Have You Met Your Camping Avatar?

As Scouts, camping is an important part of our identity. At some point, you went on your first camping trip… then you went on the next one… and then the next. These experiences became memories which in turn shaped your understanding of the true purpose of Scout camping. Because of the different experiences we’ve each had with camping, we all have developed different expectations for what the perfect camping trip would look like.

These underlying assumptions are held subconsciously by the majority of us. However, our expectations are very important. If we are expecting too much out of the wilderness experience, we will always be let down. If we expect too little, we will never tap the full potential. If our expectations are different from the other Scouters and/or Scouts, then inevitably conflict will result from the divergent pursuits.

Allow me to introduce you to five men – each with a profoundly different approach to camping and the outdoors. Each would tell you that their approach is the best, and each would be quick to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the others’ viewpoints.These men are archetypes (‘avatars’ if you will), and through them, we will hopefully learn something important about ourselves.

For those of us who are Scouters, we will also find that conscious thought on this subject will enable us to set and guide the expectations of the Scouts under us in a way that captures and motivates them.

Steve the Keen-Eyed Tourist

Steve is a nice guy with a great personality. He proudly considers himself a camping hedonist. He actively seeks out the different wildernesses around him in order to gaze upon their beauties and experience the sights, sounds, and smells that they have to offer. Steve is attracted to the bigger spectacles. He’s all for finding the most exotic camps within driving distance. Steve doesn’t tend to visit the same camp often. Once he’s been there and has seen what there is to see, he moves on to find the next experience.

Steve is very practical in his choice of camping equipment. He doesn’t spend much time in the camping store, but if he finds something that makes his travels more convenient and comfortable, he’ll buy it. He doesn’t spend extra time researching the best gear or more advanced camping techniques. Ultralight camping isn’t really his thing. During camping trips, he doesn’t do much in the way of day-programs and such. Rather, he structures the trip around experiencing as much of the attractions as possible.

When others criticize his approach, he maintains that new and grand experiences have always been one of the main attractions of Scout camping and they should always remain so. His critics agree but insist that he is missing so much by taking such a shallow approach.

John the Pioneering Summer-Camper.

The other four consider John to be a rather bland guy, but he believes that he is the most true to Scouting’s history. He has a strong bias to camp at repeat locations. Instead of bigger and better views, he puts all of his effort into developing a really solid camp program full of activities, learning, and games. As to gear, he prefers the older, heavier, more durable kind. Cast iron dutch ovens are his culinary swiss army knife. Most of the time, John will stick with the good old campfire. If he does break out a propane stove, it will be his dad’s suitcase-sized Coleman.

Pioneering is one of the primary activities of the camp. John doesn’t bring a lot of gear with him, but during the course of the trip, all different types of improvements will sprout up from ropes and staves – camp chairs, flag-poles, tables, canopies, etc…

When criticized, John points to historical Scouting to prove that his tack is most faithful to what the founders envisioned. He says that Scouts might find his camp less attractive at times, but they will always come away having a good time and learning something new.

Bill the Naturalist and Survivalist

Bill is seen as the odd one of the group, but he’s okay with that. When it comes to knowledge of trees, wild animals, and edible plants he is by far the winner. Leisurely nature hikes are a staple of every camp. He usually frequents the same camps and wildlife refuges, but he occasionally ventures out to explore someplace new.

When it comes to gear, Bill is an adamant minimalist. He prefers to sleep under the stars in clear weather. If there is a threat of rain, a lightweight tarp is all he needs for shelter. The vast majority of his meals are cooked in a lightweight propane stove. He occasionally brings along an alcohol stove he made himself out of tin cans. When the campgrounds are favorable to a fire, he never lights it with matches. He will break out his old flint and steel or practice up on his friction starting techniques.

Bill has two goals for every camping trip. The first is to relish the challenge of making himself at home with the least possible amount of gear. The lighter the pack, the better. He competes with himself each time to do better than the last. The second goal is to savor the wilderness as richly as possible. Following the tracks of animals, sketching different birds, collecting samples of various plants – all these help immerse him in the beauty of creation.

The others don’t have the patience he has, or so they say. They all kind of admire his simple way of camping, but very few of the boys (especially the younger ones) seem attracted to his modus operandi. He continues regardless.

Wayne the Epic Adventurer

“Go big or go home.” That’s Wayne’s motto. High adventure is his bread and butter. He would rather save for one or two big trips a year than go on many small ones to the local state park. He has the patches to prove it: Philmont, The Smokies, Yosemite… The list goes on. But he doesn’t go these places for the nice view. “That’s what Google Earth is for.” The more adrenaline a certain activity triggers, the more perfect it is. Whitewater rafting? Been there. Spelunking? Done that.

Wayne spends a lot of time in the camping store and online researching the very best gear to buy. He knows nothing else besides lightweight camping, but the price of his kit far outweighs any of the others’. Titanium cookware is the only way to go. Hey, even his sleeping bag is high-tech.

Wayne is definitely the popular one with the Scouts. He isn’t reticent in pointing that out to the others either. They are quick to express disapproval with the low frequency of his outings, though. In addition, a lot of the Scouts can’t go on the longer, more expensive trips.

Sam the Easy-Going Diversionist

Sam tells the best stories. He’s the oldest of the bunch and has the most experience under his belt. For late fireside chats, there is none in higher demand. However, Sam actually doesn’t go very far from the campfire all that often. His vision of the outdoors can be summed up in two words: peace and relaxation.

When everyone retires to their tents, you can hear the sound of a battery-powered air pump from Sam’s direction inflating his queen-sized camping mattress. His gear is about as opposite of lightweight as you can get.

He’s always cheerful, and he just loves teaching the boys new skills or working with them on first aid. He’s not above getting dirty or doing his fair share of the camp chores. He’s just reached a point where he’d rather have more comfort and less unnecessary movement.

The Scouts love to have him along, and he gets along well with just about everyone. The other guys chuckle and shake their heads, but they secretly wonder if they might become like him someday.

Why Do You Camp?

It would be easy to use this article to convince you which one of these men have the ‘correct’ view of camping. I certainly have a preference for some over others here. That probably shows through my descriptions, but I have tried to show both strengths and weaknesses of each.

None of us fall perfectly into any one of these categories. And these few categories certainly don’t cover the spectrum of possibilities. The purpose of this article is to get all of us thinking more specifically about our vision for Scout camping. Some aspects are personal preference and others are objectively more crucial to what Scout camping should actually be.

For some of us, a vision of the ‘perfect’ Scout camp is clearly emblazoned in our mind’s eye. For others, we may have never thought specifically about what the perfect camp would look like. Here is the chance to think about it and open up a dialogue with other Scouts. Only through discussion can appreciation for other perspectives come. Only thorough dialogue can bring about a certain level of unity.

What’s your vision for camping? Just leave a comment in the box below.

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