I had to tie down a tree last night since recent storms broke the guy lines I had placed when I planted it, and I used a tautline knot how-to I found online to tie it, since I was never a Scout. After reading a comment by @KRyan on a recent question, and considering my recent face-to-face with my inexperience, I started lamenting the fact that I was never a Scout. Which got me thinking: is there an organization similar to the Boy Scouts for adults who want to learn outdoorsmanship?

Edit: My country of residence is the United States. Also, googling led me to NOLS, but that seems to be a lot more intense, with semester-long courses and student loans and college credit. I'm really just looking for a weekend scouting club where I can learn how to survive and thrive outdoors.

Edit 2: I know some have suggested the military in jest, but others have done so more seriously. I have several reasons for not joining the military, but my main one is I have a family and I don't want to be away from them. That said, I'm very interested in options where both I and my daughter can participate together. As for the Boy/Girl Scouts, we're atheist and would prefer something without a religious component. Hence the OP.

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    Why not volunteer in your local boy scouts? You can learn from the experienced adults and help out at the same time
    – user2766
    Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 15:53
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    @Liam I considered that, but I only have one child, and she's 3. Isn't she too young, and isn't there a gender component? Also, I'd prefer to avoid any religious undertones. Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 16:00
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    @KRyan I agree. I don't know how it's perceived in other countries for a strange man to volunteer to help in a children's group, but I'd be wary of doing so just for the optics. However, if the organization were specifically intended for both parents and their children, then that would be optimal. Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 21:15
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    @JonathanLandrum Oh no, that I don’t agree with. My own troop benefited immensely from the adults who were not parents to any of the scouts (one had an adult son who was once a scout in the troop but long before I got there; another had no children; yet another had a young child as you do). Adults not directly tied to any child are especially important because they are not transitory in the same way (and, to be honest, they lack biases that sometimes cause problems; after the retirement of two of those I listed, a mother took over who had severe favoritism).
    – KRyan
    Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 21:19
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    Yes, join the Marine Corps :)
    – Jeff.Clark
    Commented Jul 11, 2017 at 8:11

12 Answers 12


Volunteer in Search and Rescue (SAR).

I just got certified through my state's Sheriff's Association as a volunteer search and rescuer. I went through a two-month-long class with an intense outdoor "final exam" in order to get the certification.

Class topics included: tracking, outdoor clothing and equipment, wilderness navigation (map/compass/GPS), fire/water/shelter/signaling, environmental injuries, equine and canine resources, HAZMAT, crime scene investigations and evidence, lost subject behavior, CPR/AED certification, and yes, plenty of knots.

Now I volunteer in several local SAR groups, including a ground search group, an aircraft-based group, and an amateur radio emergency service.

Every person in these groups has unique skills, and without exception everyone has been friendly and interesting. One of the guys wants to be able to tie 150 knots... and he has a list of them and is working on it. If you want to geek out in depth on any outdoor subject, there is someone to do it with.

AND there are actual missions, a literal race against time to find someone and return them home before they succumb to the elements. Noble purpose.

I was a Boy Scout.

(The tautline hitch should never be used for rescue loads or climbing... but it is still one of my favorite knots because it is tied quickly, slips for adjustment, and holds well enough.)

  • 1
    I have used knots and lashings quite a bit in my life, even living in the city, actually. My wife has her window box planters secured with variants on square lashings, for example.
    – KRyan
    Commented Jul 14, 2017 at 17:16
  • Even though this doesn't (immediately) provide the family-inclusive atmosphere I would prefer, it does fully answer the OP, and even the majority of the two edits. Commented Jul 14, 2017 at 18:17

As an active adult in the Boy Scouts of America, I would highly suggest that you find a local scout troop in your area and sign up. Not only will you be helping the troop in a number of ways, but it will present you with a great way to learn many of the outdoor skills that you are interested in.

As the Boy Scout troop gains new members, they will have to learn the basics in order to advance through the ranks. This is a perfect opportunity to sit down and learn those skills with them. For example, I was recently instructing a basic compass course for new scouts. One of the adults who recently signed up with his son wanted to assist, but had the same level of experience as most of the new scouts (i.e. none). Within a few minutes he was able to actively instruct and assist some of the scouts who were having trouble with the course. They say the best way to learn is to teach, right? It is also a great way for the more experienced to brush up on their skills.

As suggested by @KRyan in a comment below, there are some qualifications for adults before they may join a troop. The BSA is a private organization, and ask that their members follow a recognized religion. Many troops meet at churches, synagogues, and mosques. You do not need to be a member of that religious organization to join, but it may help. Some troops take this more seriously than others. I have been a member of a Jewish troop for the past 18 years. During that time, we have had a number of members who were not Jewish, it really made no difference. More recently, some new scouts have joined the troop who also keep kosher. That means on camping trips, they don't eat bacon and have kosher marshmellows on the s'mores (yes, they do exist). I have never had a personal experience where religion or other personal beliefs have negatively impacted scouting, but your mileage may vary. Also, you do not need to have a boy in the troop to be a part of it yourself. If you do have a son who is of the proper age to join, I suggest signing both of you up. It is definitely more fun doing it together!

If you are not interested in joining a Boy Scout troop, you might be able to find an REI near you that offers classes in various outdoor activities. The location near me offers monthly classes on beginner camping and backpacking. YouTube videos might be another option. You could also look for an outdoors-oriented Meetup in your area. You may be able to learn from these members.

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    Having inadvertently prompted this question, allow me to strongly echo this sentiment. There are many troops who would benefit immensely from another adult involved—no skills needed. For instance, Scouting requires a minimum of two adults on every campout for safety reasons—I know troops that have at times struggled to even have campouts as a result. Literally just having another adult body there can be a huge boon to a troop. And Scouting is a great way to give back to a community, and you definitely will have ample opportunities to learn.
    – KRyan
    Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 20:44
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    That said, Josh, you probably should address this comment about concerns for qualifying, as well as religious undertones, directly. It’s kind of assumed in your answer that adults can join troops without having a child in the troop, but saying it explicitly would help. And the religiosity of the Boy Scouts of America is something to consider (the organization is non-denominational but assumes belief in something and atheism has been controversial in the organization).
    – KRyan
    Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 20:51
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    It may be worth mentioning that how seriously religiosity is taken is going to vary widely from troop to troop and/or place to place. For instance, growing up in New York City, it might have been an item on the paperwork (can’t recall), but it certainly never came up in our actual activities—with the glaring exception of the reference to god in the Scout Oath. But I have also heard of scouts in other parts of the country being kicked out, and even having awards up to and including Eagle stripped, for declaring themselves atheist.
    – KRyan
    Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 21:09
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    I remember looking into the Boy Scouts some time back, and the insistence on you proclaiming you were religious and the mention of God in various places, including some mandatory oaths, really turned me off. I attended a Eagle Scout honor court recently, and was taken aback at all the references to god even this many years later. I agree that since they are a private organization they have the right to do that. It's a shame they do though. More people could benefit otherwise, and they'd have a stronger and more diverse membership. Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 21:13
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    @KRyan "I have also heard of scouts in other parts of the country being kicked out, and even having awards up to and including Eagle stripped, for declaring themselves atheist" and that part is alarming to me about the BSA, something I would very much like to avoid for my child. Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 21:18

I don't know of any organization as you describe, but there certainly ways for adults to learn outdoorsmanship.

There are likely outdoor clubs in your area that run educational programs. Here in New England, the major one is the AMC (Appalachian Mountain Club). They regularly run educational programs on various topics and at various levels. I attended one many years ago on winter camping and cold issues. Very informative. I have helped in the past with their backpacking course and orienteering course. I imagine the Sierra Club and many other less well known organizations do similar things.

There are also organizations that exist mostly to run educational programs. One in NH I've been to is called SOLO. I think they specialize in first aid and medical issues. There are others. Ask around locally. If you don't know where to start, ask for advice at a place that sells equipment for backcountry camping.


You could read the Boy Scout Handbook and the BSA Fieldbook to get a strong basic knowledge of scouting skills. You'll need to get hands on experience, but that doesn't require being in the back country.

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    This is a good point. We practiced every Scouting skill (well, except swimming) in the basement of the church where we met long far more often than we did on campouts.
    – KRyan
    Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 20:45

There's a lot of great answers here, and one answer touched on it, but I really wanted to emphasize the quality of the resources and classes available at REI. Classes are open to members and non-members, with members getting a discount on paid classes but they also have free options for things like emergency preparedness. The REI website has a search page for local events and classes where you find classes near you. There's stuff from camping and backpacking and navigation, to survival, to paddling, and even stuff like bike maintenance for all levels of experience. And yes, there are classes on knot-tying, too.

If you have a location near you, I highly recommend it. They even do outings (which tend to be a little more expensive, considering many of the in-store classes are either free or $10 for members) that offer more hands-on experiences.

However, as far as getting the hands-on experience goes, once you know the basics, I would recommend using the meetup.com outdoors & adventure tab to both get to know other people near you with similar interests and get experience from knowledgeable people. It's more cost-effective, and you'll probably have better experiences.

Once you are comfortable with your skills, get out and do it yourself! Nothing will help you learn outdoorsman skills like being out on your own in the wilderness, assuming you are safe, well-prepared, and well-equipped!

  • 1
    +1 just for recommending meetup; i seriously hadn't considered that, and i frequently use meetup for other types of groups. Commented Jul 11, 2017 at 19:00

http://www.outwardbound.org/ - has education programs for adults.

However, I think you're on the right track with just finding your local community in some online way. For example, you can learn a lot and meet local folks here: https://bushcraftusa.com/forum/

Do not underestimate the value of becoming a Boy or Girl Scout leader - it can be very fulfilling. However, understand that scouting in those organizations is not just about outdoors stuff, it's about other life skills as well. If you are looking for outdoors groups, Boy and Girl Scouts isn't really the right group.


The American Alpine Club and the Alpine Club of Canada each have local sections that offer regular skills courses in ropes, weather, orienteering (map, compass, GPS), climbing, mountaineering, avalanche safety, glacier travel, backcountry cooking, ski touring, how to lead groups, and more.

Membership is usually very affordable (around $50 a year) and many courses are free at the section level.



Venturing Age Groups

Venturers Youth Participants: those who are age 14 (or 13 and graduated 8th grade) through the age of 17 are referred to as youth participants.

Adult Participants: those who are age 18 through 20 are considered adults (per youth protection guidelines), however, may still participate in the program through leadership positions, awards, etc.

Advisors Adult Advisors: those who are 21 or older serve as advisors. They do not lead the unit, but instead work with the youth leaders to help ensure success, safety, and personal growth for all members.


Baden-Powell Service Association (BPSA-US), a traditional scouting organization that promotes inclusive membership, outdoor skills, back to basic traditional program and service in the community. They have adult section called Rover open to adults.https://www.bpsa-us.org/


If your looking for a club you and your child could participate in together then maybe checkout Spiral Scouts International. http://www.spiralscouts.org/ It is for kids aged 3-18 years old, co-ed. They are not religious, there are badges you can earn that are about religion but they are completely optional. Spiral Scouts strongly encourage the child's family to participate, and in their badge work they cover camping and outdoor skills.


I think the closest "adult version" of Boy Scouts are Firefighters.

They help people, cut trees and any kind of useful "manual" work the citizens need.

Logically there are quite big differences but I hope you get the idea.

  • 1
    Firefighters as in the fire brigade? Maybe it's different where you are but the fire brigade in the UK deal with emergencies, not general "being helpful", tree surgery or manual labour. The only time I'd expect a UK fire brigade to cut a tree would be if it had fallen and trapped somebody. Commented Jul 11, 2017 at 9:49
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    I think it depends by state by state. In my country they will help in situations different from emergencies. Especially in small towns.
    – Fez Vrasta
    Commented Jul 11, 2017 at 9:51
  • 1
    I was going to suggest volunteering for your local fire fighters. My kids are in it and learn how to do all sorts of useful stuff. Probably less forest craft, but they do fell dangerous trees and so.
    – RedSonja
    Commented Jul 12, 2017 at 7:56

The cub scouts and boy scouts are now accepting girls in their programs. As your daughter is 3 or around 4 since this was posted she would have to join cub scouting and you can be there with her as a parent or a leader if you wish. It's an option and when she's old enough to move up to boy scouts you can move up with her.

  • 1
    Thank you for your reply. See my Edit 2 for my reasoning behind avoiding the Boy Scouts. Commented Dec 26, 2018 at 17:34
  • @JonathanLandrum, scouting does not need to have a religious connection. It should be possible to find a local group that does not uses church halls.
    – Willeke
    Commented Dec 26, 2018 at 21:00

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