you don’t have a source of potable water or other fresh water. So be sure to bring along water purification tablets so you can make any running water (always avoid stagnant water) you find drinkable.

So, yes, primitive camping is safe if you take the proper precautions to ensure a safe trip.

What’s the difference between primitive camping and dispersed camping?

They’re essentially the same thing. Dispersed camping is just the name for primitive camping on public lands, such as national forests or BLM land. You may also hear this called boondocking, which is camping without hookups in remote areas.

Regardless of what you call it, being able to spend time with nature is a blissful experience.

Let’s hit the trails!

If you’re looking for an adventure and want to get away from developed campgrounds, then primitive camping is for you!

Just remember to check with the landowner before setting up camp (if necessary), pack lightly and only bring the essentials, and always leave no trace when you leave. You’re sure to have a great time and create some great memories on your next primitive camping expedition.


Matt Johnson

Senior Content Writer

Matt is an experienced camper and glamping enthusiast with a Master's degree in Wildlife Science from Texas A&M University. Authoring posts for GlamperGear, he shares his wealth of knowledge on picturesque campsites, luxurious accommodations, and the best gear for outdoor adventures. His passion for nature and knack for comfort in the wilderness make him an expert guide for your next camping endeavor.

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