I taking a bunch of scouts camping next week. While we are staying at a Scout campsite with facilities and some organised activities. We have decided we want to have a bit more of back to basics/survival focus. Do people have suggestions of any good activities that are survival/scout skill orientated?

So far I have the obvious ideas of firefighting without matches, making a bivy/shelter for a night and pioneering (what is yet to be determined). I'm particularly looking for any interesting but non-obvious ideas.

Age range is 11-14.

  • 8
    Orienteering is surely a useful skill and can be done in fun ways. I have a bunch of exercises, but they are all in Swedish. Ideas could probably be found at the local orienteering club or organisation.
    – Ahlqvist
    Jul 30, 2014 at 11:04
  • 4
    "firefighting without matches" -- I assume you mean fire'making'? Jul 30, 2014 at 13:43
  • I second the orienteering idea. It's a game that teaches valuable compass / navigation skills. @Ahlqvist, you should make that an actual answer. Jul 30, 2014 at 15:02
  • For pioneering, we usually make trebuchets.
    – rlms
    Jul 30, 2014 at 16:12
  • 6
    Please go over "leave no trace" principles in some manner before anything else. It might be an unfair generalization, but in my experience, scout troups are some of the worst when it comes to leaving trash, loudly disturbing neighbors in the campground, destroying vegetation, etc. If you teach your group to respect the wilderness early on and instill good practices now, it'll mean less work for you to clean up after them later, and others nearby will be more welcoming.
    – nhinkle
    Jul 30, 2014 at 16:54

12 Answers 12


Get them lost.

Basically you want to get them out to where they lose their bearings, and then as a group, get them to find their way home. Good acting helps. If you can pretend you are also lost then they get the mental experience. This is a great way to teach people how to deal with really being lost.

There are a couple of key points here, and the first is that you know the area, can navigate, and plan this in advance. If you have a second adult who can respond to emergency signals (blown whistles, etc) that is even better.

Step 1 - Get them lost. This can be trickier than it sounds. A "trail run" can be a great method, especially if you aren't actually on a trail. However, a good conversation will often do the trick just as well. The key is to trick them into not paying attention.

Step 2 - Reveal that you have "lost track of the turns". Solicit the group to get you home.

It is important that you are always there for safety. You must always know the way back. Don't let them get you lost trying to find camp. Give them enough support so that they can succeed as a group.

  • 2
    I really like this idea -- when going out with older Scouts that you know, and you know how they'll react. You wouldn't want to cause a new Scout to panic and actually be scared. I'm a fan of helping them to first see that some things are not as scary as they think they are at first. ("see, if you know how to read this map and use this compass, you're going to be able to find your way out, so there's no need to worry!") Once they think they know what to do, then find a way to put them to the test, like this activity! Jul 30, 2014 at 19:15
  • 4
    When I was a scout leader, we did this. At some point the leader would stop and go "Let's pretend I've just had a horrible accident. You've lost all the gear I'm carrying as well as my knowledge of how to get back to the campsite. What do you do now?" Jul 31, 2014 at 2:20

I would recommend covering some of the following topics:

  • First Aid - focus on how to stabilize an injured person and how to transport them. Teach them how to splint a sprained ankle and treat heat stroke, hypothermia, dehydration, shock, how to stop bleeding, and other basic first aid skills. A good teamwork skill to practice is transporting an injured person from an unsafe location (BSA has a "Lifts and Carries" document available).
  • Water Purification - show the scouts several ways to acquire and filter water (boiling, chem tablets, and filtering). While not as fun, you could cover the importance of staying hydrated in a survival situation.
  • Food - it could be pretty fun to show them how to cook without fancy equipment (grilling on a soaked board, boiling water with hot rocks, etc). If you go fishing, you could demonstrate how to gut and clean a fish before cooking it.
  • Mental Preparedness - have a talk with the scouts about the importance of staying calm and making logical decisions. Give them some possible situations around the campfire and ask them what they would do.
  • 1
    I voted -1 due to the scavenging item. Otherwise it's pretty good, but scavenging is a high risk activity. Jul 30, 2014 at 13:43
  • Russell, I'll edit that to make it a safer suggestion.
    – pheidlauf
    Jul 30, 2014 at 14:29
  • I liked the scavenging idea. There are lots of safe things that can be eaten at this time of year. The important thing is that the leaders need to actually know what safe and not and not eat anything slightly questionable.
    – nivag
    Jul 30, 2014 at 15:12
  • You can also scavenger hunt instead which is always fun
    – Aravona
    Jul 30, 2014 at 15:22
  • 2
    With regards to the first aid bit, I'd go so far as to say that one of the most important things is to explicitly teach them not to attempt procedures they aren't trained for. You can often do more harm than good, especially when it comes to major fractures or deep wounds. Essentially nobody should be sewing anything in a first aid situation, for example. Not just "doesn't necessarily [need to] be able to", but "absolutely should not".
    – nhinkle
    Jul 30, 2014 at 16:57

I don't know which part of the world you are in, but if it is the United States, and if these are Boy Scouts, then be certain you consult the "Guide to Safe Scouting". You may also want to consult the "Wilderness Survival" merit badge book for some ideas.

  • Good point. I'm in the UK but we have similar documents here.
    – nivag
    Jul 30, 2014 at 15:29

Wildcamping is always a lot more interesting than staying on a "safe" campsite with showers, toilets, taps etc. Since you are staying at one of these campsites you could try finding an area that is far away from the facilities to make it seem more remote. If there is a clean enough stream/river/burn nearby you could encourage the scouts to collect water from there and boil it to make it safe to drink (done this several times when I was in scouts).

Cooking on an open fire is another idea, teach them to construct a fire with support for a pot (IIRC washing up liquid on the bottom of the pot stops it being blackened too much from the fire).

Building shelters/bivys can be a fun team activity, if you are in a forrested area make them team up and find a spot to build their bivy but to keep it as hidden/camouflaged as possible.

One activity we did a lot was building a tower with a triangle base and an inverted triangle on top. Get a platform on top with a rope ladder and make it the 'base' for a wide game when it gets dark. Something like hide and seek where one team needs to get back to the tower without getting seen or caught.

Really, I think anything where the scouts are not allowed to rely on home comforts makes for a good learning experience, and encouraging teamwork and competition in building challenges will make things more interesting for the scouts.

[Experience, Beavers -> Venture scouts (UK) with being an assistant leader on several cub/scout camps]


"Your [plane/ship] has [crashed in the jungle/sunk near an island]. Here's what you were able to salvage from the wreck. Oh, and $HeaviestKId has broken his leg"

In our case we had food but no cooking equipment, i.e. we had to cook bread wrapped round a twig and improvise a frying pan from metal sheet, make a stretcher...

  • 4
    That's going to come across as picking on the heaviest kid and probably encourage the other kids to pick on him, too. Break the strongest kid's leg instead. Aug 1, 2014 at 12:16
  • 2
    In situations like this, disabling the patrol leader (or whoever tends to take charge) is often the best way to encourage the group to learn and grow. In many cases, this isn't the strongest boy, but rather the oldest. Put him on the disabled list, tell him he can't speak or help, and suddenly the other Scouts have to step up and learn to lead and learn to use their skills.
    – DanielKM
    Feb 2, 2015 at 16:25

When I went survival camping my troop always pretended that it was a day hike that turned into an overnight survival situation. We only brought what we would normally bring on a one day hike. Obviously we packed huge lunches and brought extra clothes acting all like "My mom sure packed me a big lunch! Maybe I should save most of it for later."

Once we got to our campsite (our leaders only gave us the location of the camp, we had to do everything else; we got lost), we did things like lighting no-match fires and building survival shelters. Day activities would include things like:

  • Why don't you kids see what's on top of that hill.
  • Survival training (water purification, light wilderness first aid, etc.)
  • Realizing you forgot toilet paper.
  • Perfecting your shelter.
  • Hike way upstream to find water because the river by your campsite is dried up. (I was in California)
  • Who can build the best survival shelter?

In better response to your question, what we would do that's a bit different is to play survival themed games and sometimes some more serious wilderness first aid (for the older scouts). A good game is the classic "see who can patch up billy the best after his 'tumble.'" Also who can't resist a good game of capture the flag? I would caution against pioneering because using logs and trees goes against Leave No Trace and you probably are not going to want to drag a bunch of poles wherever you are going. Also keep in mind Safe Scouting so don't build anything platforms for standing in that are over shoulder height without proper safety precautions (sorry, not my rules!)

If you want a really good scare, plan a "Whodunnit Party" but instead it's survival camping. I'm not sure how you would make that work, but I think it would make a really memorable camp out.

Just remember that after surviving the weekend on minimal food and sleeping on the ground your scouts deserve a hot meal. After survival weekend, we would always go out to IHOP afterwards...


a good stalking exercise is fun! Draw straws to see who the first "target" is and have them sit in a clearing blindfolded while the other players hide in the woods around the target (specify a starting distance). Once all are hidden the target may remove the blindfold and stand up, turn, but not move. The stalkers then begin to close in on the target. When the target detects a stalker they call him/her out and they come into the clearing and sit quietly while the others continue to close in. Last stalker found wins the round and becomes the target of the next round!

This may seem very creepy, as "stalking" isn't a skill one would put on their resume. But in a "back to basics" environment, stalking teaches scouts to use all of their senses and pay attention to their surroundings. It is also a great way to teach patience! Watch as your scouts discuss tactics between rounds for moving trough brush while not disturbing their surroundings and giving away their position.

Your troupe could sponsor a capture the flag event after some stalking activities and royally dominate using their newly found stealth skills!

  • 1
    Nice idea! Some weeks ago a friend of mine did this while I and the third of the group sit around the fire. We asked us were he was and he made sounds from different directions. Really creepy and cool at the end :D
    – Wills
    Jul 31, 2014 at 18:10

Make a sunhat or rainhat out of grass.

Make a stretcher out of wood and bootlaces and carry the heaviest Scout (heh heh) for twenty metres (over some mildly challenging terrain, like a small creek).

Boil water in a plastic bottle.

Find bugs and worms and cook them and eat them.

Make up songs about the scout leaders and sing then at full volume around the fire. :-) Then use this to teach that the most important piece of survival gear is... (cue Chief Scout Bear Grylls!) a PMA - Positive Mental Attitude.


In our last camp we had the scouts build a bridge over the river; also, bivouac during a 2-3 day long hike; or you might try what we call the "three eagle feathers" challenge: each feather stands for a test - 24 hours alone in the forest (with extra task to sneak close to the camp and spy without being seen), 24 hours with no speaking, 24 hours with no food.

But what was really fun, and already usable for 13+ age, even if it would mean connecting with civilization: give them 1 object, and tell them to swap it for food. We gave to each patrol one single piece of match, and they came back with a lot of potatoes, eggs, some cheese, apples and pears. We were camping near a village, and the locals had a great fun swapping things with the scouts: the match was changed for a whole box, then that was divided and swapped to other stuff. The result may vary according to the local culture though. Here, in Transylvania, locals found it fun.

Also, challenge the patrols to find their day food with volunteer work in the first village in the surroundings.


I've always found fake "moulage" injuries to be a popular activity. You apply the wounds then ask them to perform proper first aid based on the injury they see. One of the times I had my brother apply a broken bone moulage to me, then I just waited on the trail for our troop to hike by--they had no idea that I was going to be there. They had to treat the wound and then make a stretcher out of the supplies that they had on hand. Scouts also tend to enjoy being the victim and having their fellow scouts treat them--just make sure all victims are wearing clothes they don't care about, as moulage can be messy and stain.

You can use simple supplies like starch, food coloring, red grease, petroleum jelly in recipes to create the makeup for the injuries.

These are the recipes I use: http://www.cert-la.com/downloads/moulage/moulage-recipes.pdf

Most of the supplies will keep for indefinite periods of time once you've created them. The corn syrup based blood, however can go bad.

Here's an actress that my brother and a friend applied wounds to for one of my short films. It called for bite marks and claw marks.

enter image description here

More info about application and recipes can be found at this link (click the green links for application, kit and recipe guides).


teach them how to make charcloth... use it to make a fire using as many different starting methods as possible (lense, flint/steal, bow/drill, etc)


go out and collect sample leaves and see if they can identify them (don't pick anything poisonous... show them the plant without disturbing it if/when you find it!) bonus points if they can identify which ones are edible or which have medicinal properties!

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