Primitive camping is camping without all the benefits of a campground. If you’re primitive camping, you are most likely doing so intentionally: you’ve picked a specific area, perhaps a specific trail to go backpacking on, and you know the risks of being away from “normal” camping amenities, like a bathroom and running tap water.
Primitive camping (backcountry camping or dispersed camping) is done with a minimal amount of supplies. This is because you will be hiking to your off the grid site, usually far away from other people or society. There are some basic supplies that will take up a small amount of room but can make all the difference. There are also some basic things you will need to know or learn in order to stay safe.
So what do you need for primitive camping? You will need a way of gathering or carrying food, a way to get water clean for drinking, some sort of shelter, a backpack for carrying supplies, a source of light, and pocket knife at a minimum. We always recommend that you have a working knowledge of the local plants and wildlife and a first aid kit for safety reasons. One more thing you might need is a backcountry camping permit, but this varies depending on where you go.
To be sure you are absolutely prepared, you should read this whole article for in-depth details on each of the things we discussed and some extra recommendations as well.
Let’s break down what you should bring, and in what form:
Clickable Table Of Contents
You’ll Need Food
For primitive camping, it’s probably best to stick with dehydrated food. You can find this type of food at local camp retailers, like REI. There are plenty of options for dehydrated meals–anything from fruit to spaghetti.
If you wanted to be even more hardcore, you could plan on hunting, catching, or gathering your own food, though you should be extremely knowledgeable about what you can and cannot do at the location you plan on camping. This will also require more gear on your part, like fishing poles or knowledge on how to build traps. Be sure that you have the proper permits for these activities.
You could also carry other lightweight food items, such as nuts, fruit, and granola bars–food that doesn’t require cooking and is still filling. If you are planning on hiking to a backcountry camp, lightweight food is especially helpful.
We wrote another article that will be really helpful for food; you will want to check out. How To Preserve Food For Camping ( Don’t let your food spoil )
You’ll Need Water
If you’re planning on a longer trip where backpacking is involved, it would be smart to bring water purification tablets or a water filter so you can gather water as you move. Water filters are generally the preferred choice, as the tablets can have a distinct aftertaste.
Water can be pretty heavy, so if you’re planning on moving a lot, it won’t be easy to carry around more than a bottle or two per person.
If you are not planning on hiking into your camping destination, however, you have the option of bringing in several water bottles, a hydration pack, or water-filled coolers. If you do research into the location you plan on camping; you should be able to know if finding water is a real possibility or not.
In any case, better safe than sorry: at least having purification tablets will always help.
You should really read another article we wrote that will give you 11 ways to purify water. Purifying Water While Camping ( 11 must know ways to do it )
You’ll Need Shelter
It’s possible to survive making your own shelter using trees or packed snow for an igloo or finding space in caves or on mountains. Primitive camping means the world can be your campground–with the proper permits, of course.
Another form of shelter, and one that is most used is a simple tent. There are many tents that are packable into small bags, lightweight, and easy to set up. If you were backpacking, a tent would be easy to pack away and reuse.
Again, considering the location, a tent is beneficial to protect you from any wildlife that might want to visit during the night. This means you’ll want a tent with a top, and with working zippers. A full tent will be especially helpful if you run into rainy or other inclement weather.
But, if you prefer the hardest of hard core, you can always bring a simple tarp, a lightweight hammock, or a simple sleeping pad.
You’ll Need a Backpack
In order to carry all your essentials, you’ll want a sturdy backpack. You can use many types of backpacks, but it would be beneficial to use a hiking backpack. Hiking backpacks are specifically for this type of camping and are made to carry al the essentials.
You can find the best models at any local outdoors store. You can find a list of the best camping backpacks of 2019 here.
You Will Most Likely Need a Backcountry Permit
Depending on where you plan to camp, you’ll want to make sure you have the proper permit. For most National Parks, you can find permit links on their websites. In any case, be sure to follow the leave-no-trace rule, which, as the name suggests, means you leave the land as clean as you found it.
Remember that only the leader of the campout can pick up the permit and that if you are late to pick up the permit, your reservation may be canceled.
The best route for this information is your camping destination’s website, where you’ll find their specific instructions.
You Should Take a First Aid Kit
Since primitive camping often involves hiking or moving in less traveled backcountry areas, there is a risk for injury. The risk is even higher, of course, because you’re not as close to a hospital as you might be if you camped at a regular campground.
You’ll want a first aid kit–even if it’s the most basic model. And if you don’t have all the contents contained in an actual kit, at least make sure you have the necessities: Band-Aids, gauze, moleskin, antiseptic creams and ointments, pain and anti-inflammatory medicine, hydrocortisone cream.
It would also be helpful to bring scissors, tweezers, safety pins, and a knife. If you plan on bringing a pocket knife, you could consider buying one that includes these other tools to cover all your bases.
We have an article on first aid kits that even includes some DIY methods. This could be one of the most important things you pack, so go ahead and read it.
You’ll Probably Want a Pocket Knife
There are a lot of different models to choose from–some more equipped than others. Typically, the part of the pocket knife you’ll use most is the actual knife, so you don’t have to go all out on a more expensive model unless you know exactly what you want to do with the other tools.
The knife will help you with sharpening and shaving wood for fires; preparing food or opening food packages; cutting any ropes you might need for tents and/or backpacking; and helping with first aid, as mentioned above. For instance, cutting moleskin for blisters or cutting gauze pads to a specific size to cover a wound.
If you plan on bringing bottles or cans, having a can or bottle opener on your pocket knife could be beneficial as well. In our modern world, it can be easy to forget these small tools, so really consider what you’re bringing with you and what tools you might need to open or use it.
You can find a list of the best pocket knives for camping here.
You’ll Probably Want a Flashlight
There are a lot of smaller, but still powerful, flashlight models. When you’re out in the wild, the only light you’ll get is from the stars and the moon, and if there is a new moon while you’re out, it would be better to carry your own light.
Even if you really want the experience of going out and roughing it on your own, you’ve got the benefits of the modern world. You will want to make sure you are doing what you can to keep yourself safe, and it is a necessity to be able to see in unfamiliar areas.
You’ll especially want to think about bringing a flashlight if you plan on backpacking in the mountains. Even if you find a spot that seems flat enough to set up camp, you never know what ridges and drop-offs exist close by, and you don’t want to risk a possibly fatal fall.
You can find a list of the best-ranked camping flashlights here.
You’ll Want to be Informed on the Plants and Wildlife in Your Camping Location
Different parts of the country have different plants and wildlife. In the West, you’ll most likely be in coniferous forests, and in the East, deciduous forests. If you have specific allergies, be sure to look up if the source is anywhere in the area you’ll be camping in.
Once, when I was in Oregon, bed bugs bit my arms and stomach and face, and the bites swelled up and had strange red rings around them. We wondered if I had Lyme disease, but after going to the hospital, we found that I was just allergic to that type of bed bug in that specific area of the country. So, prepare for the unexpected, and make sure you have the necessary medical aid for this type of scenario.
Make sure you are prepared for the animals that live in the area as well. Research bears or mountain lions or coyotes–whatever you may encounter–and be sure to carry necessary defense items just in case.
Other Items and Information
It might be smart to bring the following:
- Map and compass
- Trekking pole
- Hygiene items like environmentally friendly soap, toothbrush and toothpaste, deodorant, and wet wipes
- Light clothing in different layers–jackets and shirts and shorts and pants–and underwear
- Hiking books–be sure to break these in before you embark on your trip, so you don’t have to deal with many blisters
- An emergency contact list–you never know what will happen, and in event of an emergency, you’ll want other people to know who to call to inform of your status
- Duct tape, as it seems to fix almost anything
If you’re interested in the specifics of backcountry camping, not just primitive camping, check out our article with that information here.
The idea of primitive camping is a fun one–it tests your limits and sets your free from the modern world’s obligations. It might be tempting to be scarce with what you bring, but it’s always better to be prepared for any situation you may encounter. Pick the lightest materials, plan ahead, and enjoy the world around you, uninterrupted.
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