Outdoor adventure is the promise made to boys when they join Scouting. Boys yearn for outdoor programs that stir their imagination and interest.
In the outdoors, boys 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 a boy as he learns 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 or squad, and their troop or team.
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 it 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 is 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.
Scouting’s Outdoor Program—Ever-Increasing Challenge Out-of-Doors
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:
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 Boy Scout patrol or Varsity Scout squad may hike or camp with other patrols or squads in the unit or, with the permission of their Scoutmaster and parents or guardians, may hike or camp on their own.
Weekend overnights—Troops that plan and carry out outings once a month attract and retain boys 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 Scout camping includes at least five nights and six days of fun outdoor activities.
Jamborees—Every four or five 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 January 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 Program, based in northern Minnesota with two satellite bases in Canada, provides a variety of canoe treks and programs. Philmont Scout Ranch and the Double H Ranch in the mountains of New Mexico provide excellent backpacking treks. 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.
Two-Deep Leadership Required
It is the policy of the Boy Scouts of America that trips and outings may never be led by only one adult. At a minimum, two registered adult leaders or one registered adult leader and a parent of a participant, one of whom must be at least 21 years of age, are required for all trips and outings. Sufficient adult leadership must be provided on all trips and outings based on the total number of youth attending.
Standards for Privacy on Trips or Outings
All volunteers and adults attending Scout outings are expected to conform to behavior that reflects Scouting’s high standards and traditional values. Male and female leaders require separate sleeping facilities unless they are married and appropriate facilities are available.
Male and female youth participants must not share the same sleeping facilities. When tents are used, no youth will stay in the tent of an adult other than his or her parent or guardian. When housing other than tents is used, separate housing must be provided for male and female participants. Adult male leaders must be responsible for the male participants, and the female leaders are responsible for the female participants.
Adult leaders need to respect the privacy of the youth members in situations where the youth are changing clothes or taking showers, and intrude only to the extent that health and safety require. Adults need to protect their own privacy in similar situations.
Although it is not mandatory, councils are strongly encouraged to have separate shower and latrine facilities for females. In camps where separate facilities are not available, separate shower schedules for males and females should be posted. Use the buddy system for latrine use by having one person wait outside the entrance, or use signs on doors to signify “occupied” or “unoccupied.”
Outdoor Activity Tips
The Scoutmaster Handbook, No. 33009C
Guide to Safe Scouting, No. 34416D
- Obtain permission from parents or guardians for activities that are held away from the regular unit meeting places.
- Understand the local council’s policies regarding filing tour permits for unit outings. File a local tour permit application, No. 34426E, when necessary, or if the trip is longer than 500 miles, file a national tour permit application, No. 34419. For more information on tour permits, see Tours and Expeditions, No. 33737D.
- 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.
- Use the buddy system. Coach the boys in advance on what to do if they get lost.
- Carry a first-aid kit and make sure someone is qualified to use it. Be prepared with emergency procedures.
- Arrange adequate and safe transportation.
- Always leave a site in its natural condition.
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:
- 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. 21-105. Also see Teaching Leave No Trace on this Web site.
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
- Ability groups
- Buddy system
- Qualified supervision
- Physical fitness
- Swimming ability
- Personal flotation equipment
- Buddy system
- Skill proficiency
- Qualified supervision
- Physical fitness
- Plan ahead
- Gear up
- Communicate clearly and completely
- Monitor conditions
Climb on Safely
- Qualified supervision
- Qualified instructors
- Physical fitness
- Safe area
- Environmental conditions
For more detailed information on these training opportunities visit the BSA Web site or refer to Safe Swim Defense, No. 34370A; Safety Afloat Training Outline, No. 34159C; Trek Safely, No. 20-125; or Climb On Safely, No. 20-099B.
Boy Scout Outdoor Awards
Totin’ Chip—This card, No. 34234B, indicates that a Scout has demonstrated proper handling, care, and use of the pocketknife, ax, and saw.
Paul Bunyan Woodsman—This card, No. 34235A, and corresponding patch recognize that a Scout has used woods tools skills to accomplish one of several beneficial projects.
Firem’n Chit—This card, No. 34236B, signifies that a Scout has read the fire use and safety section in the Boy Scout Handbook and accepts responsibility for fire safety.
Historic Trails Award—This embroidered patch, No. 00188, or leather patch, No. 00244, is earned when a Scout studies about a historic trail, hikes and camps along it, performs a public service project, and completes the Historic Trails Award application, No. 34408A.
Fifty-Miler Award—This embroidered patch, No. 00187, or leather patch, No. 00243, is earned when a Scout hikes, paddles, bikes, or rides horseback for at least 50 miles over five consecutive days, performs 10 hours of service, and completes the Fifty-Miler Award application, No. 34408A.
Leave No Trace—A Leave No Trace awareness patch, No. 8630, may be awarded to Scouts who learn about the principles of Leave No Trace, demonstrate them on three different overnight outings, assist others in learning about Leave No Trace, and complete the Leave No Trace Award application, No. 21-105. There is also an adult version of this award.
Keep America Beautiful—A Scout who earns three merit badges from a list of 12 choices, completes a minimum of eight hours of community service, and completes the Keep America Beautiful Award application, No. 21-377, is eligible to wear the Hometown USA award patch, No. 00356.
World Conservation Award—This distinctive panda patch, No. 00140, is earned by Scouts who complete the Environmental Science, Citizenship in the World, and either Soil and Water Conservation or Fish and Wildlife Management merit badges, and complete the World Conservation Award application, No. 21-156.
Conservation Good Turn—Scout units that perform a meaningful conservation project and complete the Conservation Good Turn Award application, No. 21-386, may be awarded a Conservation Good Turn certificate, No. 21-389A.
Hornaday Awards—There are seven different William T. Hornaday Awards that may be earned by Boy Scouts, Varsity Scouts, and adult Scouters. The Silver and Bronze medals are the highest, most distinguished youth conservation awards. Each medal requires earning a number of merit badges and performing three (Bronze) or four (Silver) conservation projects that demonstrate research, planning, leadership, involvement of others, and a positive impact on the local community. For more information, visit http://old.scouting.org, click on Boy Scouting and then click on Awards to view the entire Hornaday Award information and download applications.
Outdoor knowledge and skills are highlighted throughout Scouting literature. Publications that are most pertinent to Boy Scout outdoor activities include:
The Boy Scout Handbook, No. 33105—Organized by the levels of rank advancement, the Boy Scout Handbook guides a Scout through levels of outdoor skills development leading to the highest rank of Eagle Scout.
Fieldbook, No. 33104—The Fieldbook is a comprehensive resource providing knowledge about nature and the elements, outdoor activities, and skills. It includes sections on Leadership and Trek Preparation, Leaving No Trace, Trek Adventures, and Appreciating Our Environment.
Passport to High Adventure, No. 4310—Designed to empower a unit to prepare for a council, national, or unit high-adventure experience, this guidebook contains information about trip planning, travel and budget, equipment, skills, trail procedures, and trek safety. A list of current council high-adventure programs can be found on the Internet at http://old.scouting.org/boyscouts/directory.
Nationally Approved Historic Trails— The Boy Scouts of America publishes a compendium of historic trails operated by Scout councils throughout the United States. See Nationally Approved Historic Trails, No. 20-135, or visit http://old.scouting.org and click on Boy Scouting and then Activities.
Okpik: Cold-Weather Camping, No. 34040—This book provides information on camping comfortably in cold weather by wearing proper clothing, eating nutritious food, and staying hydrated. Techniques for constructing a variety of snow shelters and traveling across the snow are also featured.
Knots and How To Tie Them, No. 33170—This booklet describes how to tie various knots, hitches, and lashings commonly used in outdoor activities.
Topping Out, No. 32007—Designed primarily for BSA climbing directors and instructors, this manual describes and illustrates recommended techniques for top-rope climbing, belaying, and rappelling, including anchoring and climbing movements.
Project COPE manual, No. 34371C—This manual describes facilities and equipment for council low and high course Project COPE activities that help develop communications, planning, teamwork, trust, leadership, decision making, problem solving, and self-esteem in the participants.