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.

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.

Scouting @ Home: Weather Merit Badge

As we move from winter to spring, this is a great time to step outside the house and learn about the weather. All the requirements for the Weather merit badge can be done at home.

Just two days ago, I saw puffy cumulus clouds over the Santa Cruz Mountains and long, higher altocumulus over our valley. After this merit badge, you’ll know what that means.

Weather

There is a great page at the National Weather Service with NWS resources for the Weather merit badge. It has maps, charts, and even a document listing careers in weather.

The San Francisco Bay Region has really interesting weather. If you want to dig into it, I highly recommend Weather of the San Francisco Bay Region by Harold Gilliam. You’ll learn about waterfall fog and why some Berkeley is often colder than Oakland. Check your library for a copy.

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

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

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

Scouting @ Home: Entrepreneurship and Salesmanship Merit Badges

Ready to run an internet-based business? Entrepreneurship merit badge will walk you through the business plan and Salesmanship will track your success.

In our neighborhood, a girl is selling bake-at-home bread dough. Weekdays alternate French bread and naan, with cinnamon rolls on the weekend.

We came across this sign on our daily walk and ordered as soon as we got home. The first weekend delivery of cinnamon rolls was already sold out, so we signed up for the Saturday evening delivery (for Sunday morning). Leave a pan on your porch, pay with cash or PayPal.

Bread dough sign

I had a cinnamon roll this morning. It was tasty.

Bread dough cinnamon rolls

Have an idea for a business? Start with these two merit badges.

Entrepreneurship

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

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

Salesmanship

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

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

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

Scouting @ Home: Hiking Merit Badge

Hiking is probably not the first thing that you associate with “shelter in place”, but our California order does allow walking and hiking for exercise and well-being. These hikes must be with the people you live with. Hikes for this merit badge do not have to be Scout hikes.

Hiking

Hiking merit badge requires:

  • One 5 mile hike
  • Three 10 mile hikes
  • One 15 mile hike
  • One 20 mile hike

For each of these hikes, you need to make a plan before the hike and write up a reflection after the hike.

During this period, we have additional safety concerns. Hike where you can maintain a six foot social distance. Your hiking companions must be people you live with. Do not hike in remote areas. If anything goes wrong, the search and rescue team volunteers will need to break their social distance and may need to self-quarantine afterwards.

Here are some hiking guidelines from the Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST).

  • Stay at home if you or others in your household are sick.
  • Explore nature nearby and try to choose less-frequented parks and trails.
  • Before visiting parks or preserves, check their websites for updated closure information. If a parking lot is full, crowded, or closed, do not go to the preserve.
  • Go alone or with members of your household only. Do not hold social gatherings. Stay six feet away from people you don’t live with.
  • Restrooms and other public facilities are closed; plan ahead before leaving home. Pack out all your trash.
  • Don’t stay too long — give others the opportunity to have a safe experience as parking will be limited.

Of course, we always use the buddy system, so no solo hiking.

Would a hike into the backcountry of Henry Coe State Park be a good idea? Absolutely not. That is lovely country and spring is the right season to hike it, but it is rugged and remote. Instead, plan a hike along the SF Bay Trail, which is nearly all close to towns and roads. The Bay Trail is 500 miles long, so you won’t run out of trail any time soon. The SF Bay Ridge Trail is another possibilities, but only segments that parallel roads, like along Skyline Road in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

If you have any doubts, choose a different hike. If the trailhead is crowded, turn around and choose a different hike.

Hiking merit badge requires a lot of hikes, so even if you cannot (safely) finish it during this shelter in place order, you can get a start.

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

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

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

Scouting @ Home: Family Life Merit Badge

It is hard to imagine a merit badge better suited for “shelter in place” than Family Life. Let’s take a look at some of the requirements.

Family life

As you might guess, all of the requirements are done with your family or are discussions with your merit badge counselor. There are two requirements for projects that benefit your family, one individual project and one whole family project. Some ideas:

  • Plant a vegetable garden so you can make fewer trips to the store. Garden stores are closed, but hardware stores with garden departments are open, like our local Ace Hardware in Mountain View.
  • Plan and cook freeze-ahead meals for a week. You make the meals on Sunday, freeze them, then thaw and finish them each night from Monday through Friday.
  • Plan a week or more of meals that can be made from pantry items. Make the shopping list for these. For example, pasta puttanesca is made with pasta, canned tomato paste and crushed tomatoes, canned anchovies, jarred olives and capers. The Simply Recipes site has some resources for shelter in place shopping and cooking.
  • Organize your pantry to work better for long-term food storage.
  • Clean out and organize a garage, closet, games, whatever.
  • Bicycle maintenance day, adjusting brakes and shifters, oiling chains, whatever is needed.
  • Organizing school supplies for remote learning.
  • Update your family’s first aid kit and emergency supplies. Replace any out of date medications.
  • Clean out your fridge and freezer. Toss any expired food. Plan recipes to use the oldest items that are still good.

I’m sure there are other things you can think of that are important for your family.

In addition to the projects, you’ll make a list of household chores and track when you do them for 90 days.

You’ll also organize a family meeting to talk about several important topics. See the merit badge requirements for details.

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

The Family Life merit badge pamphlet is available online from the BSA.

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

Shack Upgrade

For years, my “ham shack” has been equipment crowded on top of a crate surrounded by other crates and boxes. It was neither attractive or effective.

Can you find the radios? The VHF/UHF rig on the floor would be stacked on the dresser for the weekly Monday night ARES/RACES net.

Ham shack before

There isn’t a lot of space in the corner, so I spent quite a while looking for the right table or desk. I settled on a 24 x 36 inch hardwood table that looks like it belongs in a classroom. A deeper table would work better for radio gear, but this one fit the space, was reasonably attractive, and affordable ($172).

On Saturday, my new table arrived and the cleanup and reorganization commenced. The old crate is now a bookshelf next to the desk.

Ham shack after

With California’s “shelter in place” coronavirus order, the shack is doing double duty as a home office. The big monitor and keyboard are from work.

Ham shack desk

The power supply (adjusted to 15 V) and 100 W RF amp are under the monitor stand. Stereo speakers for the receiver (not the computer) are on top of the stand. I wrote about the speakers and audio amp in an earlier blog post. The dummy load (see this post) is behind the monitor. Farther to the right are the Elecraft KX3 and PX3 on an over/under stand from the North Georgia QRP Club. At the far right is a Yaesu FT-8900R VHF/UHF rig mounted in a Tac-Comm case. That can be quickly disconnected from power (PowerPoles) and the antenna (BNC) to be taken mobile or portable.

The monitor stand is a “Thank You” gift from when I worked at HP. I’d helped out some folks in another division, so they sent me one of the monitor stands they made in their sheet metal shop. It is a beauty, thick aluminum, with stiffening ridges along the front and back edges, and nicely painted in official HP instrument dove grey.

Time to quit rearranging stuff and get on the air!

Social Distancing and the Scout Staff

Having a hard time judging the six foot distance needed for coronavirus social distancing? Bring along your Scout staff!

The modern BSA staff is a great deal for $5.99. It is five feet long, so you’ll need a bit of arm extension.

I recommend getting a crutch tip for the bottom end of your staff. It gives you better grip and extends the life of the staff. A 1 1/8 inch crutch tip will fit the current BSA staff.

Some of the classic Scout staves are six feet or even six and a half feed long. This is my dad’s staff with my 6’2″ self as a measuring stick.

Scout staff walter

Just another thing to add to the list of uses of a Scout staff.

To compare the sizes, this is our collection of hiking staves. The mid-sized one is from a large sassafras shrub. A friend collected it in Arkansas and made this for me. The shortest one is the current BSA Scout staff. It seems really short here, but it is a very practical size, especially for youth. The tallest one has marks at one inch intervals for the top foot.

Scout staff collection

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

BSA Emergency Preparedness Award

No, not the merit badge, the award. It even has a dedicated spot on the uniform, on the left pocket flap. This can be earned by individuals from Tiger Cubs up through council adult volunteers. There are also unit, district, and council awards. Youth awards are approved by the unit leader, so there isn’t much paperwork.

Emergency preparedness award

See the requirements for the different levels for the details. Click through to the application to see the approvals. Your Scout shop or National Supply will have the Emergency Preparedness Pin ($2.49).

The requirements include some unit activities and courses, so they might be hard to do from home. Still, this is a good time to get started and to add it to the annual calendar.

I qualified for my award under the district Scouter requirements. I’ve taken Wilderness First Aid multiple times, which is a superset of a basic first aid course. I’m an ARES/RACES amateur radio volunteer for our city. I’ve taken the FEMA Introduction to Incident Command System course (and others) for my city volunteer work. And so on, the requirements are a good list.

Finally, this is one of those rare awards that is approved for both uniform and civilian wear (“may be worn either on the uniform or on nonuniform wear, centered on left pocket flap” in the Guide to Awards and Insignia). Maybe I need a second pin for my ARES/RACES vest.

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