Scouting @ Home: Virtual Camping

Is virtual camping a real thing in Scouting? Well…it can be.

Update: On April 13th, BSA national published guidelines for completing rank requirements up through First Class while maintaining social distancing. See the question “Q: What changes have been made to rank advancement/camping requirements given the need to maintain social distancing during this time?” in the BSA COVID-19 FAQ.

Update 2: The FAQ has been updated with this statement: “No, virtual camping will not count toward the 15 nights camping required for membership in the Order of the Arrow.”

Short version:

  • Rank requirements through First Class, maybe, maybe not. [Now “yes”, see above FAQ.]
  • Camping merit badge, possible.
  • Order of the Arrow camping nights, it’s complicated. [Now not allowed, see above.]
  • National Outdoor Award, probably yes.

Do virtual campouts work for rank requirements through First Class? Tenderfoot requirement 1b says a “patrol or troop campout” and the requirements for other ranks specify “troop/patrol activities” and “overnight camping”. If the troop decides that the activity is everyone camping in their back yard, maybe. But the point of patrol and troop activities is to use the patrol method and learn Scouting with your peers. I’d like to see a patrol competition or something like that. Get the patrols to plan and the Patrol Leaders to lead.

Camping merit badge requirement 9A requires camping at “designated Scouting activities or events.” If the troop plans a backyard camping even coordinated over social media, is that a designated Scouting activity? Sure seems like it would be to me. Going to a Jamboree or to Philmont would count, and that isn’t a troop activity.

Do they work for Order of the Arrow camping? Clearly, they would be “Scout camping” and “under the auspices and standards of the Boy Scouts of America”. It does support unit camping. For most OA camping questions, like “Is an Adirondack shelter camping?”, the decision is up to the Scoutmaster. In this case, I would ask the local OA lodge leadership for advice.

How about the National Outdoor Award? Camping and hiking for this award must be for advancement credit or “approved and under the auspices and standards of the Boy Scouts of America”. This standard is very broad. It includes anything done as a part of Scouting. For example, family backpacking is accepted for the Backpacking merit badge. Because that was part of a merit badge, it is considered “under the auspices”. There is a clear explanation in this BSA blog post on interpreting “under the auspices”.

Welcome to the various definitions of camping nights in the BSA. They are a maze of twisty little passages, all different.

Is this as good as physical troop or patrol camping? Not even close. Physical camping requires far more decisions and planning, no running back into the house because you forgot to pack the chili powder.

Does this contribute to a healthy troop? Almost certainly. It is a new challenge, with new leadership obstacles and requiring more explicit planning. It could even improve the planning for future physical campouts.

How would this be planned? Pretty much the same as any well-planned Scouting event.

  • Planned by the PLC.
  • Choose a theme or goal for the event.
  • Review and manage safety risks.
  • Sell it to the troop.
  • Schedule and write down the troop and patrol activities, including duty rosters.
  • Get signups.
  • Do it!
  • Review it.

For an even more detailed list, use The Adventure Plan from the BSA.

And of course, the camping Portion of the Guide to Safe Scouting.

Do we need activity consent forms for this activity? Well, I guess, but mostly to assure that parents or guardians know what is going on. Other than that, I’m not sure they achieve anything for virtual camping.

These are exceptional times, so go ahead and try a virtual campout or two. We’ll all get together in one place as soon as we can.

Resources and Other Opinions

The BSA FAQ on COVID-19 does not mention virtual camping as I write this. Things may change, so check that page when you read this.

There are more ideas on the Scout on through COVID-19 page on ScoutWiki.

Sycamore District near Chicago has a Facebook video invitation to a virtual campout.

The National Capitol Area Council (the council that includes Washington DC) has published guidelines that say virtual camping does not count for advancement. These are for their council only.

Facebook post from Louis McBride (with minor copy-editing):

Hello all, national BSA volunteer with some areas to look at while understanding the importance of virtual camping. This seems to be a hot topic with many of you and need to understand the major points of it.

Virtual camping first of all is pretty down simple by the following points:

Every Scout must pitch a tent in their own backyard. Then they connect by Zoom, social media, or other electronic device to share camp stories or what they cooked for dinner with said unit to make this possible. Please follow what is stated as such in the handbook for any of their advancements. In the morning they can then jointly work one of the many other activities listed here: Camp Gadget, inspection of site, judging the location and how the tent is setup, the any other requirements that need to be completed, even show who is your camping buddy for your event!

Please make sure you follow the sweet 16 while in this, I.e follow the camping rules provided in guide to safe scouting. You can even do bugling merit badge and the like while they are doing this, but keep in mind to follow WHAT the requirements say in the handbook, and not create your own because that is not what this is intended of this.

Keep in note no glamping aka camping indoors, in cabins, in sheds, etc. A council Activity of virtual camping can occur too as a “council activity” and this goes with districts too. Also so all can understand there is no note about backyard is not camping in Guide to Advancement nor in any rank advancement. We are speaking about non-traditional motives.

Also note this too is that make sure this activity is authorized as a unit/district/council outing by making sure its on the unit/district/council calendar and approved if need be as to once its on the calendar that means it is an official program for that unit/district/council. If you have further questions you could just ping me on this, but I am not here to do policies debacles only to make sure the understanding is clear.

Backpacking Meal Planning: Sources for Ingredients and Meals

Tired of the same old mylar packet of freeze-dried stuff? Here are some sources for tasty prepackaged meals and for dehydrated ingredients so you can make your own. As I write this, a lot of the dehydrated ingredients are out of stock, likely due to new converts to emergency preparedness. I’m sure they’ll be back in stock by the time we are ready to go backpacking again.

PackIt Gourmet

PackIt Gourmet makes appetizing prepackaged meals, some of them unusual, like the Many Bean Salad. That takes a hour to rehydrate (cold water), but it is really tasty. They also sell ingredients and kits of ingredients. The black beans can be combined with minute rice, sun-dried tomatoes, dried onion, and some seasonings to make a homemade dehydrated trail meal. Add a can of chicken if you’d like some meat.

Pack-It Gourmet offers freeze-dried meat, which can be hard to find. With that and some grocery store items, you can package your own backpacking meals.

Outdoor Herbivore

Good source for vegetarian and vegan backpacking meals. As a bonus, they’ll show you how to grow sprouts on the trail. And their name rhymes.

Harmony House

The Harmony House Backpacking Kit is a collection of eighteen packages of different kinds of freeze-dried vegetables. Each package is one cup of freeze-dried vegetables in a zip-lock bag. The kit is about $70 from most sources. This is a great way to get started with home-assembled dehydrated meals if you don’t have a dehydrator. Harmony House sells lots of different kinds and quantities of dehydrated and freeze-dried ingredients.

Harmony House also stocks a wide variety of textured vegetable protein (TVP), a vegan option for backpacking.

True Lime, True Lemon

Crystallized lime or lemon juice with no sugar. Add this to beans or Mexican food when it is finished cooking and the flavor will really pop out. It’s good with tea, too, if you are into that sort of thing.

Amazon

Dehydrated lentils, dehydrated garbanzo beans, coconut milk powder, all sorts of things are available on Amazon.

Your Supermarket

There are a surprising number of dehydrated ingredients in regular grocery stores. You’ll find instant rice, potato flakes, couscous, soup mixes, and more. Plus, you can use small cans of cooked chicken to provide protein. Check the international section for other dried foods. Look into freezer bag cooking to get idea and recipes.

Backpacking Meal Planning: Nutrition, Recipes, and Techniques

These are my favorite trail cooking references and cookbooks, with some explanations of why they are so good.

Trail cooking books

Nutrition and Ration Planning

The Backpacker’s Field Manual, Rick Curtis. ISBN: 1400053099

This is the best source for information on nutrition and hydration. It is the only book I’ve found that is specific about how much water to carry (page 71). The section is short, like all the sections. This is really a college text for outdoor programs and is was written for an outdoor leader training course at Princeton. It is not thrilling to read, but it sure does have the data.

Want to know how to make complete protein combinations in your meals? Check out the nutrition “N” diagram on page 68. Organize the categories in alphabetical order and choose any two neighbors. Yes, this will be on the test.

Nutrition N

NOLS Cookery 7th Edition, Claudia Pearson, editor. ISBN: 0811719812

The best reference on ration planning. You’ll learn about “ppppd”, pounds per person per day, and how to get healthy food that doesn’t weigh too much. This is the best resource on cooking fires and bear protocol (though Philmont bear protocol is different).

Most recipes use the NOLS style of cooking from scratch (with a few mixes) on the trail. Carry bulk ingredients, then combine them for meals. If you want to make bread in the backcountry, NOLS Cookery will tell you how. It is worth trying this style, if only to make Meal-in-a-Mug (page 111). Recent editions (6th and later) include some ultralight-style recipes that are made at home and rehydrated on the trail.

The Hungry Spork and The Hungry Spork Trail Recipes, Inge Aksamit. ISBN: 0997061812 and ISBN: 0997061839

The Hungry Spork: A Long Distance Hiker’s Guide to Meal Planning is the best reference for pre-planning meals for treks of a week or more, including a week-by-week schedule before the trip. The recipes are high-calorie thru-hiker food, suitable for hiking the entire Pacific Crest Trail or feeding hungry teenagers. Includes excellent information on sports nutrition for hiking; which foods to eat when so you keep your energy up on the trail.

The Hungry Spork Trail Recipes: Quick Gourmet Meals for the Backcountry is a collection of 30 recipes with detailed nutrition information, options for vegetarian, vegan, or allergy-friendly meals, and helpful reviews from meal testers. It is a bit like reading a very, very good blog on trail cooking.

Recipes and Techniques

NOLS Cookery

See above, this is the top references for the “NOLS” style of cooking sort-of from scratch. Carry things like biscuit mix, potato buds, cheese, and so on.

Freezer Bag Cooking, Sarah Kirkconnell.

Freezer Bag Cooking: Trail Food Made Simple is the first of a series of books by Sarah Kirkconnell on backpacking meals made with (mostly) supermarket ingredients. Many of them are designed to be packaged and rehydrated in a quart ziplock freezer bag, thus the name of the technique. For larger groups, these can be simmered in a pot.

This is a great approach for Scouts because it is much less expensive than prepackaged freeze-dried meals, and can be adjusted for preferences in ingredients and seasonings. Measuring and prep is done in a home kitchen, with simple rehydration on the trail.

I blogged one of her recipes with her kind permission, Veggie Exotic Couscous.

You can find all of her books at the Trail Cooking store.

Recipes for Adventure, Glenn Mcallister. ISBN: 1484861345

How to dehydrate ingredients and mixes at home, then rehydrate them on the trail. More useful if you have a dehydrator, but smaller quantities can be dried in an oven. This book is especially useful if you need to carefully control ingredients because of food allergies, religious requirements, or other reasons. Also, the food tastes really good. Also go to Glen’s website Backpacking Chef.

Lipsmackin’ Backpackin’, Christine Connors and Tim Connors. ISBN: 0762781327

Most of these recipes are entirely cooked at home, dehydrated, then rehydrated on the trail. If you want to use that style, start with this book. You will probably need a dehydrator and plenty of home prep time.

The Back-Country Kitchen, Teresa Marrone. ISBN: 0965153509

My personal favorite backcountry cookbook, because it has a wide variety of techniques and it’s all delicious. It covers everything from bread on a stick to venison with cherry sauce.

I’ve blogged about two recipes from this book, Italian Stick Bread and Lentil-Bulgur Chili (with her permission, since it includes the recipe).

What’s Cooking on the PCT?, Martin “Rainman” Leghart, Jr.

This has one recipe each from 48 different people, so it is a wild ride through cooking styles. It includes vegan bean chili stew, vegan hete bliksem (spiced apples and potatoes), big shakes or super oatmeal for big breakfast hikers, a couple of ramen pseudo-Thai meals, a Roman army lentil stew, Leebe bedouin bread baked in coals, loaded mashed potatoes, Thanksgiving in a bowl, and finally quick and dirty peach cobbler (using Louisiana Fish Fry brand cobbler mix). On top of that, half the profits go to the Pacific Crest Trail Association. Not bad for $10.

Dirty Gourmet: Food for Your Outdoor Adventures by Aimee Trudeau, Emily Nielson, and Mai-Yan Kwan.

I have not (yet) cooked from this book. Every time I look at it, I start planning a trip where I can cook from it. Take a look at the Dirty Gourmet website to see some recipes and get a feel for their approach.

Scouting @ Home: Cooking Merit Badge

You cannot complete Cooking merit badge at home, but you can make a solid start on it. Plus, your parents will be thankful for you taking care of several meals.

Cooking

Cooking is a core life skill. Our younger son was in Scouts before this merit badge was required for Eagle, but he learned to cook in our kitchen and on campouts. Later, he taught it to younger Scouts in his patrol. When he moved off campus in college, he was cooking for the seven people in his house, and teaching one of them to cook instead of serving expensive take-out.

Trail cooking hoover crop

The central requirements of Cooking merit badge are to plan and cook several meals in each of three categories. Two of these categories can be completed at home. The third can be planned at home for trail cooking.

  • Cooking at home: Plan three full days of meals (three breakfasts, three lunches, and three dinners) plus one dessert, prepare and serve one breakfast, one lunch, one dinner, and one dessert.
  • Camp cooking: These meals must be prepared and served “in the outdoors”. This can be a back yard or park, but no running back into the kitchen to get stuff that you forgot. Plan five meals and prepare three of them.
  • Trail and backpacking meals: These meals must be prepared and served “while on a trail hike or backpacking trip”. A Scouting trip is not required, so these technically could be done on a family trail hike. California’s current public health order only allows hikes for exercise or well-being, so I believe cooking on a hike is beyond the allowed activities.

For camp cooking, one of the meals must be cooked “using either a Dutch oven OR a foil pack OR kabobs”. These methods pretty much need a wood or charcoal fire. The other methods require a fire or a light-weight stove. If you don’t have a backpacking stove, you might be able to use a patrol stove or borrow one from another Scout or an adult leader.

When using a stove, follow the BSA chemical fuels safety policy from the Guide to Safe Scouting.

Trail cooking big basin crop

To learn the basic techniques of cooking, I highly recommend How to Cook Everything: The Basics by Mark Bittman. This very detailed Amazon review explains why this book is so good.

The Cooking merit badge pamphlet recommends The Scout’s Backpacking Cookbook. I don’t agree with that and my review explains why.

The 2014 edition of the Cooking merit badge pamphlet recommended ground poultry and canned food for backpacking and trail meals. Those are both terrible ideas. I don’t know if that advice has been fixed, but I’d get backpacking meal ideas from the Backpacking merit badge pamphlet instead.

For both home and trail cooking, take a look at the Cooking chapter in your Scout handbook. The BSA one pot stew in that chapter is a tasty, easy recipe.

Finally, I’ve posted quite a few food and cooking resources on my blog.

Enough warnings and caveats and suggestions. Get cooking, and bon appétit!

You can find the requirements on the BSA site (PDF) or at the US Scouting Service Project (with a worksheet).

The Cooking merit badge pamphlet is available online from the BSA.

For more posts like this, check out the Scouting at Home category on this blog.