Primitive Camping Essentials – The minimalist camping experience

Primitive camping used to be America’s pastime and it has recently seen a resurgence with more of an inclination to really get away, leave the car behind, and head into the backwoods. If this appeals to you, either as leisure or practice, pack your bag and let’s go. But first, a few words on primitive camping essentials to make your time safe and enjoyable. Let’s get started!

Primitive camping is going out into the wilderness with little to no gear and relying on your own skills and abilities to get you through the trip. The following are the essentials for primitive camping:

  • Knife/Saw/Axe
  • Camping Shelter
  • Fire Making
  • Water Purification
  • Rope/Duct Tape
  • Flashlights
  • Map and Compass
  • First Aid Kit
  • Conveyance
  • Primitive Skills

Everyone seems to have their own theory on what primitive camping essentials are but a lot of what a person chooses will be based on their skills and comfort level. For this list, I think it’s better to deal with tasks instead of tools in most cases. One tool can do many tasks so understanding the task at hand will allow us to pick the most versatile tool for the job.

Primitive Camping

Primitive camping is a great way to bridge the gap between our modern world and the lifestyle that our ancestors had. Most of us are severely disconnected from nature but it doesn’t have to be that way!

Let’s look deeper at what you’re going to need to get back to wild living with primitive camping.

Primitive Camping Essentials - The minimalist camping experience
The Gransfors Bruk Hatchet is our favorite for backwoods trekking.


Pretty much the number on everyone’s list are the tools that make doing most tasks outdoors possible. These are your processing tools for wood, rope, animals, cloth or anything else. The knife should be tailored to your skills and needs whether that is a small pocket knife or a larger fixed blade. If you may need to process larger pieces of wood, take a folding saw and small camp axe.


Shelter is really a system more than an item and will need to serve the purposes of keeping you out of the elements and regulating your temperature. Tents are commonplace options but a hammock setup or just a tarp will work to keep you dry when primitive camping. To regulate temperature, your first barrier is your clothing but you should add a sleeping bag or go old school with a good wool blanket.


For overnights in the outdoors, fire may be a necessity. Not only to help keep you warm but also to boil water and cook any food you may have. Go with a simple Bic Lighter or heavy-duty weather-proof matches and some sort of ready dry tinder. Learn how to lay a fire and be efficient in lighting it.


I think of water as a system just like shelter, no one item is really going to do everything I want. Take a good quality, durable container. I prefer steel but hard plastics like HDPE are good choices if you never put the container in a fire. Boiling water will purify it as well as any other method but I prefer to take a small water filter like the Sawyer Mini any time I go into the woods. Water is heavy so I rarely carry more than my immediate needs.

Rope/Duct Tape

Taking some sort of lashing and binding material will go a long way in making things easier for you when primitive camping. I like a small diameter cord with decent strength. Paracord is commonly used and cheap but I have grown to prefer a braided line like throw line used by Arborists. Take some duct tape, I use Gorilla brand, for use in bindings, bandages, repairs, and a variety of other tasks.

Primitive Camping Essentials - The minimalist camping experience
We believe the Black Diamond Spot Headlamp is the best on the market.


Even if you don’t plan to be out after dark, take a light. They weigh little but can be a lifesaver if you get stuck out later than you planned. I prefer handheld lights but headlamps are convenient and work well. Keep a couple of changes of batteries in your pack just in case.

Map & Compass

Whether you are going somewhere you are familiar with or not, take a map and compass when primitive camping. If you are good at map reading, simply memorizing a few key directions may be enough but for the weight, a small map won’t be an inconvenience and can be used as tinder if you need it.

Please get a good quality compass! I have seen the cheap compasses from big box stores be off as much as 15 degrees! If you are an occasional woodsman, I recommend the Eyeskey Waterproof Multifunctional Compass but a more full-featured compass may be better if you spend a lot of time outdoors.

First Aid Kit

I don’t know why more people don’t focus on this item. It’s often left out of a pack to ‘save weight’ or some other ridiculous reason. Put together a good first aid kit and learn how to use it. Your life or the life of someone else may depend on it!

Take a look at our bug out bag article to see what we recommend as a basic first aid kit.


I save this for last because every choice you made above will decide the best method for carrying your gear. We are still in a market where rucksacks are cheap and will do the job well! If you are looking for more comfort, many name brand packs will work exceptionally. If your kit is small, even a shoulder bag or haversack will be enough. Pick something with extra room just to avoid packing headaches.

Primitive Skills

Don’t go into the wilderness without this great survival gear!

Eyeskey Waterproof Multifunctional Compass

Sawyer Mini Water Filtration System

Knowledge weighs nothing and is the most important primitive camping essential! The best knife, first aid kit, or map will do you no good if you don’t know how to use them. Books abound with great advice, I like the Mountaineers Outdoor Basics series. Look for a place that offers quality training and take some classes that will not only provide you with some useful skills but with a like-minded community.

This is just another take on primitive camping that has proved valuable over many nights spent in the woods and one unfortunate slip with an axe. Feel free to add or take away as fits your skill, knowledge, and environment. The more you know, the less you carry so make learning your priority!


Primitive camping essentials are something that many of us have lost. If you feel the need to go primitive camping, you should probably ease into it! Don’t just walk into the woods with a knife and a hatchet and expect things to go well.

Camping is a great way to get your family together and to practice a whole host of survival skills.