How often should a troop camp?

tentsA troop committee chair writes:

Our Scoutmaster wants to change our campout schedule so that instead of having monthly campouts, the troop would camp every other month, and do a service project in the months when there isn’t a campout. This doesn’t seem right to me – shouldn’t the Scouts be camping every month?

To start to answer your question, let’s go to the Methods of Boy Scouting and look at the Outdoor Programs method:

Boy Scouting is designed to take place outdoors. It is in the outdoor setting that Scouts share responsibilities and learn to live with one another. It is here that the skills and activities practiced at troop meetings come alive with purpose. Being close to nature helps Boy Scouts gain an appreciation for God’s handiwork and humankind’s place in it. The outdoors is the laboratory for Boy Scouts to learn ecology and practice conservation of nature’s resources.

When a troop program is working properly, the troop meets weekly and the primary purpose of these troop meetings is for the patrols to prepare for the monthly outdoor activity. Plans are made, menus and shopping lists are drawn up, skills are learned and practiced, and responsibilities are defined. It is the monthly campout where the skills and activities are put to use and come alive.

Buried in that definition, and in the process of the outdoor program, lie the larger lessons taught in Scouting. These are the lessons of teamwork, cooperation, self-reliance, leadership and helping others. It’s not just about camping – there may be other good ways to impart these lessons, but camping combines them with exposure to and appreciation for the outdoors (something lacking in most young peoples’ lives) and the fun and camaraderie that goes with being together in a remote location off the grid and away from the distractions of life.

While there is no hard and fast rule about how many campouts a troop must conduct in a year’s time, the Journey to Excellence program gives us some metrics taken from experiences by successful troops. A troop that meets the basic performance level (Bronze) holds at least four short-term campouts a year, while a high-performing troop (Gold) holds at least nine.

Another consideration favoring monthly campouts is that some of the rank requirements state that certain things must be done “on a campout”. An example would be the First Class cooking requirement to serve as your patrol’s cook on one campout. If a patrol has six Scouts, it would take a year for each one to fulfill this requirement if the troop only camped every other month. Having fewer campouts means fewer opportunities to complete these rank requirements.

As for service projects, the JTE suggests that a minimum of three projects are held annually, with Gold troops doing five or more, with one benefiting the chartered organization. (Eagle Scout leadership service projects are considered unit activities, so they would count in your total.) It’s admirable that the Scoutmaster would like to do six service projects a year, but it shouldn’t get in the way of the outdoor program.

I agree with you that the troop should be camping monthly and supplementing it with service projects, but I think the best way to sort this out is to take it to the Scouts. Ask them how often they think the troop should be camping. Lay out the reasoning I explained and ask them to interpret for themselves the meaning of the outdoor program. It’s a natural outcome of following the annual program and weekly troop meeting plans, and using the troop program planning resources. If the Scouts want to camp monthly, it’s up to the adult leadership to do the things that the adults need to do to help them make it happen.


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3 Replies to “How often should a troop camp?”

  1. Great post. I don’t think a lot of units understand that camping drives the program. I don’t know what we would do in meetings if we weren’t preparing for camping every month. I know some units do merit badges, but that’s not what meetings are for. Merit badges are for outside of the meetings. Camping is where all the magic happens. It’s the culmination of the PLC’s plans.

    I know quite a few units that also feel like they have to do something exciting for each camping trip (like whitewater rafting, zip lining, traveling to museums and history sites). We do that occasionally (once a year), but for most months the Scouts just want to go camping. Many times they don’t care where they go. We also try to make sure that our monthly camping trips are good for all age ranges. If we do something “high adventure” like backpacking in the mountains or canoeing, those trips are done in addition to our monthly camping trip (except for July where we do a high adventure trip).

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge and experience!

    1. Ed,

      I agree with you on merit badges. Although they are part of the advancement requirements for the higher ranks, they are, for the most part, a supplemental element of Scouting and are intended to be done on individual initiative by a Scout (and his buddy, often). Troops that do merit badges as part of their troop meetings could be taking time away from more important things like skills instruction and interpatrol activities, and allowing adults to have too much influence. A lot of our collective energy goes into merit badges, and summer camp seems to be the epitome of that phenomenon. (For a no-holds-barred opinion on that, listen to Clarke Green’s podcast from last week.)

      “Fun” campouts, like the ones you describe, are fine from time to time, but I agree that troops shouldn’t try for a “wow” factor in each campout. When a campout is based around such an activity, like a museum trip, cave tour, skiing or similar, the patrol method suffers and adults will step in to do too much of what Scouts would be doing on a normal campout. Once or twice a year is probably good, or as a reward for a major accomplishment like a successful recruiting campout, but this sort of thing shouldn’t be a regular part of the program. And as you suggest, neither should a high-adventure activity that all Scouts cannot participate in, unless the older-Scout patrol does something like a training hike while the regular and new-Scout patrols are doing their own thing.

      Thanks for your comment!

  2. Frank,

    I’m an avid Clarke Green follower. I’ve learned so much from both you and Clarke over the last couple years (and Clarke has provided some one-on-one advice a couple times). There so much of Scouting that you can’t get from the training programs. You need to have mentors (like you and Clarke) that point you in the right direction and provide assurances that everything will work out (but it will never be perfect). I don’t know what I would have done without guys like you sharing your own experiences. Now I’m trying to “pay it forward” with other adult leaders.

    Thank you!

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