Six steps to planning a successful campout for Venturers, Sea Scouts and Scouts BSA members

Photo of a campfire at night
You could plan your campout schedule in the comfort of the indoors or in the glorious majesty of the outdoors. Whatever works best for your unit. Photo by iStock / Getty Images

Campout planning can be a challenge for both youth and adults. What activities do we do? How do we fit it all into a workable schedule for the weekend? How can we compete with sports, school and sometimes even other Scouting events?

The answer can be found by following a few basic guidelines.

Thanks to the National Scouts BSA Communication Team’s Matthew Rusten for contributing these tips.

1. Set — and stick to — an annual (or biannual) calendar.

Once or twice a year, call a meeting to plan out all major campouts and activities. Some units plan 12 months at a time, but many units are now planning every six months for more flexibility.

Whether unit planning happens annually or biannually, it’s a good idea to plan for 2-3 months past the next planning session. This ensures that any events scheduled right after a planning session aren’t under time pressure to be organized.

A long-term planning session can be a great indoor activity in the heat of summer or cold of winter. Or, a long-term planning session can be made into a great campout. The key is to create an environment where youth can focus on planning events they want to go to and stay organized to work efficiently.

Deciding on events 6-12 months ahead of time and not changing them at the last minute allows families to plan for upcoming campouts, allows campsites to be booked when spots are still available, and leaves time for other planning decisions to be made.

For an in-depth guide to an effective and efficient annual planning meeting, check out this step-by-step guide.

2. Let adults plan logistics; let youth plan programs.

Dividing up the campout prep work this way allows each group to plan what they are most knowledgeable about and design what will ultimately affect them most. The youth will be the ones experiencing and benefiting from the activities, so they should be the ones laying out what they are going to do. Adults know more about calendars and schedules, activity costs and unit budgets, and will be the ones chauffeuring the kids around, so they should manage the specific dates of a campout, arrange any paid activities and book any campsites.

This isn’t to say that youth and adults should operate entirely independently, either. The division of responsibility merely determines who leads each aspect, and open lines of communication between youth and adults are a must for an enjoyable outing.

A photo of Scouts cooking
Decisions like who’s going to be in charge of cooking should be made well in advance of the event. BSA photo by James Chaplin

3. Utilize youth leadership.

It takes a team to plan a campout, and that means there are many opportunities for new youth leaders to step up. Taking charge of even one part of the campout planning process is a great way for a youth to try out a position of responsibility.

The most important role in campout planning is a leader who can help guide group discussions. The planning leader spot could be fulfilled by the senior patrol leader, president or boatswain, but it could also be given to any Scout volunteer. The key is that it is an informal yet necessary position to centralize the campout planning process.

Equally important to a planning leader is someone to record the plan. This a great job for the oft-underutilized scribe. It can also be helpful to have one youth recording working ideas for the group on either a whiteboard or large sheet of paper, and another recording final decisions in a binder or on a laptop.

It is also important to make sure that everyone is represented in the planning session. While it might not be practical to include every youth in the unit, staying aware of who isn’t in the room can ensure that campouts are enjoyable for everyone. Older youth and younger youth can provide different perspectives on an event, or might have different interests in activities, so having proper age representation ensures everyone in the unit can be satisfied with the final result.

For an example of a structure youth planners can follow, check out this Scout Planning Worksheet.

4. Plan big and work your way down to the small stuff.

Start with the largest, most foundational idea of a campout, like the campout theme. Once the largest idea has been established, move on to a slightly smaller idea. This could be moving from the campout theme to what activities the unit wants to do. A great starting point for activity inspiration can be looking at what rank requirements are needed or what merit badges are desired by those attending the campout.

Continue to move from broad to specific details. Start to figure out a schedule for the campout by establishing the chronology of main events like wake up, meals, any paid activities and lights out. Then, see which activity ideas fit in between the main events, making sure to leave time for individual care and rest.

Finally, move to the most specific details. This could be a discussion on which youth will lead which activities, what items might be needed for specific activities, or what happens if there is rain or other obstacles.

Adults might provide some main events in a schedule when they pertain to logistics, like arrival and departure times, but youth-impacting decisions like wake up and mealtimes should be left to the youth. When in doubt, a youth-led and adult-guided approach usually leads to success.

Photo of Scouts BSA members setting up a tent
Properly planning campouts can go a long way toward increasing attendance and achieving the ultimate goal of getting more kids outdoors. BSA photo by Roger Morgan

5. Maintain and communicate an “outing logic.”

If outings follow a monthly pattern, most families will be able to plan their other activities around it. Many units take pride in going camping once a month, but the frequency should fit the goals of the unit, the desires of the youth and the availability of adults. If the unit activities get too scattered and unpredictable, conflicts arise, which causes fewer people to attend each event.

Crafting an outing logic isn’t really helpful, however, if parents don’t know about it. Communicating as many details in advance as possible ensures that the unit events cement their place on family calendars, leading to better turnout at campouts.

When possible, consolidate multiple activities into a singular campout. The older youth can do a longer training hike for Philmont while the younger ones do a smaller 5-mile hike. Often, simpler is better when planning a campout.

6. Beware of groupthink!

When making decisions in any group of people, social pressures can cause individuals to avoid being critical of ideas they don’t like because they assume everyone else is in favor. When the whole group thinks this way, everyone might end up all voting for something nobody wants to do.

Luckily enough, groupthink can be avoided by taking measures to remove the perceived social pressure. Secret ballot voting, eyes-closed show of hands and anonymous idea submission allow campout planning to happen with less pressure to present good ideas and allow bad ideas to be reworked or shelved for another time.

About Aaron Derr 449 Articles
Aaron Derr is the senior editor of Scout Life and Scouting magazines, and also a former Cubmaster and Scouts BSA volunteer.