Why does Philmont call its groups ‘crews’ and not ‘patrols’?

expertlogo1At Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico, groups of seven to 12 individuals unite to take on the challenging adventures awaiting them in the backcountry.

But first thing’s first. What do we call them?

These groups at Philmont are called crews, a fact that made Wakefield, Mass., assistant Scoutmaster Jeff Crump a little curious. He writes:

Hi Bryan,

I just got back from an amazing trip to Philmont, but something is puzzling me. At Philmont, they refer to each group of people that goes out on the trail at Philmont as a “crew” and not “patrol.” Yes, it’s trivial, but I’m curious as to why that terminology was chosen.


Jeff Crump
Assistant Scoutmaster, Troop 701

It’s an interesting question and one I hadn’t thought to ask. Until now.

I went to the wise and smartly named Bryan Hayek, Philmont’s marketing manager.

Here’s what Bryan had to say:

While crews and patrols behave similarly, their makeup is quite different.

The Patrol

This information comes straight from the BSA website:

The patrol is a group of Scouts who belong to a troop and who are probably similar in age, development and interests. The patrol method allows Scouts to interact in a small group outside the larger troop context, working together as a team and sharing the responsibility of making their patrol a success. A patrol takes pride in its identity, and the members strive to make their patrol the best it can be. Patrols will sometimes join with other patrols to learn skills and complete advancement requirements. At other times they will compete against those same patrols in Scout skills and athletic competitions.

Patrol size depends upon a troop’s enrollment and the needs of its members, though an ideal patrol size is eight Scouts. Patrols with fewer than eight Scouts should try to recruit new members to get their patrol size up to the ideal number.

The Crew

Participants at Philmont, Northern Tier and Florida Sea Base all form crews before beginning their adventure. Each High Adventure crew is required to have a minimum of two adults and all youth must be at least 14 or 13 and have completed the 8th grade. At Philmont, crews consist of seven to 12 individuals. Northern Tier and Florida Sea Base crew sizes fluctuate slightly depending on the type of program. Scouting units may form crews on their own but it’s also possible to join a contingent crew hosted by a council. Contingent crews make it possible for smaller units to band together and form complete crews.

Once formulated, High Adventure crews behave similar to a patrol. Each crew has a crew leader that helps the crew share duties and make good decisions through out their adventure. Adult advisors are available to offer additional guidance and mentorship if necessary.

So patrols and crews share some similarities, but the manner in which they’re formed and their functions differ. Hope that clears it up!

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    • Because in IOLS you are learning the Patrol method, and going over all requirements for the Boy Scout program up to First Class. Since you are acting like a Boy Scout, you are in a patrol.

    • IOLS, as Tom said is all about the introduction, implementation, and use of the Patrol Method. Personally, to me I think that it is great that National High Adventure Bases (NHAB) use the word Crew instead of Patrol. The reason why is because usually for most trips to NHAB is that the group of Scouts going tend to not all be in the same Patrol within the Troop/Crew they are based out of. Additionally, more and more often I have noticed that unless you have a huge home unit, you usually have to get Scouts from other units to fill the remaining spots. Same concept applies to international trips, National Jamborees, and World Jamborees.

  1. Simple answer, IOLS is based on the Boy Scout model of patrols. It’s how Scoutmasters learn about the ways in which to lead a group of Boy Scouts in the outdoors. The patrol IS the fundamental unit of Boy Scouts, therefore this forms the basis of how things are taught. On my IOLS course I had 2 Venturing Crew Advisors as part of my patrol. Being part of a patrol was a little bit unusual for them. But they were fine with it since IOLS is a Boy Scout Leader training and not Venturing Leader training. High Adventure is based on the Venturing model of the crew. When you are on a high adventure trek (Philmont, Northern Tier, Sea Base, Swamp Base, High Adventure Base in Alaska, etc.) you are following the Venturing way and you are a crew at that point.

    • While I agree in principal if you look at what the Patrol Method is and the methods used in venturing they are actually quite similar in nature. It’s just that in order to keep things separated and clear that Venturing and Boy Scouts have different programs, methods, and aims. Now with Venturing eventually going to the Scout Oath and Scout Law, the number of differences will become even smaller.

  2. While it was not mentioned here, I would not be surprised if “crews” date back to the days of “Philmont Scout Ranch and Explorer Base.” Functional patrol-like divisions of Explorer Posts were called crews and were led by a crew leader and assistant crew leader (1946 Explorer Scout Manual). That designation has survived today as the name for Venturing units–Venturing Crews, the descendents of outdoor Explorer Posts.

    • I think there is definitely some validity to that line of thought. My father was part of a Philmont crew in I believe 1956. I have a picture of the day they departed and you could see a blended group of Explorer, Boy Scout and I believe at least one Sea Scout uniform in their group.

    • You’re absolutely correct. As a collector of Scouting Literature, student of Scouting History, and Scouting Heritage Merit Badge Counselor, “Crews” were the Explorer Post equivalent to Cub Scout Dens or Boy Scout Patrols.

      Philmont was originally only open to Explorers and Senior Scouts, hence the long term use of the term “crew” for a patrol sized group.. They never did pick up the Senior Scout term of “Outfit” 😉

      References: Explorer Scout Manual, 1948 page 239. Adventuring for Senior Scouts 1945, Page 306.

      • And in fact, in its earliest days Boy Scouts were only allowed a few things in the mountains while Explorers, who used “crews”, were allowed to backpack. They started and returned to an area south of the main base camp at the base of the Tooth of Time, and it was fewer staffed camps and program areas. A much more rugged program.

        That the terms established in the early years did not change when Boy Scouts were allowed to backpack is understandable. Why would you want your staff distinguishing between the two?

  3. Oddly left out is the fact that while crews can be all male, they can also be coed or in fact all female. Patrols are always all male. The definitions above refer to a Patrol as consisting of “scouts” while the crew consists of “individuals”.

  4. When we go to Philmont – the crew functions as a patrol. The only difference is they are drawn from several patrols in our troop. The “crew” elects a leader who then forms a duty roster for the ten days – assigning a chaplain’s aide, a navigator for the day, a pacesetter, cooks, bear bags, etc., which in all respects – makes them a patrol. And they begin hiking, camping and cooking together more than a year in advance. I suspect Dave Kugler is correct, that the terminology of “crew” goes back to decades ago and could just as easily have been “patrol”. I’ll have to see if I can find some literature from 30 or 40 years ago and see. Forty years ago, when I went as a scout, there were only four youth in our “crew”, so we wouldn’t be allowed to participate today.

  5. The concept of trail crews dates back to the Old West. Mostly associated with cattle drives, a crew would be around 8-12 men who were lead by a trail boss. Given that Philmont is on the Santa Fe Trail and it’s Western heritage, it makes perfect sense to call the groups that go out on the trail “crews.”

    A more modern definition of trail crew is a group that does service, conservation or maintenance work on a trail. Much like the OA Trail Crew program.

  6. Rob: All well and good, tradition and history, but I thought Scouts at Philmont had to be registered as “Venturers”? Not so?

    • Not so. Philmont has Boy Scout, Varsity Scouts and male & female Venturers hike the trails every year. The term crew is what they call the individual groups that go out on the trail. Not to be confused with a Venturing Crew which is a full fledged Scouting unit.

    • I fully realize the registration requirements as I am a leader in a Troop, a Team and a Crew. My reply purposefully stated male AND female Venturers. The original question asked was that Scouts had to be registered as Venturers. My point was that (male) participants could be registered in a Troop or Team and still come to Philmont.

      One could also apply this question to the differences in a Varsity squad vs a Philmont crew.

  7. Why wasn’t this distinction noticed before? Seems to me that two things happened which muddled the definition.

    1. The rise of “general interest” crews (like the one I advise). It’s just amazing the number of venturers who just want to extend their life in a troop to fellas a little bit older, their sisters, or their girlfriends. And when you survey the Venturers who weren’t in scouting many of them want to learn this first class skills. Every year there’s a core group in my crew who, without using the term, just want to patrol! I suspect other crews (many of the newer ones) experience the same thing.

    2. The increase of ad-hoc patrols. Because of the profusion of evening activities available to youth hese days, it’s really hard to keep the same set of 8 boys together for any extended period of time. For my six years as a scout, I was in two patrols. And the only reason it was that many was because we had growth spurt and I was asked to lead the new patrol. Nowadays, many troops experience patrols that don’t last more than a year — not much longer than a Jambo or crew contingent. Or, when only two boys from three patrols show up for a weekend, they merge.

    So we have more crews that are just some troop’s older or co-ed patrol (minus the flag, patch, and yell), and we have more patrols who are merely contingent on who in the troop can be in the same place at the same time. For many folks they begin to look the same.

  8. The noun “crew” is well known and established nomenclature dating back to the days of “Senior Scouting” and most notably Exploring. The Crew was the sub unit of an Explorer “Post”.Philmont has always been a Senior scouting experience and from its’ earliest days “crew ” has been part of the nomenclature. This is attributable directly to the Explorer program heritage. If people want to disagree with me fine. But those are the facts.

  9. I think we all forgot about the age thing. at a troop/patrol level you start at 10/11 years old at a crew level you should be at least 13 years old and out of the 8th grade.Yes you can still be in a patrol after you are 13 but to go high adventure you need to be13/and out of the 8 th grade.

  10. Seems like a tidy bit of semantics, and a good one. I am thinking that maybe when we form hasty patrols for trips we should refer to them as crews as well to distinguish between them and the scouts’ actual patrols.

  11. It’s all about marketing… Much more appealing to be part of a “crew.” Sounds more rugged and mature than a patrol. And as my Venturing Crew daughter says… “Patrols are for little Boy Scouts…”

    • This theory neglects Scouting’s heritage in B-P’s memoirs about his wartime service, which ultimately created Scouting. “Patrol” is still a widely used term among combat forces all over the world, to include the elite Army Rangers.


      “Crew” is a fine term, but I see “road crews” working every day in their reflective vests, smoking cigarettes, laying asphalt. The only “patrols” I see every day are run by the police. I’ll take “patrol”, thanks.

      • You can take B-Ps ideas only so far enforce you have to consider the individual country and their individual programs. All are set up at boy scots at the patrol/troop level. Other names for the different age groups do not seem as set in stone.

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