I spent four days and three nights on a camping trip with six teenagers in the summer of 2018. Yes, I survived. Cell phone batteries died, there was no Wi-Fi, and there was a daily request from the girls to take a shower (which I politely denied). Were there ups and downs? Definitely. Did we have fun? Totally!
Half of the girls from our troop had camped with me before, and two additional girls joined us from another troop. The first time we went camping, two of my girls were nine years old, so camping with them as 13-year-olds was a new experience! Technology is a core part of their lives (unplugging can be a big ask), and emotions change as quickly as the wind changes direction, but they have all grown up into independent, confident girls. I don’t have to look over their shoulders as much when they are cooking or lighting a candle. They don’t need my help to roll their sleeping bags up, and they can pitch and break down a tent with ease.
In short, camping with older girls is both simpler and more complex. The tips that worked when they were Daisies and Brownies aren’t very helpful in giving them the tools to enjoy and level up their camping experience. So here are some tips on camping with older girls that I compiled from our camping trip that I highly recommend you try out:
Let the girls plan
Leading up to the trip, we had troop meetings to plan out our adventure. Instead of taking the lead, I sat on the couch and watched the girls scour the internet for recipes and activities. In true Girl Scout girl-led fashion, they planned every detail of the trip. It wasn’t until I went grocery shopping two days before we left that I realized how many of the meals involved cheese (not the best ingredient for a multi-night trip with no refrigeration). But I realized it didn’t matter how balanced their meals were for these couple days—I knew they would be happy and that was all that mattered.
If they want a lazy day, that’s fine
This is their camping trip, right? If they want some time to relax in the tent, chat with their friends, play cards, or even take a nap, that’s fine! Teenagers are not only growing and need some free time, but they are always swamped with school, sports, and extracurriculars when they are at home! Girl Scout camping is the perfect opportunity for them to just chill. They may not want to even go to the lake or go on an easy hike like they originally planned, and that’s OK. Don’t be too invested in the schedule or exactly how they spend their time (but make sure you pack a book or two to account for that unscheduled downtime!)
Find opportunities to bond as a troop
Our campsite this time had a volleyball net, shuffleboard, and swimming pool—we were a little spoiled, I admit. The girls wanted to try their hand at shuffleboard for the first time, and they had a blast working together to strategize and beat the adults. Age and experience won over fierce enthusiasm this round, but a good time was had by all. Be creative in finding ways for the girls to strengthen their teambuilding skills, whether that’s through activities at the campsite or games you plan ahead and bring with you.
Encourage them to unplug
Technology is an incredible tool and skill that girls are experts at these days, but taking a break now and then is helpful. Eventually their phone batteries will run out, and they won’t have a choice but to put the screens away. It can be a little unnerving for them. Focus on activities that help them explore and appreciate the outdoors and they’ll soon relax and remember that the internet is just one source of knowledge and adventure: unplugging when you can is good for the mind, body, and spirit.
Pro Tip: Worried that your girl is too sucked in to technology? Check out these tech tips from Dr. Bastani Archibald over at Raising Awesome Girls.
Step back and watch them work together
Because some of my girls have been on several camping trips together, they already knew how to plan, put up a tent, cook, and build a fire. It was great to see the veteran campers take the lead on jobs that they were more comfortable with and help out the new girls who were just learning. For girls who are not part of a team sport, working together in a setting like camping gives them the skills they need to succeed as a team.
I took my Cadettes camping at the beginning of summer and my Juniors camping toward the end. Both outings were completely different experiences, but I wouldn’t replace either of them for anything. No matter their age, the girls practiced new skills, gained confidence, learned to challenge themselves, and had so much fun.
In order to go camping with your troop, you will have to start with the Troop Camping Certification course offered through Girl Scouts of Northern California. I cannot recommend it enough—I’ve even taken it twice because I enjoyed it so much! The instructors will give you everything you need to lead a fun yet safe outdoor adventure for girls of all ages. Remember to let the girls lead the way when planning a camping trip, encourage them to lean on each other and work together to solve problems, and learn when to let them take a break, and when to nudge them out of their comfort zone—you’ll have a memorable experience from start to finish!
What to do next:
- Looking for a related read? GSNorCal has tons of resources to make your camping trip the best one ever, including How to Plan Your First Camping Trip, 7 Badges to Help Your Troop Level Up as Campers, and Classic Outdoor Cooking Recipes.
- The older the girls in your troop, the more they’ll be able to plan their camping trip! Review some of the tips on keeping Girl Scouts girl-led in Volunteer Essentials. VE has some great information about camping and other outdoor activities too.
- Did you already complete the Troop Camping Certification course? Learn more with GSNorCal’s other online trainings for anything and everything a Girl Scout volunteer needs to know. For camping with older girls, try out the Backpacking Certification course or Wilderness First Aid.
Angela Borchert—Angela just completed her seventh year as a Girl Scout leader in Vacaville/Travis Air Force Base service unit. She leads Juniors and Cadettes and loves the wide range of activities and interests that both groups have and the challenges they provide her along the way. Girl Scouts have helped her embrace glue guns and dirt while taking her on her first kayaking adventure. She’s been camping more times in the past five years than she has in her entire life thanks to Girl Scouts!