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Issue 486 – May 10, 2016

Dear Andy,
I’m a new Boy Scout parent, trying to get familiar with the 2016 rank requirements. Can you help me with the requirements for camping to reach First Class? There seem to be a couple of opinions regarding the statement, “participate in 10 separate troop/patrol activities, six of which include overnight camping” (page 445). Does a scout need 6 different campouts, or 6 nights of camping? In other words, would 3 campouts of 2 nights each meet the requirement, or would this only account for 3 of the 6 total? (Clint Dorris, Castle Rock, CO)

Scouting requirements are pretty good at “saying what they mean.” It’s pretty rare that “interpretation” is needed, and that definitely pertains to things like requirements for ranks and merit badges and such. This means you can be 100% confident that, if you stick with the actual language, you won’t go wrong. For example, notice that this requirement doesn’t contain the words “night” or “nights” except as a part of the complete word, “overnight,” and “overnight” should be pretty clear—starts one day and ends sometime on the next day or beyond. “Activities” can be a bit confusing, but if you substitute the word “event” or “trip” you’ll get the idea—it’s referring to a single activity that has a start and a finish and is separate from others. “Troop/patrol” of course means that a Scout doesn’t just go out by himself, and it also means that hiking or camping with his family doesn’t count toward this requirement.
So where does this leave us? It means, simply, ten activities with his Scout buddies in his patrol or his troop. It means four of these activities can be anything his troop or patrol are doing (other than regular meetings, of course), including hiking and camping, but camping overnight isn’t mandatory. And it further means that the other six activities will include camping overnight, regardless of the total number of days-and-nights involved, except that it obviously can’t be less than six.

I know I sort of took the long way around. But if this is your first encounter with Scout requirements, I’m figuring the trip’s worth it.

The two keys are: Don’t add words that aren’t really there, and even if two requirements appear to be identical at first blush, this is actually a rarity—there’s invariably something that’s different between them. (That’s why “number of nights” can trip you up!)

Thanks, Andy. I greatly appreciate you taking the time to respond, but as a former engineer for NASA and having written thousands of requirements for the International Space Station, this requirement could certainly have been worded more clearly.

Please see the enclosed link where Bryan, from “Scouting Magazine,” confuses the issue by mentioning “campouts” and then later compares the old requirement to the new and references it as “nights” (e.g., “three more nights”). Given the more than a hundred blog remarks that follow his article, there’s clearly great uncertainty in the wording of the new requirement. Unfortunately, I’m not clear regarding your response either. I believe this is a binary question. Simply put, if a Scout does 2 campouts for 3 nights each, would that satisfy the “6 activities” for overnight camping? (Obviously, 6 campouts at 1 night each would work too, as well as 6 campouts with greater than 1 night each.) The real confusion is whether there can be fewer than 6 campouts so long as multiple nights-per-campout are involved. Unfortunately, it seems many seasoned Scout leaders are confused about this as well. I’ll be attempting to get 6 separate campouts for my sons, just to be covered, but it would be nice to know what the requirement actually intended. (Clint)

This is where we unnecessarily get our knickers in a knot… You said it yourself: 2 campouts = 2 campouts, regardless of the number of nights per campout, because the requirement doesn’t talk in terms of “nights.” And as you also said, “6 separate campouts = 6 campouts.” It’s only we who make this complicated. Stick to the language and you’ll rarely go wrong.

On stuff like this, we do get ourselves tangled up… The most consistently recurring question over all 15 years that I’ve been writing this column has been “how to count days-and-nights” for Camping merit badge! This is despite the clear fact that the requirement itself contains no ambiguities; instead, people consistently either read their own words into it or create elaborate “what if” scenarios that ultimately lead to confusion where there should be none.

As for “Bryan On Scouting,” I’m a regular but not a “100% of all postings” reader of Bryan’s blogs. He gets a lot right. But sometimes there’s a hiccup. A hiccup definitely occurred in his November 16, 2015 posting, when he used “campout” and “night” interchangeably. A “campout” is a “campout,” regardless of whether it’s one night or more than one night: It’s unarguably a single event—it has a start (“Day One”) and an end (“Last Day”—which is different from “day two” of a multi-day event). Just as a “night” is a “night.”
Dear Andy,
I went online at “Commissioner Tools” and went down every unit in our district. I was shocked at how many unit volunteers aren’t trained in their positions. Over half of our CRs aren’t trained. I see a couple of units where not one person is trained! Why does the BSA National Office not make training for a unit’s key volunteers mandatory? (If I go to a doctor to have an operation, I hope to hell he’s been trained!) Do these people not want their leaders trained in dealing with their sons? I’ve been a District Commissioner and now a Unit Commissioner for upwards of 40 years and I’ve not seen it this bad in all those years.

Right now there are no plans for a CR training course, and I’ve offered to chair this kind of training. I know I can pull a good staff together. Any ideas for success? (Jon Breznel)

Youth Protection is indeed mandatory, but because we’re all volunteers, it’s pretty tough (and sometimes counterproductive) to demand further training. That’s why smart district training committees understand that their “job” isn’t to “run training courses”—it’s to figure out how to get folks trained, even when that means the mountain goes to Mohamed!

One way to promote this is exactly as you’ve stated: Pitch the parents (and the chartered organizations!) on the concept of: “Hi! I’m your son’s new leader! I’ll be taking him into the woods and I HAVE NO TRAINING!”

Getting CRs to show up is a challenge… especially since many of them will be double-registered as unit committee chairs. Do your homework first and maybe you can combine CR training with “Pack/Troop Committee Challenge” training!
Hi Andy,
I have an eager 12 year-old Scout who’s at the Tenderfoot level. The only requirement missing for him to earn Second Class is the five-mile hike. He’s asked his Scoutmaster on multiple occasions to go on a hike, but he’s been turned down. I’ve asked the Scoutmaster twice myself in the past five months, but it seems that because his own son is an older Scout, his focus isn’t on advancement for the younger Scouts like my son and his same-aged friends. My son is feeling frustrated and held back. Please let me know your thoughts. For instance, is “adult supervision” required for a hike like this? (Scout Parent)

Req. 3b states: “Using a compass and map together, take a 5-mile hike (or 10 miles by bike) approved by your adult leader and your parent…”

Of course, the Buddy System must be employed, so your son will need to pick a buddy and do the hike or bike-ride with him. The 5 miles can be “out-and-back” 2.5 miles each way (ideally a different way back to the starting point, or a “loop,” but this isn’t mandatory—it’s simply efficient).

This can be a “patrol hike,” by the way. And this is what patrols are supposed to do. Unless this is in “deep wilderness” (which I wouldn’t recommend), one adult along is a good idea (but not mandatory). The hike can be done locally (and even in a city—there’s nothing in the requirement that says this has to be a “deep woods trek”).

If your son maps out his route and plan in advance, and presents it to his Scoutmaster, along with a list of who’ll be accompanying him, that should be sufficient for approval.

If his Scoutmaster continues to deny him this opportunity, it’s time to look for another troop, because, by age 12, he should be close to or already First Class, and it’s the Scoutmaster’s responsibility to see that this happens for him.

Happy Scouting!


Have a question? Facing a dilemma? Wondering where to find a BSA policy or guideline? Write to Please include your name and council. (If you’d prefer to be anonymous if published, let me know and that’s what we’ll do.)

[No. 486 – 5/10/2016 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2016]


About AskAndy

Andy is a Board Member of the U.S. Scouting Service Project, Inc.

Andy has just received notification by his council Scout Executive that he is to be recognized as a National Distinguished Eagle Scout. He is currently serving as a Unit Commissioner and his council's International Representative. He has previously served in a number of other Scouting roles including Assistant Council Commissioner, Cubmaster, Scoutmaster, Den Leader, and--as a Scout--Patrol Leader, Senior Patrol Leader, and Junior Assistant Scoutmaster. His awards include: Kashafa Iraqi Scouting Service Award, Distinguished Commissioner, Doctor of Commissioner Science, International Scouter Award, District Award of Merit (2), Scoutmaster Award of Merit, Scouter's Key (3), Daniel Carter Beard Masonic Scouter Award, Cliff Dochterman Rotarian Scouter Award, James E. West Fellow (2), Wood Badge & Sea Badge, and Eagle Scout & Explorer Silver Award.

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