I have been giving this some thought lately, especially since becoming our Boy Scout Round table Commissioner. But Scouting is in the trenches. To use an overused cliché.
What I mean by that is this. Far to many units and unit leaders rely on the District and Council to make their program happen. I do not have a beef with our District or our Council, but it is fair to say that if I received nothing from them our Troop would still be fine.
Now, I understand that we need the Council and District, more so the Council to support Scouting in the area. We need the Council to maintain our wonderful camps and provide administrative services to us, but beyond that I don’t need the District or Council to provide my annual plan.
In a recent discussion I had with a couple Scouters that are knee-deep in the membership world of our Council and District we talked about why membership is dropping and why we (the Council and District) can not seem to build more Packs. Yes, I was talking Cub Scout stuff.
I dawned on me that the Council will never be able to build new Packs till they put their money where their mouth is and get into the trenches with.. yes… with local units. Scouting is in the trenches, in the community, not on a white board in an office.
We do not necessarily need more Packs, we need more strong Packs that can recruit. That will bring more Packs and more Scouts.
Now, on the other hand, there are unit leaders that are willing to just wait around for the District and Council to make that happen. They are satisfied waiting for Camporee or Webelos Woods to be their program. They are content with the idea that the Council will provide Merit Badge weekends or Fairs so their Scouts can put more on their sash. They are happy with the idea that Summer camp is a cookie cutter event and they never need to think out side of the box, but then wonder why their Scouts are bored and are leaving in droves.
Scouting is in the trenches, in the units. This is not an indictment on the Council or District. I am just saying that Units and Unit leaders need to know that Scouting is right where they are… not downtown at the Council office. Scouting is supposed to happen in the community, not from the Scout Executives office. Scouting is in the woods, youth led, and sustains itself through programs that are planned and executed at the Unit level.
Resources, administrative support, and fund-raising happens from above. We just do Scouting!
That is how Scouting will grow and prosper. Waiting on the Council or District is a bad practice and a sure-fire way to kill a unit.
In a world where membership numbers matter, this is where the rubber meets the road and Scouting Happens… In the trenches. On Monday nights at Troop meetings, in the living rooms of Den Leaders, at Pizza Parlors with Crew Presidents. Scouting happens in the trenches.
Don’t wait on the Council. Get out there and do Scouting where it matters.
Have a Great Scouting Day!
I have been giving this some thought lately, especially since becoming our Boy Scout Round table Commissioner. But Scouting is in the trenches. To use an overused cliché.
At the end of every Troop meeting our Troop circles up, joins hands, and sings Scout Vespers followed by reciting the Scout Law. This has concluded our meetings for years and has become a great tradition in our Troop.
A couple of weeks ago a young Scout asked why we sing that particular song, since we are not really at a campfire. He thought it was odd that we say “as our campfire fades away” when we are in a meeting hall.
I explained to him, and then the Troop that we always have the spirit of the campfire in us. It is Scout Spirit. There is magic in every campfire and we carry that with us every day.
The campfire within us burns bright showing the world that we are Scouts.
And that is why we say the Scout Law after we sing the song. As the campfire fades we need to add more fuel to it to keep it burning. As we send the Scouts away from the meeting each week we rekindle in them their fire. We remind them that they have a fire burning in them and that they need to live that Scout Spirit using the Oath and Law as their Guide.
So we sing and remind one another of the fire inside each and every one of us.
This is a great tradition in our Troop. I hope your Troop has similar traditions that make Scouting not only fun but meaningful.
What are some of your Troop traditions?
Let us know.
Softly falls the light of day,
As our campfire fades away.
Silently each Scout should ask
Have I done my daily task?
Have I kept my honor bright?
Can I guiltless sleep tonight?
Have I done and have I dared
Everything to be prepared?
Listen Lord, oh listen Lord,
As I whisper soft and low.
Bless my mom and Bless my dad,
These are things that they should know.
I will keep my honor Bright,
The oath and law will be my guide.
And mom and dad this you should know,
Deep in my heart I love you so.
Have a Great Scouting Day!
I have been receiving emails lately requesting information about leadership. I have been pretty heavy on the leadership subject matter as of late. New youth leaders in the Troop, a batch of great new Assistant Scoutmasters and the idea that we really need to focus our attention on leading and not just reacting to the things that seem to come up from time to time and executing the vision of our Troop.
One emailer asked where I get my information from. Simply put, lots and lots of training, learning, and developing those leadership skills, traits, and habits that I have seen and done that works. I was formally trained in leadership while in the Army. Attending every leadership development course from the Primary Leadership Development Course to graduating from the United States Army Sergeants Major Academy. Over the course of my career in the Army I served in many direct leadership roles culminating as the Command Sergeant Major or an Infantry Battalion.
One thing that I know for sure is that Leadership is Leadership. Whether is it good or bad what you learn and how you apply it is what matters. Leadership in the Army has the same principles as leadership in a Boy Scout Troop. That is not to say that the missions are the same, nor are the styles. But the principles that are applied by the leaders are the same.
In Scouting, I have made it a point to learn and attend every course I can that would add to my leadership tool box. Understanding the vision and mission of the organization plays a great part in how we lead it. Wood Badge has played a major role in adding to my leadership tool box.
Another emailer asked if I could narrow down my leadership focus to some simple things that would be effective for him to teach to junior leaders.
Certainly. Again, over the course of a 21 year Army career and serving as a Scoutmaster for 10 years I have narrowed down how and what I teach to adults and youth alike. I think that we can get overwhelmed with leadership philosophy and technique, but at the end of the day, it is all about leading. How you do that effectively is what matters. I have distilled my leadership down to 5 things. Now, these five things have a multitude of sub tasks and sets, but essentially it [leadership] comes down to how we do these 5 things effectively.
1. Learn to lead yourself. You can not lead others until you learn to lead yourself. Establishing good habits, getting trained and understanding the institutional values are a part of learning to lead yourself. Developing in yourself a want of life long learning and a willingness to share that knowledge.
2. Focus on the little things. The little things make up the big things and when they are correct, the big things fall into place. Develop a critical eye and stay focused on those things that drive success. A leader must be willing to be critical and constructive. Letting the little things slide are a sure-fire way of killing the big things.
3. Model Expected Behavior. Set an example of what you want. Know what right looks like and be the model of it 100% of the time. This takes work and does not allow for lazy leaders. If you expect those you lead to act a certain way, model that way of acting. Modeling expected behavior is critical in leadership. As a young leader I hated and still do hate the mantra of “Do as I say, not as I do”. That is a leadership failure.
4. Communicate Effectively. The ability to communicate is paramount in leading. Written and verbal communication must be effective to lead effectively. Develop communication skills to be an effective leader.
5. Be a Servant Leader. Leaders are to serve first. The praise, glory, or rewards for a leader are in the success of those they lead. Servant Leaders put those that they lead ahead of themselves. Develop a heart to serve and you will be a great leader.
So those are the basic 5 principles that guide my leadership and the way that I lead and teach leadership.
I will elaborate on each of those five things in future posts. None of this is new or creative, they are things that leaders since the beginning of time have done. They are packaged this way by me because it is what I know works in leadership. I am certain that if you dug around the writing of authors like Stephen Covey, Zig Ziglar, John Maxwell, Colin Powell, and others you will find these principles throughout. Like I said, Leadership is Leadership. From the US Army to the Disney Institute they all teach the basics of being an effective leader and when it comes down to it, it’s all really the same stuff, just different packaging.
That’s leadership according to me in a nut shell. Those 5 things work in effective leadership every time.
What are some of yours?
Have a Great Scouting Day!
Since word is out that our Troop is doing a 10 day backpacking trip this summer as our summer camp, there has been some concern as to how we are going to incorporate all of the “Scouting Methods” that normally come with the summer camp experience.
Well, I would first of all suggest that our Scouts will have more of the Scouting methods during our 10 day adventure than most Troops will have during your typical Summer camp experience, namely in the area of cooking.
Most summer camps offer a dining hall with cafeteria or family style dining. This is great and takes a lot of pressure off of the Scouts during the day.
Our Scouts this summer will be using the Philmont cooking methods for our meals. This will ensure that the patrols or crews will eat together, share responsibility, and eat the appropriate amount of calories that will be required on the trail.
I visited the Philmont web site and recalled a video we shared with our Crews before we went to Philmont. This video basically sums up how we will be doing our cooking this summer while we trek through the Olympic National Forest.
Our Scouts will be eating on the go for breakfast and lunch, much like the Philmont experience. We downloaded the Philmont menus plans for breakfast, lunch and dinner, to get a good feel for our planning. It looks like we will pretty much stick to their plan. Why reinvent the wheel?
Patrol or Crew cooking in this fashion will be a great experience for our Troop. We are going to start using this method with our next camp out and continue to practice this through summer camp. This means each camp out till July will incorporate our meal plan and methods for preparing, cooking, and cleaning while on the trail. This should be real fun at Camporee this year.
I’d love to know how you all cook on the trail or in camp. Leave a comment.
Have a Great Scouting Day!
It is a requirement for all Scouts to build their own First Aid kit. This gets them in tuned with what they need, have, and how to use it all. Being a backpacking Troop, building the personal first aid kit is an important task and requires a little more thinking than just band aids and mole skin. The nature of backpacking takes you away from the cars and so the Scout needs to develop a kit that is compact, light, and serves his first aid needs.
In our Troop we also require the Scouts to build a fire building kit. It should be compact, light, and serve the Scouts need to make fire. Simple requirements right?
The ability to make fire is an important skill. Fire is a motivator, cooking option, and method of warmth and cheer. I was asked once what ‘survival’ skills we teach our Scouts. I answered none. We teach them to be prepared. With a kit designated to build fire there is no need to rub sticks together or wait for lightning to strike. The Scout reaches into his pack and makes a fire.
I carry my fire kit with me every time I enter the woods. On a day hike or a 50 miler, the fire kit is as much a part of my pack as my first aid kit.
My kit is simple, light, and works 100% of the time to start fire.
I am not a fan of flint and steel or primitive methods of making fire. I do not pretend to be a bush crafter and am not fascinated with that whole life style.
I use what works and that is it. Again, I need not know how to ‘survive’ I will survive because I am prepared.
Here is a short video on my Fire Kit.
Question or comments? Please leave them here at the blog.
Have a Great Scouting Day!
**NOTE- my batteries died twice in the camera and a part of the video I thought I was shooting was lost. The SOL Tinders somehow got cut out.
One of the big misconceptions in leadership is that the leader needs to worry about the big stuff. Yes, the leader has to know or have vision and that requires a look from the 1000 foot view, but when it really comes down to leading, it is the little stuff that matters. The little things that make all of the big things happen or lead to big success.
Lets go back to our example we have used here of “The Tent”.
When we set up our tent there is but one correct way to set it up. As a leader to ensure that the tent is set up correctly a look at the details, the little stuff, is important.
Is the footprint extended beyond the flap of the tent? If so, it’s wrong.
Are the stakes in so that it will actually hold the tent down? Stakes improperly placed will allow for the tent to be unstable, not tight, and ultimately not serve their purpose.
Is the vestibule staked out properly? Are the vents open or closed dependent on the conditions? Is the tent located in a good position to leave no trace? Out of the elements? In low ground?
Are the guy lines being used properly?
Are the storage bags put away or just blowing all over the camp site?
Is the rain fly on correctly or inside out?
Is the door facing away from the wind?
Is there food in the tent?
Is the gear stored properly (not in the tent)?
You see there are a list of little things that go into setting up a tent. Multiply that by the number of guys in the Patrol and how many tents are set up and you have a lot of little things to look at. When all of those little things are done right, everything tends to fall into place.
This habit of doing all the little things right will lead one to doing everything right. Once the standard has been set, it is something that becomes routine. Leaders check and recheck and inspect what they expect to see.
They first teach the skill, the task, or the method and then hold those that they are leading accountable. Doing it over is an option. Not correcting something that is wrong is not. That to is perceived as a little thing.
I have heard over and over that “well.. that really doesn’t matter”, “they are just kids”, “give it a break, it’s only a weekend”… It all matters to leaders. There are standards for every task and when they are done right, all of the big things are right also. All of the little things matter to make the big things work.
There is no room for lowering the standard, when that happens it to become habit and that is when things go wrong.
This example works for every task our Scouts are asked to do.
There is a reason we have our Scouts earn their Totin’ Chip before they are allowed to use a Knife, Saw, and Ax. The Totin’ Chip program introduces the standard. The consequence for not performing to that standard is the inability to participate using a knife, saw, or ax.
When we allow the little things to slide we set our selves and those we lead up to be unsuccessful. Mainly because they will tend to do more and more wrong. Once the idea that everything is expected to be done right is accepted, and the leader makes sure that the little things are constantly being checked, you will see success in the big things.
So how do we make that happen? Training and accountability.
This last weekend we conducted Junior leader training with all of the older Scouts in the Troop. Since we have been having some issues with leadership lately, I decided it was time to get back to basics. The Senior Patrol Leader had the Troop pack up everything on Saturday morning. The days activities started with the Troop splitting up, the younger guys went to shoot shot guns and the older guys began their training. We began with a discussion on packing a backpack the right way. We demonstrated what right looks like and then made sure that every pack looked that way. It was a lesson on attention to detail and not taking the easy way out.
Then we went on a little hike. When we reached our first destination, the leaders were given the task to set up camp using leave no trace principles. They set off to get camp set up. I instructed the Scouts that when they were finished to come and stand by me. Once they all were there, we talked about the little things and making sure all of the little things were right leading to the big thing (camp set up) being correct. Each Scout had to go to a tent that was not his and stand. Then one by one they instructed the group as to what was wrong with that set up. Each and every tent had something that needed to be improved. Corrections were made and then a second walk through happened. This time everything was right and the Scouts could see the big picture.
After a quick reflection and discussion of the process, they were instructed to pack and move to a second location and do it again. The same process happened the second time, this time with fewer mistakes. Again corrections were made, this time including the use of the EDGE ™ method of teaching [Explain, Demonstrate. Guide, and Enable]. And pack it up again. This time with a pause to inspect the packs to make sure they were packed right. If it was not correct, do it again. Reinforcing the idea that there is only one right way to do it and we will not settle for it being done wrong.
When the younger Scouts got back from shooting their Troop guide did this process with the new Scouts. Packing and unpacking, setting up and taking down. He made it a game having the Scouts race each other and in the process made it fun. The new guys picked up on it right away. I overheard the Troop guide explain to them that doing it right the first time will save them time and energy down the road. There is only one right way of doing things right.
The focus is on the little stuff and making the little stuff matter. Little things done right make the big things right.
When it comes to older Scouts and adults, modeling the expected behavior while doing the little things right and making sure that the little things are always done right will set you up to being an effective leader and leading a high performance team.
Have a Great Scouting Day!
Heading out into the woods this weekend with the Troop. New Scout Patrol will be stepping off on the Trail to First Class, but not until after a fun morning on the range shooting Shot Guns. Then the older guys will get to shoot all afternoon, but not until they develop some leadership skills in camp. Modeling the Expected Behavior will be their theme for the weekend.
Weather calls for sun tomorrow.. we hope for the best.
So, I will let you all know how it goes on Sunday!
What are you up to this weekend?
Have a Great Scouting Day!
The other night I held a couple Scoutmaster Conferences, both for Scouts earning the Star Rank and both of the Scouts good young men. During our discussion the subject of merit badges came up as you need them for the Star, Life, and Eagle ranks.
One of the young men asked me why certain merit badges were Eagle required, while others were not. We looked at the merit badges that were on the Eagle required list and I explained to him that these are important merit badges that support the goals of Scouting.
Citizenship in the Community, Nation, and World focus not on teaching you about citizenship, but what your obligations are as a Citizen.
First Aid, Camping, Life Saving, Hiking, Emergency Preparedness, Swimming, Cycling, Personal Fitness and Cooking all focus on the Scout being fit and self-reliant. Communication, Family life and Personal Management focus on how he acts in the world. These are important.
Finger printing, art, music, basketry, and astronomy are just cool things that spark interest in the Scout.
I have noticed that there is a big push on the STEM programs in Scouting. As if Scouting was becoming a vocational arm of the education system. Now before I get hate mail, I am all for the Science and technology stuff, I am fascinated by what engineers can do. But this is Scouting dang it. I don’t want to take my Scouts to Summer camp and have them sit in class all day learning about how to split an atom. I want them out there enjoying the outdoors. The go to School from September to June… July and August are times for them to be boys!
The STEM push has taken over and I want it to back off a bit. Even in our Council STEM is all over the place. We have great STEM partners in our areas that are assisting young men in cranking out merit badges. But are they learning anything? My guess is no.
I asked this young man in our conference which merit badges he had earned (looking at his history I knew the answer). He had really not got much out of the “filler badges”. He did talk about First Aid and the Citizenship badges though.
I am not against the STEM Program, but I personally do not want Scouting to become the math club. Scouts get enough School. They join Scouts to get adventure and that is what we need to give them.
Sit a Scout down for an hour and teach them about anything.. they want to get up and run.. give them an adventure and in the process teach them life skills and appreciation for the outdoors and you have captured them for life long Scouting.
STEM is not going away.. this is the world we live in, but let’s do more Scouting!
Just my opinion and thoughts.
Have a Great Scouting Day!
This weekend was spent rekindling the fire of the Order of the Arrow in me. I attended our Lodges annual gathering called Rendezvous. Our Lodge hosts three major events each year. The Native American Arts and Ceremonies Seminar, The Rendezvous of the Order, and The Leadership Development Conference. We also participate in the Section Conclave and many service projects throughout the year as well and four Ordeal weekends and a Vigil Induction annually. So, needless to say we have an active Lodge with ample opportunities to be an active member of the Order of the Arrow.
This weekend, I have to be honest, I was not entirely looking forward to. I did not attend last years Rendezvous because I am finding it harder and harder to tolerate some of the behavior that we have seen at some, not all, OA events. I suppose that I have an expectation that “honor society” means something and clearly that is not the case to some Scouts and their leaders.
Being elected into the Order of the Arrow is supposed to have some special meaning. Our Lodge Advisor said it best last night at the Banquet dinner when he summed up membership in the Order of the Arrow as a Journey, much like the journey Dorthy took in the Wizard of Oz. They (the principle parts of the the Wizard of Oz) sought a Brain, Courage and a Heart. We too in the Order of the Arrow seek Wisdom in the Scout Oath and Law, We strive to be Courageous in doing the right thing, and a Heart for service. And Dorthy.. she is the model of a Servant Leader, putting the other three needs above her own desire to go home. It is a Journey to constantly seek the path that leads us to be bound in that brotherhood that cheerfully serves.
And here is the problem I have been having and I guess this is a universal issue within me that expects more out of those that we trust are “worthy”. Whether that is a Scout that has earned his Eagle Award or a Scout that has been elected into the Order of the Arrow. I expect them to live that code that we promise. In addition to the Scout Oath and Law, the Obligation of the Order of the Arrow are tremendous guides for our lives. It is that yellow brick road that leads us to a life that is worthy of being called good.
I understand the need for membership and so I understand that there will be Scouts that will take time to mature into young men that we can trust to live the obligation. I get that. But where is the coaching and mentoring that get them on the path to doing right? This is my issue. When I see Scouts that are disrespectful, unkind, selfish, and run from service, I wonder how and why they are members of the OA. Or better yet, who is teaching them or not teaching them the expected behaviors that come with being a Scout and a member of the Order of the Arrow.
This weekend I attended for a few reasons. First I was asked to do some service. We cleaned out and sorted, repacked and labeled the bins in the Wood Badge trailer. Since I was the last Assistant Scoutmaster for support and physical arrangements I had a great interest in helping out those future staffers, making their jobs a bit easier. Second, I was asked to attend the Banquet Saturday night as I was “officially” being called to the Vigil Honor along with the rest of this years Vigil Candidates. I’ll get right back to that.
The third reason was that we are trying to get the OA members of our Troop fired up again about the OA and rekindle their fire in ceremonies. So I talked it up to the members in my Troop and a group of them decided to attend. Being a good example, I knew that I needed to be there also to demonstrate that I care about the OA and their membership in it.
And finally, I knew that a bunch of my Scouter friends from around the Council would be there and to be honest, I wanted to hang out with them. It’s always a great time sharing stories and catching up.
Back to number two. The Vigil Call out.
Throughout the day on Saturday many of my friends and other members of the Lodge approached me with congratulations on being elected to the Vigil Honor. Folks that I have not seen in ages and some that at other times have never given me the time of day, but the thing that mattered was their genuine attitude about what the Vigil Honor means to them. They all shared a little something about what the honor has meant in their lives, not sharing anything about the induction, but what that simple little triangle of arrows on their sash has meant as they apply living what I gathered as the gifts they received from membership in this organization. I kept thinking last night about this trip down the yellow brick road and that, even though I don’t know what is to come in the Vigil induction, I feel like it is that point in the journey when you finally meet the great and powerful Oz and much is reveled . This journey from Ordeal member to Brotherhood has taken me on a trip to find the arrow. That spirit of Cheerful service and living the Oath and Law fully in our daily lives… above and beyond that of just being a Scout. To truly understand being selfless and applying that attitude every day. One does not need the Order of the Arrow for this, but in the context of Scouting is a great life lesson that when demonstrated by those that have been selected to the highest Honor brings great credit to Scouting, this organization that we believe in and love.
I was looking through some of my collection of Scouting literature and found a small booklet that was distributed back in 1968 to new members of the Order of the Arrow. It is a basic run down of what the OA is, gives the Legend of the Lenni Lenape and discusses the membership Honors of the Order. There is a sentence in the paragraph about the Vigil Honor that I feel sums up my attitude about those Scouts that fail to live up to the expectation of membership. The converse I suppose can be found in this statement, “…members of our Order who give outstanding or distinguished service, or who by unusual devotion to Scouting…” Unusual devotion to Scouting, maybe that is why I don’t get some of the behavior or attitudes. I have an unusual devotion to Scouting. Yep… I love Scouting that is a fact and I constantly try to tell Scouting’s Story. The Vigil Honor is calling me to do just that… I think.
I’m going to go with that for now anyway.
I am firm bound in Brotherhood.
Have a Great Scouting Day!
As most of the country is still experiencing Winter conditions and here in the Northwest, the Winter Camping season is really in full bloom, as late as it is, there are still Troops and Crews that are venturing into the woods for some good winter camping. I thought I would revisit our teaching or winter skills, just as a reminder that even though it’s March, we need to stay focused on how we camp in the winter. Most of these skills transfer well all year round anyway. I will take a page out of the Safe swim defense and Safety Afloat program. Supervision and Discipline are a Must.
So here are a few rules that we maintain whenever we are talking about High adventure and Cold weather camping.
Remember anytime you engage in a high risk activity… you increase your preparation, supervision, and discipline.
The first rule is take it serious. Cold Weather camping can be one of the most enjoyable activities with challenges and memories that your scouts will cherish. But at the same time Cold weather camping can be Extremely dangerous when not taken seriously.
I use a three strike rule when dealing with the issue. Three strikes and you are not going on the event. Period.
A scout that does not want to pay attention or is goofing off too much will not get the information that is being presented. This can lead to dangerous consequences in the field.
Before we do any Winter camping adventure we have a couple mandatory meetings.
During these meetings we teach Cold Weather first aid.
Understanding and knowing the symptoms of cold weather conditions such as frost bite and hypothermia. Knowing what to look for on your buddy for those signs and then how to treat them.
We teach techniques for setting camp, preparing meals, setting up gear to best meet the conditions of Cold weather camping. Simple stuff like zipper pulls and tent anchors. Issues like meal preparation and how to better prepare meals at home for ease in the camp site.
These meetings we feel are important to set the tone for the High adventure activity.
We do the same thing for Rock climbing activities. Mandatory meetings get the scout into the mind-set that this is so important that they are “Making” me be there … or I do not go.
Enforcement of the mandatory meeting is just as important. If you make it a must for one that they get all the information, then make it a must to all.
If need be…have a make up meeting for scouts that absolutely can not make a mandatory meeting… give them opportunities to participate, but ensure they get the skills, training, and information that are needed for a successful outing.
The next rule that is non negotiable is using the buddy system. Now I know that the buddy system is part of Scouting anyway, but in cold weather environments it is a must.
Buddies need to be established early in the process of planning, training, and preparing for the camp out.
Getting these buddies to learn the first Aid skills together, planning of meals together, and in camp routines will lead to skilled buddy teams that understand the importance of one another in the process.
When they train in first aid, it no longer is a routine activity, they understand, that if I do not check you and you don’t check me.. we can get hurt. If I am not aware of what creamy colored skin means…then you may be getting frost bite on your nose or fingers.
Enforcing buddy teams is a must and hard fast rule. In camp use the Patrol leaders to monitor buddy teams and ensure that they are maintaining discipline as a team.
One issue that may or may not come up, it has with in my unit, is when you are tent camping in the snow and most of the Scouts have single person tents maintaining the buddy concept.
The fix here is that they, unlike when camping during the summer, cluster the tents. Have buddy teams set up their single person tents right next to one another. This way they can still communicate throughout the night. One technique that our boys have used is setting up their tents for the doors face each other, and they put them real close. Almost to the point where they can share vestibules. I have seen them actually tie their vestibules together creating a tarp like set up. It makes a little cooking area and allows them to sit and talk while in their sleeping bags. Now this is all dependant on what their tents are like, but the point here is that sometimes they need to think out side of the box to overcome obstacles. But they need to be aware that the buddy system is extremely important in the cold. And because it is important, they need to do things that allow them to watch each other, and communicate with each other.
So rule number 2 is the buddy system, do not over look this, it is way to important.
Rule number 3 is TIME AND PLACE.
There is a time and place for everything. There is a time and place to screw around and have fun, there is a time and place to be serious. The sooner your Scouts know this.. the better. Enough said.
I try not to get bogged down with a bunch of rules, after all we have the Scout Oath and law and that is pretty much all we need, but when it comes to high risk activities, it is important to establish importance in the seriousness of Cold Weather camping.
So now we have established it is important… so when teaching these Scouts about cold weather camping what are some things that need to be taught.
I guess if I had to narrow my list down to the top things to teach Scouts about Cold weather camping the list would include.
First. Cold weather injuries and how to prevent them and treat them.
Third. In camp routines
Fourth. Planning a preparation.
And fifth. Getting around in the snow, including moving and orienteering.
So lets quickly talk a little about these 5 items.
First Aid. Or better yet understanding the risks of Cold weather injuries and how to prevent them. The idea is that you do not want to get into treatment. You won’t have to if they prevent the injury to start with.
Hypothermia, frost bite, Frost nip or chill blains, immersion foot, sun burn and snow blindness are the biggies.
Show pictures of frost bite, that is enough to get the attention of your scouts. The Scouts need to be able to tell you what they are looking for on their buddy.
Do they recognize the disorientation, nausea, and the fact that their buddy is no longer shivering means that he is probably slipping quickly into Hypothermia.
One of the biggest issues regarding the treatment of some cold weather injuries is getting the Scouts over the idea that they may be put in what they feel is an uncomfortable position. Getting into a sleeping bag with another Scout is not normal, but it may be that which saves his buddies life. Again, it’s all about prevention. How do you prevent getting into that position?
Well that leads me to the next topic…gear.
Clothing and equipment are important in the cold. First know that when talking about clothing… Cotton kills.
Do not allow your Scouts to wear lots of cotton. Underwear bottoms are ok, but any clothing on the body that can get moist due to perspiration needs not to be cotton. I’m talking primarily about T-shirts and socks.
Poly propylene underwear, long johns and sock liners are fantastic items to put against the body. It reduces the chances of sweat staying on the skin and eventually leads to freezing.
Teach them about layering. Talk about Base layers, Mid layers that insulate, and a shell layer that protects. Handing out flyers that discuss the layering system are a great idea so that mom and dad understand what you expect.
When teaching about gear, talk about the difference between gear they use the rest of the year, also show them how they can use their gear all year round, with modifications.
Using a three season tent as a four season tent for example. Simply by adding guy lines and anchors. Tents do add warmth to the scout, they protect against the elements. Snow and wind are the two elements you are concerned about. Guy lines and tie downs will keep your tent steady in the wind. Digging into the snow and setting your tent up sheltered by a snow wall will combat against the wind. The tighter the guy lines, the better also for keeping snow from collecting and damaging your poles. Reinforcing your poles by wrapping them with duct tape is a way to strengthen them. The tape can be removed in the spring. Making sure the Scouts know to constantly keep the tent clear of snow during the day and clearing it off before they turn in for the night will reduce the strain the tent poles feel.
Your Scouts need to understand that cold air settles in low ground. Digging a trench outside of their tent by the door will move cold air away from their sleeping platform, just like in a snow cave. It also allows for a place to sit up right when dressing.
Boots, lets talk about boots.
First, make sure that your scouts have good boots suitable for wear in the snow and cold.
Then make sure they keep them dry. Boots when worn should be protected by wearing gaiters. This protects the laces and upper portion of the boot. They also keep snow from entering the boot, keeping them dry.
When boots are not being worn, they need to be INSIDE the tent, use an old stuff sack or even garbage bag to put the boots in. Put them under or in your sleeping bag to keep them warm. Boil up some water and fill a water bottle before you get in your tent. Put the water bottle in your boots. It will keep them warm and you will have water in the morning that is not frozen. In the morning if your scouts can boil up some water and fill that bottle up and put it in the boots for about 15 minutes.. they will step into nice cozy boots that will ready them for the day.
Backpacks should be packed with stuff sacks, ditty bags, and need to be kept organized and accessible.
Adding zipper pulls or tabs to zippers will make it easier to get in and out of pockets, this goes for their jackets too.
Gloves and or mittens. Check the gloves your Scouts bring. They need to be water-resistant and warm. Do not allow just any glove. They need to provide insulation and protection. I had a Scout show up once with gardening gloves. Not acceptable in the cold weather environment. As a leader, take extra gloves with you. I have found that gloves come up missing or get wet, I carry a stuff sack with a few extra pair of gloves to throw on chilly hands when needed.
Outer wear. Protective shells that keep the Scout dry and out of the wind.
You will know what right looks like, they do not need to run out and buy North face $300 jackets, although it would go a longer way in protecting them, to stay warm and dry.
Have a shake down of gear the week before the camp out. This will allow you and your Patrol leaders the opportunity to look at all the gear and a week for the Scout to make corrections.
In camp routines. These need to be discussed prior to the camp out, but practiced in camp.
Things like setting up camp quickly, getting shelter up, gathering fire wood, cooking and cleaning up, settling down for the night, staying dry, and fun things to do while in camp.
Establishing good in camp routines, just like in the summer is an important part of winter camping. Gear gets lost in the snow, part of good in camp routines is storing gear and staying organized.
Planning and preparing for the winter camp out is probably the most important thing to getting the most out of your winter camping experience. This includes training, planning, and readying your gear for the trip.
You need to know where you are going, how long you are going to be there, how you are getting there and how you are getting into the area you are camping in. And then what you are going to do once you get there.
Preparation is so key to a successful Cold Weather camp out. The Scouts need to be prepared and properly instructed. Like I tell the boys, we are not planning to treat cold weather injuries, we are preparing to prevent them.
Taking that approach with you cold weather camping preparation will lead to success.
You as the adult leader, or even for those Junior leaders that listen, need to become experts in the skills needed to camp in the cold.
Preparing the Scouts of your troop starts with some clear goals for the experience.
In your first year of camping in the cold weather, you may want to limit your overnight stays to a single night and progressively move to longer stays.
You may want to start by taking day hikes and excursions into the cold. Set up camp and work on skills such as shelters, building fires, and staying dry. Then retire to the comfort of a lodge for the night.
In your planning you need to figure out what your objectives are. Going into the woods and setting up camp, eating and hitting the rack is not enough to keep scouts interested in camping in the cold. What are you going to do once you get into camp? Navigation is a great skill to practice in the snow. Folks get disoriented easily in a snow filled forest.
How about winter relay’s, snow shoe hikes, igloo building or snow caving, Cross country skiing, or just plain winter skills. There are many things that you can do that lead up to the cold weather camp out. Make gear like snow shoes, then test them out when you get to camp. There is a great Scouting resource available at your Scout Shop. The book Okpik: Cold Weather Camping #34040 shows you how to make gear, as well as activities and know how on camping in the winter.
Use other resources too, one of my favorite books on Camping in the cold is Winter Hiking and Camping, by Michael Lanza a book put out by Backpacker Magazine.
In planning and preparing, get you hands on as much material as possible and become familiar, almost to the point that you are an expert. You need to be, those boys depend on you.
Finally, getting around in the snow. I alluded to snow shoeing and cross-country skiing earlier. These are super fun activities that the Scouts really have a great time with. If you are going to snow shoe or ski, it is a good idea to get out there prior to the camp out and get a feel for it. If time is an issue, when you get to your drop off point, leave the packs in the car and take a little hike to get used to the snow shoes or skis, it is better to establish balance and some skill before you throw your pack on.
If you get a lot of snow, I would recommend show shoeing for your first time winter campers. It is a skill that is easy to pick up and provides the most stable mode of on foot movement in the snow. Trying to walk in deep snow with a pack on can be frustrating as the scouts post hole their way into camp. Taking along snow shoes provides not only ease of movement, but a fun activity to do once you get camp set up.
Most winter sports outlets rent snow shoes and we have gotten real good Weekend rates when you mention you are taking a group of Boy Scouts out for a snow shoeing adventure.
Let me leave you with this.
The best tool you have in the winter camping environment is your brain. It will know when things are good and when things get bad. Listen to it. Adult leaders need to be upbeat and positive throughout the winter camping process. A positive attitude is infectious and the boys of the unit must keep a great attitude when camping in the cold.
Seeing an adult with a negative attitude, complaining about the cold, or showing frustration at gear, not being able to accomplish tasks, and generally not having a good time will surely infect the rest of the Troop. Keep a level head, have a great time, acquire the necessary skills, and have a positive attitude and your winter camping adventure will be a fantastic memorable experience. Oh and take lots of pictures.
Get out there and camp in the cold.
Have a Great Scouting Day!