Why the Wilderness? – WoS Part 3


Welcome back to Scouting Rediscovered! In this post, I’d like to continue a very interesting series I’m working on about the wilderness and its important role in Scouting. In the first post of this series, I defined the current dilemma of the wilderness’s role in Scouting and laid out what this series would be about. In the second post, I gave a brief history of how camping evolved in the Scouting movement. Now, in this post, I would like to dive into exactly what the benefits of wilderness camping are.

Scout Camping Isn’t a Fad

To start with, let me immediately dismiss the misunderstanding that camping was conceived as a part of Scouting simply because it was an exciting recreation for the boys in the beginning of the 20th century. If this were true, the role of camping in Scouting would be extremely limited in the modern age. After all, the appeal of the wilderness was much more popular among the boys of that time. Many great heroes that the boys looked up to were explorers, pioneers and military leaders. Today, for better or worse, those heroes of the past have, for the most part, been forgotten or replaced by others. And the appeal of the wilderness, which approached almost a ‘fad’ status in the past, has now disappeared from mainstream popularity.

The Big Picture

So if wilderness camping wasn’t chosen to be a big part of Scouting just because it was a popular activity, then why exactly was it chosen? Well, to answer that question, I think it would be fitting to turn you to the words of some of the great men of Scouting’s past.
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“You will find that the object of becoming an able and efficient Boy Scout is not merely to give you fun and adventure but that, like the backwoodsmen, explorers, and frontiersmen whom you are following, you will be fitting yourself to help your country and to be of service to other people who may be in need of help. That is what the best men are out to do.” ( “Scouting for Boys By Lord Baden-Powell of Gilwell, 1908)

In this quote, Baden-Powell explains that the specific methods of Scouting all point toward a purpose, including wilderness camping. It fits into the overall scheme of Scouting in helping to prepare a Scout to do his Duty in an adventurous manner.

The Benefits of Camping

How does camping help this? Well to answer that, let’s look at another more lengthy quote in which Baden-Powell describes more deeply what this Wilderness camping looks like and how it benefits the camper:

Hiking, too, where you go farther afield, exploring new places every day, is a glorious adventure.

It strengthens you and hardens you so that you won’t mind wind and rain, heat and cold. You take them all as they come, feeling that sense of fitness that enables you to face any old trouble with a smile, knowing that you will conquer in the end.

But, of course, to enjoy camping and hiking, you must know how to do it properly. You have to know how to put up a tent or a hut for yourself; how to lay and light a fire; how to cook your food; how to tie logs together to make a bridge or a raft; how to find your way by night, as well as by day, in a strange country, and many other things.

Very few fellows learn these things when they are living in civilized places, because they have comfortable houses, and soft beds to sleep in. Their food is prepared for them, and when they want to know the way, they just ask a policeman.

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Well, when those fellows try to go scouting or exploring, they find themselves quite helpless. Take even your sports “hero” and put him down in the wilderness, alongside a fellow trained in camping, and see which can look after himself. High batting averages are not much good to him there. He is only a “tenderfoot”….

The truth is that men brought up in a civilized country have no training whatever in looking after themselves out on the veldt or plains, or in the backwoods. The consequence is that when they go into wild country they are for a long time perfectly helpless, and go through a lot of hardship and trouble which would not occur if they learned, while boys, to look after themselves in camp. They are just a lot of “tenderfoots”.

They have never had to light a fire or to cook their own food—that has always been done for them. At home when they wanted water, they merely had to turn on the tap—therefore they had no idea of how to set about finding water. … If they lost their way, or did not know the time, they merely had to ask somebody else. They had always had houses to shelter them, and beds to lie in. They had never had to make them for themselves, nor to make or repair their own boots or clothing.

Scout Camp3That is why a “tenderfoot” often has a tough time in camp. But living in camp for a Scout who knows the game is a simple matter. He knows how to make himself comfortable in a thousand small ways, and then, when he does come back to civilization, he enjoys it all the more for having seen the contrast.

And even there, in the city, he can do very much more for himself than the ordinary mortal, who has never really learned to provide for his own wants. The man who has to turn his hand to many things, as the Scout does in camp, finds that when he comes into civilization he is more easily able to obtain employment, because he is ready for whatever kind of work may turn up. (“Scouting for Boys By Lord Baden-Powell of Gilwell, 1908)

This is a rather lengthy quote, but most of it boils down into a couple of very important principles. The first is that the main purpose of wilderness camping is to build self-reliance. In this modern age, our lives are so intertwined and interconnected with many others upon whom we rely on. The ‘invisible hand’, as coined by Adam Smith, works diligently to provide us with all of our necessities and many luxuries that we enjoy.

Building Self-Reliance

Scout Camp7How can one truly build self-reliance in such an age? By going back to the wilderness! Out there, all of the frivolities and amenities are stripped away and one is left with the bare question of survival surrounded by the raw, unforgiving environment of our dear home planet. In that situation, one has to work with just himself and maybe a few others to overcome the obstacles of survival. All the things that we do without thinking in our day-to-day lives become reduced to hard work in providing for our basic needs.

It is easy to become complacent in relying upon society to prop us up and give us comfortable lives. When that happens, we tend to take things for granted. We can easily get our priorities mixed up and lose track of what is really important in our lives. We also build habits: habits of relying on others to pull our load, habits of splurging in excess among the massive feasts of information, food, and entertainment. These habits will lead us away from the Duty that we have sworn to do as Scouts.

The Sanctuary of the Forrest

There is also another benefit of camping in the wilderness. As Scouts, we know that there is a Higher Power outside of the strictly material realm. Yet so often we go through the motions of whatever religion we have become accustomed to and do not think more deeply about this subject. As Baden-Powell believed, the wilderness helps us with that:

“Then there is a spiritual side.

Through sips of nature lore imbibed in woodland hikes the puny soul grows up and looks around. The outdoors is par excellence the school for observation and for realizing the wonders of a wondrous universe.

It opens to the mind appreciation of theScout Camp94 beautiful that lies before it day by day. It reveals to the city youngster that the stars are there beyond the city chimney-pots, and the sunset clouds are gleaming in their glory far above the roof of the “cinema” theater.

The study of nature brings into a harmonious whole the question of the infinite, the historic, and the microscopic as part of the Great Creator’s work.” (“Aids to Scoutmastership” by Lord Baden-Powell of Gilwell, 1920)

We know that we have a duty as Scouts, but why do we have a duty? Why are our beliefs right while others’ are wrong? Perhaps we are wrong? These are questions each person must decide for himself. The wilderness irresistibly draws our focus back from the din of life to these profound questions. And that is a good thing.

The Spirit of Adventure

There is yet another benefit to backwoods camping: to fuel the true spirit of adventure. Here is what John Thurman, an influential British Scouter, said about adventure:

“Nothing worth while was ever achieved except that it was set about adventurously, and whilst it may seem a long way from the small boy and his rope and spar and his 2-foot deep stream to the pioneers and explorers, if we can only set alight in the hearts of our Scouts a real desire to adventure, then this country will continue to bring forth men who are prepared to venture out into every field of human endeavor and to achieve much in fact and in spirit to the ultimate benefit of all.” (“Pioneering Projects” by John Thurman, 1950)

Scout Camp90Now I mentioned earlier that camping has become less appealing to the modern boy. While that may be true to some extent, almost all boys still have a very strong desire for adventure, it is part of our nature and is something that will never change.

However, that spirit of adventure is being slowly quenched by the wet blanket of modern society. Although we wish it wasn’t so, laziness is also a very strong part of our nature. Why should we go off on an uncomfortable and challenging adventure when we can experience one from the comfort of our own sofa via the Xbox or the Playstation?

It is very unfortunate that these and other outlets have satiated so many people’s desire for adventure. While quite entertaining, these things are fake. They have no real risk and they have no real benefit. Real adventure has both. These entertainments are fun, but they do not build character, they don’t equip you with new skills, and they don’t build your real-world-reasoning ability. Backwoods camping does all these things although it can be very difficult, uncomfortable, and challenging at times.

It is for this reason that the desire for adventure and the enjoyment of true wilderness camping is an acquired taste for most people these days. I, myself, didn’t fall in love with camping when I first started. It is quite hard when you do it right, and it should be! Eventually, however, I grew to love the challenge. I am now thrilled by hiking cross-country and exploring new places and terrains.


I hope you enjoyed reading this article! In the next post in this series, I hope to cover more exactly what true wilderness camping should look like based on what we found out today about its benefits. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments on this very important subject! Please feel free to leave a comment in the box below. Also, if you like what you’ve read here on ScoutingRediscovered, please take a moment to like the page on Facebook and share this post with your friends. Thank you again for reading this post!

Scout On!


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Good stuff! I hope my son can find the love of the wilderness that you so obviously have found.