Overview of Scouts BSA Outdoor Program


Outdoor adventure is the promise made to young people when they join Scouting. Boys and girls 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:

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

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

Patrol activities—A Scout patrol may hike or camp with other patrols in the unit or, with the permission of their Scoutmaster and parents or guardians, may hike or camp on their own outing, with appropriate 2-deep adult leadership.

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.

Qualified Leadership


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 Scouting trips, activities and outings. Sufficient adult leadership must be provided on all trips and outings based on the total number of youth attending.

Youth Protection

All volunteers and adults attending Scout trips, activities and outings are expected to conform tobehavior that reflects Scouting’s high standards and traditional values and complies fully with the BSA’s Barriers to Abuse and Youth Protection.

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 boys 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.


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
  • 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

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.

Scouts BSA 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.


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.