How to help Scouts or Venturers get ready for a long-distance trek

“Several things should be remembered when going on a hike,” warned the 1911 Boy Scout Handbook. “First, avoid long distances.”

How times have changed! Scouts and Venturers today set off on treks of 10 days or more at Philmont Scout Ranch. Scouts embarking from Northern Tier High Adventure Bases canoe deep into the wilds of Ontario, Manitoba and northern Minnesota. Casting off lines at the Florida Sea Base, Scouts sail the open seas. Groups of Scouts backpack stretches of the Pacific Crest Trail, the Appalachian Trail and many pathways in between.

The early Handbook states, “a foot-weary, muscle-tired and temper-tried, hungry group of boys is surely not desirable.” That’s why it’s essential for your Scouts or Venturers to be prepared for long-distance adventures. These seven steps can help them — and you — avoid becoming weary, tired, tried and hungry as the miles roll on.

Master the Basics

Strong outdoor skills go a long way when Scouts have a long way to go. As they are passing rank requirements related to camping and hiking, challenge them to make these skills their own. That foundation of experience will pay big dividends on bigger treks, especially if the weather turns nasty or the trail becomes extra long.

Encourage Ownership

Scouts or Venturers involved in selecting and organizing a long-distance trip will be more invested in its success than if adults make all the decisions. Annual program planning conferences of troops and crews are ideal times for leaders and youth to explore possibilities and nail down details.

Learn From Others

Invite experienced trekkers to share their stories. Draw on the knowledge of older Scouts, especially those who have been to BSA high-adventure bases. They can show their equipment, present slideshows and answer questions.

Prepare Yourself

Use the opportunity of an upcoming long-distance adventure to get yourself into better physical shape. That might include losing a few pounds and starting a regular exercise routine.

Take advantage of district and council opportunities to increase your outdoor knowledge. If you haven’t already done so, consider enrolling in a Wood Badge course to enhance your leadership abilities.

Conduct a Shakedown

Rangers and guides at BSA high-adventure bases conduct “shakedowns” before crews head for the backcountry. They ask Scouts to empty their packs and then go through gear and clothing to be sure everyone has exactly what they need — but nothing more.

Soon after deciding on a trek, help your Scouts organize a shakedown. They can find great checklists in The Boy Scout Handbook and Fieldbook, and on the websites of BSA high-adventure bases. Encourage youth to use these resources to create a master checklist best suited for the trek.

Guide everyone to match the checklist with what they have in their packs. Are clothing and equipment appropriate for the upcoming trip? Is everything in good condition and ready to meet demands? Are there lighter-weight options that can lessen their loads? Can some items be shared?

A final shakedown just before departure will ensure everyone is set to go.

Practice, Practice, Practice!

The best way to master backpacking, canoeing, sailing or any other adventure skills is to do those very things. Encourage Scouts and Venturers to get outdoors whenever they can. Use overnight campouts to prepare the same kinds of meals they will fix during upcoming treks and to test clothing and gear. Brush up on navigation skills by relying on maps and compasses, even if Scouts already know the way. Guide youth in understanding how leadership works in their group and what can be done to make it more efficient.

Even if you can’t get to the backcountry very often, use what you’ve got. For example, a troop in Richland, Wash., prepared for a Philmont trek by hiking up a high hill near town three times a week. They wore the footgear they would use in the mountains of New Mexico and shouldered packs as heavy as they could expect to carry on their trek. The hill climb seemed arduous at first, but eventually they could reach the top with ease.

Energize Everybody

A Scout unit with long-distance adventures as part of its program often finds younger Scouts are excited to see older members setting off for extended treks. Encourage them to see their own activities as stepping stones toward bigger things. Afternoon hikes, overnight campouts, summer camp and rank advancement are important by themselves. They also open doors to the kinds of trips they are seeing older Scouts doing. Soon enough, Scouts will be able to look back on great adventures.

ROBERT BIRKBY is author of three editions of The Boy Scout Handbook, two editions of the Fieldbook and the BSA’s new edition of the Conservation Handbook.

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