For some people, camping is a way to enjoy an affordable vacation and a chance to get to spend some time in nature. For others, camping is a way of life. There are plenty of people who have crisscrossed the US, camping for free - or very low cost - at primitive campsites (often referred to as backcountry campsites). If you're committed to going off-grid or have fully embraced an off-the-grid lifestyle, primitive camping can be much more than just a vacation. It can become your way of life.
Understanding Primitive Camping (Backcountry Camping)
Primitive camping differs from car camping or RV camping in several ways. For one thing, you typically aren't able to reserve and pay for a backcountry camping site in advance. Although some states, such as New York, do offer designated camping areas, most do not. Instead, you're allowed to camp anywhere in a state forest or park, as long as you are a certain distance from water, trails, and roads.
The other big difference between primitive camping and other forms of camping is the amenities available. When you book a site a public or privately owned campground, you're usually paying for features such as a bathroom, fire pit, and running water. If you're in an RV, you also get a sewage and electrical hookup. None of that is available when you simply hike into the woods and set up a camp.
Finding Backcountry Campsites
Generally speaking, you can go primitive camping in forests, in the backcountry or backwoods areas of some national parks, and in state parks. Some state parks have recommended camping areas for primitive campers. These areas might have soil that is naturally compacted and is less likely to be damaged by tent spikes and foot traffic than others.
Usually, you don't drive your car up to a primitive campsite. Instead, you hike into the woods and set up camp. If you are traveling by bicycle, you're able to ride into the woods. Since primitive campsites are available on a first-come, first-served basis, you might need to do some hiking before you find an area that works for you. The only exception is if you arrive at a site after dark. In that case, fellow campers should let you stay overnight, with the understanding that you'll pack up and leave first thing in the morning.
Primitive Camping Rules
Rule one of primitive camping (and outdoor recreation in general) is "leave no trace." The area you camp in should look the same after you leave as it did before you arrived. That not only means taking any trash with you - it also means choosing a site that won't be easily disturbed by your presence.
The exact rules for how long you can camp in an area vary from place to place. In Pennsylvania, for example, you can only camp for one night without a permit. In New York, you can camp for up to three nights without permission.
If you've embraced off-the-grid living, primitive camping can help you see the country for free while leaving little or no impact on the world around you.
Sally Keys is a professional freelance writer with many years of experience across many different areas. She made the move to freelancing from a stressful corporate job and loves the work-life balance it offers her. When not at work, Sally enjoys reading, hiking, spending time with her family, and traveling as much as possible.