Welcome to the Camping Tips & Gear page of our website. Looking for a good information on Camping 'stuff'? Our Camping Chair John Brauer features a monthly help that you might find useful.

February Tip: Jamborees

The National Jamboree is this summer, and there are still openings. Although it is a National Jamboree, troops come from all over the world, and the exposure to other units from so many different places is a truly awesome experience. the stadium shows, with tens of thousand of scouts present, the enormous exposure to so  many activities not seen in most typical summer camps, the opportunity to feel a part of the truly worldwide experience that scouting is; these all combine to make a Jamboree an outstanding and unforgettable experience. The Jamboree will be held at the BSA’s newest high adventure base, The Summit in West Virginia, in the mountains around the New River Gorge, a truly beautiful property, and the World Jamboree in 2019 will be held there as well. Contact the Three Fires Council office, or visit the links above to find out how to attend either of these fantastic events. Adults, there are staffing needs as well, so if you are not able to attend as a troop leader for the Council contingent, there are other ways to attend.

January Tip: Keeping dry on winter camps

Moisture is the primary enemy in terms of staying warm in the winter. One of the  common issues often encountered is when the scouts find that all of their gear has become damp by the end of the weekend, particularly on those mid 30s weekends, where it is not cold enough for the air to be dry. An easy way to manage this is to have the scouts pack their clothing by outfit instead of by type. They often tend to organize by putting all the socks in one bag, all the underwear in another, etc. They use zip locks to keep the damp air out, which works to a point. The problem here, is that once a bag is opened, everything in it is exposed to damp air. The solution… put a days clothing all in a bag together. Squeeze out the air at home before leaving for the campout. When a change of clothing is needed, opening one bag only exposes the one day’s clothing to dampness, leaving he others sealed and dry. This allows for dry clothes throughout the weekend, instead of just until Friday night.

WinterTreesDecember Tip: Winter tree identification 

Often there is difficulty in getting outdoor activities planned for winter months, as scouts often prefer to stay indoors and warm. There is significant value to learning to identify trees in the winter as well as the summer, and being able to learn them by bark and buds, rather than solely leaf shape. The four seasons hike at Cantigny is an easy place to find pre-identified trees, as is the Morton Arboretum, though it is not difficult to make note of trees in places your troop frequents year round, to re-visit the trees at other seasons to get used to recognizing them in leafless times. This article at Art of Manliness suggests 6 trees of particular utility that are worth starting with, and uses for which they might be important to you.

WinterCFLNovember Tip: Winter Cabin camps

As winter approaches, it is worth looking into available cabins for troop outings in the winter. With younger boys in the troop, it is not a bad idea to ease them into winer camps, by having a cabin nearby, even if they sleep in tents for the night. It allows for them to be exposed to some of the real upsides of camping in the winter, without necessarily having to cope with being cold in the first few attempts in which they do not yet know how to stay warm, or how to tell the difference between discomfort-cold and danger-cold. Most local councils have cabins on their camp properties, including our own council facilities at Camp Big Timber and Camp Freeland Leslie. Typically one can add on ski trips at local slopes or sledding at local toboggan runs or sled hills as a part of the camp, or introducing other winter activities such as cross country skiiing, snowshoeing, ice fishing or tracking, while still allowing for newer scouts to have some warm up time in the cabins to ease the introduction. The winter camping skills are especially important, as they can be a life saving store of knowledge in that future event of being stuck in a winter storm on the side of an interstate. 

October 2016 Tip: Old scout handbooks/ troop library

Developing outdoor resources in the troop library can be a very helpful thing, and not very expensive to do. Beyond the usual merit badge library, you might be surprised to find how interesting and informative some of the older scout handbooks and field books can be. The easiest older book to obtain is the reprint of the first Handbook. which his available at the scout store. Later books also have a lot of different information in them, which is different in focus from version to version. The 5th edition from 1948 has a lot of interesting information about stalking and tracking, for example, while the revised edition from 1938 has an exhaustive section on plant and animal identification. Other books cover such items as classic camping skillstrapping and snares, building shelters, as well as the sort of survival skills the special forces need. Having an array of such items in the troop library can help scouts to come up with new ideas for events and activities to liven up their outings, as well as to maintain interest in going o troop outings as they get older and more experienced. 

September 2016 Tip: Tracking and stalking

For a lot of scouts, seeing birds and animals is little more than an accident. Teaching them how to look for them, follow signs and stalk them for closer views is interesting, exciting and helps to develop a more interactive sense of being in the environment. Learning how to read tracks is easy to begin, and one can keep learning more for a lifetime. It helps to develop a greater understanding of what the animal are doing, and how to improve one’s odds of seeing or finding them when out in the woods. There are numerous websites and books available for learning and teaching this material, but the best is to get out when signs are likeliest to be easy to find (after a light snow for example), and encouraging the scouts to follow them and try to guess at that the signs mean. For stalking skills, a simple, but entertaining game, is to have one scout ("the deer")stand in an opening in the woods while the other scouts take a minute to scatter. When the “deer” is done counting, he watches without walking from his spot, while the other scouts see who can come closest to him without being spotted. This will help scouts to practice moving quietly, using cover, and watching for chances to move while the “deer” is looking away. It is fun and the scouts learn a lot, while getting up close and personal with the woods in which they are playing. 

August 2016 Tip: Focal points for camps and hikes

One of the problems often encountered in keeping activities and camps “fresh” for scouts as the years pass, is the “been there, done that” sense thet scouts get after visiting the same camp a few years in a row. One of the easiest and best ways of combating thins issue is by teaching your scouts to plan a focus for the activities at each camp or hike. As the focal points change, the camp seems different, as it is seen in different ways with each activity. This can easily done by using the Program Features books available at the scout shop. These books help the scouts to plan activities month by month, to tie in particular focus to a month of meetings, hikes and camps, with the easy capacity for changing the focus every month.  The different activities dovetail nicely with advancement goals as well as just generally teaching a lot of interesting things about the outdoors and scout skills.

oarrowJuly 2016 Tip of the Month - Order of the Arrow

The Order of the Arrow is known as the Honor Society of Scouting, and is an excellent program for older scouts in your troop. The OA is an elected group of scouts, though it is not difficult to be elected; the scouts from the unit vote each year for eligible scouts, and approve those whom they believe to meet the standards of scouting. The OA allows for exposure to scouts from other units, and to those who most find scouting to exemplify their own values, and as such, it can reinvigorate a scouts who is of an age where he is tiring of the “same -old, same old” activities of a troop. The OA will not “steal you scouts,” as they scouts must be active in their own troops, but can help retain them as they find other ways of doing things and hear of other places to camp, hike and do other scouting activities. The OA has events of its own, including the work weekends each year that provide the bulk of the maintenance our camp properties need every year, regional conclaves and other OA specific camps. OA members can also register for special experiences at the high adventure camps, in which they typically work for a week, then participate in a “design you own” trek for a second week, and can typically go on such high adventure trips for much less cost than a standard trek, while having experiences that other scouts never have. The OA meets monthly, typically at the same time as the District Round Table, and more information can be found about them at the OA Lodge Website.  It is an excellent program, and well worth exposing to your scouts.

June 2016 Gear Tip of the Month - Socks

If you get cold feet when camping or hiking, read on. The most common practices when it comes to socks are typically the biggest cause of discomfort. First, the material matters. Cotton socks will guarantee cold, wet feet, and will ruin you weekend more often than most anything else. Cotton absorbed moisture readily, and loses all insertion value when it becomes damp, so that even sweat from your feel will render cotton socks worse than useless. Wool is your best bet, as wool retains it’s insulation value even when wet. To maximize the comfort, add a second pair, worn as a liner inside the wool socks. The liner should be some sort of synthetic, and polypropylene is usually recommended, but really even nylon dress sock will do. The idea is twofold. First, to add a layer of nonabsorbent sock to draw moisture away from your feet. Second, to change the friction pattern. With one pair of socks, the friction (as your foot moves up and down in the boot) is generally between the skin and the sock, leading to hot spots and blisters. When a second layer of sock is added, the friction is not between the two socks. Socks do not get blisters. Simple as that. So, first put on a thin synthetic sock, then a wool sock over that. This is an all season recommendation, as the moisture wicking is helpful in the summer as well. When you buy boots or shoes for hiking, wear these two pairs of socks to the fitting. If you buy for one pair of light socks, and then wear them with two pair, or with thicker socks, the boot will be tighter, which will crush the air (and therefore the insulating value) out of the sock. It will also diminish circulation, making your feet colder still. Carrying some spare socks in your pack is great too, as it allows you to change during or just after the hike, to let your feet dry out again.

HikingPolesMay 2016 Gear Tip of the Month: Trekking Poles

Trekking poles (or hiking poles) are an item that I never considered when I was a Scout, and never thought of buying until it was recommended so strongly before my adult return to Philmont. It is also one of the best purchases I have made for backpacking. Growing up in the flatlands of the midwest, they never seemed useful, and were just one more thing to keep track of, maintain and lose. The uses of the hiking pole are many however, and unless you never leave the Prairie Path and never hike outside of summer time, they will become very useful to you. for starters, they are most useful in hilly or slippery terrain. The equivalent of always having a perfectly positioned sapling to grab onto when going up (or down) a hill, crossing a stream, or negotiating icy trails, the pole has saved me from many dunkings in streams and falls down hills. On the downhill side, they save a lot of wear and tear on knees, as they can be lengthened to allow one to distribute weight onto the tops of the poles, instead of knees bearing the strain of slowing each downhill step. The poles also come in handy at camps and rest stops, as they make great poles for tarps and flies, as well as something against which to lean a backpack (with a guarantee that no poison ivy is growing on it). They come in many materials and styles, and it doesn’t matter much what you pick. My own preferences include a telescoping sort, which allows it to be shortened for easy stowing, and the length can be changed to make it the perfect height for going uphill or downhill. I also like a cork handle, as I find it more comfortable in sweaty weather, but others will swear by other materials. Find what you like. They can be very expensive or relatively cheap, (like the ones available at Scoutstuff) and to some degree this will be determined by how often you are likely to use them and how likely you are to lose them. I don’t personally find a need for anything in the $100 plus range, but others who hike more than I might disagree. A wrist strap is great, as it helps to support weight without having to grip tightly (wrap your hand through it like a cross country ski pole), and it makes it easier to attach tarps and such at the camp site. Some come with an array of tips, offering snow tips with baskets (like a ski pole), rubber tips for rocky trails, and metal spike tips for softer soils. This can be very helpful, but is not necessary if you will never be hiking on other than soil  or crushed lime trails. Some folks don’t find a need for both poles, and can share a pair, with each person using one. For steeper terrain, I sure do like having both.

DutchOvenApril 2016 Gear Tip of the Month: The Dutch Oven

It is hard to be in Scouting for long without running into full-bore Dutch Oven aficionados. The Dutch oven is a classic American icon of camping, and was a major staple of the old west. The design in use today is said to have been invented by Paul Revere, and includes a rim around the lid to hold charcoals, and three legs to hold the oven off the ground, over a bed of charcoals. Anything that can be cooked in your home oven, can be cooked in a dutch oven, and learning the skills is very easy, with quick and easy recipes to start with, and getting as elaborate as you like. Making cobbler is probably the most common use, as it is very easy to come out with very popular Scout food with a couple of ingredients and little knowledge. The District has a dutch oven event at a spring time roundtable every year, which is another great place to learn more (look for the round table called “Cast Iron Chef”). Dutch ovens are made by many companies, but the general consensus is that none are made as well as the Lodge brand, which has the added touch of offering a Boy Scout branded one which has the Fleur de Lis on the lid, and actually costs less than the unadorned version. Typically they are available as tight aluminum or cast iron, with the aluminum being lighter in weight for trail convenience, and the cast iron being a better choice in every other regard. The cast iron does need to be seasoned, which is a rather simple process, and which needs to be repeated periodically, especially if the dutch oven is abused by novice users. Seasoning is done by heating the dutch oven with oil (or lard) to a high enough temperature that the fat polymerizes, turning it into a very smooth, essentially nonstick surface. This can be damaged by abrasives, so be gentle with the seasoned surface, and do not use soap, as the cast iron is porous and if the seasoning is not good, the metal can absorb he marvelous flavor of soap. Aluminum ovens cannot be seasoned, as they are not porous, and the oil does not penetrate into the metal. There are numerous dutch oven cookbooks on the market, any of which is fine. Get one, or look up instructions on line for how to convert oven temperatures to numbers of charcoals, but once you get the hang of this, any recipe can be baked or stewed in a dutch oven. 

March 2016 Gear Tip of the Month: The Rainfly

There is certainly no shortage of rainflies on the market, ranging from the ubiquitous Big Blue Tarp to tiny backpacking tarps that weight next to nothing. There is some benefit to making your own, or at least of thinking about features to add to one you purchase, to make the most versatile use of the rainfly. Here is what we have found useful in the past…

For starters, the material should be cloth, waterproof and supple. The big plastic tarps do not fold down very small, and can be unwieldy for smaller scouts to manage, as well as being heavy to carry and bulky to store. A waterproof ripstop nylon will give good protection as well as being easier to carry, store and set up.

Adding webbing loops to the edges make the fly more versatile in terms of setup; five to a side would be great, and one in the center, with on midway on each diagonal between the center and each corner. This allows for the fly to be secured in a wide variety of ways. My favorite is to stretch a line between two trees, then tie the five loops along one edge to that line. This makes a very secure edge from which the fly can be pulled back on an angle with the back to the wind, for a sort of a baker’s tent, facing a fire. It can be his enough to sit or stand under, with protection from the wind behind you. The center loop allows you to tie a line pulling the center of the tarp up, to minimize drooping in the rain. I like to have short (12 inch) cords on each of the loops to make it easier to attach to other ropes. The whole thing will pack fairly small (depending on the thickness of the cloth you use) and is fairly light weight for packing. It is reasonably easy to make one for each patrol and such a fly will be more versatile and easily transported then the typical carport or conduit frameworks often seen on campouts.

February 2016 Tip of the Month: Why Okpik?
Does the thought of winter camping chill your soul?  Are you missing a full third of the year, because you don’t think you can handle the winter weather fora campout? Then you REALLY ought to look at Okpik training  Winter camping as very fun and involves learning some very worthwhile skills. Camping in the winter allows for activities not otherwise available for scouts, with better chances for tracking (snow holds tracks better than crushed lime trails), learning to build snow shelters, easier opportunities to see birds and animals when the leaves are off the trees, snow shoeing and cross country skiing, and best of all, campgrounds that are not crowded (with people OR mosquitoes!!!). You will learn a lot from Okpik about how to keep warm, fire building, winter games, and other skills which will come in handing if you find yourself unexpectedly stranded in the winter. Even if you think you will NEVER camp in the winter, check it out… you just might surprise yourself!

January Tip of the Month: Other Outdoor Training
The BSA provides many opportunities for learning the outdoor skills you need to be able to keep your scouts safe and to enjoy your camps with the scouts. The training calendar at Three Fires Council’s website  includes trainings from all of the districts around us (you don’t have to limit yourself to our own district). The trainings include skills aimed at all sorts of leaders from Cub scout packs to Boy scout troops, including the famed Wood Badge Course, which is the ultimate in scouter training. Learn the things you are teaching your scouts from the folks who have been there, done that, and have learned it from the old-timers who came before them! Even if you are a well seasoned camper and outdoors whiz, it is fun and informative to meet likeminded folks and share notes about tricks of the trade with them.

December Tip of the Month: Philmont Training Center
The Philmont Training Center is possibly the coolest place on the planet for learning about scouting, camping, outdoors experiences and many other scouting related things. There are family programs and conferences, and the programs run throughout the year. It is a great way to se Philmont if you are unable to go on a trek there, and the opportunities for learning are unparalleled. The accommodations are comfortable, in the tent city portion of the camp. Check it out, and see what you think!


NatOutdoorAwardsNovember Tip of the Month - National Outdoor Awards

Are your Eagles and older scouts losing interest in troop activities? The BSA National Outdoor Awards offer another awards track alongside the Advancement track which might interest them. This program offered awards in six categories (Hiking, Riding, Camping. Aquatics, Adventure and Conservation), with a basic award for each category and further pins to acknowledge further activity in the segment’s area. The center patch is earned with the first segment, ant the segments for the different tracks fit around the five-sided center segment. As the scouts participate in more activities (trading miles, nights or other increments, depending on the activity), they earn gold and silver pins, which combine to represent further activity.

Step Away From the Trailer… - by John Brauer / Oct 2015

Many troops fall into a pattern of comfort, taking their trailer with them on 12 campouts per year, finding the convenience of the large kitchen the easy access to supplies, repair parts, and other comforts of home away from home to be too irresistible to give up. While I would not try to convince anyone to donate the trailer away, there are some consideration with discussing regarding the ubiquity of the trailer.

The primary issue has to do with the question of why we camp in the first place. We are exposing boys to the outdoors, so that they can continue to enjoy campaign and such throughout their post-scouting adulthoods, right? We are teaching them to be self reliant and get away from the supports of the home, so that they can handle whatever comes their way in the future, right? We are teaching them to Be Prepared for all contingencies, right? How does the trailer relate to this? Well for starters, how many boys will have a camping trailer when they age out of scouts? I haven’t seen one around a college dorm yet, have you? What is the good of only teaching a scout how to camp in a manner which will be unavailable to him after he leaves scouts? While there is certainly no harm in learning to camp with a trailer, how many of pour scouts really learn much about how to camp without one?

Getting away from the comforts of home? Learning to get by with what is on your back is a better teacher in this regard than a trailer full of folding chairs, huge patrol boxes, cast iron dutch ovens, spice cabinets and whatnot. The best leader I remember from my own scouting days was an older leader who always had the smallest pack of anyone, but always had what anyone needed. His secret? “I have everything I need because I don’t have anything that I DON’T need.” The trailer tempts us to be indiscriminate in what we bring, and we lose the opportunity to develop the skill of parsimony.

Be Prepared? How prepared do I need to be if anything I forget to bering is in the trailer? How much does it matter if I have lal my tent states if there is a bagful in the trailer? No mess kit? No problem, there are probably some spare parts in the trailer… cutting the umbilical cord of backup supplies helps to expose the flaws on our planning, so that we can learn to plan better.

So am I advocating retirement of the trailer? No. There is nothing wrong with sometimes using the trailer to allow for some extra comforts or activities which are less than manageable with a backpack, but what about planning a few trips a year where the trailer stays at home? This would encourage the boys to learn how to camp on their own, and how to get better at carrying only what they need to get by with. This would allow them to get into places where the trailer does not fit, and it would certain make the eventual Philmont trek less unnerving and less likely to be avoided out of fear.

So please consider encouraging your scouts to make plans for the occasional backpacking weekend; even if it starts out with a half mile down the trail from the trailer. Their confidence in their ability to camp on their own will make the effort more than worthwhile.

Sleeping Bags – by John Brauer / May 2015
You will use a sleeping bag on virtually every outing you go on as a Scout, so it is important to get a good bag. There is not just one "good kind" of bag, but this article will talk about some of the things that will be important for you.

Backpacks - by John Brauer / May 2015
Backpacks are an essential piece of scouting gear because they allow you to extend your time in the outdoors, and thereby allow you to get to places and see things that would not otherwise be accessible. A backpack is essentially your way to carry your home with you on the trail. The type of backpack that you need will be dictated by what you intend to do. Although there are certainly differences among packs, there is not one pack out there that is "the best," simply because different packs meet different needs for different people. This article looks at some of the options and what they might be good for.

The Lowly Groundcloth - by John Brauer / June 2015

Not a glamour piece of gear, but worth thinking about. For starters, is it needed? Tents did not always have floors; they used to have narrow strips of flooring on the edges, called sod cloth. The groundcloth went inside the tent and laid on top of the sod cloth to keep the camper (and gear) dry. As tents routinely were made with floors, the ground cloths were placed beneath the floor, to protect the floor. Many backpackers question the need for this, if the floor is water proof. For scouts, I would say, yes they are needed. Preteens and young teens do not tend to have learned yet to be gentle with gear, and the tent floor can pay the price. For young scouts, especially for trailer camping, a heavy duty ground cloth can save the troop a lot of money on tents… but only if the groundcloth is INSIDE the tent! More on that later….

If the groundcloth is used, there are a lot of options. The footprints that are sold at outdoor shops tend to be one of the worst options, in that they are very expensive and not terribly water resistant. Most troops seem to use heavy plastics or plastic painting drop cloths, which are inexpensive options and are easy to cut to the needed size when replacements are needed. A similar option is Tyvek, which is also easy to use with the added advantage of breathability. The big blue tarps have the advantage of already being in your garage and having some versatility for other uses, but are heavy and difficult to re-size.

As to the inside or outside question… the tradition tends to side with outside the tent, a little oversized and folded under to make a curled lip which will keep the water from running on top of the groundcloth. This works… if the curl is entirely under the tent, and just barely under, so that gear does not crush the curl down, allowing water on top. The problem is that younger scouts tend to be unable to consistently do this carefully enough to make it work. The alternative is to put the tarp (still slightly oversized) INSIDE the tent. With the slight oversize running up the walls of the tent, the only way for water to get on top is to have an inch high wall of water hit the side of the tent (so don’t camp in a stream). It does not take as much care, so this is easier for newer scouts to manage consistently. The other advantage of this approach is that the tent floor is protected by the groundcloth. When scouts drag backpacks and other gear across the tent floor, or keys and knives are in pockets, the floor tends to take MUCH more abuse from inside the tent than from the stationery ground under the tent. And if a hole does develop, a ground cloth is cheaper to replace than a tent floor.