training

Planning a Backpacking Trek pt. 1

philmontmap1.jpgWhether it is for your Scout Troop or you are heading out into the wilderness by yourself or with buddies there are some things that need to be planned before you go.  To get the most of your backpacking experience if you follow a few steps, you won’t forget something and will set yourself up for a worry free backpack trek.
First.  Figure out where you want to go.  Once you do some online research or hit a few guide books and talk to friends, pick a trek.  Next, and way before you get your heart set on the amazing adventure.. Get the map or maps for that section of trail.  Do an exhaustive map recon of the trip.
During your map check look for:
Trail head location.  Can you get there and are there facilities at the trail head?  Restrooms, safe parking, water?
If you are making your trek a loop, can you get in and get out at that trail head or do you need to move the car to a different location and shuttle to the trail head.  This would apply for an in and out hike too.  You may need to check with local guides for shuttles, but you better plan for it or you will find yourself in a pickle real quick.
Look on the map for camp locations along the route.  What is the water availability along the way and in camp locations?
What is the terrain like.  Check out those contour lines… Don’t be surprised once you get on the trail.
This is a great time to learn to really read map detail.  You should know the trail so well from studying the map that you recognize the terrain and land marks as you hike it.
This is also the time where you plan for bail outs.  Locations on the map that will allow you to get out if the weather turns south or someone in the party gets hurt.  Road intersections, crossing trails and mile markers that will allow for quick decision-making when out on the trail.
Now that you have your map and you know where you want to go and see, how far do you want to make the trek.  You will need map in hand to figure this one out also.  Your distance will determine a lot in the trip planning.
How far can you go each day?  How many days are you going to be out on the trail?  Based on the trail, how far can you push or relax daily?    What is the trail like and how difficult?  This will determine how far you may get each day and how far you will want to go total.   But there may be a certain location or destination that you are looking at getting to.  How far do you need to go to get there and answer all the questions that we listed above.
Also consider the time of year you are heading out.  Crowds, snow, and closures are all things to consider.  You need to make sure that you have appropriate permits for the area that you are heading into and think about your group size.
I am a big fan of trekking to a destination.  Mileage means far less to me than seeing something cool.
Planning using your map will get you started on a great backpacking trip.  In our next post we will talk about gear selection and what to bring.  In the next few post we will discuss food, problems, and preparation for a long trek.
Thanks for reading the blog.
Have a Great Scouting Day!

Categories: Backpacking, camp skills, Camping, Just fun, Leave no trace, planning, Risk Management, Skills, training | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Training, Nature or Nurture

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe other day I posted my thoughts on training.  I received some great feedback and feel that I need to address a couple of the comments, specifically a question that came up about the leaders themselves in the unit and how our attitude toward training is part of the reason we have great trained leaders.
Bob asked, “I’m curious as to whether you find that this “going the extra mile” is primarily something that a leader brings to the unit (nature), something that the unit brings to the leader (nurture), or some combination of the two.  Or, to put the question another way, do you find that the adults that volunteer for leadership positions already have that “going the extra mile” mentality, or that the culture of the unit inspires a new (or existing) leader to go that extra mile?”
Thanks Bob the answers is simple.  All of the above.
I believe that it is a bit of both Nature and Nurture.  First, I think that our unit has built a culture of trained leaders and an expectation that leaders are trained.  We ask a lot of our adult volunteers.  It is the nature of the unit that we expect the adult to be willing to “go that extra mile”.  Because it is a cultural thing or part of the nature of our unit, the volunteer knows what he or she is stepping in to.  It is not a surprise when they ask that they will be given a list of training courses, materials, and expectations of what training in our unit looks like.  If an adult leader expects to do the minimum, they are quickly encouraged to participate in some position other than that of a direct contact leader.
The culture of the unit dictates that in order to deliver the  very best program to our youth, keeping them safe, and instructing them properly we need to do better than the training that is provided by the Boy Scouts of America.
We agree that the training provided by the BSA is designed for the common denominator and not adequate for high adventure, advanced leadership, and activities that take you more than an hour away from a car.  This is all well and good, but in our opinion we need to do more.  Maxing the minimum is not good enough.
We ask of the Scout to “Do his Best”… so should we.
We also Nurture our adult leaders to want to be “Over Trained”.  Again, this is part of the culture of the unit.  Firm expectations of the training that allows our unit to function at a higher level.  When a parent asks to become a part of the adult leadership of the unit, the parent is invited to participate fully.  But training comes first.  Before an Assistant Scoutmaster for example can function as such, he must complete all of the BSA required training.  He needs to seek advanced first aid training to include CPR/AED.  We ask them to attend Wood Badge.  We take the time to instruct them on being a mentor, teacher, and coach to our Scouts.  We remind them that we do not lead, we assist.  There are not patches in the Boy Scout program for adults that say the word “Leader”.
This nurturing and development of the new adult volunteer leads them toward advanced training.
What this does for the unit is simple.  It opens doors.  We need not rely on any outside instruction or guides for our activities.  If we want to climb, we have certified climbing instructors to facilitate that activity.  Water craft, backpacking, shooting, Orienteering, Pioneering, First Aid, and more are all on the table because of the adult cadre of volunteers that have become the culture of the unit.  We also find that the adults stay active, even when the Scout has moved on.  This level of commitment has kept our knowledge base growing and stable.  The culture of the unit dictates that we do it all for the Scouts and we go the extra mile to make sure they have the very best Scouting experience.
So it is both Nature and Nurture.  It is a culture that expects the adult to set the example by giving more.  Being a model of the expected behavior of a servant leader.  One that reinforces our 5 Leadership principles in the Troop.
Leading ourselves, Focusing on the small stuff, Being the model of expected behavior, Communicating effectively, and being a Servant Leader.
Once that culture is developed and has a strong by in, the unit will flourish with trained leaders.
Allan and Alex, I hope that answer addressed your questions also.
If you have more questions, comments of concerns, please feel free to drop me a note.
Have a Great Scouting Day!

Categories: Advancement, Backpacking, camp skills, Camping, Character, Citizenship, Climbing, comments, Cooking, gear, Good Turn Daily, High Adventure, Ideals, Journey to Excellence, Just fun, Leadership, Leave no trace, Patrol Method, Risk Management, Scouting, Scoutmaster minute, Scouts, Service, training | Tags: | Leave a comment

Qualified, Trained Leaders

trainednewWe often talk about having all of our adult leaders trained.  When we speak of training we are talking about the basics.  Has the adult completed Youth Protection?  Attended their Basic Course for the specific position?  And according to the Boy Scouts of America, that’s pretty much a trained leader.
You are qualified to be an adult that delivers the promise of Scouting.  Really.
Ok, now… everyone just take off your Scouting hat and put on your parent hat.  Now you know nothing about Scouting except that your son wants to be a Scout.  You know that Scouting is a great organization that reinforced those character traits that you are teaching at home and he and his friends enjoy going camping once a month.  But who is this “Trained” leader?  What qualifies him to take your son out into the woods?
A couple videos?  An online training session and a “suitable for framing” print out certificate?
That’s it.
Oh, but maybe the leader has been to Wood Badge.  So he knows the Boy Scout Program and is able to teach and reach his goals.  He communicates well, but what of the skills he needs to take my kid into the woods.
My point here is this.  In a world in which we bubble wrap our kids.  We don’t let them stay out after dark, they can’t climb trees, drink from a garden hose, or in some cases even push a lawn mower.. we drop off our sons to people we don’t really know, they hop into their trucks and vans and drive away for a weekend in the woods.
Say that out loud and it is a bit creepy.
We trust that they know what they are doing with our kids.  We hope to see smiles on their faces and that they are in one piece when they arrive back at the meeting hall.
Trust.  That is what we have in our leaders.  But it’s 2014 so what has he done to be trusted.  What skills does he have to gain my trust.  Who is this guy taking my kid into the woods?
I am a big fan of Boy Scout Training and take it a step further.  I am on our district training team and teach the Scoutmaster basic course.  I am a Wood Badge staffer and love to teach leadership.
So knowing what I know, I know that the Boy Scout minimum training is not enough to build that trust.  But the leader that goes the extra mile and gets more training, now that’s the guy I want.
Not to toot my horn, or the horns our leaders in my Troop, but we respect that trust and that is why we all go the extra mile.
In our Troop, all the Assistant Scoutmasters are Wood Badge trained.
We have Certified Climbing instructors.
We have Certified Wilderness First Aid First Responders.
We have Wilderness First aid trained leaders.
COPE instructors
White water rafting guides
Leave No Trace master trainers
Kayak guides
Cold Weather camping experts
Backpacking experts
Pioneering instructors
Leadership trainers
Everyone is CPR/AED trained
Everyone has done the supplemental training for Trek Safe, Safe Swim defense, Safety Afloat, and Climb Safely.
I know that I am missing something, the point is that we go out of our way to be over trained.
This is where the trust of the parents is gained and maintained.
It is an important part of protecting our youth and delivering the very best program to them.
So who is your Scout leader?  Do you trust him or her with your son in the woods?
Have a Great Scouting Day!

Categories: Backpacking, camp skills, Camping, Character, Citizenship, Climbing, High Adventure, Journey to Excellence, Just fun, Leadership, Methods, Motto, Oath and Law, planning, Scouting, training, Values, Wood Badge, Youth Protection | Tags: | 3 Comments

Learn to Lead Yourself

lead-learn-word-cubesI have spoken about the five principles of leadership that we use in our Troop to develop both our Junior Leaders as well as our Adult Leaders.
To recap, those five principles are Learn to Lead Yourself,  Focus on the little things, Model Expected Behavior, Communicate Effectively, and Be a Servant Leader.
In this post we are going to focus on the first of these principles, Learn to Lead Yourself.
Simply put, if you can not lead yourself you can not lead others.
To illustrate this point we talk often about the way you act.  You set an example of what you would like in those that follow you.  You, as a leader can not get away with the “Do as I say and not as I do” philosophy of leading.  It just does not work if you are trying to be a good leader.
The way in which you carry yourself, your habits,and your skills show the follower that you are a leader that is worthy of following.
You pack your pack correctly and assist others in getting theirs right.
You take your promise to live the Scout Oath and Law in your daily lives seriously.  This is important in showing those you lead that you do not compromise in your values and you are consistent in the way you act and expect them to act.
Thomas J. Watson, the former chairman of IBM, said, “Nothing so conclusively proves a man’s ability to lead others as what he does from day-to-day to lead himself.”
Learning to Lead Yourself takes work.  The learning part comes in developing those skills, attitudes, and habits that make you a better leader.
This means that you spend time in the study of leadership.  It means that you take extra time to be trained in skills and develop methods of instruction to help others.
It means that you never stop learning, this becomes a habit.  Once developed you long for more learning and skills development.
This goes for youth and adults alike.
I know many Scouters that will do training because they have to and I know Scouters that do training because they want to.  They see value in adding to their skill sets in the bigger picture of how they deliver the promise of Scouting.
I also have seen this in our youth.  Youth that seek more adventure and know that they must develop that knowledge base before they can execute certain skills and tasks.  On the other hand, leadership is just a block to be signed on the way to Eagle Scout.
This concept of learning to lead yourself is nothing new.  It has been taught for years by leadership guru’s and is a foundation of leadership development.  It is a means of focusing on the leadership qualities that we need in order to be effective leaders.  Think about what you want to see in a leader.
You want the leader to be Trustworthy.  You want the leader to be reliable.  You want the leader to be accountable.  The leader should demonstrate integrity.  Well, if those are the things that you want in a leader, you need to focus your learning, habits, and attitudes to becoming that person… that leader.
Like I said before, if you can not lead yourself, you can not lead other people.
So how do we learn to lead ourselves?
First.  Find out who you are.  What kind of leader are you?  What habits do you currently have?  What are your skill sets that contribute to your leadership?
These may be hard questions to answer.  You may not like what you hear, either from yourself or others.  Find a leader that you trust and appreciate.  Ask them to assist you with these questions.
Second.  Find out what skills you need to develop to be an effective leader.  Make a list and a commitment to mastering those skills.  Take extra training and opportunities to learn and practice those skills.  Make changes in your habits and attitudes to get better at leadership and skills.
Third.  Commit to be a life long learner.  You need to always stay a couple of steps ahead of those you lead.  Get out in front with learning, practicing, and sharpening your leadership skills.  There is always something new and there are always way to improve.  Perfection is a curious thing.  It is something that can be seen, but moves farther away as you get closer.  It forces us to get better.  Shoot for perfection in leadership with the knowledge that I can not reach it, but the closer I get, the better I get.
Be patient but persistent.  Stay focused on making yourself better and those that you lead will be better.
The first step in effective leadership is getting the leader right.  That leader is you.  Learn to lead yourself and you will be on your way to being an effective leader.
Have a Great Scouting Day!

Categories: blog, Character, Ideals, Journey to Excellence, Leadership, Methods, Oath and Law, Scouting, Scoutmaster minute, Scouts, Service, Skills, training, Values | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Leadership according to Me.

Sticky-Note-with-I-Am-a-LeaderI 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!

Categories: Character, Journey to Excellence, Leadership, Methods, Scouting, Scoutmaster minute, Scouts, Service, Skills, training, Values | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Backpack cooking- Patrol Method

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.
Thanks!
Have a Great Scouting Day! 

Categories: Backpacking, blog, camp skills, Camping, comments, Cooking, gear, High Adventure, Just fun, Leave no trace, Methods, Philmont, Scouting, Scoutmaster minute, Scouts, Skills, training | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

The Little Stuff

bsa-tentOne 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!

Categories: Backpacking, camp skills, Camping, Competition, gear, Ideals, Journey to Excellence, Just fun, Leadership, Leave no trace, Methods, Scouting, Scouts, Skills, teamwork, training, Values | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Going Camping

Merit Badges or Fun?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?
Please share!
Have a Great Scouting Day!

Categories: camp skills, Camping, gear, Hammock, Just fun, Leadership, Scouting, Scoutmaster minute, Scouts, Skills, training | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

The STEM Push

stemThe 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!

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Teaching Winter camping Skills- Revisited

DSCN0627As 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.
Second.  Gear.
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!

Categories: Backpacking, camp skills, Camping, fitness, gear, High Adventure, Just fun, Leadership, Leave no trace, Motto, Scouting, Scoutmaster minute, Skills, training, Winter Camping | Tags: , | 3 Comments

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