Camping and Hiking

Age Guidelines

Learning for Life has established the following guidelines for participation in camping activities:

  • Overnight camping by kindergarten and first-grade Learning for Life groups is not approved, and certificates of liability insurance will not be provided by Learning for Life.
  • Second- to eighth-graders may participate in a resident overnight camping program covering at least two nights and operating in an established camp approved by the participating organization connected with the Learning for Life group or post. (Groups/posts with coed camping must provide coed leadership.)
  • High school-age Learning for Life participants and Explorers may camp in an established camp approved by the participating organization connected with the Learning for Life group or post. (Groups or posts with coed camping must provide coed leadership.)
  • All participating youth in Exploring are eligible to participate in post, local Learning for Life, and national Exploring activities.

Leaders should not bring along a child who does not meet these age guidelines.

Wilderness Camping

Wilderness camping can be a great experience for your post or group. However, you must plan well and anticipate any potential problems that might occur. Safety first should be the prime objective in your post plans. Inform all contacts in writing of your plans, including dates, times, routes, and most important, the time of return.

Trail Safety

Alertness and care in all that is done on the trail, and performing within the group's known capabilities, are among the best preventive measures against accidents. Most common outdoor injuries are blisters, cuts, sprains, strains, bruises, and fractures. Hikers also may become lost or get caught in storms, and they often panic as a result. Avoidable tragedies may occur if campers and leaders lack the skills and knowledge to deal with the problems encountered. Leaders must alert youth participants to the dangers of unusual environment with proper instructions on fire safety, orienteering, and safe travel.

Leaders must instruct those in their groups to stay together on well-established trails, avoid loose rocks (especially on descent), and avoid dangerous ledges, cliffs, and areas where a fall might occur.

It is required that at least one person in the group be currently certified in first aid through the American Red Cross, Boy Scouts of America, American Heart Association, city and county health departments, hospitals, or fire departments for a trek lasting overnight.

Your Learning for Life office has an abundance of literature related to proper procedures and guidelines for a group on a trail.

Beware of Lightning

There are more fatalities from lightning strikes than storms such as tornados, etc. Be aware when in an area of danger when lightning is present.

Lightning Safety Rules

  • Stay away from open doors and windows, fireplaces, radiators, stoves, metal pipes, sinks, and plug-in electrical appliances.
  • Don't work on fences, telephone lines, power lines, pipelines, etc. Don't use the telephone; lightning may strike telephone wires outside.
  • Don't handle flammable materials in open containers.
  • Don't use metal objects, such as fishing rods and golf clubs. Golfers wearing spiked shoes are particularly good lightning rods.
  • Stop tractor work, especially when the tractor is pulling metal equipment, and dismount. Tractors and other implements in metallic contact with the ground are often struck by lightning.
  • Get out of the water and off small boats.
  • Stay in the car if you are traveling. Automobiles offer excellent lightning protection.
  • When no shelter is available, avoid the highest object in the area. If only isolated trees are nearby, the best protection is to crouch in the open, keeping twice as far away from isolated trees as the trees are high.
  • Avoid hilltops, open spaces, wire fences, metal clotheslines, exposed sheds, and any electrically conducted elevated objects.

Pure Drinking Water

A constant supply of pure drinking water is essential. Serious illness can result from drinking unpurified water. Protect your health. Don't take a chance on using water that you are not sure of.

Treatment of Questionable Water

In addition to having a bad odor or taste, water from questionable sources may be contaminated by microorganisms, such as Giardia, that can cause a variety of diseases. All water of uncertain purity should be purified before use. Don't take a chance on using water that you are not sure of. To purify water, follow these steps: boil for one full minute; use iodine tablets, or water filters such as PUR, MSR, etc., found at outdoor stores.

Safety Practices and Emergency Preparedness

The 16 Safety Practices

These 16 safety points, which embody good judgment and common sense, are applicable to all activities.

  1. Qualified supervision. Every activity should be supervised by a conscientious adult who understands and knowingly accepts responsibility for the well-being and safety of the children and youth in his or her care. The supervisor should be sufficiently trained, experienced, and skilled in the activity to be confident of his or her ability to lead and teach the necessary skills and to respond effectively in the event of an emergency. Field knowledge of all applicable Learning for Life standards and a commitment to implement and follow Learning for Life policy and procedures are essential parts of the supervisor's qualifications.
  2. Physical fitness. For each youth participant in any potentially strenuous activity, the supervisor should receive a complete health history from a health-care professional, parent, or guardian. Adult participants and youth involved in higher-risk activities (e.g., scuba diving) may have to undergo professional evaluation in addition to completing the health history. The supervisor should adjust all supervision, discipline, and protection to anticipate potential risks associated with individual health conditions. Neither youth nor adults should participate in activities for which they are unfit. To do so would place both the individual and others at risk.
  3. Buddy system. The "buddy system" has shown that it is always best to have at least one other person with you and aware at all times of your circumstances and what you are doing in any outdoor or strenuous activity.
  4. Safe area or course. A key part of the supervisor's responsibility is to know the area or course for the activity and to determine that it is well-suited and free of hazards.
  5. Equipment selection and maintenance. Most activity requires some specialized equipment. The equipment should be selected to suit the participants and the activity and include appropriate safety and program features. The supervisor should also check equipment to determine whether it is in good condition for the activity and make sure it is kept properly maintained while in use.
  6. Personal safety equipment. The supervisor must ensure that every participant has and uses the appropriate personal safety equipment. For example, activity afloat requires that each participant properly wear a personal flotation device (PFD); bikers, horseback riders, and whitewater kayakers need helmets for certain activities; skaters need protective gear; and all need to be dressed for warmth and utility as the circumstances require.
  7. Safety procedures and policies. For most activities, common-sense procedures and standards can greatly reduce any risk. These should be known and appreciated by all participants, and the supervisor must ensure compliance.
  8. Skill level limits. Every activity has a minimum skill level, and the supervisor must identify and recognize this level and be sure that participants are not put at risk by attempting any activity beyond their abilities.
  9. Weather check. The risks of many outdoor activities vary substantially with weather conditions. Potential weather hazards and the appropriate responses should be understood and anticipated.
  10. Planning. Safe activity follows a plan that has been conscientiously developed by the experienced supervisor or other competent source. Good planning minimizes risks and also anticipates contingencies that may require an emergency response or a change of plan.
  11. Communications. The supervisor needs to be able to communicate effectively with participants as needed during the activity. Emergency communications also need to be considered in advance for any foreseeable contingencies.
  12. Permits and notices. Learning for Life outing permits, government or landowner authorization, and any similar formalities are the supervisor's responsibility when such are required. Appropriate notification should be directed to parents, enforcement authorities, landowners, and others as needed, before and after the activity.
  13. First-aid resources. The supervisor should determine what first-aid supplies to include among the activity equipment. The level of first-aid training and skill appropriate for the activity also should be considered. An extended trek over remote terrain obviously may require more first-aid resources and capabilities than an afternoon activity in a local community. Whatever is needed should be available.
  14. Applicable laws. Learning for Life safety policies generally parallel or exceed legal mandates, but the supervisor should confirm and ensure compliance with all applicable regulations or statutes.
  15. CPR resources. Any strenuous activity or remote trek could present a cardiac emergency. Aquatic programs may involve cardiopulmonary emergencies. It is strongly recommended that a person (preferably an adult) trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) be part of the leadership for any Learning for Life program. This person should be available for strenuous outdoor activity.
  16. Discipline. No supervisor is effective if he or she cannot control the activity and individual participants. Youth must respect their leaders and follow their directions.

The general policy of Learning for Life is to train youth to do safely the many things they normally do, such as swimming and boating, handling firearms, and outdoor equipment while hiking and camping.

Perhaps the most critical test of your preparedness will be in a time of emergency. Developing and rehearsing an emergency action plan will add precious time needed for response to a crisis. This is true on a day trip and all other activities. A plan should include

  1. The name of the person in charge
  2. Action to be taken
  3. Alternatives
  4. The names of the people and agencies to notify
  5. Location of law enforcement
  6. Fire and health facilities information
  7. Evacuation procedures.

Whenever an emergency occurs in which a person needs medical care beyond simple first aid, leaders should immediately notify the parent or next of kin. In case of a missing participant or a fatality, notify the Learning for Life executive after notifying local authorities and emergency medical services. A list of emergency telephone numbers should be kept as a part of the first aid kit.

Reporting Deaths or Serious Injury

Adult leaders are responsible for informing their local Learning for Life executive, as soon as possible, of a death or serious injury or illness. A serious injury or illness is defined as unconsciousness, hospital admission, or surgical intervention.

Leaders should be prepared to give these specific facts:

  • WHO?—The name and age of the subject and the name and complete address of parent(s) or next of kin
  • WHEN?—Date and time of day
  • WHERE?—Location and community
  • WHAT?—Nature of illness or accident
  • HOW?—How the injury occurred, if known, e.g., swimming, boating, hiking, etc.

The local Learning for Life executive has the responsibility to speak to the media. Parents or next of kin will be informed by personal contact before any release is made to the public.

Nonserious injuries need not be reported. It is recommended that a report be prepared regarding each such incident and maintained for future reference.

Emergency Phone Number List

  1. Location of trip or expedition
  2. Location of nearest town(s), city(ies), or phone(s)
  3. Name and phone number of nearest doctor, hospital, or medical facility
  4. Name and phone number of nearest county sheriff's department
  5. Name and phone number of nearest state or federal park station
  6. Phone number of highway patrol
  7. Phone number of local Learning for Life executive

Property Smart

Explorers and Learning for Life participants are often privileged to use the land and property of others for hiking, camping, and other activities. This privilege carries important responsibilities regarding care, courtesy, and cleanliness.

Carelessness is regrettable and must be avoided at all times. On the other hand, deliberate vandalism is a criminal act and is forbidden. Everyone has an obligation to do his or her best to care for and protect every property that he or she visits.

All youth and leaders should follow these guidelines:

  1. Obtain permission early and confirm just prior to arrival.
  2. Learn and obey all rules and policies.
  3. Park in designated areas.
  4. If trail markers are needed, use ones that can be removed when leaving.
  5. When crossing personal property, seek permission.
  6. Be careful not to harm livestock.
  7. Use extreme care when using a fire in the outdoors. A backpacking stove is much more efficient for cooking on the trail.
  8. Carry all trash out in plastic bags; don't leave any trace behind.
  9. When departing, thank the owner. Send a letter of thanks later.
  10. Participants are encouraged to do a service project in the area when possible.


Hantavirus is a deadly virus that was first recognized as a unique health hazard in 1993. Outbreaks have been principally limited to the Four Corners region of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado.

Hantavirus is spread through the urine and feces of infected rodents. It is an airborne virus. A person is infected by breathing in particles released into the air when infected rodents, their nests, or their droppings are disturbed. This can happen when a person is handling rodents, disturbing rodent nests or burrows, cleaning buildings where rodents have made a home, or working outdoors. The virus will die quickly when exposed to sunlight.

Symptoms of hantavirus include fever, chills, muscle aches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and a dry, nonproductive cough. If you suspect that someone has been infected, consult a physician immediately.

Rabies Prevention

Although rabies in humans is rare in the United States, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that more than 22,000 people in this country require vaccination each year after being exposed to rabid or potentially rabid animals. States with the highest number of reported cases include New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, New Mexico, Texas, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Maryland, and parts of northern California.

Leaders can help prevent exposure by reminding youth to steer clear of wild animals and domestic animals that they don't know. If someone is scratched or bitten by a potentially rabid animal, leaders should

  • Wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water.
  • Call a doctor or a hospital emergency room.
  • Get a description of the animal.
  • Notify the local animal control office, police department, or board of health.

Safety First Learning for Life Guidelines

Copyright © 2002 by Learning for Life