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How to organize a wilderness camping trip


How to organize a wilderness camping trip.


For many reasons, only trained leaders should take young people into wilderness situations: safety and legal liability issues, along with the ability to create an experience for maximum learning and growing are all important considerations. Numerous organizations are available for leadership and training.


Upon deciding to take a group on a wilderness trip, there are two immediate options: go through an established wilderness organization, or-having received adequate training-plan and run it yourself. If working with a wilderness organization, proceed to Appendix 1. If you have chosen to do it on your own, verify that you have the "Eight Essential Skills" (outlined below) for leading a summer wilderness trip. You should be qualified in each of these areas before organizing your own wilderness trip.


  1. Camp with minimum impact. Wilderness camping is NOT man against nature. Minimum impact camping and no-trace camping both imply: leaving an area undisturbed so that hikers who come through after you will not know that you have been there, and preserving the environment. Appendix 3 offers guidelines for minimum impact camping.
  2. Clean a cut and other first-aid procedures. Take a course in first-aid and CPR through the American Red Cross and at least read up on some material on backcountry medicine.
  3. Plan an itinerary and read a map. To plan an itinerary, you need to know the hiking area, the physical and emotional limits of your group, and the objectives for your group. You also need basic map reading skills.
  4. Stay warm. Know the season and expected conditions so you bring appropriate equipment and clothing.
  5. Prepare food and use stoves (safely).
  6. Erect shelters without destroying trees. Even if shelters are available along your planned route, always carry a sufficient number of tents in case those shelters are taken or even gone since the guide book was written or the map was drawn. Do not cut down trees to make shelters.
  7. Make water safe to drink. Most water sources should be considered unclean, (contains Giardia or other parasites) so you need either a water filter-such as a Katadyn or First Need- , chemicals, or allow water to boil for two minutes.

  1. Stay on good terms with the rangers. Each state has different regulations, so be in touch with the forest service.?


Leading a group on a wilderness trip is not the same as hiking alone or with friends. When leading a group, you are responsible for the emotional and physical well-being of each person. Tragedies can and do happen in the wilderness. If you do not have the above skills, then either take your group to an organization that runs wilderness trips or obtain the needed experience or training before planning a trip.

Even if you do have the necessary skills, this may be more work than you have time for, so read the next two lists to decide if you have the time to plan and run your own trip. If you decide that you would like to go through a wilderness organization, appendix 1 offers guidelines for evaluating programs and appendix 2 lists programs in the New England area.


  1. Choose objectives. The objectives of the trip should be chosen to meet the needs of the group. Don't try to fit the group into the program. The objectives need to be determined even before planning the itinerary. Is this an action-oriented trip or reflective trip? What would be best for the group: a solo, bushwhack, rock climb, or rappell? What issues does the group need address (i.e., faith, trust, communication, group building, servanthood, trials)? Even after the trip is underway, be flexible. Unforeseen needs may arise during the trip.
  2. Plan the itinerary. Be sure the itinerary meets the objectives. Plan on hiking at about one mile an hour and add an extra hour for each 1000 feet in elevation.
  3. Make arrangements for personal and group equipment. Do you own it or will you rent or borrow? Check appendix 4 for a sample group equipment list, appendix 5 for a sample personal equipment list and appendix 6 for a sample first-aid kit list.
  4. -Make arrangements for renting or borrowing equipment well in advance so you are not caught short. -Make sure equipment is in good shape.
  5. Acquire permits. Do you need camping or fire permits for where you are going? Check with the forest service.
  6. Check out insurance requirements. Does the church or other group policy cover the group in case of an accident?
  7. Gather health information of group. In case of an emergency, a medical form for each person gives a hospital the information they will need to know about a person who is injured or sick. Check appendix 7 for a sample medical form.
  8. Inform parents. Make sure that parents are completely informed about what their children will be doing.
  9. Plan menu and buy food. Should be suitable to be carried, crushed, and mashed (and remain edible). Much of the food needed for the trip can be purchased at a supermarket (this is much cheaper than specialty backpacking food, and sometimes tastier).
  10. Plan emergency procedures. Always have planned bail out points in the event that you need to evacuate. Know in advance where the ranger stations are located.
  11. Arrange transportation. Will parents/friends drive or will you rent a van? Make sure necessary parties know the drop off point, pick up point, and expected time or arrival.
  12. Plan program. Plan the discussions, but maintain flexibility to meet needs as they arise. Appendix 8 provides discussion ideas and brainstorms teachable moments.

  1. Prepare group. The group needs to be physically and mentally prepared. Be honest with the group about what to expect. Give tips as to how they can prepare physically. One way to begin building the community is to plan some group workouts.



  1. Test all gear. Set up tents, start all stoves, and pack packs.
  2. Try out the recipes.
  3. Leave a copy of the itinerary. Also provide contact number where your group may be reached in case of an emergency. Leave copies with families at home and also with the forest service.

  1. Collect all medical forms. Keep them in an easily accessible place (first aid kit).


The options for choosing someone else to lead include:


  1. A Christian wilderness program.
  2. A secular guide service (the guide service plans the trip with your input and you handle discussions and Bible studies).
  3. A qualified volunteer from your church or elsewhere.
  4. Regardless of who is chosen to lead the group, the following questions should be asked of them.


  5. Who plans the trip and how do they go about it?
  6. Will you set up a program specifically for my group or is it a fixed program?
  7. What is involved in the program?
  8. Who will lead the program?
  9. What are the qualifications of the leaders?
  10. How much does it cost?
  11. What is included in the cost?
  12. Where does it begin and end?
  13. What is expected of me?
  14. Will I be expected to lead discussions?
  15. What input do I have before and during the trip?
  16. What is expected of my group?
  17. What kind of insurance is available?
  18. If you have a mixed group (male and female), do they have male and female leaders?

Be sure to let the person know the number of people (male and female); ages; physical condition, health, and emotional condition of your group; and your objectives for the group.




  1. Bring stoves to cook on
  2. Store fuel bottles 20 feet from where stoves are used
  3. If having a fire:

-Keep it small.
-Use only wood that is both dead and down.
-Do not knock down trees even if they are dead.
-Do not cut branches off of trees (even dead branches).
-Don't peal bark off of trees.
-Put fire out completely before leaving.
-If a fire place does not already exist:
-Dig a pit.
-Clear all roots out of fire pit.
-Do not line the pit with rocks.
-Do not build the fire against a large boulder.
-Bury fire pit before leaving.



  • Do not use soap (even biodegradable soap) in water sources.
  • Do not wash dishes in water sources.
  • If you want to wash with soap (yourself, clothes or dishes):

-Fill a bucket with water.
-Use water and dispose of it 150 feet from the water source.



  1. Don't dig trenches around tents.
  2. Above tree line stay on trails; vegetation is fragile.
  3. Don't write or carve on trees or buildings or anything else.
  4. Don't pick flowers.



  1. If tentsites are available, use them. Otherwise, set up camp 200 feet from trails and water sources.
  2. If an outhouse is available, use it. Otherwise bury all human excrement in a 4 to 8 inch hole, at least 200 feet from a water source.
  3. Carry out tampons. Do not bury them.
  4. Carry in/carry out! Don't litter. Carry out all trash, including food.
  5. Carry out more than you carry in. Pick up trash along the way.
  6. Don't feed the animals.



  1. Tent ground sheets __
  2. Tarps (2)
  3. Tarp cords (4/tarp) ___
  4. Stoves ___
  5. Fuel ___
  6. Pots
  7. Pot lids/frying pans __
  8. Pot holders ___
  9. Bear bags (to store all food in at night)
  10. Bear rope (to hang up bear bags at night)
  11. First-aid kit ___
  12. Compasses ___
  13. Maps ___
  14. Guidebook ___
  15. Spatulas
  16. Large spoons or ladles
  17. Matches (strike anywhere type) ___
  18. Scrubbies __
  19. Trash bags ___
  20. Water filter or chemicals ___



  1. Backpack (either external or internal frame)
  2. Sleeping bag (rated for 20 degrees) and stuff sack
  3. Sleeping pad
  4. Ground sheet (if you intend to sleep outside)
  5. Water bottle
  6. Whistle
  7. 1 pair hiking boots
  8. 1 pair running shoes or sneakers
  9. 2 pair wool socks
  10. 2 pair cotton, polypropylene or silk socks
  11. 1 set of long underwear (top and bottom)
  12. 3 pair underwear
  13. 2 t-shirts
  14. 1 pair of shorts
  15. 1 bathing suit
  16. 1 pair of loose fitting pants (nylon/cotton blend)

  17. (preferably no jeans-they absorb a lot of water and take a long time to dry)
  18. 1 long sleeved shirt
  19. 1 wool sweater or shirt
  20. nylon raincoat, poncho or rainsuit
  21. 1 bandana
  22. 1 pair gloves or mittens
  23. 1 wool hat
  24. 1 small towel
  25. metal spoon
  26. bowl
  27. cup
  28. flashlight with extra batteries
  29. Bible, notebook, and 2 pens
  30. 2 large garbage bags and 6-8 large plastic resealable bags
  31. 1 package of moleskin
  32. sunscreen
  33. insect repellant
  34. any prescribed medication, including bee sting kits
  35. personal items (toothbrush, etc.)



  1. Camera and film
  2. Nylon rope
  3. Sunglasses
  4. Pocketknife (no sheath knives)
  5. Bio?degradable soap
  6. Belt or suspenders
  7. Wool pants (for cooler weather)
  8. Gaitors
  9. Chapstick
  10. Pack cover
  11. Bug netting


City State Zip
Gender: M( ) F( ) Age Date of Birth

Parent or guardian
Person to contact in case of emergency
Relation to student
Work phone Home phone
City State Zip
Relation to student
Personal physician Phone
Are you covered by hospitalization insurance?
Insurance company
Insurance policy number

Blood type (if known)______
Immunizations, date of:
Tetanus__________ Polio__________ Diphtheria_________
Describe any musculoskeletal injuries or weaknesses (injured ankles, knees, back, etc.)

List any medical conditions that we should be aware of (allergies, diabetes, etc.):

List any medications you are currently taking:

Please include any other helpful information about yourself (i.e., special diet, contact lenses, etc.):

If the student is under 18, a parent or guardian must read and sign the following statement:

In the case of an emergency involving my child, I give my consent for emergency treatment as necessary.
This includes medical attention and/or hospitalization as the attending physician may prescribe.



There are two unique characteristics of a wilderness trip: the youth are outside their comfort zone, and they are together for an extended period of time (at least one night). Being outside their comfort zone means that they cannot rely on their music, makeup, or style for their sense of identity. Stripping away most of these distractions also helps to put the youth on the same level. Living together for an extended period of time provides the opportunity of seeing the "real" people emerge. Both of these together will offer great opportunities to discover what it really means to be a Christian.

There will be many instances where opportunities for teachable moments will arise. Jesus, the master of the teachable moment, offers examples of how to make use of these situations. In Mark 7, Jesus is confronted by the Pharisees concerning ceremonial defilement. After Jesus responds to the Pharisees, he does not drop the subject, but He uses the opportunity to talk to the people about real defilement. Conflicts are always good times for teachable moments. In Mark 10, after the disciples find out about James' and John's power play, Jesus uses the opportunity to talk to the disciples about servanthood.

We need to be careful when using teachable moments. Leaders must always be sensitive to individuals within the group. Before applying a teachable moment, ask the question, "Who is affected by this situation, and does this problem require immediate attention?" There are times when a problem needs to be dealt with immediately by the whole group; other situations can be discussed later in the evening; and others should be dealt with one-to-one.

Teachable moments should be used to complement planned discussions and talks. It is important to be prepared, but always flexible. Because of situations that arise during the trip, what was once thought to be an important topic might be preempted by an issue that unexpectedly arises.

Jesus was also the master storyteller. He made use of stories such as the Good Samaritan and the man who owned the vineyard to aid in teaching. The Velveteen Rabbit, Winnie the Pooh and many other stories are great to be used on the trail. Appendix 9 includes resources for stories.

In the same way that Jesus used his surroundings as source material for illustrations and stories, wilderness trips are filled with good illustrations for talks and discussions. The following are some examples of how different aspects of the wilderness can be used in talks and discussions.


Possible discussion topics:


  1. Our faith journey. (Phil. 3:12-14) We experience times of aloneness, frustration when we are stuck, excitement when we make a tough move. We often can't see our belayer (object securing the rope), but we trust the person holding the rope. At times, we feel the tug on the rope. This gives us the assurance that our belayer is really there.
  2. Freedom and limits. (John 8:36; Romans 6:17, 18) Does the rope free or restrict us? (It gives us the freedom to push ourselves, but we are limited in where we can go.) How does God free and restrict us?
  3. Trust and trustworthiness. (Proverbs 3:5) Who do you trust and why? Why do you trust the belay system? How do you build trust? On what basis is God trustworthy?



  1. Faith. (Hebrews 11:1-3) We follow a compass bearing; yet, there are times when our instinct tells us we should go a different way. Faith tells us to follow the bearing even when it doesn't feel right.
  2. Guidance. (Psalm 119:105) The compass can be considered to be the Holy Spirit, who gives us direction, and the Bible, the map we follow in life.
  3. Taking life one step at a time. (Matthew 6:34) One method of bushwhacking is to sight using trees, rocks, etc. You don't worry about sighting the next tree until you reach the one toward which you are currently walking.



  1. Trials and perseverance. (James 1:2-4; Romans 5:3-5) On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being a breeze and 10 being nearly impossible), how does this hike rate? Did you think you could make it? How did you survive? How do you survive tough situations in general?
  2. Carry your own load vs. each others burdens. (Galatians 6:2-5). What is the law of Christ? How does carrying burdens fulfill it? What is the difference between a load and burden? How can we carry loads and burdens out here? (It's more than just carrying extra gear.) How can we carry loads and burdens back home?


    1. The stated purpose of most camps is to meet the needs of campers. Each of these camping models can accomplish this goal. Parents will inquire how the camp plans to meet the needs of their child.
    2. Youth workers planning a camping program for a group should consider the resources available to meet the needs that he or she is trying to meet. This will help the youth worker determine which approach to camping will best serve the campers.
    3. In either model, or in the combined model, the most important aspect of a successful camping program is the counselor. The counselor should love, nurture, and care for young people; be able to communicate well with them; and be comfortable with leading a group of young people. There must be a commitment to unconditional love for the all the kids in the program.