Why we choose primitive campsites

Camping in the summertime gets us out of the southwest desert heat (we left our driveway at 9:30 am with a 90* temperature, and two hours later, at an altitude of 9,000′, it was 57* and rainy), it allows our children to experience new things, gives them an opportunity to test their developing skills, abilities and limits, and camping provides great family bonding time.

Our preferred campsite location is one that is primitive, but the purpose of our recent overnight excursion was to “practice” camping in an established campsite in close proximity to other people. We stayed in a private, 200-acre pay-to-fish and camp location offering areas for RVs and tents. 

Just as we secured our spot (first come, first serve), an afternoon mountain thunderstorm hit, complete with pea-size hail. So, we waited it out, and fed everyone lunch in the truck. Thankfully, I’d prepared everyone PB&Js in advance, so lunch was easy to grab quickly from our ice chest in the back of the tuck. 

After lunch, the rain began to clear, and with the kids still strapped in their seats, Will and I braved the diminishing sprinkles to set up our new tent. 

After our last outdoor adventure, we decided we feel more comfortable tent camping with our preschoolers, at least for the next four to five years. That decision prompted us to sell our pop-up and purchase a family-size tent. We went with a nine-person, 10’x14′ Coleman instant tent. It boasts a 60-second set up.  

For our first time, and considering set-up took place while it was still sprinkling, it took approximately three minutes. I’m sure with practice, we’ll master the 60-second set-up!  

From the moment we arrived and I realized the camping situation, to the rain and PB&Js in the truck, I was sure I’d be sharing some sort of humorous camping story. But, after we got settled into our camp, I quickly realized why we chose primitive campsites. 

So, the following are our top five reasons for primitive camping!

1. “Business” is better in the woods

The particular campground in which we stayed had one facility to accommodate, well, who knows how many people. The women’s restroom had three showers, two toilets and three sinks with running water. Elsewhere, scattered about the 200 acres, were banks of port-a-potties. At least they came well equipped with toilet paper (double-ply, too). Nonetheless, I prefer selecting a tree over sharing the same spot with multiple two-legged animals. Plus, the stench of the port-a-potties seems to linger for some time after exiting the facility. Yuck! Which, brings me to the next point…

2. Less pollution 

It had been years since we camped in an established campground, so I was a bit overwhelmed by all the people and all the pollution! 

Noise pollution. Multiple campsites had music blaring continuously and, in the background, we heard the steady whirs from generators. Quiet hours in the park were from 10 pm to 8 am, which meant we could only enjoy the true sounds of nature during these hours. But, we were awakened by obnoxious laughing and music 2am, as opposed to being awaken by the bugle of a bull elk or the gobble of a nearby turkey at a primitive location. 

Visual pollution. The view from our campsite was actually quite serene, but it was hard to focus on nature with so many visual distractions. The campsite below us brought a flatscreen TV, the campsite above us enjoyed their music, to the front was a camping trailer – the ones that woke us up at 2am – and to the rear (about 100 yards) were the port-a-potties. My two kiddos and I even took a large perimeter hike up a steep hill and around the boundary of the grounds to explore, and not once did we feel alone with nature. 

I’ve already mentioned the disgusting port-a-potties, which are definitely pollutants to the eyes and nose – ugh. So, I’ll wrap-up this section by mentioning the guidelines we follow when camping – whether at an established or primitive site. 

“If you pack it in, pack it out.” This means that whatever you bring to camp, make sure it leaves with you. We typically do a final “sweep” of our campsite before departure to ensure nothing is left behind. This includes trash, especially the pesky little pieces of trash such a cola can tabs or bottle tops. And, another important rule of thumb is “always leave the campsite in better condition than which you found it.” While we are “sweeping” our site, we always pick up any trash that others have left behind. Occasionally, we even stop to look around abandoned campsites and pick up trash, and we sometimes find lost treasures! My son has found Hot Wheels, and my husband always seems to find knives and tools!

3. Solitude is wonderful

We get away and escape to nature to be alone as a family. We love our little family unit, and being “alone” in the forest strengthens our family bond. We’re able to unplug and focus on one another without the distractions of work, household chores and all the responsibilities that come with being an adult. We can play, laugh, explore and learn together. 

4. More freedom

When we primitive camp, there’s typically no one around. Additionally, we camp a distance from any major road. This means, we have the freedom to hike around our camp, and we can let our children roam and explore – within reason. On this particular campout, we had to set boundaries closer to our camp. There were strangers in close proximity, unfamiliar animals and frequent traffic within the park. Primitive camping allows our family to more freely enjoy the outdoors. 

5. Self reliance 

Finally, being in the outdoors causes you to strengthen your inner being. It’s a real sense of pride knowing you and your family have the tools, knowledge and abilities to endure Mother Nature. Primitive camping means bringing enough water for your family as opposed to relying on available facilities. It means hunting for kindling and chopping your own firewood as opposed to buying it from the front office. And, of course, it means being smart about your surroundings and being comfortable on your own without the safety net of strangers. 

The adage “dilution is the solution to pollution” is the perfect summary for why we choose primitive campsites! What do you think – campground or primitive campsite?! Why do you prefer one over the other? We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences.


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