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Polar Bear Camping

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Down here in Georgia, "cold" often means anything below 40F. When I was Program Chair for our district, we suggested that those Polar Bear patches apply to overnighters that went below 32. You can usually get that in the mountains mid November to early March.


When my son was in Webelos, we did some winter camping - December/January. The planning made for some good den meetings. Most of the Webelos (and Dads) used 3-season gear and added extra blankets for comfortable tent camping.


Hanging out by the fire while the scouts kept warm by running around in the woods - close to a perfect campout.

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Another Georgian here, and another with Webelos Winter Camp held in conjunction with our Boy Scout Troop (our third annual is coming up this weekend). We have held this at a State Park that has a "Pioneer Camp" that is all alone, and one with a large Cabin with a loft that has a wood burning stove. Most Webelos (and Boy Scouts) will tent it and/or do the adirondaks (with tarps over the front), but some do retreat to the warmth of the Cabin, so . . . all has worked out well, and it has actually fired up many of the Webelos to want to go do more with Boy Scouts.

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rdclements: I seem to have heard something about a Hot Chili patch something like that. I'm sure someone in here will come and put in the details, but I think it has something to do with camping in above 100 F heat. I *believe* a lot of packs/troops in texas and the like do it. I'm very fuzzy on the details ;)


On topic: I don't know what the requirements are, but I would be extremely leery of trying this at the cub level. And I basically don't see the point. Cub scouting is done by boys ages 6-10. In my opinion, too young for any kind of "endurance". It should be about enjoying the outdoors, learning new skills and HAVING FUN.


Having a whole pack come down with pneumonia or colds doesn't seem to me worth a patch. And if you have enough boys miserable because they are freezing, they will never want to camp again.

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A lot of it depends on who's going and how prepared they are. A Webelos den can be much more prepared, on average, than a whole pack. Also, you can make it fun - the kids in our pack seem to be constantly hoping it will get below 32 degrees so that they can get the award. A day where it gets down to 28 at night and up to 60 during the day is not that bad of a day.


My kids have camped on many a polar bear camping trip, and except for the first one, way back early in our Scouting days when we were really unprepared, they haven't had a problem. They want to go again. Here's the key: keep it fun. Don't make it an endurance thing for the kids. If it starts to get too cold, jump in the cars and drive somewhere to visit some other landmark.


Seriously, though, it's one of the most coveted awards in the pack. No one is forced to go. Come if you want to, know what it takes to be prepared, and keep it fun. It's worked for us.

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In our council Polar bear is sleeping in a tent when it goes below 32.


Our troop also has a "red hot pepper" stamp we put on a scout's class B T-shirt for a campout where the heat index goes over 105. Not sure why it is 105 but that's the level and we have done it three years running.

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The BSA Age Appropriate guidelines seem fairly clear, winter camping is not appropriate for Cub Scouts or Webelos:




I'm not sure how you could justify taking Cubs or Webelos on a winter camping trip to for the purpose of simply earning a patch, especially if someone became injured. I know my personal liability insurance does not cover such an undertaking.



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I'll tell you a secret about NC winters. Probably the same situation in SC and Ga too:


It feels colder when it's above freezing than when it's below. Sounds like I am on crack doesn't it? :)


Well, let me explain: It's pretty humid in Nc. ESpecially on the coast where I live. When it's 32/33 degrees outside, it's not cold..It's DAMP, RAW cold. It's cold to the bone- need to take a long long hot shower to warm up - cold!


Kids don't play outside for long because tey are miserable.


But let the temperature fall to 20 or 30 degrees, and something magical happens: It doesn't feel as cold!


Why? Because the moisture in the air freezes. It's no longer damp outside. You can dress warm and be just fine. You don't worry about dressing warm AND dry.


And since snow is a rare thing on the east coast of NC, polar camping would mean "cold dry air camping.


It's the same weather that the kids ride thier bikes,play football,play in the woods, go hunting and even jump on the trampoline on.


So , I'd say that below freezingis probably more apt to be less extreme weather conditions..at least in NC! :)


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I have to say it's situational. I know this is the Cub Scout area but in Colorado for boy scouts, camping where the temp drops below 32 degrees is standard for fall/winter/spring months. Our troop requires it's members (youth AND adult) to attend our own Winter Camp Training to teach them how to dress and sleep warm for any tent camping between November and April. For the Polar Bear patch, they have to sleep outside (in tents) when the temperature drops below 0 degrees... and cook a meal. The Wood Badge Course for which I was on staff last year got their Polar Bear ;)

For cubs, though, I agree winter camping is not encouraged in any form. For Klondike, Webelos are invited for the day only and are not permitted to spend the night with the troops while they are invited/encouraged to spend the night for Camporees.

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Well, we went and stayed the weekend. High in the 40's the two days we were there, low Friday night was 31 and Saturday night was 37 so we all earned the patch for Friday.


No, we don't pressure anyone to go and certianly not the boys. This is something our familes actually look forward to doing and we talked about this Friday night around the campfire and our parents all said they would be upset if it were something we took away especially if Council doesn't have a rule about it.


Again, the nice thing about where we do most of our camping, it's no more than 20 minutes away from home for everyone(5 for me), we have a scout hut that is heated, a huge storage shed with an upstairs office that is heated and we spend a lot of time indoors in the morning working on advancements and beltloops and if it's really cold at night we have a movie.


I will tell you, not one of the 12 scouts we had there complained once about being too cold. We had to drag them inside to get them to do the activites so I don't think the boys turning away from camping will ever be a problem for our pack. My son is in his third year of camping at our hut and he knows every inch of the 5 acres and loves being there, cold, hot, sunny or rainy and the other scouts love the hikes he takes them on.


I am a parent and I know what I would and wouldn't do with my son and we never plan anything without talking about it first. We had a threat of rain on Saturday and all agreed if it started raining, we would all leave.


I grew up in Texas and camped as a girl scout and it was MISERABLE but I definitly prefer the 95-100 heat to anything below 50!


I just wasn't sure if there was a set in stone temp. for the Poar Bear or not but I think we all agreed to keep it at 32.


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I'm not sure how you could justify taking Cubs or Webelos on a winter camping trip to for the purpose of simply earning a patch,


Heck, we don't go camping simply to earn a patch. We go camping because we have great fun. We sleep in tents, we hang out around a fire, we eat good camp food, we hike through the woods, we see interesting things and we have great stories to tell. Sure, we get a patch. But we'd go camping whether there was a patch or not.


I know my personal liability insurance does not cover such an undertaking.


How do you know that? Can you post the wording from your policy that indicates this to be the case?


But I'm not worried about liability. If a Cub Scout starts to get cold, he can get in a car, or into a warm sleeping bag, or his family can even go home. It happens regularly (more in the rain than the cold). It's not like we're backpacking 5 miles in below zero weather here.

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Agreed, it is all situational.


Back from our Mountaintop in North Georgia, where it was cold Friday night (into the upper 20's), and then . . . the rain came Saturday. A light rain, but it just didn't stop. Boy Scouts planned a hike with a stop for lunch to use new backpacking stoves. Cold, wet, grim . . . and windy on the top of the mountain.


I ran a "sag wagon" service for some of the Webelos Parents (and their kids) who wanted to bail out of the hike halfway. The rest completed the circuit, and came back cold and wet. Many learned (in the normal way, from failure!) about clothing and layers and raingear and hats and such. And will be prepared next time.


And it was great.


What made our situation great was that we had a nice campsite with a "happy place" . . . a cabin with a wood burning stove and a loft space with plenty of room, with the Troop Buzzard Patrol making hot stuff in Dutch Ovens, so as the trekkers returned they all plopped down in the cabin to relax, dry out, and eat. We make sure that there is plenty of extra fuel for the young engines, and that Cub Parents can eat well (just because we're in the wilderness does not mean we must be uncivilized).


With that cabin resource, we had a warm, safe place to retreat to, which allowed everyone to go out and challenge themselves in the elements. And many of the cold youth just hung around the campfire outside as the rain continued, in the way people do as they expand their boundaries and do what they have not done before.


While many Scouts were wet and cold at times, no Scouts were unhappy.


Yes, some parents left Saturday who had originally planned to stay to Sunday . . . which was fine. Better to have the experience and leave a bit early than to stay too long past one's tolerance. Leave them wanting more, and wanting to come back.


Of course, had they stayed, by Saturday night the weather report played out as predicted (we track on a PC during the campout): it was clear with stars above and below (the town below the mountain), and Sunday was a bright but cold morning (although it got colder for me when the temperature rose . . . which I will assume is that "humidity" factor noted above by Scoutfish).


FYI, our weather tracking before and during the event would have us abandon the camp if we were going to face significant ice or snowfall that would be dangerous, and we consulted with the park personnel to confirm their views with their resources and experience.


Actual quotes from emails from Webelos Parents after the wrap-up email on our return yesterday:


-- "Best part for us was [Jerry] hanging in through the wind, rain, and cold and having a great time hiking, cooking his sandwich at the pavilion, and camping with the Troop."


-- "[Micky] and [bill] had a great time and were disappointed to have to pack up Saturday night (they rode with the [Weir]s) They would have weathered another night. [bill] commented several times about how great the meals were . . . "


-- "[Phil] reiterated that it was the best camping ever. He was peeved that he had to leave early as you probably heard. He was so excited to get the polar bear patch."


Lots of parents worry about whether to allow their sons to attend when the weather looks bad, and I always tell them: pack right, and go, because nobody tells stories about the times you camped in pleasant weather. You only tell the stories about being out in the Cold, Rain and Snow. And how you survived!


All in all, while it was tough tough weather, it was a great great weekend . . . and we'll do it again next year.


Bert Bender

Troop Committee Chair / Pack Trainer / Dutch Oven Diner Chef

South Fulton District, Atlanta Area Council


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