Last updated July 2019
When it comes to finding a place to spend the night, Scouts have seemingly limitless options: tent, hammock, cabin, retired battleship, museum, church gymnasium, baseball stadium, sleeping bag under the stars.
All of these locations offer a great experience for Scouts, but only some count as camping — at least when it comes to the Camping merit badge.
Camping merit badge requirement 9a says:
Camp a total of at least 20 nights at designated Scouting activities or events. One long-term camping experience of up to six consecutive nights may be applied toward this requirement. Sleep each night under the sky or in a tent you have pitched. If the camp provides a tent that has already been pitched, you need not pitch your own tent.
So just what is (and what isn’t) a camping night? Let’s ask the expert.
The expert’s response
This comes from Michael LoVecchio of the BSA’s program team.
“The intent of the requirement is to camp overnight in a tent or under the stars,” LoVecchio says. “This means sleeping overnight in building/structure does not meet the intent of the requirement.”
Still unclear? Here’s more:
“Camp a total of at least 20 nights …”
This means 20 overnights, so a weekend trip from Friday through Sunday is two nights. Complete 10 such trips, and you’ve got the 20 you need.
All campouts since becoming a Scout may count toward this requirement. In other words, Scouts don’t need a blue card for the Camping merit badge before they may begin counting these nights. Any nights as a Scouts BSA member are eligible.
” … at designated Scouting activities or events.”
This means the experiences are held under the auspices of some level of the BSA, and that “Scouting” happens on them.
For example, an individual family or a couple of Scouts and their parents heading off into the woods doesn’t count.
“One long-term camping experience of up to six consecutive nights may be applied toward this requirement.”
- A long-term camping experience is at least five consecutive nights. The long-term camping experience must also be a “designated Scouting activity or event.” This could be at a council summer camp, a troop’s own 50 miler, a Jamboree, high-adventure base, etc.
- Only one of these experiences is allowed, and up to six nights may count toward the requirement. Example: A trip that lasts Sunday through Saturday counts as six nights.
- If a Scout goes on a 10-night trek or a 20-night trek or a 100-night trek (!), only six of those nights will count.
- If a Scout goes to summer camp twice for a total of 12 nights, only one of the summer camps will count — for up to six nights.
- The remainder of the camping nights must be accumulated through short-term camping — normally weekend troop campouts.
- Example 1: A Scout goes to summer camp for six nights. That Scout can count all of those nights and now needs 14 more nights. These 14 nights must come from short-term camping experiences — probably seven two-night weekend campouts.
- Example 2: A Scout goes on a 10-night Philmont trek. That Scout can count six of those nights and now needs 14 more nights. These 14 nights must come from short-term camping experiences — probably seven two-night weekend campouts.
- Example 3: A Scout can’t make it to summer camp or a high-adventure base. Over the course of three years, the Scout attends 10 two-night troop campouts, sleeping in a tent each time. After the 20th night, that Scout has completed the requirement.
“Sleep each night under the sky or in a tent you have pitched.”
- All 20 nights must be spent under the sky or in a tent, so nights in cabins don’t count.
- If camping is done at a camp that provides tents that are already set up, then all is good. If tents are not already pitched, the Scout must pitch the tent. If the Scout is sleeping in a two-man tent, then it would be reasonable that two Scouts would set the tent up together. Sleeping in a tent that a parent or leader pitched doesn’t count.
A final thought
Some parents have Scouts in troops that don’t do very much camping. They can get in the long-term outing, but it takes a long time for their troop to get out on enough campouts to make up the other 14 nights.
As a workaround, they suggest they will send their Scout to summer camp but then take the Scout home after four nights so the experience will not count as a long-term camp. This doesn’t fulfill the requirement.
Short-term campouts provide variety in both preparation and experience, and the Scouts are more likely to have to set up their own tent and take more responsibility for outdoor living skills. A long-term summer camp is still a long-term camp even if the Scout is there for only a portion of the time. It’s an entirely different adventure and usually doesn’t call for the same level of self-reliance required for a short-term camp.