Four tips for getting new Cub Scouts to camp

On Sept. 1, Pack 3131 in Overland Park, Kan., held its annual join Scouting night. Three weeks later, the pack headed to Camp Timberlake for a fall family campout. Held in conjunction with another pack, the event attracted nearly 200 Cub Scouts, parents and siblings.

“When the signups started going up, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh; what am I getting myself into? ’ ” says Assistant Cubmaster Byron Clymer, who coordinates the pack’s camping program.

In fact, Clymer knew just what he was getting into, aside from dealing with larger-than-usual numbers. Since he joined the pack with his older son, Evan (who’s now a Life Scout in Troop 92), Clymer has built a camping program guaranteed to get new Cub Scouts excited and keep older Cub Scouts engaged. The goal, he says, is “creating that experience that’s not 100 percent Boy Scouts but more of a Cub Scout overnighter with some of the cool stuff they do at a Boy Scout campout.”

Clymer offers four suggestions for getting your pack’s camping program into high gear:

1. Teach and Reassure

Clymer knows many of his new Cub Scouts have never been camping. Many of the parents, if they’ve been camping at all, did so when they themselves were kids. So he assumes nothing. Much of the pack’s September meeting is devoted to preparing for the campout, which means firing up the boys and calming down the parents.

Rather than lead the meeting himself, Clymer recruits a local Boy Scout troop to do so. “They’ll put this pack meeting on,” he says. “They use it as a recruiting opportunity, and our Cub Scouts and parents use it as a learning opportunity.”

The learning takes the form of stations where Cub Scouts can learn and practice basic camping skills like packing gear, pitching a tent and performing simple first aid. The troops do a great job turning each station into a game to keep the Cub Scouts engaged. Parents are welcome to look on, but they’re also encouraged to ask questions of Clymer and other camping veterans.

“The biggest concern is the gear,” he says. “Where do I get the gear? What gear do I need? Do I need to buy the $200 sleeping bag, or can I buy the $20 sleeping bag?” The answers are supplemented by resources on the pack’s website.

2. Use Your Resources

Clymer relies on area Boy Scout troops for more than camping expertise. The pack has very little gear, so he borrows stoves, griddles, Dutch ovens and other gear for each outing. All he has to do is avoid scheduling conflicts with troop campouts.

Some troops also provide personal gear on request. “If a parent doesn’t want to go out and buy a tent, they’ll be able to borrow a tent from the troop,” he says. “They’ve been very, very gracious with letting us use their gear.”

Clymer says troops sometimes offer to come along and cook, but he typically declines that offer since Cub Scouts need to complete cooking requirements for adventures like Bear Necessities (Bear) and Castaway (Webelos/Arrow of Light). Last fall, for example, the pack’s first-year Webelos made 20 dump cakes in 20 Dutch ovens.

“Making dump cakes is super simple and always a hit,” he says.

3. Strive for Simplicity

“Super simple” is a good way to describe Pack 3131’s campouts. Families arrive after lunch Saturday and leave before lunch Sunday. The pack provides dinner, breakfast and s’mores after the campfire.

Den leaders are encouraged to spend an hour or two working on advancement requirements, but plenty of time is set aside for free play.

“We want to make sure the boys have their rolling-around time,” Clymer says. “A lot of them have been confined to their backyards or their streets or their school playgrounds. Having the expanse of this camping area is just fun to explore.”

Popular meal options include breakfast burritos and walking tacos. (Pour ingredients in a lunch-sized bag of Doritos or Fritos. The bag is also the bowl, so — voila — walking tacos.) These entrees work well because much of the preparation can be done at home, there’s minimal cleanup and everyone can customize their meal based on their food preferences.

“We have different nationalities of families, so we’ll typically leave the eggs and the bacon and the sausage separate and let the families choose what they’d like to put on their burritos,” Clymer says.

4. Honor Tradition

Traditions are important, Clymer says. A major highlight of each Pack 3131 campout is the campfire program, and the highlight of the highlight is making s’mores under the watchful eyes of adult “s’more lords.” In addition to ensuring safety — no wildly waving a flaming marshmallow to put it out! — the adults keep things fun and light.

One year, Clymer skipped over the s’mores. After hearing complaints from boys the next morning and at the next pack meeting, he realized his mistake.

“Now, we might not eat dinner, but we will always do s’mores,” he says.

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