I was dumbfounded when the parent of a Webelos visiting our troop asked; “What about a Scout who doesn’t really like camping?”
How would you answer that question?
The best I could come up with was; “I don’t really know what Scouting is if we aren’t camping, I don’t think it’s an option.”
I couldn’t really explain why we go camping beyond the typical answers about having fun, teamwork, physical activity, and I realized a lot of activities could accomplish those ends.
Why do Scouts go camping? Is it just to get outdoors?
Most importantly, is camping essential to Scouting or is it just an option?
Is there anything else we could do that would have the same benefits?
I turned to a favorite book, Walden, and I had my answer;
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary.
I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.”
― Henry David Thoreau, Walden: Or, Life in the Woods
Yes, by the way, I understand Thoreau didn’t camp out at Walden, (he built a cabin). What’s important is why he decided to separate himself from the typical, every-day life he had known.
What happens when Scouts go camping is similar, yet it is not quantifiable or particularly easy to explain.
Camping requires living deliberately, examining the essential facts of life.
Camping requires establishing an outpost of civilization, managing resources, setting routines, cooperating, and learning the practicalities of interdependence.
Camping requires recreating the mechanisms of survival, applying specialized skills, depending on what we can do with our hands.
Camping takes us to the frontier where nature and civilization meet; we can learn a lot about both if we keep our eyes open.
Camping separates from everyday life because camping is at odds with everyday life.
Camping means leaving distractions behind; it is just us, the forest, and our fellow Scouts.
Camping means pushing ourselves physically and mentally beyond our normal sphere of comfort.
Camping asks us to take ourselves as we are, it’s hard to be someone you aren’t in the wild.
Camping inspires humility, to confront our frailty in the face of the natural world.
Camping inspires reverence for nature and teaches us where we fit in the grand scheme of things.
Here’s a PDF of these thoughts to print out and share, (you can download it below).
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“Camping is the joyous part of a Scout’s life. Living out in God’s open air, among the hills and the trees, and the birds and the beasts, and the sea and the rivers — that is, living with nature, having your own little canvas home, doing your own cooking and exploration — all this brings health and happiness such as you can never get among the bricks and smoke of your town.” Baden-Powell, Scouting for Boys (1908)
Brad Myers says
When I talk to parents about Scouting, I often refer to camping as a “laboratory for life”. The Scouts do it for the fun and adventure, but along the way they learn management and how to run a household.