The Purposeful Camp
I was buying into a certain way of thinking about camps that I have since found to be inaccurate. The way of thinking goes like this: “The most important thing about Scout Camping is where you camp. The more exciting the setting, the funner the camp. The more commonplace the setting, the more boring the camp.”
The more I read and researched, the more I started to come to the conclusion that: where you camp is really only a small part of it. The most important factor is what you do on a camping trip and how the camp is conducted.
Earlier this week, I introduced a post series on the topic of Boring Scout Camps. I’ve seen camping trips become something akin to very expensive field trips to prevent this. But I’ve also read how Camps were considered in the dawn of Scouting, and I think we’re missing something. I believe we’ve forgotten How to camp.
In the early days the rule was: camp small, camp often. Here’s an excerpt from a 1935 book called “Weekend Camps and Hikes” by C. H. Young:
“There are few young people to-day who do not love the outdoor life of Scouting. It appeals to those full of adventure and imagination, and gives an outlet for their abundance of energy where they will be of least annoyance to others. Yet, how often one encounters the surprising decrease of enthusiasm in some who have come to discover, through their own fault mainly, that their camping and hiking have not been all that they had hoped for. They were far from co
mfortable especially when the weather was not too kind to them, and they have abandoned what might have been a most enjoyable adventure with all its abundant opportunities. When one investigates one finds that they had imagined that all you had to do was to procure a certain amount of camping equipment, find a camp site and all would be well.
The game of Scouting is really setting out to follow the aims and ambitions of the old pioneers and backwoodsmen, and that is an outdoor job. Though this may often involve a certain amount of indoor preparation, camping, and camping properly, is the real Scouting in the full sense of the word. The more one camps the more one learns about camping, for experience is the finest teacher in the world. There is never a camper yet that was, or is, too old to learn much more about camping, new gadgets for his comfort, new ideas and new labor saving devices. …
In this form of camping [hiking and weekend camping] there is much that is different from the standing week camp, and those young fellows whose main camping experience has been limited to such will, I hope, find much to ponder over. It will be those who set off in their two’s and three’s who will derive most benefit and camping experience, yet there are probably many keen camping Patrols of six or eight who may find something they can introduce in their series of week-end camps.”
Before I go on, I want to take a few minutes to tell about the Patrol Camp. In the early days of Scouting, the main diet of Scout Camping was the Patrol Camp. This was when a Patrol got together, planned the trip, and camped all by themselves without the rest of the Troop. Things didn’t always go right, but the Scouts were trained to handle anything that came up. The real responsibility was put upon the Patrol, and specifically, the Patrol Leader.
These camps obviously couldn’t big very big or very far away. They couldn’t go climb mountains or travel miles in canoes for practical reasons. Yet despite this, Scouts loved camping! In fact, John Thurman, in his “Patrol Leader Handbook” had to make sure to pass along this advice:
“Incidentally, don’t try to camp every week-end; you have a home and you have a church, I hope. Overdoing anything is a mistake.”
“It is the spirit in which you camp that is really going to matter. Make sure that for your Patrol your camp is one of ‘known delight’; something to which in the years ahead they will look back and will remember and for which they will thank you, as a host of old Scouts, now middle-aged, think back to the happy memories of their Patrol camps.”
This was the Patrol system in action. These days, there are technicalities that prevent things from being exactly as they were in the way of complete Patrol autonomy, but the spirit of Patrol responsibility can certainly exist today. With creativity, we can create the same spirit and environment in our Patrols; there aren’t any excuses!
The first thing to learn about Camping is the importance of Camping with a purpose. C. H. Young says in “Weekend Camps and Hikes”:
“Continually camping in the same old humdrum way will soon damp the enthusiasm of a Patrol. Yet there are many changes that can be made and a hundred and one different things a Patrol can attempt that will save their camp from being commonplace, provide some really good fun, and give the camp a real object.
Some of the suggestions here, I hope, will give something to remember the camp by and make the camp log records interesting reading. It should be the aim of every Patrol Leader not to let his Patrol camping get in a rut. He and his Patrol should not be content to read and dream big things, but get up and do them. He will be agreeably surprised at the success of his Patrol’s efforts.”
When the focus of camping is solely on where the camp the camp is located, then there is really nothing else to look forward to other than seeing the sights. Scouting, of course, is an active life. This is especially appealing to boys because boys love to actively do things! That is why there should be a definite objective to each camping trip. It might be Exploring. It might be Pioneering, Tracking, or many other things.
The point is: a Purposeless camp is a Boring camp. Whether it is a Patrol camp in a hometown wooded area or a Troop camp at the Grand Canyons, a good Scout camp should have a Scout-planned objective.
I started out making this post cover a lot more topics, but I found out it would take too much time! Fortunately, this is a Series, so I’m looking forward to exploring a lot deeper into how real Scout camping should look. One thing is for sure: It is far from boring!
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Thank you for reading! If you know any other Scouts and Scouters who you think would find this interesting, I’d appreciate it if you’d share this with them. And as always, I’d love to hear your thoughts; just leave a comment in the box below.