Top 10 Considerations When Choosing The Right Summer Camp

With the weather warming up, troops all over the place are looking at scout summer camps and the options for those camps. Actually a lot of troops have been looking and planning for the past year but there are still some holdouts or last minute changes. With over twelve thousand girls having joined ScoutsBSA this year there are a lot of new troops which still haven’t made their final decisions yet.  Some familiar questions pop up immediately… Where to go? How much does it cost? What kind of programs/merit badges are offered? What does the camp offer for new campers, old campers, and adult leaders? Will this camp accept female ScoutsBSA troops this year?

There are literally thousands of summer camps around the world and even more options to consider to “help” make the final decision. 

Some will merely climb under the meeting table, curl up into a ball and whimper with all those options. For some, the decisions are easy. It really depends on your given situation and that changes from year to year. Its a game of prioritization, interest, and some research. If you apply the these 10 considerations for summer camp, you should see some answers rising to the top of the pile quickly.

  1. Scout Wants/Needs: This should be given the most amount of consideration.  Remember that this week is all about them. If they want to go to a specific camp then find out why. They will work a lot of fundraisers for the camp they want to go to that summer. Make sure they understand what the program is for that camp. Many scouts and parents will be surprised at what merit badges are offered. A lot of people think that most merit badges are “scouty” like swimming, camping, fishing, knots, and cooking. There are lot of surprised looks when you read out loud metal working, welding, nuclear science and movie making.  Most of that is posted on that camp’s website so do the research and bring it back. Are there certain merit badges needed? Maybe that’s a big reason to go to one camp over the other. It seems like a simple thing but when you have a lot of scouts that can get pretty complicated.
  2. Camper Experience: Do you have all brand new campers this year? If so all the high adventure stuff may be something they have to wait until the next few years to do.  Do you have a lot of older scouts who already have the majority of the badges? You will need to find out what older programs the camp plans to offer. Pay close attention to extra fees, additional health and release forms needed by the camp. Sometimes those require physician signatures. One year my son wanted to do the Scuba Award at camp and had paid the extra fees but we missed the part about the extra physical forms. We were lucky that the camp was close to where we lived and so my wife had to run the form into the doctor’s office.
  3. Funds and Travel: Scout camp isn’t cheap and most parents who have scouts just starting are now faced with a tall bill that they weren’t prepared to pay. There are a lot of extras which could increase the cost very quickly. Per ScoutsBSA policy you can only go so many miles a day in travel so if the camp is further than that, you need to come up with lodging, food, etc. (There are ways to make that cheap which we will write another post on that subject.) There are extra costs for a lot of the Handicraft and Shooting Sports areas (bullets, targets, leather, wood blocks, baskets, etc.) The scouts may want to bring along trading post money for souvenirs, pop, candy, etc. Ask your unit and unit commissioners if there are available scholarships or camperships for summer camp. There are a lot of ways scouts and scouters can get financial assistance to go to summer camp.
  4. Family Vacations: Our troop always camped the week of the 4th of July because a lot of the scouts played in summer leagues. The week of the 4th of July was always skipped by those leagues and so it made sense for our troop to go to camp then since most of the boys could go that week. Now most of those scouts have moved on and we have a whole new set of scouts with different priorities. Now, family vacations are usually taken over the 4th of July week so we changed it to accommodate the families. The further out you can plan the dates and location of summer camp the more your unit’s parents will appreciate the heads up.
  5. Home Council Camp: Every troop should have a home camp. That camp relies on the troops in the council to support it and some extra attention should be given to supporting your home camp. To mix it up our troop usually goes to our home camp three times in five years and save the other two years for other camps. We find that this gives enough change and challenge for new and experienced scouts alike. Some camps offer specific merit badges or programs. Going to your home council’s camp also allows for the scouts and scouters to get to know other units and that’s important too. As scouts get older there are more council wide programs to enjoy such as NYLT, Wood Badge, and OA. There are some really good opportunities to work as camp staff as well. All these are easier with the more scouts and scouters you know from your own council.
  6. High Adventure: Some camps have programs which take the older scouts off camp every day on field trips to caves, zip lining, and horseback riding. Some have very specific “at this camp only” programs. Those can be some pretty cool activities but make sure you are very clear on any pre-reqs or rules for those programs. You don’t want to arrive to find out that all scouts must be 1st class or above to participate while all the scouts interested are not there yet. High Adventure programs typically require scouts to be at a certain age level and a show a maturity of both physical and mental capability so please keep this in mind for High Adventure programming.
  7. Medical and Special Needs Considerations: This will definitely require a call to the camp director… don’t email if you can help it. Calling and talking through very specific accommodations is the only way to make sure there aren’t surprises after you arrive. If you have scouts that require special medical equipment or diets make sure you are very explicit with the need and ask how they will be able to assist. Sometimes camp cooks aren’t properly trained in special diets so you may have to supplement on your own or for your scout. Ask for refrigerator space or a cooler with ice. If you have scouts on the autism spectrum you may want to go to camp on the weeks that typically aren’t full where the merit badge instructor to camper ratios are better. Less people + less commotion = less stress. Ask if the camp has specific accommodations for special needs campers. Ask for pictures of campsites with handicap accommodations.
  8. Homesickness: This is an inevitable part of first year campers. You hate to see a scout leave early but sometimes it does happen. Every year our troop goes to summer camp and we always have at least 50% of our first year campers get homesick. If you have a bunch of first year campers you probably want to go a summer camp close by that doesn’t take a lot of travel to get there. Homesickness really sets in when the scout is stressed and that could be from the heat, spiders in the tent, showering with the troop, hates the water, hates the food or a thousand other things. You should be prepared to have some stuff ready to keep the scout busy. The secret is to keep their mind off of it. Good food and extra special attention go a long way in curing a homesick scout. Sometimes a camp will have a dedicated staff member which is trained on homesickness. Just ask.
  9. Adult Participation: ScoutsBSA has youth protection guidelines on adult to scout ratios. Some camps ratchet it up a bit. Make sure you understand very clearly if the camp has stricter guidelines. Also… this is another good reason to stay closer is that you can have more adult leaders who can make it out for a day or overnight to help out while those leaders who couldn’t spend the entire week at camp. On the other hand you may get more adult participation by going somewhere different that year if your troop always goes to one particular camp. It’s a lot to ask an adult to take an entire week of vacation for summer camp. Some have jobs which accommodate the week long trip. Some can only take a few days or be able to stay overnight only. Work that out early with your adults and have a backup plan ready to go in case somebody’s got called into work.
  10. Scout Leader Amenities: Yes… that’s right! There are some camps that have some pretty impressive accommodations for scout leaders. Now, before I go any further on this please understand that this consideration is absolutely dead last in priority from the others. If your unit is on the fence between two camps and one of them has better scout leader amenities then that could be the reason to go to one over the other. For instance, one camp our troop attended had internet access, power charging stations, and a nice air conditioned area for adult leaders. I was able to stay at camp the entire week that year while I had to jump on a few calls and answer some emails for work. I was out and about almost all the time but sometimes it came in handy and it cut the need for so many adult leaders to be there that week. It’s definitely something to consider.

Wow… a lot to think about right? The most important thing you can do is ask questions at the end of that week of camp to see if they would be interested in coming back the next year. Write those observations down so it isn’t forgotten for future discussions.  (hint…  This should be done after every campout or big activity and should be used for your annual planning program. Future post coming on this topic.) Be mindful that some of the scouts you have at this year’s summer camp may not be there next year so decisions made at the end of camp for next year can be a little tricky. Above all else thank you for taking the time out of your schedule and vacation to give something that scout may never have experienced otherwise in their life. You get to be someone who witnesses that miracle.

Good luck out there scouters!

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The author, Tony Zizak, is a long time scouter, Eagle Scout, and the scoutmaster of Troop 119 Ellettsville, IN. He has been to scout camps across the country and was a certified Program Director, Aquatics Director and a Scoutcraft Director. As a youth Tony received his Vigil Honor and served as a Lodge Chief for Tseyedin Lodge #65. Reach out to him for any questions you may have on this article.