Homepage Forums General Scouting Adult-Free Outings

This topic contains 21 replies, has 1 voice, and was last updated by  Guru 1 week, 3 days ago.

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  • #34275 Reply

    Scoutmaster Marcus

    What is the BSA’s guidance and recommendations on adult-free outings, activities and overnights. I would love to see an “Ask the Expert” blog post on this with some real guidance on where we need two-deep adult leadership, and where we can let the kids go off and be kids. Obviously we want to provide adequate supervision and keep the Scouts safe, but we also don’t want to have a program full of “helicopter parents” that prevent Scouts from being Scouts and taking on leadership; nor do we want to limit the program or Scouts potential due to fear or misunderstandings.

    The Guide to Safe Scouting states:

    “There are a few instances, such as patrol activities, when the presence of adult leaders is not required.”

    And the Patrol Leader’s Handbook (pg 30) states:

    “Patrols may also set out on day hikes, service projects, and overnighters independent of the troop and free of adult leadership as long as they follow two rules: (1) The Scoutmaster approves the patrol activity and (2) the patrol activity does not interfere with any troop function. A patrol activity without adult supervision should be allowed only when it has been thoroughly planned and the Scoutmaster is satisfied the activity is well within patrol members’ levels of training and responsibility. If the Scoutmaster has any doubts, he should encourage the patrol to reconsider its plans or should assign adults to accompany the patrol during the activity.”

    In reading this, it sounds like a group of Scouts can go hiking or camping without adult leaders present.

    However we live a day and age with news stories and headlines of child protective services being called because parents let their kids walk home from school alone or because parents let their kids go to the neighborhood playground under the supervision of an older sibling. We live in a time where the term “free-range parenting” exists in protest of legal actions that seem to require adult eyes be on kids at all times.

    So how do we as Scoutmasters make sure we don’t end up in handcuffs for letting a patrol of Scouts go out on a day hike or allow a group of kids to camp or meet outside of the constant eyesight of adults leaders?

  • #34439 Reply


    If a first class scout (the concept, not necessarily the patch) shows you a good plan, let him implement it. He will eventually do it … with or without the BSA. So, might as well get him in the habit of running things by someone he trusts.

    Reminder: two deep leadership applies to overnights. But, even then, for a patrol outing, I would try to train adult chaperons to camp at a distance from the boys, if at all possible.

    If your boys have demonstrated skills and maturity. This can be as simple as after breakfast, stopping at the boys’ site, giving them a map of the area, and asking them what in a four mile radius they’d like to visit. Then making plans for a return-time or rendezvous.

    For less prepared boys, more planning will be required. Maybe a town hike, where you might meet them for lunch or dinner. It might incorporate a service project or a wide game like a scavenger hunt. In this day of mobile phones, you might throw down a selfie challenge. Encourage them to do these kinds of things in uniform. But, eight boys with packs and walking sticks usually tell the story quite well.

  • #34607 Reply


    Two-deep leadership is not explicitly required for all overnights. The Guide to Safe Scouting simply states that “appropriate adult leadership must be present for all overnight Scouting activities.” It outlines that having two adult leaders (one of whom must be 21 years of age or older) is the appropriate leadership for “most outings” (but, for example, the “appropriate adult leadership” for a co-ed Venturing event is different). But in reading the BSA literature it indirectly implies that having zero adults present could be the appropriate adult leadership for a patrol overnight.

    The Guide to Safe Scouting clearly states that “there are a few instances, such as patrol activities, when the presence of adult leaders is not required.” And both The Boy Scout Handbook and The Scoutmaster Handbook allude to the ability for patrols to do activities free of adults (including overnights).

    The current edition of The Patrol Leader’s Handbook clearly states that patrols can set out on overnighters free of adult leadership. Page 30 states, and I quote, “Most patrol activities take place within the framework of the troop. However, patrols may also set out on day hikes, service projects, and overnighters independent of the troop and free of adult leadership.”

    It specifically says patrols may set out on “overnighters independent of the troop and free of adult leadership.” So what is required (or recommended) prior to one of these overnighters to avoid having Child Protective Services hauling you and the parents of all the Scouts away?!?

    I was wondering what the BSA’s recommendations are to sending Scouts out on there own (be it a day hike or an overnighter).

    When you read headlines of parents being arrested for letting their children walk home unsupervised from a neighborhood park or hear news stories of parents being arrested because two 11-year-olds were left home alone for an afternoon… it’s hard to imagine what the authorities might say to a Scoutmaster (and a group of parents) if they let a group of 14-year-olds go off on an outing unaccompanied by adults for a few hours (or even overnight).

    I’d love to see an “ask the expert” response on how to let kids go off without adults and not see yourself arrested for child endangerment or abandonment.

  • #34618 Reply


    I would not parse “Appropriate adult leadership must be present for all overnight Scouting activities” as finely as you have. However …

    I have sent competent boys and girls (older teens and college age) off on by themselves. I simply made no pretense of it being a BSA activity. They have confronted police officers and park rangers (and gave them due courtesy and respect). They were just fine. Nobody cuffed me.

    IMHO, our country still needs competent youth with proven skills to roam its highways and byways.

  • #34662 Reply


    And, q, how would you parse the statement in the Patrol Leaders Handbook that states “patrols may set out on overnighters independent of the troop and free of adult leadership.”? That seems pretty clear to me that the BSA is saying there are some overnight Scout outings that don’t need 2 adults present.

    I think trying to exploit a loop-hole and just not calling it a BSA activity is missing the point. I know of many troops that do this sort of things with other non-BSA approved activities (such as going paintball). I think it sends the wrong message to the Scouts by exploiting a technicality; it’s missing the spirit of the BSA rules and guidelines, it opens you up to greater liability (BSA insurance won’t cover you if it’s not a BSA event), and some accomplishments won’t be able to be counted for advancement or other recognition (they must be done under the auspices of Scouting, or on a troop or patrol outing, etc.).

    I’d love to hear from the BSA on the issue of adult-free overnighters. What are their recommendations? What is their advice to leaders to make sure it has been “thoroughly planned” and what is “within a Scouts’ training and responsibility”?

    The guides and handbooks all says a patrol can set off on their own as long as “the Scoutmaster is satisfied” with the plan. But should parents be aware and notified that the boys will be ‘on their own’ without adults? I can just imagine being at summer camp and on Tuesday night sending a patrol off on their own for an adult-free outpost only to have an irate mother calling me when she learns my eyes weren’t on her boy 24/7. I just want to know what the BSA recommends (at what age, rank, distance, level, conditions, etc. is it appropriate to do certain things and when/where/whom is it not appropriate or recommended). All the official literature is very vague on the subject. I’d love some guidance from BSA.

  • #39027 Reply


    M. Sorry for missing this.

    The youth protection issues sometimes run at odds with the youth development issues. Thus the disparate readings. Fact is, no amount of words can replace sound judgement.

    Part of a patrol’s plan should include informing the concerned parties (i.e., parents) of the itinerary. So, an independent overnight in the middle of summer camp only makes sense if the boys have informed their parents that that’s gonna be part of the program. Chances are, the ranger or camp director are going to have their own specifics about checking out of the main program area, touching base with the ranger, etc … so part of the plan involves contacting those folks in advance. And, the camp director may require you to send two of your adults to set up an outpost 100 yards away from the boys’ camp, or may have his scoutcraft director do so as a service to your patrol. Or, the camp director may see that these boys have been coming to the property over the past few years, are truly a cadre’ of first class individuals.

    This is stuff one learns by doing and following others’ leads. It is really a shame that practical guidance in written form is hard to find. But like I said, once we consider all of the regional variation in this great land of ours, I understand why there are no more detailed guidelines.

  • #39148 Reply

    Commissioner Ben

    On the issue of “overnight” camp-outs, no where in the Guide to Safe Scouting does it say that youth may conduct an overnight activity absent of any adult leadership. Page 8 states: With the proper training, guidance, and approval by the troop leaders, the patrol can conduct day hikes and service projects. Appropriate adult leadership must be present for all overnight Scouting activities; coed overnight activities—even those including parent and child— require male and female adult leaders, both of whom must be 21 years of
    age or older, and one of whom must be a registered member of the BSA.

    It says patrols may conduct hikes and service projects free of adult leadership, but that adult leadership must be present for all overnight activities.

  • #39155 Reply


    CB, file this under “helpful” …

    If you have a competent group of youth who will overnight independently, with or without the BSA, what are you going to do to stop them? Deny them guidance? Tell their SM or Advisor to refuse review their plan?

    I hope you will help them plan a safe and enjoyable trip. Help them communicate appropriately with their parents. Debrief when they return.

    If the only two adults available for the trip are incompetents, I certainly hope you won’t put youth at risk by foisting such liabilities upon the patrol.

  • #39181 Reply

    Commissioner Ben

    I wasn’t referring to youth conducting their own camp-out on their own, just a BSA sanctioned camp-out. Anyone could argue that there’s no stopping teens from smoking pot and having sex, but as a parent, that’s not something that should happen on a BSA outing. The Guide to Safe Scouting lays out the nationally approved guidelines that parents expect their leaders to follow.

  • #39367 Reply


    It’s a sad state of affairs when a scouter equates patrolling to promiscuity.

    Upon debriefing, if one of the youth was working on advancement, I’d let him know to count the trip as a camping night. I’d hope you’d encourage your SM’s to do the same.

    Patrolling = hiking and camping independently to discover the lay of the land.

    If BSA does not want to officially sanction it, they should abandon it as a method, possibly replacing it with a word that doesn’t imply overnights. Perhaps the “gang method” is more appropriate.

  • #39405 Reply

    Commissioner Ben

    The Guide to Safe Scouting is very clear on what patrols are permitted to do. If you can convince the National Committee to change the Guide to Safe Scouting, by all means, do so. But the Guide to Safe Scouting specifically states that all “overnight” activities must adhere to the standards stated there. My advice is to read the Guide to Safe Scouting. It is available online.

  • #39408 Reply

    Commissioner Ben

    Last thing I wanted to add was that someone mentioned the Patrol Leaders Handbook. The “current” edition is from 2010. The Guide to Safe Scouting updated that policy in 2012. Sadly, the Patrol Leaders Handbook has not been updated since. That is why there is a miscommunication on the patrol overnight policy.

  • #39644 Reply


    Worth noting is that the G2SS does not explicitly list as prohibited the activities defined in the current PL handbook. It would be a small thing to expressly print that in the guide. (They do have current publications on hand when they write these things.)

    One could infer, then, that National does support those boys who come to the SM with a solid plan, and patrolling is one of those “situations not specifically covered in this guide” as described on page one.

    Patrol remains a method of scouting. So, when we counsel SM’s and PLs the correct response must not be a blanket prohibition. Rather, we need a nuanced reply that covers what is laid out in all current publications.

  • #39683 Reply

    Commissioner Ben

    In all honesty, I commend those leaders who have enough faith and trust in their youth to want them to conduct overnight activities free of adult leadership. However, the Guide to Safe Scouting does address that issue on page 8 by saying “appropriate adult leadership must be present for all overnight scouting activities.” You can ignore it or pretend like it doesn’t exist, however, if Jimmy the Retarded Scoutmaster allows a group of unprepared 12 year olds to conduct their own overnight outing and something happens, the local council is going to throw Jimmy under the bus. So, do what you want, just don’t be whining when you end up at the end of a lawsuit without BSA support. That provision isn’t designed to “protect the kids,” it’s designed to protect Jimmy the Retarded Scoutmaster.

  • #89571 Reply


    Commissioner Ben, I would advise you to not use the ‘retarded’ word in such a cavalier manner. It is very disrespectful, and although I assume you meant no such disrespect, going forward, please don’t use that word. As I’m an uncle with a wonderful niece who has developmental delays and using that word in such a ways is disrespectful to her, and those who live with handicaps and other disabilities.

  • #123889 Reply

    Tom Linton

    Who would have imagined the strictures described above would, in a few short months, be thought of as “the good old days”? As of this Fall, with the new two-registered-adults-present-at-all-times rule, BSA, in the truly myopic pursuit of eliminating risk, drives another nail in the coffin of The Patrol Method and, thought they know it not, B.S.A. itself.

    I was a managing Counsel at AT&T, and we were, thankfully, never allowed to forget there was a business to run.

    Risk Management is NOT the business.

    Hopefully,Scouting will survive in some form in the U.S..

  • #131485 Reply

    Tom Linton

    Now the “professionals” at BSA safety have decided Scouts Can, indeed have patrol activities (Why is this a Safety issue? It goes to whether we have Boy Scouting or not.) But two(2) registered adults must alwaty be present to “supervise.” That would be the adult-led patrol method.

    Who decided to let Safety trump Program?

    Has anyone told Training or the IT/website folk? Lots of changes needed to correspond to this massive shift away from Boy Scouting to adult-run club for youth..

    Who did the study on the impact of need for adults?

    What’s the plan for attracting significant numbers of added registered adults?

    Really good, honest answers required.

  • #132150 Reply

    David Baker

    I also would like an answer.
    I have asked these same questions at all levels.
    I am afraid you will get the same answer from the “professionals” as i did.

  • #136601 Reply

    David Baker

    Can you hear the crickets?

  • #143848 Reply

    Timothy Jones

    Just an idea for a fun safe group activity scouts can do together without an adult right there are escape rooms. Here’s a blog about one in the DC area great for different group sizes:
    Fun Team Building Activities

  • #262945 Reply

    Jeff Gehm

    According to the 2018 printing of the Patrol Leader Handbook, adult leadership IS REQUIRED for patrol outings.

    pg 34 – “Adults must accompany the patrol during each patrol activity.”

    pg 82 – “Two-deep adult leadership is required for all patrol activities.”

  • #264300 Reply


    Times they are a’changing (tear rolls down my cheek)…

    BSA continues its trend of emasculation and stripping responsibilities from American boys and has CHANGED the rules for “Patrol Activities”. Once upon a time, no adult leadership was required for patrol activities. The above cut/pastes from G2SS USED to be correct, but my friends are posting from old documents.

    Every search of “patrol outing” in the LATEST version of the Guide to Safe Scouting says the same thing: Adults (2 deep) are required.

    “Patrol Activities—A Scouts BSA patrol may participate in patrol activities. Two-deep adult leadership is required.”

    “Patrol activities—A Scouts BSA patrol may hike or camp with other patrols in the unit. Two registered adult leaders 21 years of age or over are required at all Scouting activities, including meetings.”

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