Getting back to nature and following the path of your forefathers is pioneer camping. The pioneers stopped when it was the designated time and went no further. They did not have set Forest Service camping spots but camped near streams or rivers and where there were shelter and shade, but no other amenities.
They had to determine where they were going to sleep, how to store their food to keep it safe from predators, and even how to relieve themselves.
What is Pioneer Camping? Pioneer camping means no electricity or water and no sewer privileges. You are camping in a primitive or backwoods spot, or a designated forest campsite with no amenities. Backcountry campsites could be called pioneer campsites, and if you are lucky there may be running water available, fire pits and quite possibly a pit bathroom or latrine nearby, but no other conveniences.
You will need to pitch your tent, or sleep under the stars, bring your amenities, and you will need to bring your latrine supplies.
Pioneer camping is one of the more fun ways to connect with nature and explore some of the most incredible places in a way that camping in a trailer and organized campgrounds can’t fulfill. You will need to take your supplies, tent and sleeping bag, be primed to develop your sleeping and eating areas and be prepared for any eventualities like the weather or marauding animals.
Supplies needed for pioneer camping
What you take and how you pack will affect your ability to enjoy your pioneer camping experience.
Recommendations for what to consider include:
If you are camping in the mountains or even the desert, it gets cool to cold at night. Stay warm by wearing moisture wicking or dri-fit clothing and dress in layers. Staying dry is the key.
2. Sleeping bag.
Sleeping under the stars is terrific, and it will be more comfortable if you’re in a waterproof season-appropriate sleeping bag. Check with your camping supply store to make sure you have a sleeping bag that is rated for the climate where you are camping or is rated for the most appropriate temperature. You will be able to find an excellent sleeping bag at any camping or sportsman store.
Choose a good tent that is weatherproof and easy to set up. A tent that is sturdy, but lightweight and able to be set up quickly is best. The size and type of tent you choose depend on your group size and space needs as well as the weather.
However, If you want an authentic camping experience, sleep under the stars, and experience the sounds and smells of the outdoors. There is no better experience than watching a full moon rise over your campground.
4. Solar lantern.
Solar lanterns can save your life. They are wonderful because they don’t require a battery or electrical source. You can purchase collapsible solar lanterns that are easy to pack and very bright. You can hang a solar lantern in your tent for inside lighting.
5. Water bottle.
It is essential to have a reusable water bottle when camping. You can refill at your campground’s water spigots. It’s also necessary to go to a camping store and get a water bottle that also has a purifier in it. These bottles are the best when you are pioneer camping near a stream or river.
6. Trail snacks.
Keep your energy up with snacks on the trail. There are many different kinds of trail mixes on the market today, but one with peanuts, yogurt chips, raisins, almonds, cashews, and dates will keep you energized.
7. Lunch/Dinner/Breakfast supplies.
The hardest part of camping is deciding what to eat. If you are bringing a gas stove or if there is a fire pit with a grate, bring hot dogs, burgers, or chicken to grill for dinner. Breakfast can be bacon and sausage or yogurt with granola. Bring metal tongs and a spatula and keep your cooker filled with ice.
8. Camp Stove.
A small camp stove is a convenient way to cook meals if there is no grill at your campsite. Choose one that is lightweight, easy to set up, and is made for backpacking. Another great choice is a foldable stove that works with twigs and sticks.
You will not want to carry a full size stove since you will have to carry it for the entire trip.
9. First Aid Kit.
You would be amazed at what could go wrong on a camping trip. Blisters, splinters, cuts, and bruises will be taken care of if you have a well-stocked first aid kit. Take a soft pack kit in the day pack you hike with, so you can quickly get to it in case of emergencies.
10. Bug spray.
Keep away mosquitoes, ticks, biting flies, gnats, and chiggers with long-lasting bug spray. You can use just about any brand, but find one that will help protect you against mosquitoes.
11. Wool socks and good hiking boots.
Purchase functional hiking boots that are rated for backcountry hiking. Just be sure that you break your boots in before the trip or you could be in for a painful surprise.
Wear wool socks with your hiking boots to keep your feet comfortable on the trail during the day and warm at night in your sleeping bag.
Come equipped with a swimsuit for lake dips or outdoor showers.
13. Hydration Daypack.
Keep your hydration daypack with you so that you stay well hydrated on hikes. Camelback makes a great daypack that has a water bladder to keep you hydrated.
Setting up a Pioneer Camp
14. Water purification.
You will not want to carry water on this kind of trip so be sure to bring some purification tablets or a setup to boil water.
We have a great article on this that you should read. Purifying Water While Camping ( 11 must know ways to do it )
Selecting a pioneer campsite
Where you set up your camp will be one of the most important decisions you make on your pioneer camping trip. There are several steps to set up a functional pioneer campsite. All it takes is organization, the right supplies, a bit of knowledge about camping, and enthusiasm to have an awesome time in the great outdoors.
Select your Site
Find the flattest land available and keep in mind that you may need water drainage. Plan plenty of time and start looking for a campsite at least one or two hours before dark. Look for available water, scan for hazards, and be selective about your site.
It’s a good idea to set up your tent where there is shade in the morning. Waking up to the sun blazing on your tent can be very uncomfortable. When you are setting up your camp, finding a spot that stays shady throughout the day is essential. Find a flat area where there are trees or bushes or do bring a shade shelter of your own if needed.
Watch for what’s above you, too. You don’t want to pitch your tent or make a camp underneath a dead tree branch thinking all will be well. A good strong wing could bring that dead branch down on top of you. Watch out, too, for rockslides and avalanche paths and rock ledges.
Before setting out on your pioneer camping experience, check the weather. If the forecast calls for high winds, settle down behind a windbreak like large boulders or a stand of trees. You don’t want to be out on the open during a windstorm – that would not be an enjoyable experience.
Pick a space that looks like others have camped there at one time. Camping in used areas will limit the overall footprint of your camp. You may think that the backcountry is endless, but you do need to protect what’s there.
When picking an area for a campsite, keep in mind that nature is forgiving to a point. Be safe, have, fun, and leave the area just as clean or cleaner than you found it.
It’s vital to find a spot with flat ground to pitch your tent. If you don’t have a good flat spot, you will find yourself off your sleeping pad and crammed against your tent wall. Make sure your ground has no sharp protrusions that will poke you in the back all night. Flat areas covered with sand or grass are perfect choices. You might want to sleep in a small depression but be aware that if it rains your depression will turn into a mud pit.
Use tight coolers to store your perishables and place them away from your tent. If you are in bear country, hang your food at least 10 feet off the ground and 8 feet from the trunk of a tree.
Set up your latrine no more than 200 feet away from your sleeping and eating areas. Bury waste at least 2 feet deep. Carry out any paper products you use.
A campfire is vital to cook your food, keep warm on chilly nights, and for comfort. Pick the right spot, not too near your tent and not too far away. Follow local fire laws, especially in dry forested areas. Collect kindling, give your fire air, and keep it safely contained.
Sleeping under the stars while listening to the sound of nature is an almost magical experience. The reality of sleeping on the ground while camping is not as comfortable as you are used to, but the experience of being on a camping trip in a “pioneer” or primitive camping spot is something you will want to do over and over.