Primitive camping is essentially setting up temporary housekeeping in a location that doesn’t have modern facilities.
It could be in a commercial campground that doesn’t offer any amenities beyond a patch of ground where it’s legal to set up camp, or it could be in a remote location.
No, that’s not a mistype. When it comes to primitive camping, reality can bite, but here are also some reality bytes for you.
Even when camping overnight, these are five things you should keep in mind:
- Your camp is not a secure location.
- Water is going to be a primary concern.
- Sanitation will become a “must-have.”
- You will not have refrigeration
- Not all locations are legal for camping
How Can I Make My Primitive Camping More Secure?
- Camp as a team. If there are two of you, one can stay in camp, while the other runs errands.
- Store all foodstuffs in an air-tight container suspended from a tree or similar item. This keeps food odors away from your tent or sleeping bag.
- Sleep in a tree. A platform or hammock puts you above many sorts of predators, and might even keep you away from the notice of the human type of predator. It will not eliminate all predators, but it can be better than sleeping on the ground.
- Pitch your tent or make your lean-to against a rocky alcove or under a slight overhang. This limits the approach to your temporary home and also provides some added weather protection. If it’s a cave, check for previous inhabitants.
- Avoid camping right by a stream or in a low-lying area. Everything comes to a stream. Although you will want water, you don’t want to be right next to the main attraction for both prey and predators in the area. Also, low-lying areas are at risk of flooding. No joy to be had from waking up in a puddle or torrent of water.
Where Can I Find or Obtain Water?
For a brief camping tour, you can probably pack in a gallon or two of water. But water is heavy. It doesn’t sound like much, but ten gallons of water is ten pounds of weight.
If you drink 8, 4-ounce, glasses of water per day, that’s 32 ounces or 2 gallons of fresh, potable water. That doesn’t cover water for cleaning dishes, bathing, putting out fires, or cooking.
Drinking or even bathing in “wild water” carries inherent risks in the form of parasites, bacteria, and unnatural contaminants.
You have three possible solutions, and probably should combine all three:
- Filter your water. A high-end camp water filter can cost hundreds of dollars, but you can obtain reasonably good portable filters for around $20 or $30. Personal or camp filters might use reverse osmosis plus activated charcoal filters to remove the most harmful bacteria, parasites, and even some industrial contaminants (but possibly not all). If you do not have a commercial-grade filter, strain your water through a tightly woven handkerchief or a coffee filter.
- Boil your water. After filtering or straining the water, boil it. Again, not completely effective, but it can catch some contaminants that you were unable to strain out.
- Add a chemical purifier. A drop of bleach, drop of iodine or a hefty splash of whiskey or rum in water can kill some remaining bacteria.
Hint: Carry a collapsible water bottle or skin of drinking water when primitive camping. Use your filtered/boiled/purified water for camp cleanup and bathing.
- Water sources: Commercial standpipe faucet, (some campsites will provide a central one), spring, running stream, active lake, catchment system.
- Water catchment systems: Place a wide, metal basin out near your camp in the early evening. In areas that have morning dew, some water will collect in the basin. Warning: so will dust and other contaminants. An alternative method is to take a clean cloth and drag it through vegetation so that it collects moisture, then to wring it out or suck water out of it. Another method of obtaining moisture is to look for a plant that you know is edible, and to suck moisture out of it, or to tip dew off the leaves of non-poisonous plants.
What About Sanitation in Areas Without Outhouses or Other Facilities?
- Check regulations in your camping area. Public lands where camping is allowed often have rules about where and how to make wild camping disposal facilities.
- If digging is not allowed, line a five-gallon bucket with a plastic bag. Add dirt or other organic matter after using, to absorb moisture. In the morning, close the bag tightly, and dispose of it in the nearest trash receptacle with your other camp waste.
- Avoid Open Defecation. Open defecation is doing as the wild bears do in the wood, and then simply walking away from it. Open defecation is a serious problem in some parts of the world. It’s a good way to spread disease, and it’s a sure way to make a campsite undesirable for the next camper.
What Kind of Food Should I Carry, and How Can I Cook It?
You won’t have refrigeration, nor will you (usually) have a handy place for trash disposal. Some areas won’t allow open flames, so be prepared with some foods that can be eaten without being heated.
- Avoid canned food, if possible. Although canned food can have some advantages, such as that you can heat the food in the can over a campfire, or that you won’t need a bowl, cans are a waste product that’s slow to biodegrade and hence should be packed out of a camping area.
- MREs, Made for Camping meals, and simple dried foods such as jerky or trail mix are good. Dried foods have the disadvantage of needing accompanying moisture for good digestion or for cooking. On the other hand, they are light, easy to pack and can provide concentrated nutrients. The packaging can easily be placed in a Ziplock baggie and buried in the bottom of your pack for your next encounter with a dumpster.
- A Boy Scout camp cook kit is ideal for camp cooking. These small kits usually include several implements that nest one inside another. They are relatively inexpensive, are lightweight, and once cleaned and clipped back together, take up very little room in a pack.
- Add a coffee pot. Even if you don’t drink coffee, a small coffee percolator is ideal for heating water for tea or for washing up.
- No camp kit? Add a frying pan, a pie tin, and a multitool knife to your coffee pot. You can cook almost anything in a frying pan. The pie tin can be used as a lid for the frying pan, then (when cooled off a little) be used as a plate. A good multitool knife should have a spoon and a fork, or a spork and hatchet as one of its many tools.
Where Can I Camp?
It’s no fun to find the perfect camping place only to discover that you are on private property or in a “no camping” area. A good way to discover locations where camping is allowed is to visit a “welcome” center and look for listed campsites.
Regardless of whether you’re camping for fun or from necessity, it’s a good idea to stay on the right side of the law and know what is primitive camping.