Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Is your Dutch-Oven Holding You Back?

I like dutch oven dinners. One of my favorites is boneless pork ribs in a bbq sauce. I like cobbler too, apple, cherry, peach – whatever! Sometimes when I think of camping, that’s the sort of thing I have in mind, good food, a camp-chair, and a cot to sleep in. My wife and I like to take our family camping that way. Enjoying the family in the beauty of the outdoors is a choice experience.

When I was a Scoutmaster, some of our unit camping trips were the same sort of thing. We’d roll up to our campsite in a fully packed SUV and unload boys, sleeping bags, three-burner stoves, cots, large canvas tents, and all the other away-from-home luxuries we had brought along.

The boys would have a great time playing and exploring in the outdoors, often scattering over the canyon or meadow in which we were camped. Rounding them up to erect tents sometimes took a while, but that was okay because dinner usually took an hour or more to prepare. Our evenings would be spent playing capture-the-flag and poking sticks into the campfire. The adults would try to interject some spirituality into the camp by sharing a spiritual thought or story, and sometimes we’d coax the boys into singing a few songs.

In the morning, the dutch ovens would produce a cheesy hash brown/sausage combo (referred to as ‘Mountain Man’ by our Troop), and since the cooking and clean up took so long, we’d generally load everything back up and head home.

Other camps were different. We’d park at a trailhead and unload boys with backpacks. There would be a nervous, expectant feeling in the air, especially on the part of the newer Scouts. With the buddy system firmly in place, we’d embark on a trail, a pair of the older Scouts leading us with a map and compass as their guide.

I can recall times where the hike we had planned was too long, where packs were too heavy, and night falling too fast. Occasionally, we’d revise our plan and camp at a different spot so that there’d be enough light to set up our camp. Usually though we’d reach our destination and drop our backpacks with some relief and stiffness.

The ensuing noise was about the same as when we car camped, but the activity looked quite different. Boys would be busy setting up their lightweight tents, and unrolling their foam pads. Later they’d be busy cooking over small stoves as buddy pairs, and making trips to a nearby stream to pump water or wash dishes.  The evenings tended to be quieter on those backpacking camps, sleeping bags seemed to beckon more quickly, and only brief conversations between buddies delayed the snoring.

The next morning I would notice buddy pairs working together quietly to prepare a simple breakfast and repack their gear. The route back to the car often took a circuitous path, perhaps via a lake, peak, or other notable landmark. The buddy pairs would take turns navigating, guiding us along a pre-planned route, with the Senior Patrol Leader coaching and helping as needed. The adults would typically hike at the back of the group, making sure that no-one was left behind.

As the car came into view, boys would sometimes hoot and cheer at the thought of taking off their packs and boots, but there was a real sense of accomplishment felt throughout the group. Depending on the length of the drive, the chatter on the way home would be short-lived, with most of the boys falling asleep.

On reflection, the hiking camps were significantly better experiences for the boys and the adults. The extra pressure of carrying our gear, navigating to our destination, and cooking in buddy pairs added an air of adventure to the event.  The patrol method was more obviously in effect, and Scouting skills were more needed and used.

I’m convinced that patrols, individuals, and the troop overall, grow stronger through hiking in a way that is hard to achieve with car camping. So, next time you think about packing your dutch-ovens maybe you could leave them at home and experience a different kind of camp-out.


  1. Great post! We need less car camping and more wilderness experiences in most of our scouting. Car camping has it's place, as does dutch oven cooking, but it should never be the only option.

    Take a look at the Great Western Trail award if you're interested in doing something a little different.

  2. I think part of the issue is the no Sunday camping thing but that is something that will never, ever change.

    1. I agree Fishgutts. I think we can have plenty of hiking based adventures without a Saturday night stay!