Traditional Scouting 101 – Camp Programs

When election time comes around, I sometimes find it frustrating watching different politicians debate. Many of them have great things to say about what they want to accomplish if they’re elected, but I often want more details. I want to know how the results they describe will actually be accomplished step-by-step. I like plans, not pipe-dreams.

I imagine many Scouts and Scouters feel the same way when they hear people like me talking about the big-picture principles of traditional Scouting or read about it online. It’s all well and good to talk about. It sounds great, but how is it actually accomplished? What are the gritty details? Where are the step-by-step directions?

I could answer both ‘no’ and ‘yes’. You’ve probably heard the ‘no’ before: Traditional Scouting isn’t a cookbook recipe to success. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. There aren’t overnight triumphs. I’ve talked about this plenty of times before. It’s important to understand this… But have you heard the ‘yes’ answer?

The principles of traditional Scouting are applied principles. They were meant to be acted upon. Unlike some politicians, the men who established Scouting were ready to back up their vision by saying, “Here’s how it’s done; now go try it yourself!”

There are specific ways you can start applying the ‘big-picture’ principles in your Troop right now. That’s what this article is about. In the last article in the “Traditional Scouting 101” series, I talked about the wilderness and what it meant to the original Scouts. In this post, I want to see how that can be directly applied to your next camping trip.

Theories must be tested and proven in the field.
Theories must be tested and proven in the field.

Having a purpose

Scouts go camping with a purpose. Very little will be accomplished if there is no defined object in view. Before each camping trip, the Scout leaders (hopefully with the advice and guidance of the Scouters) should decide specifically what the outing’s goal is.

For example: A camping trip’s goal could be achieving First Class first-aid proficiency for the whole Troop. Or, it could be exploring a new state park or wildlife refuge. Or, it could be developing and practicing emergency response procedures for different emergencies such as a fire, a lost civilian, etc.

There is a virtually unlimited amount of different purposes your Troop could have. Whatever you choose for your next camping trip, make it something ambitious, challenging, Scouting-centered, and cool!

The theme of the next camping trip will give direction to Troop and Patrol meetings.

Remember, in traditional Scouting scout-work is done out in the field. Meetings are not the focus; they exist to plan and prepare for the next outing. The purpose of the next camping trip, whatever it is, will guide all of the logistics and preparation leading up to the camp.

For example: If the purpose is to explore a new camp, you’ll of course want to pick a place that hasn’t been visited before, and has an optimum collection of interesting features that can be explored on foot in the amount of time you have available. Then, in the weeks leading up to the camp, the PLC can cater all the Patrol and Troop meetings to practice such things as map reading, using a compass, running endurance, observation, etc.

For example: Suppose the purpose of the camp is focused on first-aid. You’d want to pick a place that has landscape features which can be used for realistic drills. So when a patrol is hiking and one of the Scouts ‘slips’ down into a ravine and ‘breaks’ his leg, the situation/competition will have an element of realism. All the Patrols will also prepare in the preceding weeks by inspecting their first aid kits, practicing splints, etc.

Camps must have a purpose and a plan.
Camps must have a purpose and a plan.

The Agenda: Camp Duties

There a lot more to a camp than just the main theme, though. If it’s run right, every single camping trip should be a challenge in itself. In addition to the specific goal that is chosen, there is a universal goal to all camping trips – practicing camping.

Do the Patrols each have their separate areas to set up camp? How are their cooking and cleaning stations laid out? Each time, the Patrol Leader should try to make the camp set-up quicker and better. When planning the camp plan, don’t neglect setting aside some time to focus on all the little things that make up a well-run Scout camp.

For example: set aside some specific time to set up camp, build camp gadgets, clean, etc. Even better, you could also have an inter-Patrol competition on camp layout or camp gadgets. You could hold Patrol inspections or cooking competitions. There are all sorts of ways to make the regular camp ‘chores’ more exciting and fun.

Camp duties can be fun, too!
Camp duties can be fun, too!

The Agenda: Training

The next item that should take up space on the camp agenda is dedicated training and practice in the subject that has been chosen for the camp’s purpose. Scout training is made up of two parts: Instruction and Competition.


There is far too much to say about Scout skill instruction to be all included in this article, but here is a brief sketch of a few of the main principles:

Variety: Training shouldn’t be just one narrow focus for an hour straight. It’s better to go over something quickly and then go back to review it than to belabor the topic to boredom

Scout-Led: Where possible always have Scouts train other Scouts on the topics. For one, it increases skill in teaching and grows group dynamics. For two, the most effective way (by far) to learn something and retain it in your mind is to teach someone else.

Learn by doing: Never try to teach something unless you’ve got everything you need right there to demonstrate and guide Scouts in doing it. Lecturing how to apply a splint is utter boredom. Actually creating the splint yourself is fun!

Instruction is best done by the Scouts themselves.
Instruction is best done by the Scouts themselves.


After instruction comes practice. This is a step that, in my experience, isn’t given near enough attention. How often have I been on a Board of Review for a Star or Life Scout who completely forgot most (if not all) of the earlier rank requirements! The reason skills are forgotten is that they are not used. But reviewing skills doesn’t need to be a drudgery! While training his army Scouts, Baden-Powell discovered that creative competitions turn practice into a sport!

Again, much more could be written about running Scout competitions than I have the space for in this article, but here are a few factors to start the brainstorming:

Scope: Competitions don’t all have to be short, one-time events. Tournaments are a great way to build suspense and stretch out the relevance over a period of time. It could last over the few days of a camping trip or even over several months.

Title: The honor and recognition of the winner of a competition is an important part of increasing it’s value and importance. Even if it’s something small, some form of formal recognition can be a huge part of making a competition worthwhile.

Prize: Of course, the most tangible form of motivation in a competition is the prize. The prize shouldn’t be exemption from certain duties (That encourages a negative attitude toward what should be tasks that all Scouts learn to accept willingly. It’s for that reason that these duties shouldn’t be used as punishments either.). Rather, prizes should be some bonus or perk. Food is always a favorite as well as getting the place of honor in some activity.

Use creativity in competitions, and keep them varied. They will form great traditions in your Troop and help establish an active Troop culture.

Competitions are often the highlight of the event!
Competitions are often the highlight of the event!

The Agenda: Recreation

Besides regular camp duties and Scout skill training based upon the camp’s theme, it’s also important to include planned recreation activities during a Scout camp. These could be just about anything. Sports, miscellaneous Scout games, canoeing, hiking… you name it!

These can also be loosely based around the overall purpose of the camp, if applicable.

For example: If the camp’s purpose is to explore a new camp, then observation and tracking games go great with that. There are many great games in “Scouting for Boys” to start off with.

Although in my experience it is much easier to err on the side of forgetting the purposeful training that should be in a Scout camp, it is also possible to focus too much on that at the expense of recreation. In a properly run Scout camp, the line between training and recreation should be very hard to tell. In Scouting, both work hand-in-hand and are often one and the same.

The Agenda: Unscheduled

Baden-Powell often insisted that Scout camps should not be run in a military-like manner. At the time Scouting was started, there were other youth organizations that were modeled directly from the military. They would pitch all their tents in neat rows, they would march in formation, and every bit of their schedule would be dictated by their officers.

Scouting, Baden-Powell stated, was different. While he included some elements of drill and discipline that were military-esque, Baden-Powell believed in both the independence of individual Patrols and encouraging the personal responsibility and individuality of each Scout.

With that in mind, it’s important to not make the schedule so rigid that there aren’t times for unscheduled relaxation, games, and goofing off. Many of the best memories I have of camps came from unscheduled times – like being able to just see a mountain outside of camp and say to my Patrol: “Hey, let’s go climb that thing!” or impromptu story-telling around the campfire at night.

So, when planning your next camping trip make sure to include (in addition to all the training activities) blocks of time that are for the Patrols to do anything they want to do.

You never know what might happen during unstructured Patrol time!
You never know what might happen during unstructured Patrol time!


So if you follow these practical guidelines in planning your next camp, you can see how they directly apply the traditional Scouting principles we’ve talked about so far. There is a real purpose, and Scouts get the chance to do something important on the outing. There are real challenges that Scouts have to overcome.

At the beginning of this article, I set out to show how the traditional principles of Scouting can be applied right now for any Troop. I hope I succeeded and passed on some great ideas that you will find invaluable on your next camping trip.

The principles of Scouting are applied principles. In order to work, they must be applied to a real Troop in a real time. Things will never be completely smooth – there will be challenges and ups and downs. But these principles are time-tested and true. They have worked for decades and are working right now in many Troops around the world.

If you found this article helpful, please share it with Scouts and Scouters you know. I need your help to spread information about traditional Scouting as far as possible! You can share it via email or social media using the little buttons below the post. If you haven’t already, make sure to subscribe by putting your email in the little box on the right-hand sidebar. That way you won’t miss future articles and resources.

Thank you for reading!

Scout On!

Traditional Scouting 101

Part 1 – Introduction

Part 2 – The Vision of the Scout

Part 3 – The Challenge of the Wilderness

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SM Curtis

Excellent post. Thank you!