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I need a tour permit to get the critters to the trailhead, don't I? Heaven forbid I want to do anything outside the rules of BSA. If the tour permit doesn't allow a patrol outing w/o adults, then either BSA doesn't endorse them, or the permit is flawed. Far be it from me to figure the BSA is flawed.

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We hashed this out a couple of years ago. (And Bob White definitely helped supply chapter and verse that time!)

You might find more info if you search the archives.


One detail that came up was this clearly only referred to a single patrol. If more patrols jump on the bandwagon, the campout turns into a multiple patrol activity. The handbooks don't address this, but I would consider it a troop campout with adults required. (Even though you might decide to set up the adult area just at the edge of earshot or even further.) The rationale is that more than one patrol starts to reach critical mass where things are more likely to happen.


Another consideration - a communications safety net. If they're really heading into the boondocks, think about hiking out to the proposed area before the planned event to find out what kind of cell phone coverage they have for bona fide emergencies. If cell phone won't help enough, consider renting a satellite phone for emergency use. Not cheap, but it will do a lot for peace of mind.


Another idea on how to take some smaller steps toward patrol camping that we do a few times a year:

Start off on a troop campout to an area with some room to roam.

Camp together Friday night and enjoy your program during the day on Saturday.

On Saturday night after dinner and dishes, have the patrols saddle up and give each a compass course (or GPS coordinates) to their new campsite for the night.

The guys love taking off into the night with their headlamps glowing and the adults love sitting around a quiet campfire with the coffee pot close. (Sometimes they know this is coming and sometimes we take them by surprise.)

After an hour or two, we'll take a walkabout to sneak up on their camps to make sure everybody is doing OK.

Last January when local overnight lows reached 20-deg, we stashed a coffee pot filled with water, some cocoa mix and snacks, and a supply of firewood at each campsite during the day. The guys were delighted and did fine. When they came hiking back into base camp, crunching through the overnight frost, we had French toast and a hearty mountain man breakfast ready to serve out of the Dutch ovens. (Browned sausage, tater tots, and eggs with lots of cheese toasted on top.) We got a lot of comments from other troops who observed our guys coming back with full packs shortly after dawn while the base-campers were frozen, huddled around fires trying to warm up, and wishing their gear would all pack itself on a morning like that.

We only had one minor problem one time about 3 years ago - a scout who should have known better was playing with the fire and another scout got burned. (Not serious, but painful blister.) We made it clear that they had violated our trust and they would lose this opportunity if they didn't use their heads and control themselves. No problems since. (At least none reported.) The guys really like doing this and don't want some stupid action to foul it up.


Your mileage may vary, but it's definitely worth a try.




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For those parents and adult leaders who might be antsy about a patrol campout, there is a possible compromise you could work out to get everyone used to the idea. It is somewhat like Mike's suggestions. I don't know how many times I've gone to one of our council properties and found that we were the only campers there for the weekend. You could go to a council property as a troop and drop patrols in different campsites as far away from each other as possible. Set ground rules of no visits to the other sites. Each patrol functions independently as well as the adults. The patrols know where the adults are camped if needed. First, being at a council property, you are in a safe location. Second, the patrols get to do their own thing. Third, adults are available if needed. Once it is proven that patrol campouts can go without a hitch, the antsy adults should be willing to back off and let the boys try it on their own.




While I agree about the communications issue, keep in mind that patrol outings happened in the pre-cell phone era too.

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I believe it is a common sense thing. Patrols can take many forms. The boys can decide who is in their patrol. In some troops, the adults decide who is in a patrol. The patrols may be set up by age such as the new boy patrol or venture patrol. The patrol could have boys anywhere from 11 to 17. Since patrol outings are allowed and there are a million ways to form a patrol, deciding whether or not a patrol can do their own outing is ultimately in the hands of the SM who must determine if they are capable. If you have a patrol with a wide variety of age, the SM would have to be able to trust that the PL and older boys could watch out for and lead the younger boys in a safe manner.

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Patrol adult free camps are, in my mind, the pinnacle of Scouting.


When alone Scouts have no adult safety net but being adult free seems to make the Scouts cautious. They make sensible and safe calls. So it is not just the parents who are worried.


Done in stages there is no reason why Scouts at all ages should not run Patrol camps.


Stage 1 for us has been back yards (big ones - lots of farmers in our Troop), having a copuple of parents following well back, having me camping 1/2 mile away down a rainforest track.


Stage 2 is overnight hikes for us mostly. We see them at beginning and end. Sometimes we do a phone check or walk past before dark


Stage 3 is multi day expeditions. We had one recently. Six boys aged 12-15 years, three canoes, all their gear and three days of flat water paddling. I hid behind a few trees as did a couple of dads in rotation. Hourly SMS nav checks (only got one grid ref wrong). They grew six inches by the time they finished. All were qualifeied paddlers with experience in that river in various parts etc.


Stage 4 - well we havent got that far yet.


All this has taken years to develop. I would not allow Scouts to dive into stage 2 or 3 without having a few stage 1s under their belt.


Our national system requires Scouts to undertake over night hikes without adults at least three times before age 15. That is a minimum. The senior level is three days out. To adhere to my duty of care I get Scouts to progress as outlined above. A few exceptions being Scouts who join aged 13 or so. They can jump up pretty quickly.


It is a big deal every time they go out. But adequate training, a few checks and balances and experience of camping as a Patrol at all times* makes the Patrol adult free camp a natural progression for Scouts.


It seems that we are not all that different from some previous posts but I do not understand why any trained Scouting adult would argue against adult free Patrol camps meerly on principle. It happens here too to some extent despite it being a requirment of our award scheme. Some people just cannot understand that Scouts are young adults - when required to act as such.


Enough of a rave. Ill go back to watching the cricket. The West Indies seem to be returneing to form.



* Troop camps are always done as separate Patrols all in the one rough area. Distance from the adult camp depends on space available and Scouts abilities.

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  • 2 years later...

I think this person's parse of the Guide to Safe Scouting asserts that a Patrol is forbidden even to hike somewhere together without adult supervision.


Any thoughts?


Bob White, what say you?


The discussion, I thought, was primarily in the context of camping out -- 300 feet and all that. If it is not, I agree that Scouts may conduct Patrol "activities" without two-deep adult supervision WHEN NO TRIP IS REQUIRED. I gave an example from my experience as a Scout.


If the topic is camping or hiking, the language from the Guide to Safe Scouting must be read in pari materia with other B.S.A. publications:


"Age-Appropriate Guidelines


These criteria are designed to assist unit leaders in determining what activities are age-appropriate. Activities that do not appear on the chart should be reviewed using these criteria.

. . .


The unit or group receives training appropriate to the activity.

In addition to the general criteria, the following program-specific criteria apply.


Cub Scouting

The activity is parent/youth- or family-oriented.

The activity is conducted with adult supervision.

Cub Scouts are asked to do their best.

The activity is discovery-based.


Boy Scouting

Activities are led by youth and approved AND SUPERVISED BY ADULTS.

Activities are patrol- or troop-oriented.

Activities meet standards and advancement requirements.

Activities are experience-based." [emphasis added]




"All backcountry treks must be supervised by a mature, conscientious adult at least 21 years of age who understands the potential risks associated with the trek. This person knowingly accepts responsibility for the well-being and safety of the youth in his or her care. This adult supervisor is trained in and committed to compliance with the seven points of the BSA's Trek Safely procedure. One additional adult who is at least 18 years of age must also accompany the unit."




Please follow this link to the tour permit required for any Boy Scout "trip" under 500 miles: http://www.scouting.org/filestore/pdf/34426.pdf


-> Please note the requirement of adult supervision.

-> Please note "hiking" as a mode of transportation covered by this permit.


I read "supervision," in context, as requiring presence, especially when there is an emphasis on "two-deep" adult supervision.


I would argue, taking all the publications together, that a Patrol campout that does not involve going anywhere -- no "trip" -- does not require a Tour Permit or adult supervision.


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Wow, I can't imagine letting my son go on an outing without adult supervision, and he's a good kid who always tries to do the "right" thing. He'll be 15 this summer, but there is no way I would let him stay overnight alone, even at our house. Add other kids in to the mix, and I definitely wouldn't let them have an overnighter without adults.


I'm surprised the BSA lawyers would allow children to camp with no adults present. I can just imagine the lawsuits if one of the kiddos got hurt or lost.


I'm just curious, would any of you who are willing to let your son camp alone (with other kids) in the wild, allow them to be home alone overnight (with other kids)? My parents would never have allowed either scenario, despite the fact that we were also "good" kids and scouts, too.

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I went camping with friends all the time when I was a teenager. It never occured to us, that this would be a bad thing. it was just something we always did.


and I am not that old, we are only talking 10 or 15 years ago.

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When I was a scout we weren't allowed to go on unsupervised trips. However, that didn't stop us from camping without scout sanctions which we did all the time. By the time I turned 18 I had more camping experience than most people get in a lifetime. The only time I got grief from my parents is when we'd go and not invite my dad along.



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"I'm just curious, would any of you who are willing to let your son camp alone (with other kids) in the wild, allow them to be home alone overnight (with other kids)? My parents would never have allowed either scenario, despite the fact that we were also "good" kids and scouts, too. "


Just got back from a week in Florida with SWMBO. No kids. Left 18 yo Eagle son to man the house, get himself to/from school activities etc. He had a few friends over one night for dinner. Other than having the kithchen not be as clean as I would have hoped for after leaving specific instruction to make sure all was in order before SWMBO returned all was fine. He was alive, house OK, no calls from the Police, Fire etc.


Now he is expected to go off the college next year and take care of himself. We would not have left him alone for a week at age 15. We have left he and his older brother home alone for a weekend before though. Ages 15 & 17. Same result.


Did we call? Sure. But basically they have proven themselves to be trustworthy. They know what is expected in our home and I trust them to meet those expectattions. So far they have not let me down and I have no reason to believe they would.



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When do we let our boys grow up to become young men? We have to learn to trust them and let go a little at a time.


Was it easy to drop off my 2 sons (ages 15 & 16) and two buddies (ages 16 & 18) on the Appalachian Trail in Maine for several days on their own? No. Did they grow. Most assuredly.


My youngest for several years traipsed all over town on his bicycle selling Trails End popcorn the last 2 years. He just had to be home before dark.


Now the older son is away at college. The independence we gave him has helped in so many ways.


Younger son (now 17) volunteers with the local ambulance company as a Medical Response Technician, is active in church and the troop, and drives all over the place being a responsible teen.


They've flown alone, including making connections. The younger had to deal with a missed connection and seek overnight lodging accommodations from the airline - on his own!


We have to let them grow up. In my opinion, the boys generally aren't the problem. The adults are.

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Yah, do we let 'em drive? Seems like after a short bit of instruction and supervision (very short compared to the amount of time they spend in Scoutin'), we get out of the car and let 'em go solo. Small trips first, then longer ones.


And cars are a lot more dangerous than the woods.


Wake up and smell the coffee, people! Our middle schoolers, whether we want to admit it or not, are makin' decisions about drugs, alcohol, sex, weapons, and all kinds of other things when we aren't there to supervise. If we don't give 'em chances to solo and develop a sense of independence, confidence, and judgment in relatively safe places like the woods, they are gonna be sheep to the slaughter in the dangerous places like schools, towns, and colleges.


Patrol campin' without adults should be an important part of any scout troop, IMO.


That havin' been said, I think same-age patrols cut down on this a lot. Yeh wouldn't necessarily want a group of all 11-year-olds or 12-year-olds campin' alone, at least dependin' on the site. By the time they're 14-15 and in high school, "organized" high-adventure may take the place of independence too. Rather than let 'em be independent backpackin' for a weekend, we've got to organize a whitewater raft trip where they have to be adult-led and supervised.


And I think a few states out there have made youth "protection" such a legal nightmare that effectively scout leaders who let their kids camp alone would run afoul of the child abuse and neglect statutes. Criminal stuff, not civil.


So I agree it's gettin' tougher in today's culture of fear. But I think if we care about buildin' character, we've got to fight to keep some adult-free independence and adventure available for our scouts.




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If adults are afraid to let their kids be independent, they will train their children to do the same to their grandchildren. Some of my best non-scouting camping was hanging out with my buddies around a campfire with no adults in a park less than 5 miles from home. There were other people around, we didn't choose to go off in the total wilderness and make it a worse-case scenenrio for our parents. They could have gotten in touch with us in about 10 minutes if need be. After we got licenses and keys, we extended the distances to maybe 20-30 miles away, depending on whose parents didn't need their car. With cell phones, I can't imagine any parent not allowing their kids to learn this valuable lesson, unless they themselves are too afraid and can't trust their kids to be able to take care of themselves. Ever wonder why so many kids go off the deep end when they get a chance to move away from home? I don't.





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This is a really good topic.


Forget authority and rules for awile.


I suspect that we are not posting absolute statements about all patrols. Probly' depends on THE patrol -- especially its leadership team, yes?


Also likely depends where they were going - and when. A local county park closely shut up at 10:00 PM and heavily policed or a wilderness area in an upper Midwest winter -- or site near a teenage "makeout" center? Saturday hike or Fri-Sunday outing?





The more I read, the less I (think) I know.


Start with the fact that in GTSS you find an express exemption from the requirement of adult presence for "patrol activities." What, the word-processor ran out of "hike," "camp," and "backpack" so they had to use "activities"? What is an activity?


An "activity" is a campout, you argue? OK.


What about the requirement of a Local Tour Permit for "trips" under 500 miles. Modes of transportation for trips, besides the ever-popular motor vehicles, include "hiking" and "other."


The Local Tour Permit form, by its terms, states that two-deep adult leadership is required if the trip is "one-day" or more.


What is a "not trip" where no driving or hiking is required? Where does it start out and where does it end? Beam me up, Scotty?


Want to argue this quote does not describe a "trip" by hiking of under 500 miles: "Our scouts are fully capable of backpacking a few miles into the forest, setting up camp and getting out in one piece. I feel if the SM approves the plan, we should be OK."




(You may be factually correct, but now we're on to the land of rules.)


Then we have:


"Managing Risk

Guide to Safe Scouting

Boy Scouts of America> Scouting Safely> Managing Risk> The Sweet Sixteen of BSA Safety


Every BSA activity should be supervised by a conscientious adult who understands and knowingly accepts responsibility for the well-being and safety of the children and youth in his or her care. The supervisor should be sufficiently trained, experienced and skilled in the activity to be confident of his/her ability to lead and to teach the necessary skills and to respond effectively in the event of an emergency. Field knowledge of all applicable BSA standards and a commitment to implement and follow BSA policy and procedures are essential parts of the supervisor's qualifications.


A key part of the supervisor's responsibility is to know the area or course for the activity and to determine that it is well-suited and free of hazards.


BSA tour permits, council office registration, government or landowner authorization, and any similar formalities are the supervisor's responsibility when such are required. Appropriate notification should be directed to parents, enforcement authorities, landowners, and others as needed, before and after the activity.


BSA safety policies generally parallel or go beyond legal mandates, but the supervisor should confirm and ensure compliance with all applicable regulations or statutes."


Note "every BSA activity" (that "a" word).


So how to "supervise" from miles away?

How to respond to an emergency from home?

How to insure compliance from --- wherever?



And then we have the rules for "Backcountry, whatever that means exactly. Anywhere off-road? X miles from a road?


"Safety rule of four: No fewer than four individuals (always with the minimum of two adults) go on any backcountry expedition or campout. If an accident occurs, one person stays with the injured, and two go for help. Additional adult leadership requirements must reflect an awareness of such factors as size and skill level of the group, anticipated environmental conditions, and overall degree of challenge."



And, finally (for now) there is this about "camp, trip, or outdoor activity" (Guess they found the missing letters.):


"Safe Scouting requires adequate adult leadership. For camps, trips, and outdoor activities, this means having at least two adult leaders, one of whom is at least 21 years old. It is unacceptable to have a camp, trip, or outdoor activity with only one adult present. If only one adult is able to attend, the trip must be cancelled. Ideally, at least three adults will accompany the troop on Scouting on trips. (Note that for properly trained Boy Scout patrols, it is acceptable to have outdoor patrol activities with no adults present. Such activities do require Scoutmaster approval.)"


Boy Scouts of America> Boy Scouts> Supplemental Training> Planning and Conducting a Safe Scout Outing Planning and Conducting a Safe Scout Outing


THAT language seems a clearer exception for patrol outdoor activities than the GTSS.



So we have a here, gone, dead, and back exception. Is that exception for one patrol or for patrols on their own, or is it for a group of patrols? If for only solo patrol "activities," what is the sense of that? How is one patrol safer, on average, than two or three or four patrols within shout, whistle, or bugle call of each other?


Clarity would especially be nice if insurance coverage is at stake. Does the insurance apply if you are found to have failed to follow BSA safety policy?(This message has been edited by TAHAWK)

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