What you need to know when camping at a primitive campsite

If you love car camping, but want to get away from the crowds that often throng a traditional campground, it might be time to start exploring primitive campgrounds.

Sometimes all you need is a tent and a truck. Photo: Gabriela Aoun

Primitive campgrounds are sanctioned camping areas found in national and state parks (among other places) where there is little to no infrastructure or amenities.

Sometimes the campgrounds are designated, sometimes you’re allowed to pitch a tent any place a certain distance from the road. Sometimes you have to off-road into the sites, other times you can access them only by hiking.

At primitive campsites, there are no bathrooms, water faucets, etc. You rarely make reservations, so while you risk spots being full, if you get one, you’re secluded from the crowds, able to better connect with nature and with your camp mates.

Here are the essential tips and tricks you need to keep in mind before your next primitive-camping expedition:

You won’t have running water

Bring your own water when you go to a primitive campground, and lots of it. Photo: Autri Taheri/Unsplash

Running water is about as far from primitive as you can get — so don’t plan on having any if you’re truly going on a primitive trip. You’ll either need to bring your own source of fresh water or some sort of filter that can be used on local water.

Keep in mind that water isn’t just for drinking: Bring enough for cooking, brushing teeth, showering, etc.

You will want a 4×4 vehicle

We took a 2017 Chevy Silverado with us to the desert, because when you have to off-road for an hour to reach camp, you don’t want to take any chances with your transport. Photo: Gabriela Aoun

There will likely be no cell service, no rangers and no help on the way if you get stuck out in the wilderness on your next primitive-camping trip. Even the desert can be subject to flash floods, and mud is not your car’s friend.

Having a vehicle that can handle the rigors of what will most likely be an unpaved road is crucial.

You will have limited (if any) access to bathrooms

Not a porta potty in sight. Photo: Glen Jackson/Unsplash

No bathroom? No problem. If your ancestors could survive without indoor plumbing, we think you’ll be fine for a weekend. The key thing to remember here: toilet paper.

There are some locations that require to you to pack your waste out (for example, Yosemite), but in most locations, as long as you bury your waste, you should be fine. You’ll either need some sort of baggie or receptacle to store the waste or a trowel for digging.

Make sure to be at least 200 yards from the campsite, trail or water source. Dig a hole 6 to 8 inches deep (it can be shallower in desert conditions), and when you’re done, fill the hole in. Make sure to bring a bag or container with you for toilet paper or baby wipes, and for goodness’ sake, sanitize your hands.

You will need some fire-starting skills

Campfires: They’re for more than just making s’mores. Photo: Sandis Helvigs/Unsplash

While most traditional campgrounds have fire pits at each site, primitive sites often don’t.

First, check to see whether your camping area even allows fires. If it does, bring your own pit for containing the flames, as well as firewood.

Make sure you pulled a fire permit if the site requires one. Fire-prone areas like Big Sur often require obtaining something equivalent to the California Campfire Permit, even if you only plan to use a stove or lantern.

Oh, and don’t forget the marshmallows.

Check out more camping tips from GrindTV:

What’s in your backcountry med kit?

5 delicious s’mores recipes you have to try this summer

A guide to making your own campsite games