What Type Of Camping Is Considered Primitive?

Tent set up in the woods

Camping is a great activity for those who want to experience nature and get away from the bright lights of the city. When you think of camping, tents and campfires might come to mind. Eating campfire meals, roasting marshmallows, the smell of bug spray, and people laughing are some of the things you might experience.

In this way, you will experience camping the way it was meant to be. This is what primitive camping is all about.

Primitive camping is usually done in a tent or another small shelter without the use of electricity, running water, showers, toilets, cell phone service, and other amenities. It can be enjoyed in the backcountry or a remote campground with limited access to modern conveniences.

It’s a way of roughing it and enjoying nature in its purest form.

Compare this to some of the other popular ways that people camp in today’s world. Glamping has become a popular term for those who want the experience of camping but also want to enjoy convenience and comfort. RV camping is the same way in that it allows you to get away and enjoy nature without lying on the ground in a tent with a rock sticking in your back.

Camping in an RV is like having a little home on wheels where you generally have all the modern conveniences you need. Depending on your setup, you may have a humble living space or you may have a mansion on wheels that makes roughing it seems like a thing of the past.

Primitive camping can also be done in a campground where you pitch a tent and do not connect to the services provided. Many campgrounds have primitive spots available that have no hookups. Although, in this setting, you may still be able to connect to wifi or cell service.

Having spent years in the Marine Corps, sleeping on the ground, or in a tent if I was lucky, I can say that primitive camping is about as simple as it gets. As a Marine, you spend plenty of time sleeping in the dirt or a fox hole. Tents are often used when the situation allows but it certainly isn’t much more comfortable.

During these times, you learn to make do with nearly nothing. You may read a lot, write, talk, and make up other fun ways to pass the time.

Of course, primitive camping in the civilian world is much different that military life but the concept is similar. It gets you out of your convenient lifestyle and puts you into the natural world where you have to learn to appreciate what nature has to offer.

It’s a great way to disconnect from the world, slow down and re-charge your battery. However, if you are not the type that likes to rough it and put yourself smack dab in the middle of nature, it may not be a fun experience for you.

I love the idea of primitive camping and do utilize my tent in an off-the-grid situation occasionally. However, I also enjoy camping in my camper van and often do it in a semi-primitive way. This allows me to experience nature unplugged (except for solar) while being able to live and sleep comfortably just as I would in a small house.

Difference In Primitive Camping And RV Camping

Tent in campground with RV in background

The difference between these two types of camping styles has to do with the amenities available. The typical RV setup has everything that one could need including air-conditioning, heater, TV, kitchen for cooking, comfortable seating, comfortable bedding, shower, toilet, etc. All of these amenities make it seem as though you never left your house and are only sleeping in a new place.

Compare this with a primitive camping setup in which you are very limited with the amenities you have. You may have hiked into the backcountry with a tent in your backpack and a limited amount of food and water. You set up your campsite and enjoy the evening by the fire without a TV or a temperature-controlled environment.

This is a much different experience that one might have in the RV setup. These are two different styles of camping and may be of interest to people in different stages of life. I was much more excited about primitive camping as a 20-year-old than I am as a 42-year-old. These days, I prefer a mix of the two where I can get away and unplug but not have to rough it quite as much.

I can go out into a dispersed camping location in my van and get away from it all while maintaining a sense of normalcy. I have a solar system that provides me with plenty of electricity, onboard water storage, shower, toilet, and other comforts of home.

Best Places For Primitive Camping

Unless you own land and can head off into your own woods and set up camp, you will probably need somewhere to camp. I grew up on a farm and often camped in a tent in the woods on the farm. However, those days are long gone and the farm was sold. Now, I live in a house with little acreage and not much of a place to camp. If I want to go camping, I have to explore beyond my own backyard.

The following are some of the best places I have found to camp primitively.


The best way to camp in a primitive way is to get away from it all. Pack your backpack with the essentials and head out into the backcountry. Here, you’ll find solitude and you’ll be able to become one with nature. You’ll have to fend for yourself and rely upon your ingenuity to take care of your basic needs.

It’s a rough and tough way of camping but it’s also rewarding. Rather than cooking on a stove, you’ll probably cook around the campfire. You’ll need to carry in all your water, food, and toiletries that may be necessary during your stay.

Unless you take a small portable solar system, you won’t have any electricity either. You may or may not have cell signal but it’s probably a good idea to research this before you go for safety reasons.

You can find backcountry trails all over the place including most national parks in the USA. You will probably have to have a permit but don’t let that stop you. You can grab a permit at the local park office and head out.

Public Lands

There are public lands in the USA that can be accessed for off-the-grid camping experiences. Many people drive their RV to a dispersed camping spot in these locations but you may also opt for a more primitive approach. These make great locations for a free camping getaway and allow you to enjoy the outdoors.

These locations can be found by visiting the Bureau of Land Management website.


Campgrounds have all types of camping with most of them offering full-hookup RV spots as well as no-hookup, primitive camping spots. These can be used by those with tents or vehicles that have living space in them. While you won’t have any type of electrical hookup, you may have access to other amenities that the campground offers.

I would consider this a more primitive approach to camping even though you may opt to utilize the bathroom and shower facilities rather than dig a hole in the woods. Being primitive in this way means that you are living on a minimum and enjoying your time in nature without a full repertoire of conveniences.

Private Land

If you are looking for a well-managed area that can get you into the camping scene, you may find what you need through a place like Hipcamp. This website allows you to utilize other people’s properties for a camping experience. These are often situated on their land and include only a spot for you to pitch your tent or park your RV.

While some of them do have hookups, most only offer a place to stay. In this way, you’ll be more primitive as you will have to make do on your own.

Is Primitive Camping Free?

There are many places that you can camp primitively for free. These places are often located on public lands that are owned by the government. The BLM manages these areas and you may be able to set up camp at no cost.

You may also be able to camp for free at many state or national parks. You will need a permit but these may be obtained for free in some areas but not all. You’ll need to check with each specific park to find out all the details.

Another great place is on private land. If you know someone with land, you may be able to camp without paying for it.

For the most part, you’ll need to pay for access to camping locations. Whether you plan to stay in campgrounds, public lands or rented space on private property, it usually comes with a small cost. Primitive camping will be the cheapest way for you to camp so even if it does cost, it won’t be much.

Bottom Line

Primitive camping can be a fun experience that will get you away from the normalcy of life. It might even be a life-changing experience and help you to appreciate the conveniences we often take for granted.

While I do enjoy roughing it like this from time to time, I usually opt for a semi-primitive experience by utilizing my camper van. I like the simplicity of the experience but I also like the comforts and convenience that I am used to.

If you have never been primitive camping before, you need to do it at least once in your life. Add it to your bucket list. Get yourself a tent and any other supplies you may need and head off into the backcountry. It’ll be an experience you won’t forget and who knows, you may come to appreciate this way of camping and want to do it more often.

Dan Collins

I consider myself an outdoor enthusiast. I love to travel and go to places that most people don't get a chance to go. I want to see it all and live life to the fullest while I'm alive. My camper van is helping me to do just that. I write about my experiences to help inspire others to do the same.

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