Guidelines and Practices

General Guidelines & Practices for High Adventure Trips

1. Overall High Adventure Program

  • The adult leader running the expedition is the ultimate decider. Advice is always welcomed, but there can only be 1 leader.
  • Anything is possible.  High Adventure trips are limited only by BSA rules, common sense and the trip leader’s imagination.
  • The role of the High Adventure Chair is to help the trip leader(s) bring the trip to life and to guide the trip leader through the process and guidelines set by the committee.

2. High Adventure Backpacking Trips

  • Each adult leader has an all-encompassing responsibility─for every person on the trip and every aspect of the trip.  He or she is expected to be totally involved and totally committed:

– to ask a question if something is not understood
– to raise a concern if something does not seem right
– to take charge in an emergency
– to defer to the crew chief for routine decisions.

3. Planning for a backpacking expedition needs to be comprehensive, detailed and meticulous.  It includes:

  • Detailed trail plan for each itinerary based on at least two different sets of maps and guidebooks.
  • Trail plan to be filed with appropriate local authority.
  • Conversations with rangers, trail maintenance clubs and others knowledgeable of the trail.
  • Advanced reservations for lodgings, restaurants, car rentals, campsites and trail shelters when necessary.
  • Each member of the expedition needs to be trained in wilderness survival, both for specific hazards (bears, lightning, poisonous snakes, getting lost, altitude sickness, crossing streams) and general philosophy.
  • As many expedition members as possible are trained in First Aid and CPR.
  • All first-time backpackers must go on at least three training hikes to condition themselves mentally and physically for life on the trail.  This requirement can be relaxed for experienced backpackers.  However, in practice, because they understand better than first-timers the need for training hikes and proper preparation, experienced backpackers make all the training hikes they can.

4. The adult leadership is responsible for splitting the expedition into the various crews:

  • It’s usually best to balance age and experience on the crews.  Putting all the first-timers in one crew and all the experienced hikers in another crew is never a good idea.
  • A son will almost always hike with his dad or mom.
  • When necessary for crew balance, it’s OK not to grant parental requests for their scout to be on a particular crew.  Whether a scout hikes with five of his closest friends or only one of them has not proved to be a factor in his overall satisfaction with and enjoyment of the trip.
  • Each crew has a crew chief, a scout who has been on several previous backpacking trips, understands how things should work and knows how to help hikers with problems.
  • Crew composition may be the most important responsibility the adult leadership has.

5. On the trail, the crew chief, often with help from other senior scouts, runs the crew.

  • Adults are involved as members of the crew and take their turns at cooking, getting water and cleaning up as assigned by the crew chief. Two historic rules of thumb:

– The fewer the adults on a crew, the smoother the crew runs.
– The stronger the role of the crew chief, the better the crew.

6. Adult leadership means that the more the adults can stand aside and let the scouts run the crew (and make mistakes), the better it is for the crew and the individual scouts.

  • In practice, an adult can always have a private conversation with the crew chief.
  • Often a crew chief will ask an adult leader what he should do.  If the adult can turn the question around, “What do you think you should do?” or, “What do you want to do?” all the better.
  • When the crew chief offers a course of action, the adult can respond with, “Yes, that should work.”
  • Or, if the adult has reservations about what the crew chief is proposing, the adult can ask, “Have you considered this factor?”  Or, “The likely result of what you propose is this.  Is that what you want to happen?”

7. A backpacking crew must work together as a team at all times.

  • The crew chief sets the tone.
  • The crew chief can redistribute weight to speed up slower hikers.
  • The point sets the pace so crew members can hike in reasonable proximity to each other.
  • Backpacking is not a race, nor a competition; it’s a team sport.  Unless every member of the crew gets to the campsite or trailhead, the crew has not been successful.

8. A thorns and roses exercise involving every member of the crew is an excellent way to keep minor problems in perspective, to savor the trail experience, and to keep the crew hiking together harmoniously.

9. In the event a major change has to take place for the crew, e.g., revision of trail plan, serious injury, unanticipated trail hazard—the leadership must be unanimous in agreeing to the proposed change.

  • The leadership of a crew is composed of all the adults, the crew chief and any other experienced senior scouts.
  • If the leadership is not unanimous, consider talking more or changing the plan.
  • Under no circumstances should the crew proceed without unanimity.