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.”
- 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.