Camping comes naturally to some people, but not me! Joke is that I’m a bit of a Beverly Hills kind of leader—totally glammed up without a lick of experience when it comes to roughing it in nature. But I’ll do anything for my Girl Scouts! That’s why when my girls told me they wanted to plan a camping trip to celebrate the end of the school year, I grabbed my one pair of hiking boots and prepared myself for the adventure of a lifetime.

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After completing the Troop Camping Certification course, a bit of prep work, and some help from my fellow troop leaders, we planned an awesome overnight trip—dirt and all! So, if you’re a not-so-outdoorsy-leader like myself, here are 6 steps to help you and your girls tackle your first troop campout.

Step 1: Pick and reserve your campsite

My troop is a multi-level troop, consisting of Daisies, Brownies, and Juniors. Since we have a handful of young, brand new Girl Scouts, we thought it would be best to camp close to home for our first camping trip, that way, the littlest girls had the option to attend day time activities without the pressure of spending the night away from home.

In Northern California’s Wine Country, we have a lot of options. To help us narrow down the options, we did two things. First, we called our local Park Ranger and asked which campsites were safest, shadiest, and could be reserved close together. Then, we sought advice from a fellow GSNorCal volunteer, a Senior Troop Leader, for recommendations as to which campgrounds she considered “the best” and the cleanest in our area.

Pro Tip: Remember, campsites are oftentimes in high demand during the summer months, so try to plan as far in advance as possible. It’s also important to be flexible. We ended up camping on a Sunday night in order to reserve multiple sites in the same area. We had to get a little creative with drop-offs/pick-ups, carpools, and scheduling for our full-time working parents, but it was worth it to keep the girls together (rather than spreading them across the campgrounds).

Step 2: Prepare your Girl Scouts

Our girls are 5-11 years old, and for some of them, this overnight trip was their first time away from home. Some are very outdoorsy, but for others, this was their first time exploring the wilderness (and definitely their first time sleeping outside). Leading up to our first campout, we focused on one skill or activity per troop meeting to help the girls prepare for camping outdoors. Some of the topics we covered were:

  • Assembling First Aid Kits
  • How To Set Up a Tent
  • Using Resources Wisely (specifically bandana uses, reusable drinking vessels, and the Buddy System)
  • Do a Good Turn Daily & Leave a Place Better Than How Your Found It (aka trash pick-up)

Don’t forget to prepare for the physical demands of the outdoors! We also walked a lot. We tried to walk or take a short hike at least once a month (on a volunteer basis) to get ready for the trip.

How to Plan Your First Troop Camping Trip: Tents

Step 3: Consider what your Girl Scouts need

If you’re taking a troop of girls on a camping trip for the first time, it’s important for you as their leader to be as comfortable and confident as possible. Call the Park Visitor Center and ask questions like: What is the terrain like? Do we need quarters for the showers? What kind of wildlife is in the area? Is there a creek running? Can we build a campfire? Do we need to lock up food? Do we need parking passes? Is there a noise curfew? How cold or hot will it get? Is there a 24hrs Ranger or Camp Host? Is there cell phone coverage? If there is an emergency, who do I call? 

Let them talk! They know what your girls will need from the Park’s perspective, and you’ll definitely feel more prepared after hearing from the outdoor experts.

Make sure to survey your parents so you have a better understanding of their daughters’ behavior, habits, or comfort level: Does their child get scared at night? Any food or skin allergies to know about? Does a Scout sleep-walk? Are they good splitting any costs equally?

Step 4: Gather RSVPs and assign roles

Once you know how many girls and parents will be camping, chat with your troop parents to ensure everyone is on the same page. We held a Parent Meeting to assign responsibilities for food, supplies, and activities. We decided on a potluck-style approach and kept in mind the financial situations of each family to avoid burdening any one family.

The tasks we assigned included:

  • Dinner (Mains, Sides, and S’mores)
  • Drinks (AM & PM — we encouraged the girls to bring their own reusable water bottles)
  • Chips and snacks
  • Breakfast Breads (2 different options for food allergy Girl Scouts)
  • Plates and (reusable) utensils
  • Firewood / Matches / Kindling
  • 4 Tablecloths (for clean prettiness!) for 4 campsites
  • Citronella candles (look for the hurricane kind to protect the flame/limit fire hazards. The low ones looked pretty but kept blowing out!)
  • Blankets or Quilts and Chairs
  • Games: We played a ton of Charades, Soccer, Volleyball, and Softball. (Volleyball being the hit!)
  • Ghost Stories (Ask Girls / Parents to keep it Clean and Short — 2 or 3 paragraphs max)
  • Parent Roles (Chaperones, Bathroom Duty, etc.)
    • Insist on participation. Some families treated this as a free date night and it was hard reaching them when we had questions about homesick, young Girl Scouts.

Optional:

  • Solar LED / Twinkle Lights — Some girls decorated their tents with fun solar lights. It added such flair to our campsite!
  • Costumes — some girls brought funny hats or costumes for charades! It was hilarious when they started making up their own subjects!
  • Small Flashlights — I purchased one for each girl, which proved invaluable during trips to the bathroom in the dark and our nighttime moon walk around the campsite.

Pro Tip: If you’ve been having trouble getting parents to sign up as Troop Volunteers or complete their background check, frame your campout as a “Family Camping Trip” to encourage participation. Family bonding is a great motivational tool!

Step 5: Pass out a packing list

Help your girls (and their parents) by putting together a packing list. Each girl came in their clothes for the first day. In their backpacks, we suggested each girl bring the following (urging not much else to avoid over packing):

  • 1 pair of pajamas
  • 1 pair of shorts
  • 1 pair of pants
  • 1 shirt
  • 1 pair of socks
  • 1 pair of flip flops or sandals
  • Hat
  • Coat or sweatshirt (layers are good)
  • Sunscreen
  • Their first aid kits
  • Bug & tick repellant (parents can get picky on this stuff)
  • Reusable water bottle
  • 1 reusable cup or mug (with their name on it)
  • 1 Ziploc baggie (with their name on it) with toothbrush, toothpaste, index card with emergency information
  • Quarters for shower (if needed, but we encouraged none on such a short overnight)
  • Sleeping bag or blankets
  • Pillow

As troop leaders, we also brought extra sunscreen, hats, blankets, chairs, cups, and pillows to be sure every Girl Scout was comfortable and covered.

Step 6: Plan your day(s) and email the “agenda” to parents

I learned a lot from the nice people at the Visitor Center. One of which was that we could reserve a private Park Tour with a Ranger and tailor it to whatever naturalist subject our girls wanted! We opted for a “How to Hike Safely & Prevent Outdoor Injuries”. Here’s what our agenda looked like:  

Day 1: We changed times to arrive after the worst of the heat and set up camp. I learned to remain flexible here with girls who came with preconceived ideas of with whom to bunk. We worked to make sure all the girls felt included in sleeping arrangements. We had two dust-ups with two Girl Scouts (my own daughter included) who felt left out suddenly when fellow Scouts couldn’t make it last minute. So we hit “pause” to ask the girls to re-shuffle their own sleeping arrangements.

I was also surprised how much fun the girls took in setting up and decorating their tents. Next time, I will so encourage more of it!

We made our own bags of trail mix thanks to Mom, played charades, and visited the running creek before setting up for dinner and s’mores with a side of ghost stories!

How to Plan Your First Troop Camping Trip: First Aid Training

Hiking and learning about Outdoor First Aid

Day 2: The girls rose early thanks to one extremely loud wild turkey. (I will plan a 3rd Breakfast option next time to account for such an early rise.) We washed up and enjoyed a campfire breakfast. Our Park Tour was set for 10am with Ranger Green, so we broke all tents down beforehand in order to meet our sharp pick up/departure time of 11:30am.

Before leaving for the trip, we established meal times so our girls who weren’t ready yet to camp overnight could join us for both dinner/s’mores as well as eggs and the guided hike.

Thanks to my troop’s generous, hardworking parent volunteers and GSNorCal’s helpful, experienced troop leaders, my girls were able to explore new trails and acquire new skills. And even though I don’t consider myself an outdoorsy troop leader, following these 6 steps definitely made our first camping trip a total success!

What to do next:


Abigail Zimmerman BordigioniAbigail P.Z. Bordigioni—Abigail left NASA-JPL working on the Mars Program in 2007 to make wine, paint, and travel. Fast forward 11 years, she is a happy wife, mother, cook, and winemaker in Kenwood, a small berg in Sonoma, California. After her community was hit hard by the 2017 North Bay fires, she started a Girl Scout troop. She now leads two troops, Daisies and Brownies, who enjoy hiking, camping, and cooking (they have a cookbook coming soon) as well as learning new skills, like CPR and fire safety. You can find also find her writing about food, wine, and art on The Creative Palate (@thecreativepalate on Instagram) or doing the Mom/Troop Leader thing up and down the Valley!