Winter Cabin Campout Guide – Hints for Adults and Senior Scouts
Note: Assumes use of one large cabin at a Boy Scout Camp
1) As much as possible of the Troop and personal equipment should loaded into the equipment van during assembly, because it is quite likely the only vehicle that will be allowed to go to the cabin (all other vehicles will not be allowed past the camp parking lot). The current Troop equipment van can handle Troop and personal equipment for about 30 people. If more than 30 are coming, then a second equipment van should be arranged among personal vehicles. In such cases, it is best that a 4-wheel drive vehicle be used as the second equipment van. Note that the second vehicle will (usually) not be allowed to go to the cabin until, the first van returns; therefore, only personal gear should be stored in the second vehicle.
2) Scouts (and adults) should dress reasonably warmly and wear boots – not sneakers – for travel to the cabin. They should be expecting to step out into snow or a muddy, icy mess. They should also expect to have to walk to the cabin from the parking lot (5 – 20 minutes), and also for it to take at least an hour to get the cabin warmed up – longer if it’s really bitter cold out. No one should standing around in just a T-Shirt.
3) Each vehicle should have an easily accessible flashlight for the arrival. Some cabins will have an outside “dusk to dawn” light on, but at most camps, the cabins are completely dark, and have no nearby “street lighting” either.
4) As noted above, most camps will allow only an equipment van to go past the parking lot. Chains will be necessary/required on the equipment van if there is snow and ice on the camp roads. It takes at least 30 minutes to properly install chains, longer if the parking lot at the camp is a slushy mess. Whenever such conditions exist, the chains should be installed as soon as you arrive at the camp, while the Leaders and Senior Scouts are getting registered. Note that few camps allow Troop vehicles, including the equipment van, to be parked at a cabin – they have to be moved back to the parking lot after unloading.
5) Upon arrival at the cabin, a number of things should be done first thing to help ensure a more pleasant stay:
A) If the pathway to the door of the cabin is slick with ice or smooth hard-pack snow, a metal shovel should be used to “roughen” the surface for traction. You do not need to be down to bare pavement or ground, but a SMOOTH surface (snow or ice) is NOT desirable. A metal “coal” shovel needs to be easily accessible in the equipment van for this purpose.
B) One or more large boat tarps should be placed just inside the door of the cabin, and either an old blanket or a bunch of newspapers should be spread on top of it/them, for placement of muddy and/or snow covered boots. This equipment needs to be immediately accessible upon arrival. No one should wear boots into beyond the tarp – that will quickly result in a wet, muddy floor for the rest of the weekend. A broom for brushing snow off boots should also be placed at the front door. Scouts can either walk inside the cabins in socks (which is a little cold), or (better) have “house shoes” (sneakers) for use inside the cabins. A good system upon arrival is to have two – four Scouts inside in sneakers to handle and semi-organize the gear, while everyone else (in boots) relays everything from the vehicles. The “Inside Scouts” need to have their sneakers easily accessible in their gear for this purpose.
[Note that it will be a struggle all weekend to keep the doorway clear of boots, no matter how firmly the law is laid down. It is best to assign a number of Scouts to constantly keep after this situation. Use of a different color tarp as the “walkway” helps as a visual reminder not to place boots there.]
C) A couple of Scouts who know what they’re doing should be assigned to open the flue, and start a quick-burning newspaper fire to start a draft, then once that burns out start a real fire. The equipment van should have a box of firemaking materials, also including a hatchet, ax, and saw. Again, this equipment needs to be immediately accessible upon arrival. Do not assume that the cabins will have tinder or kindling (they will usually only have logs on the porch, and (maybe) some newspaper, cardboard, and a small supply of wood inside).
D) If necessary, a couple of Scouts should be assigned to open all the cabin doors, and vacuum the floors with a shop vac (this is almost always needed in older Boy Scout cabins). Again, the shop vac and an extension cord need to be easily accessible upon arrival. The doors should be left open while the vacuuming is going on, and also for a few minutes afterwards, to allow residual dust in the air to escape the cabin.
6) If the cabin is tight for space, some of the equipment lockers can be stored outside – but in general, it is always better if at least the food can be stored inside (to prevent freezing and raiding by local wildlife).
7) Once all the Troop and personal equipment is inside, an all-hands meeting should be held to establish protocols for bunk arranging, assignments, and storage of personal gear. Note that no-one who has EVER had an issue with sleepwalking should take an upper bunk. Past experience has shown that the best way to establish bunks is to form buddy groups of four, and allow each group to select two bunks (top and bottom), starting with the youngest group and working up to the oldest group. Pre-assignment of an “adults only” area may be necessary if the number of bunks is tight. If some Scouts and adults elect to camp outside, they should still be assigned bunks inside in case they need to come in during the night because the outside conditions were too extreme.
8) Ancillary Set-Ups – Some bunks may need re-stringing (the Troop will bring some light rope for this purpose). A bunch of high-wattage light bulbs will almost certainly be needed (most light bulbs in the older cabins will be low wattage, and some/many will be out altogether). One or two nightlights are a good idea to help people get around after lights out (if the cabin has an inside bathroom, a strong nightlight should be placed inside). A fan will be needed to circulate air inside the cabin – this is especially important if the fireplace is distant from the sleeping area(s). If this is the case, a small electrical heater and a good (heavy duty) extension cord, at least 50 feet long, should be installed at the far end of the cabin. A roll of oversize trash bags and a roll of duct tape is good to have if windows need to be “insulated” (a good idea in extreme conditions, or if a window pane is broken out, another typical problem at Scout Camp cabins). If the cabin does not have inside plumbing, a propane lantern should be set up in the latrine, set very low for the night – note that one regular canister of propane will generally run a lantern on very low for about 8 hours.
9) All-Hands Meeting on Arrival Night for Non-Ski Trips
* If planned, hand out night snacks and water (not soda).
* Review any issues with the cabin (boot protocol, latrine locations, firewood, problems with bunks, cautions on horseplay around the wood-burning stove and/or metal bunks, no football or Frisbee, etc., throwing inside the cabin, no unsupervised snowball fights, etc.)
* Review storage of personal gear – warning to keep organized, and avoid blocking the main “pathways” with gear.
* Review Weather Forecast for the weekend.
* Review Schedule – Friday: Night Hike?, Games?, (Inside) Campfire Program?, Outside Camping? (if yes, see 9) below), Taps (discuss and warn against staying up late needlessly). Saturday: Reveille, Breakfast Scouts, Morning Program, Lunch Scouts, Early Afternoon Program, Late Afternoon Program, Dinner Scouts, Evening Program (Night Hike?, Games?, (Inside) Campfire Program?, Movie?), Taps. Sunday: Reveille, Breakfast Scouts, Cleanup and Packup, Departure, Mass, Homeward Bound.
10) Special “Outside Camping” Group Meeting – If Scouts and Adults wish to camp outside for part or all of the weekend, a second meeting to plan out final details will be held immediately following the All-Hands Meeting. Discuss conditions and cautions. Final check of gear. Discuss organization and time frame for setup. Note that it usually takes twice as long to set up a tent in cold weather, and three times as long in snow or if the ground is frozen solid. Setup should be done asap after the cabin setup is completed – not at the end of the evening when everyone else has already gone to bed.
11) Sunday Departure – If a non-cook breakfast is planned, and if the Troop faithfully kept after the cleanup duties through the entire weekend (and didn’t leave a huge disaster for Sunday morning), then reveille can be as short as 1.5 hours prior to the planned departure. However, 2 hours is “safer” and a lot less stressful. If the cabin kitchen area is a real mess, or if there’s a lot of other cleanup needed, then the reveille should be adjusted accordingly. Also remember to build in the time necessary to walk down to the parking lot and if necessary clean off the vehicles (if it snowed or iced heavily while you were at camp, this will require 15 – 30 minutes). The equipment van driver should retrieve the equipment van from the parking lot first thing after reveille; in fact, it is better if he/she gets up a little earlier to take care of this chore (however, if the equipment van will block a heavily traveled camp road, you’ll have to wait til you’re actually ready to load it up). If possible, the Ranger should be scheduled to do the necessary departure inspection about 20 minutes before the Troop’s scheduled departure. This can be arranged either upon Friday arrival, or sometime Saturday – it should NOT be left for Sunday morning, especially if you have a schedule to meet, because by then he may be booked solid for an hour or more. A typical inspection usually take 10 minutes.