The Scouts BSA Outdoor Program

Outdoor adventure is the promise made to boys and girls when they join Scouting. Young people yearn for outdoor programs that stir their imagination and interest.

In the outdoors, they have opportunities to acquire skills that make them more self-reliant. They can explore canoe and hiking trails and complete challenges they first thought were beyond their ability. Attributes of good character become part of them as they learn to cooperate to meet outdoor challenges that may include extreme weather, difficult trails and portages, and dealing with nature’s unexpected circumstances.

Scouts plan and carry out activities with thoughtful guidance from their Scoutmaster and other adult leaders. Good youth leadership, communication, and teamwork enable them to achieve goals they have set for themselves, their patrol, and their troop.

Learning by doing is a hallmark of outdoor education. Unit meetings offer information and knowledge used on outdoor adventures each month throughout the year. A leader may describe and demonstrate a Scouting skill at a meeting, but the way Scouts truly learn outdoor skills is to do them themselves on a troop outing.


Scouting uses the patrol method to teach skills and values. Scouts elect their own patrol leader and they learn quickly that by working together and sharing duties, the patrol can accomplish far more than any of its members could do alone. The patrol succeeds when every member of the patrol succeeds and Scouts learn that good teamwork is the key to success.

Exercise and fitness are part of the outdoor experience. As Scouts hike, paddle, climb, bike, or ride, their muscles become toned and their aerobic capacity increases. When they work as a patrol to plan menus for their outings, they learn to purchase cost-effective ingredients to prepare flavorful and nutritious meals.

Service to others and good citizenship is learned through such outdoor activities as conservation projects, collecting food, building trails and shelters, and conducting community service projects that promote healthy living. Through helping other people, Scouts learn to appreciate how they can share themselves and their blessings to those in need. By giving service to benefit others, Scouts gain a sense of personal satisfaction.

Types of Outdoor Activities

What are typical Scout outdoor activities? For younger Scouts, less-rugged activities are more appropriate as they begin to acquire outdoor knowledge and skills. These may include the following:

Day hikes—Reasonably short hikes (3 to 10 miles) in terrain without a lot of elevation gain or loss.

Service projects—Daylong projects that may be related to conservation, food collection, building shelter, or healthy living activities.

Patrol activities—A Scouts BSA  patrol may hike or camp with other patrols in the unit. Two registered adult leaders 21 years of age or over are required at all Scouting activities, including meetings.

Weekend overnights—Troops that plan and carry out outings once a month attract and retain youth at a much higher level than those that have fewer outings during the year.

Camporees—Councils and districts plan camporees and other outings during the year that give Scouts an opportunity to test their knowledge and skills in competitive events with other troops and patrols.

Summer camp—Summer camp is what many Scouts enjoy most. Camp programs provide numerous opportunities for Scouts to earn merit badges along their advancement trail. Resident camp includes at least five nights and six days of fun outdoor activities.

Jamborees—Every four years, the Boy Scouts of America hosts a National Scout Jamboree. More than 40,000 Scouts and leaders from across the country participate in this 10-day event filled with the most popular and highest quality outdoor activities Scouts enjoy. To participate, a Scout must be at least 12 years of age by July 1 of the jamboree year and be a First Class Scout.

Council high adventure—A high-adventure experience includes at least five nights and six days of trekking in wilderness and other rugged, remote locations. Trekking may include backpacking, canoeing, mountain biking, horse packing, mountain climbing, ski touring, rafting, kayaking, or a host of other outdoor adventures. Participants must be at least 13 years old by Jan. 1 of the year they participate.

National high adventure—The BSA operates national high-adventure bases and programs. With two locations in the Florida Keys, the Florida National High Adventure Sea Base offers a variety of aquatic and boating programs. The Northern Tier National High Adventure, based in northern Minnesota with two satellite bases in Canada, provides a variety of canoe treks and programs. Philmont Scout Ranch in the mountains of New Mexico provides excellent backpacking treks. The Summit Bechtel Reserve in the mountains of West Virginia is the backdrop for Whitewater Rafting in the New River Gorge, High Adventure treks, as well as a Scout camp program for merit badge programs and all around Scouting ad. The Summit Bechtel Reserve is also home to the National Scout Jamboree. 

Age requirements for these programs vary, but most programs are rugged and designed for older Scouts.

Unit high adventure—The highest level of challenge for a troop or team is to plan and carry out its own high-adventure experience. These activities for more experienced Scouts are planned and implemented by youth members with coaching from their adult leaders.

BSA Commitment to Safety

The BSA is committed to the Safety of our youth. To this end, BSA has established guidelines for all Scouting activities and Outings. To learn more about these policies click click here.

Outdoor Activity Tips

  1. Obtain permission from parents or guardians for activities that are held away from the regular unit meeting places.
  2. Be sure to have enough adult leaders for the activity. If feasible, check out the site before the activity. Check on reservation procedures, restrooms, availability of adequate drinking water, and any potential hazards.
  3. Use the buddy system. Coach the youth in advance on what to do if they get lost.
  4. Carry a first-aid kit and make sure someone is qualified to use it. Be prepared with emergency procedures.
  5. Arrange adequate and safe transportation.
  6. Always leave a site in its natural condition.

For more safety tips, review the the Guide to Safe Scouting and the Sweet 16 of BSA Safety.

Accident and Sickness Protection

For questions about current camper accident and sickness insurance, please contact your local council.

Leave No Trace

Every Scouting activity should be planned with Leave No Trace principles in mind. Leave No Trace is a method that prepares Scouts to make ethical choices in the outdoor environment and to respect the rights of other outdoor users, as well as future generations. It’s an awareness and an attitude rather than a set of rules. It applies in your backyard or local park as much as in wilderness or backcountry areas. The principles of Leave No Trace are below:

  • Plan ahead and prepare.
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
  • Dispose of waste properly (pack it in, pack it out).
  • Leave what you find.
  • Minimize campfire impacts.
  • Respect wildlife.
  • Be considerate of other visitors.

For more information, refer to the Principles of Leave No Trace, No. 430-105. Also see Teaching Leave No Trace.


To assure safer outings, the BSA has developed four leader training opportunities. The foundation for safety in any Scouting outdoor program is qualified supervision and discipline, and these two elements are the first and last points for each safety training opportunity. Because fitness is critical to all outdoor activities, it is also included in each safety emphasis.

Safe Swim Defense

  • Qualified supervision
  • Physical fitness
  • Safe area
  • Lifeguards on duty
  • Lookout
  • Ability groups
  • Buddy system
  • Discipline

Safety Afloat

  • Qualified supervision
  • Physical fitness
  • Swimming ability
  • Personal flotation equipment
  • Buddy system
  • Skill proficiency
  • Planning
  • Equipment
  • Discipline

Trek Safely

  • Qualified supervision
  • Physical fitness
  • Plan ahead
  • Gear up
  • Communicate clearly and completely
  • Monitor conditions
  • Discipline

Climb On Safely

  • Qualified supervision
  • Qualified instructors
  • Physical fitness
  • Safe area
  • Equipment
  • Planning
  • Environmental conditions
  • Discipline