Test your knowledge of backcountry camping

Are you an outdoors expert or newbie? Found out in our backcountry camping quiz.

CAMPING IN AN AREA where help is hours or days away requires practiced skills and knowledge. Can your Scouts make fire in the rain? Rig tents and tarps so they won’t blow down in wind? Identify an advancing storm? Take this quiz and see how much you know about the wild outdoors.



  1. I disagree with #1 you also use a ground cloth out side the tent and make sure the ground cloth does not extend beyond the edge of the tent. A ground cloth within the tent makes no since. Its called a ground cloth for a reason. I have been camping for more that 40 years

    • I read this in an old scout book 10 years ago and we began doing so. It has been so much better than placing it under the tent. When placed under the tent, the water gets trapped between the tent and the ground, and does not seep back into the ground. By placing it inside, then any water that does end up in the tent stays under the tarp and you and your gear stay dry. Best tip I ever read.

      • The reason for normally placing a ground cloth under the tent is to protect the floor of the tent. The ground cloth is much easier and cheaper to replace than a tent.

      • I dont use a tent so that question didnt really apply to me. And second, i have never had the problem of getting wet whyll my tarp was under my tent.

    • I’m a strong proponent of putting the groundcloth INSIDE and have been for decades! My initial motivation stemmed from hearing the account where several troops were caught in an unexpected overnight rainstorm up in PA during a camporee. Rainwater washed over the grounds of troop campsites in a torrent. EXCEPT FOR ONE TROOP, by morning the insides of all tents, the campers and their belongings, were soaked. The troop that emerged nice and dry had their ground cloths INSIDE their tents as described in Q1!

      • The test contains several wrong and several questionable answers:
        Question #1 (placement of ground cloth): the test says the correct answer is “b” (inside your tent). The Handbook (p 305) says the correct answer is “a” (under your tent).

        Question 2 (fire starter): the test says the correct answer is “c” (Green cedar (cedar oil) foliage). The Handbook (p 411) advises not to use green foliage because that violates Leave No Trace. “b” or “e” (shavings from a dead stump or newspaper) are better answers.

        Question 3 (knots to rig a tent): the test says the correct answer is “b” (trucker’s hitch, half hitches and sheet bend). The trucker’s hitch is not shown in the Handbook and the Handbook advises using a taut-line hitch (p 302 & 385).

        Question 4 (knots to rig a tent): the test says the correct answer is “b” (use a slippery loop to finish rigging a tent). No slippery loop is shown in the Handbook and as with Question 3 the Handbook advises using a taut-line hitch (p 302 & 385).

        Question 6 (sleeping on a slope): the test says the correct answer is “c” (sleep sideways). Handbook does not cover this issue.

        6. Your campsite is on a slight incline. You’ll have to level your bed with spare clothes to sleep comfortably. The best way to pitch your tent is:
        a. With the head end facing uphill
        b. With the foot end facing uphill
        c. ==>Sideways to the hill
        d. It doesn’t matter as long as you have a nice, thick sleeping mat.

        Question 7 (cirrus clouds): the test says the correct answer is “b” (rain will probably begin within 24 hours). Cirrus clouds may precede a warm front by as many as 48 hours. Watch for low, dense stratus clouds to succeed the cirrus clouds. Warm fronts may produce rain that lasts for long periods.

        Question 8 (mosquitoes stop biting): the test says the correct answer is “a” (it will rain soon). OK but a little explanation would help. Before a storm, the low air pressure keeps insects low.

        Question 9 (packing your backpack): the test says the correct answer is “b” (lighter items at the bottom). OK but a better answer is heavy items should be high in your pack and close to our back.

        Question 10 (a bear near your campsite): the test says the correct answer is “b” (Spray the bear with pepper spray if he comes into camp). Wrong. The Backpacking MB pamphlet says to make noise and throw rocks. The Fieldbook says “a bear entering your campsite is your signal to stay away until the bear is gone.”

        Question 11 (treating silty water): the test says the correct answer is “b” (pre-treat the water with alum). An interesting idea but not on mentioned in any BSA literature; ie, handbook, Fieldbook, mb pamphlets, etc. My online research suggests that an effective concentration of the alum is difficult to estimate.

        Question 13 (most effective way to treat water): the test says the correct answer is “b” (filter/purifier). UV treatment (SteriPEN) is the fastest and is complete.

        Question 14 (what color attracts mosquitoes): the test says the correct answer is “d” (navy blue). OK but the best answer is dark colors attract mosquitoes more than light colors.

        Question 15 (what tent feature is least important for summer camping): the test says the correct answer is “d” (No-see-um bug netting). All the listed features are important. Does the test suggest that bugs are less common in summer?

        Question 17 (how fast does sound travel?): the test says the correct answer is “b” (2 miles in 10 seconds). Correct but if you hear thunder, you are close enough to be struck. It is not good practice to think you are safe if lightning is 1 or 2 miles away.

        Question 18 (a bad practice for gasoline trail stove): the test says the correct answer is “b” (Using unleaded automotive gasoline is bad). (1) White-gas stoves run on the purest, most refined fuel. White gas (naphtha) burns cleaner and hotter than other liquid fuels. (2) Multi-fuel stoves come with interchangeable jets that burn not only white gas, but also kerosene, jet fuel, or even diesel. Burn white gas whenever possible; other fuels have slower boil times and require more maintenance to clear soot buildup. (3) the Coleman 2 Burner Dual Fuel Compact Liquid Fuel Stove uses white gas or unleaded gasoline. (4) You will have trouble finding leaded gasoline.

        Question 19 (toasting bread in a skillet): the test says the correct answer is “c” (support the bread on salt). If you just laying the bread on the skillet, you won’t have salty bread. Alternatively you can hold the bread over the fire with a forked stick.

      • Adam Wright-> Thank you for the research, these pop quizzes always have thses type of questions. Either misleading, not accurate to the BSA handbook, or a choice between answers that are all correct.

    • Huh?! Are you kidding me? You want to prevent the water from ever entering the tent so you should put the ground cloth UNDER the tent not inside it! In addition, the ground cloth protects the bottom of the tent from potential punctures from branches, and it also protects it from laying on mud, rocks, decayed leaves etc.

      • Yep, put the ground cloth INSIDE the tent. I used to put in under. I switched, and won’t go back. Even better it makes cleaning out a muddy floor easier. Putting the ground cloth inside WILL keep you dry. Try it before you dismiss it the next time rain is predicted. Scout On!

    • If your goal is to protect the floor of your tent, then the ground cloth goes under your tent. If your goal is to stay dry in a torrential down pour, then the ground cloth should be in you tent and form a “Basin” which prevents water runoff from contacting your sleeping area if it gets through your tent floor or sides.

      • Isn’t the reason most tents these days have a ‘bathtub floor’ is to protect the tent from getting wet inside? The footprint goes under to protect from damage to the tent floor—not to prevent the interior getting wet.

    • The Scout book is very outdated. After two Northern Tier Treks, one Philmont trek and numerous local treks, I can say many of these suggestions are correct and need to be added to the next revision of the Scout Handbook. The Truckers hitch and a slip knot are excellent examples along with placing a ground cloth inside your tent forming a basin.

    • I never use a ground cloth inside or out. It’s just more weight to drag along I take a bit of care with site selection and preparation to preserve the integrity of the tent floor and occasionally spray waterproofing on the lower section of my tent walls. Never water problems except in high winds.

    • It makes complete sense. If you are going into the backcountry in heavy rains, it makes morse sense to put the tarp inside the tent where the tarp will act as a boat. The walls of the the tent will keep the edges of the tarp propped up so that the water outside will flow underneath it automatically. A tarp on the outside only helps protect the tent from wear, it doesn’t to that great of a job of keeping the rain out….

    • We have always put the ground cloth under the tent. May, 2015, we attended a campout with “very heavy rainfall”. The rain was the heaviest we’ve experienced in our 6 years Scouting experience.

      All ground cloths were under the tents. The rain was so heavy it didn’t have time to run off. Hence, our tent was in the middle of a 3″ puddle that completely surrounded the tent. I looked out the tent at 3 am.

      My tent didn’t “flood” per se. However, the water seeped into the tent soaking everything. I was on a cot. Therefore, my bag and cot were the only things dry. I was going to move my tent at 3 am. But our entire campground was a 2-3 inch pond. Everyone else in our group had the same experience.

      I LOVE the idea of the ground cloth INSIDE the tent. BEAUTIFUL idea. We will forever stay dry.

      Thank you!

    • Nope, the ground cloth DOES go INSIDE the tent. Otherwise all it does is trap water between the cloth and bottom of your tent and it will seep through. If you want your tent to be dry inside, you need to build a “bathtub” with your ground tarp!

      • Proper siting of a tent is the key to keeping water out. A quality tent with a bathtub floor should be sufficient in all but the most severe cases. Ground cloths are designed to protect the tent floor.

      • You should select the highest area of your site so water will drain away from your tent. Placing a ground cloth under the tent protects the bottom of your tent from punctures & wear. Placing either a ground cloth or a woven plastic mat (sold as picnic blankets) will protect you from seepage in the tent. The plastic mat is nice because it raises you up a bit off the floor & allows air flow where a plastic tarp can get hot in warm weather.

    • I agree with you, John. Most modern tents have a waterproof rain barrier and the ground cloth is used to protect the tent from damage. Not to say that trick won’t keep you dry but if you need it you are using the wrong tent.

    • Back in the day 🙂
      Not all tents had floors. So a ground cloth kept your bag off the dirt. When the tents with floors came out, then it made no sense to use a ground cloth on dry soil. On clay and other higher moisture soils, it was used to keep the mud and its moisture from soaking through the tent. Never put your tent up in even a small hole when its might rain, else you sleeping in a lake.

    • A ground cloth outside the tent protects the tent floor from abrasion, etc. When I go camping with the Troop, that’s how we do it. But we regularly inspect the tents and re-treat them with waterproofing every few years. Once we had a crew out on a canoe trip and it turned out that they had not selected their tent carefully. A ground cloth underneath the tent was rigged correctly, but there was a heavy rain that night and they got a fair amount of water in the tent. I had them put the ground cloth inside the tent for the rest of the trip and they had no more trouble.

    • I agree John, even the BSA Fieldbook, on several pages, especially page 70, states to place the ground cloth beneath your tent. P.S. I’ve been camping since 1960 and have never had the inside of my tent wet.

  2. Q19 of your survival quiz has a wrong answer as the correct answer. The question is about toasting bread in a skillet. Your correct answer suggests sprinkling some salt into the skillet then placing the “toast on top of the salt.” If it’s toast, why are you still putting it back in the skillet?

  3. You should include explanations for your answers!!!

    This would make it a very effective training tool too !

    Always enjoy your quizzes !!

      • Gretchen,
        Thanks, I was just going to suggest having references for the answers to each question when the answers are displayed. It would make a great way of teaching.

      • Bill,

        That’s a good idea. I’ll make sure to pass it on to our writer, Cliff, so that he can add to future quizzes for those interested.


        -Gretchen Sparling, associate editor of Scouting

  4. Terrible quiz. Most of the information not relavent, not useful, or just plain wrong.

    I would have liked to see more questions relating to knowledge which would be relied upon if things went wrong. Rather than having questions about which tent to buy or how to predsict the weather from vagaries such a as mosquito behavior, it should have been asking for example what items would be useful for making a shelter if your tent was lost or damaged.

    Questions relating to navigation, signalling and fire lighting would also have been useful

  5. Your answers to 1 and 9 are wrong. Ground cover should be the same size as the footprint of the tent or you just funnel water under you. And packs should never be top heavy regardless of the trail

    • The tarp they are talking about is inside the tent, not under it. Keeping it bigger than the inside of the tent helps to keep your gear dry by keeping any water that comes into the tent under the tarp.

      • I was at a Camporee last year in NJ – we got hit with a storm where the rain was coming at us horizontally, and the troops who put the tarps IN their tents ended up with 8 inches of water in their tents.

      • … and the troops with ground cloths under their tents, also got eight inches of water. Make a choice and live with the consequences. You could do both, under and inside.

  6. Silt particles inhibit disinfection. If the water is muddy or cloudy, allow the particles to settle undisturbed for several hours. Alternatively, add a small amount of a clearing agent such as alum (aluminum sulfate). The suggested dosage for alum is 1/5 teaspoon per gallon. Mix vigorously and allow to sit for five minutes, stirring twice. Once the silt has settled, either pour the cleared water into another container or draw directly from the top.

    • I have been on the Colorado and San Juan Rivers 4 times with my scouts. These rivers are heavy with silt. To avoid clogging filters we fill 5 gal buckets with water and let them sit overnight. In the morning we filter the top 3-4 gallons. We use a commercial grade ceramic pump filter which can be cleaned with a pot cleaning pad (scrubby).

    • Settling is the best option, and then drawing from mid water rather than surface or bottom. Most filters have a float at the intake, or you could form one with a donut of PE Pipe insulation. While Alum does clear the water, you don’t want to ingest it. It dissolves and once in solution, unless it goes through a carbon block, it will not be removed. Most “filters” remove particles. Only some removed dissolved chemicals, and even fewer “treat” for virus and bacteria. Lucky for all of us, most North American “stomach bugs” that we are all worried about are relatively large particles.

  7. Agree with the comment asking for explanations – several of these were surprises to me (and clearly to others as well), and would have benefited from expansion on the answer. Also, most of the Scout camping I’ve observed involves more than one sleeper per tent – how does pitching the tent sideways work when the topside one doesn’t quite get that leveling thing right? I can sleep quite well head-elevated (do it in easy chairs from time to time, just to keep my qual refreshed), not so much side-slanted, much less with a tent-mate encroaching!

  8. This is an awful quiz! Ground cover should be on the ground. Backpack should never be top heavy. Who in the world would put delicate light weight items under the heavy weight items anyway? I am not going to sleep rolling down the hill all night. I want my head at the top of it. Then there is the thunder question. Whoever put this together better watch the BSA weather again.

    A 23 year scouter,

    • Julie you are wrong, The first scout campout I went on as a scouter (I’m a 40 year old scouter), I slept on an incline with my head above and feet below facing downhill. I spent the wholenight sliding down towards the bottom of the tent. I would get up, move myself up, slide down again. So I put my backpack at my feet, didn’t help at all.

      Then I read in Backpacker Magazine about sleeping side hill and putting clothes under your sleeping mat on the downside of the hill. Tried it, slept great.

      As for the lightening question, it takes about 6 seconds for the lightening to thunder to work so 2 miles is about right.

      Most of the answers to these questions are actually spot on, the trouble is most of you only read BSA literature. Some of it is good, some of it is not. Pick up some other magazines (Backpacker is good, Ultralight Hiking, Outdoor Magazine, the ATC website, etc) and you will see many experienced hikers and people who do this for a living (especially in the case of Backpacker Magazine) advocating the same exact things that are in this quiz.

  9. It would be helpful to explain the reasons for the correct answers to the quiz,
    I enjoy your quizs and use them as a teaching aid with my troop.

  10. I enjoyed this quiz. I learned a thing or two. I especially liked the idea of putting the tarp on the inside of the tent. The testimonial left by another scouter was helpful on that one. I have never heard of using alum so that was good info too. I was taught to pack with the heaviest items on top of my backpack and this works best for me. It helps me maintain a near perfect balance in my posture so that I can stand almost perfectly straight. I never pack delicate items on a backpacking trek. If it can’t survive being crammed into a bear can, it doesn’t go in my pack.

  11. I have backpacked hundreds of miles on the Appalachian Mountain range. The majority of the answers here are wrong. After backpacking this long, I think that I would get a better score than 35%. Many of the answers are in the backpacking merit badge booklet. Scouting Magazine you should check your answers.

  12. oct.2013 I have 50 yrs. in scouts. I know leave no trace sounds great but scouting use to be about surviving, tracking, trailing, leading, and being on your own.to many of these answers were not from scout books and I don’t believe scouts. when you have to survive leave no trace should be left out. use birch bark when handy trench your tent. the real thing to teach is pot things back the way they were are better.

  13. Fascinating about the ground cloth issue. I can see that if there’s going to be normal dew or a sprinkling, or even a rain shower, outside the tent is the way to go. I’m also going way out on a limb here to assume that we all know enough to have our tent seams well sealed. That said, when you get the deluge that’s washing away tents and such, overwhelming seals and rising above the design tent flooring, having the rainfly inside and tucked up so that whatever water does get into the tent stays below the rim of the interior rainfly would make sense. So, one more reason to check those weather reports and/or know your meteorology!!

  14. The quiz was a great idea. I never thought about putting a tarp on the inside of my tent. I’ve heard many sad stories of how a rain soaked everyones gear at a campout. If a rain is coming, and I only have one tarp, i’m putting it inside the tent now.

    I may suggest at our next Roundtable to have the group take the quiz together…it definitely will get the Scoutmasters talking.

  15. This is a good guide for everyone to follow with one exception. When I was at Yellowstone , the park service gave a warning that the best distance minimum from any bear was 1 mile. If there are bears in the area, time to find a new spot. Period.
    During the two weeks we were there, one person was killed and two were mauled by bears. The only safe way is to stay away. If you encounter bear activity, have spray at hand and leave.


  16. Boy, I have been wrong all these years? I thought it was always one second from the thunder calculated one mile away the lightning is. I was taught that all of my life and validated by others. Can somebody educate me further on this?

    • Speed of sound (at sea level) = 767mph which is 12.78 miles per minute or 0.213miles/second (so about a fifth of a mile per second).
      That means it takes about 5 seconds (4.69 seconds to be precise) for sound to travel one mile.
      Light travels a mile almost instantly (it takes 0.000005 seconds) so when you see the flash, start counting; for every 5 seconds you count before you hear the thunder the sound has traveled one mile.

  17. Ground cloth under the tent and a tarp in the tent! Ground cloth (6 mil) plastic sheeting works very well. A tarp on the inside keeps everything dry, just in case! Also makes cleaning the inside very easy.
    I told my wife to put the tarp on the inside when she took 3 Webelos to Webelos Weekend. Four other leaders put theirs under the tent. Four other leaders stuff got wet the first night. Her boys and her stuff was dry. She said tarps magically appeared and were put inside the tents for teh rest of the weekend!

  18. I’ve been camping hundreds (thousands?) of nights and I’ve never used a sheet bend to pitch a tent or a tarp. The trucker’s hitch is OK, but puts tremendous strain on the rope with tight bends, so it is more likely to fail.

    I stopped wearing two pairs of socks twenty years ago, no blisters yet. And inside out is nuts, the inside of a sock is built with flatter seams for less irritation.

  19. I worked at Northern Tier and some of these situations I have been in. First, I have been caught in multiple storms. If the ground cloth fits the bottom of the tent it will stay dry. Next, if you are pitching your tent on an incline pitch the tent where your head will be on the upslope. Everything will be fine with a little bit of incline. Green does not go into the fire. Unless you need help do NOT put green anything in a fire. If I was ever in the backcountry and saw a sign of green in a fire I would think either there is a forest fire or someone needs help. Also being an LNT Trainer I instruct to use dead wood you find on the ground.

  20. There are many differences of opinion on ground clothes. I generally use one under the tent for wear and tear prevention and have it tucked under the tent all around. I also have a larger tarp inside the tent to prevent water inside and also wear and tear in the tent. For setting up on snow or ice here in Michigan I replace the inside tarp with a space blanket with the silver side facing up to reflect body heat back to the sleeper. While it is nice to keep dry…it is also a good idea to do what we can to increase the life of our expensive tents. One of my tents is a 4 season one that has survived many deluges and heavy snow storms. It is over 40 years old and still tight as a drum and doesn’t leak a drop.
    As far as loading a pack top or bottom heavy…depends on the activity. For technical climbing, snowshoeing, cross country sking I prefer the weight to be a bit lower or mid back. Top heavy packs tends to increase the likelihood of loosing balance and falling and when you do tumble it is harder to get up again especially when laying on soft deep snow.

  21. Pure B.S. These folks have not experienced the woods. Answers are from today’s Abercrombie & Fitch. My experience from 30 years out in the wild is find what works for you. Not 2 pairs of socks and a 4-point knot.

    • As someone with 47 years of experience I take issue with just a few of the suggestions. This article is not meant for you and I as much as it is for younger, less experienced folk. It’s all good when we return home with our tails of adventure and awh.

  22. Trucker’s Hitch? I agree it is a much stronger hitch but it is not a faster knot than the taut line. There are a lot more movements for the trucker’s hitch. And part of the point of a taut line is that it is simple and adjustable. And even with paracord, I’ve seen the taut line hold up to any stress.

  23. Number 4 says what should you do to prevent blister. I chose wear boots the fit properly. I got it won it said wear synthetic socks with wool lining. Well unless these people who made the test is a person who is a scout, better be higher then 1st class. I think a person who doesn’t have a scout experience made this quiz

  24. #1 is incorrect. The fact is heavy rains you would need to place a tarp over the tent as well. Saturation will leak through on standard tents.

  25. You use a double half hitch and a tauht-line both to secure a tent or fly.
    Also use the correct BSA terms when asking questions.

  26. I definitely see the value of putting the ground cloth in the tent when there is impending rain, though it does contradict it’s true intended use. Two things: 1) Depending on time of year, most wouldn’t carry a tent on a long back country trek due to the weight. Usually a tarp would suffice. 2) Many tents have a deep basin floor with seams higher in the wall. If your tent is leaking or you are worried of leaking, then you may consider a deep basin floored tent with heavy seam seal. You too have other options to ensure your gear stays dry.

  27. The quiz is , like much in life, open to discussion. Tarps/tents: Look at how your tent is attached to the “bathtub bottom”. Will rain running down the tent side be wicked INTO the seam, or be wicked OVER the seam? Many tents are sewn badly to encourage LEAKAGE. Your tent can be prepared for rain with judicious use of seam sealer. Saw many cardboard floors at the Jamboree, over poly inner floors. Those Troops had dry scouts.
    Knots? Only need three to set up a tent/tarp: Bowline, two half hitches and TAUTLINE. Truckers hitch is overkill, and cannot be easily adjusted after rain. Save Truckers for canoe carriers.
    Shoes and socks: 100% rag wool socks, well worn-in properly fitting boots. No blisters. Friend adds silk liner, but I never saw the need. &00KM on the Camino de Santiago, no blisters. Ladies : PLEASE get the boot that fits your lovely foot. You cannot wear size 8 forever.
    Wood/fires, Pine cones, Mountain Laurel (oily wood) even green makes good tinder. Feed the kindling and fuel from “squaw ” wood. Wood is dry inside the log.
    Adam Wright, above, has many of the right ideas. This quiz, as with most camping lore , is HIGHLY dependent on the camper’s experience, what his grandfather told him and his willingness to change as experience educates.

    See you on the trail….

  28. I have been in a torrential downpour (out on Isle Royale in Lake Superior), Tyvek under the tent. Tent had a tarp bottom. While we got less wet than the others we were with we had an issue with the bathtub. It rained so hard that water and mud slashed up between the rainfly and the tent all the way up to the top and dripped back down on us all night. There was dirt from top to bottom on the outside of the tent. While not soaked, we were certainly wet as the water had nowhere to go but to pool up. There is no perfect answer. That’s why we went to using Tyvek type material as a ground cloth under the tent. It breathes 1 way so as to help alleviate moisture from the tent floor when heavy rain is not in the forecast. If heavy rain is expected then we take a tent that has a bathtub tarp/plastic bottom and the Tyvek.

  29. I think aslong as u make out of the situation it won’t matter becouse at the end of the day its adventurous so try either of the ways and wat ever works out for you carry on with it

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