Is there an organization for adults to learn outdoor skills with their kids?



I had to tie down a tree last night since recent storms broke the guy lines I had placed when I planted it, and I used a tautline knot how-to I found online to tie it, since I was never a Scout. After reading a comment by @KRyan on a recent question, and considering my recent face-to-face with my inexperience, I started lamenting the fact that I was never a Scout. Which got me thinking: is there an organization similar to the Boy Scouts for adults who want to learn outdoorsmanship?

Edit: My country of residence is the United States. Also, googling led me to NOLS, but that seems to be a lot more intense, with semester-long courses and student loans and college credit. I'm really just looking for a weekend scouting club where I can learn how to survive and thrive outdoors.

Edit 2: I know some have suggested the military in jest, but others have done so more seriously. I have several reasons for not joining the military, but my main one is I have a family and I don't want to be away from them. That said, I'm very interested in options where both I and my daughter can participate together. As for the Boy/Girl Scouts, we're atheist and would prefer something without a religious component. Hence the OP.

Jonathan Landrum

Posted 2017-07-10T15:10:59.223

Reputation: 660

16Why not volunteer in your local boy scouts? You can learn from the experienced adults and help out at the same timeLiam 2017-07-10T15:53:35.837

5@Liam I considered that, but I only have one child, and she's 3. Isn't she too young, and isn't there a gender component? Also, I'd prefer to avoid any religious undertones.Jonathan Landrum 2017-07-10T16:00:53.307

1Not sure about the US but girls can and do go to boy scouts in the UK. I used to help out in my local boy scouts and I don't have kids (left due to time constraints). So don't feel just because you don't have a child attending that you can't help out. They'll likely be welcome of the help.Liam 2017-07-10T16:02:18.293

1Some junior colleges offer outdoor classesPaparazzi 2017-07-10T16:34:58.190


Hi Jonathan. I don't have time to write an answer, but I found something that might be of interest to you. It's the Baden-Powell Service Association, BPSA, offering "Traditional Scouting For Everyone." They offer "a community-oriented traditional scouting program for youth and adults of all genders in the United States." I didn't spend a lot of time on the website, but perhaps it could be an option.

Sue 2017-07-10T20:09:21.123

3"Man Scouts of America" just doesn't have that ring to it :pShokhet 2017-07-10T20:18:25.637


Heh, I didn’t actually recall the specific comment, so I found it. Here’s the perma-link:

KRyan 2017-07-10T20:36:23.113

1@Liam That is... currently contentious here, unfortunately. As I recall, there is another organization under the wider Scouting umbrella organization, Venture Scouts, that is for older teens (14-18, maybe?) and is co-ed, but it’s much harder to find a Venture troop than a Boy Scout troop.KRyan 2017-07-10T20:48:41.073

1@Sue when you get the time, leave that as an answer!Jonathan Landrum 2017-07-10T21:13:27.007

6@KRyan I agree. I don't know how it's perceived in other countries for a strange man to volunteer to help in a children's group, but I'd be wary of doing so just for the optics. However, if the organization were specifically intended for both parents and their children, then that would be optimal.Jonathan Landrum 2017-07-10T21:15:34.790

21@JonathanLandrum Oh no, that I don’t agree with. My own troop benefited immensely from the adults who were not parents to any of the scouts (one had an adult son who was once a scout in the troop but long before I got there; another had no children; yet another had a young child as you do). Adults not directly tied to any child are especially important because they are not transitory in the same way (and, to be honest, they lack biases that sometimes cause problems; after the retirement of two of those I listed, a mother took over who had severe favoritism).KRyan 2017-07-10T21:19:27.730

3@KRyan that's a perspective I hadn't considered. I appreciate that.Jonathan Landrum 2017-07-10T21:22:36.080

14Yes, join the Marine Corps :)Jeff.Clark 2017-07-11T08:11:42.387

3The French Foreign Legion?Tobia Tesan 2017-07-11T18:56:52.770


The title doesn't seem to really match the intent of the question. There are a lot of aspects to the Boy Scouts beyond just learning to tie knots. The "Marine Corps" comment above hints at this: (depending on the troop, of course) there is generally a strong civic duty/citizenship emphasis. Of the required merit badges for an Eagle Scout), only one is directly about outdoorsmanship.

Josh Caswell 2017-07-12T12:51:34.763

@JoshCaswell I've updated the question title accordinglyJonathan Landrum 2017-07-12T15:20:55.407


@Jeff.Clark Why marines and not army? The Scouts were the brainchild of a British army officer given his experiences during the Second Boer War. Navy is an odd choice given that.

inappropriateCode 2017-07-13T10:46:38.307



Volunteer in Search and Rescue (SAR).

I just got certified through my state's Sheriff's Association as a volunteer search and rescuer. I went through a two-month-long class with an intense outdoor "final exam" in order to get the certification.

Class topics included: tracking, outdoor clothing and equipment, wilderness navigation (map/compass/GPS), fire/water/shelter/signaling, environmental injuries, equine and canine resources, HAZMAT, crime scene investigations and evidence, lost subject behavior, CPR/AED certification, and yes, plenty of knots.

Now I volunteer in several local SAR groups, including a ground search group, an aircraft-based group, and an amateur radio emergency service.

Every person in these groups has unique skills, and without exception everyone has been friendly and interesting. One of the guys wants to be able to tie 150 knots... and he has a list of them and is working on it. If you want to geek out in depth on any outdoor subject, there is someone to do it with.

AND there are actual missions, a literal race against time to find someone and return them home before they succumb to the elements. Noble purpose.

I was a Boy Scout.

(The tautline hitch should never be used for rescue loads or climbing... but it is still one of my favorite knots because it is tied quickly, slips for adjustment, and holds well enough.)


Posted 2017-07-10T15:10:59.223

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I have used knots and lashings quite a bit in my life, even living in the city, actually. My wife has her window box planters secured with variants on square lashings, for example.KRyan 2017-07-14T17:16:13.193

Even though this doesn't (immediately) provide the family-inclusive atmosphere I would prefer, it does fully answer the OP, and even the majority of the two edits.Jonathan Landrum 2017-07-14T18:17:18.573

1@JonathanLandrum, thank you for accepting my answer! My two-month-long certification class was also attended by a 17-year-old and his father (the father took the class solely to support his son, who was interested in becoming a search and rescuer) and a husband and wife team. The SAR groups that I'm in all have a number of husband and wife members. All this to say that I think SAR would make an excellent family activity. What a way to have some shared adventures! (Does depend a bit on how old your family members are though, for sure...)leqid 2017-07-17T16:21:35.980


As an active adult in the Boy Scouts of America, I would highly suggest that you find a local scout troop in your area and sign up. Not only will you be helping the troop in a number of ways, but it will present you with a great way to learn many of the outdoor skills that you are interested in.

As the Boy Scout troop gains new members, they will have to learn the basics in order to advance through the ranks. This is a perfect opportunity to sit down and learn those skills with them. For example, I was recently instructing a basic compass course for new scouts. One of the adults who recently signed up with his son wanted to assist, but had the same level of experience as most of the new scouts (i.e. none). Within a few minutes he was able to actively instruct and assist some of the scouts who were having trouble with the course. They say the best way to learn is to teach, right? It is also a great way for the more experienced to brush up on their skills.

As suggested by @KRyan in a comment below, there are some qualifications for adults before they may join a troop. The BSA is a private organization, and ask that their members follow a recognized religion. Many troops meet at churches, synagogues, and mosques. You do not need to be a member of that religious organization to join, but it may help. Some troops take this more seriously than others. I have been a member of a Jewish troop for the past 18 years. During that time, we have had a number of members who were not Jewish, it really made no difference. More recently, some new scouts have joined the troop who also keep kosher. That means on camping trips, they don't eat bacon and have kosher marshmellows on the s'mores (yes, they do exist). I have never had a personal experience where religion or other personal beliefs have negatively impacted scouting, but your mileage may vary. Also, you do not need to have a boy in the troop to be a part of it yourself. If you do have a son who is of the proper age to join, I suggest signing both of you up. It is definitely more fun doing it together!

If you are not interested in joining a Boy Scout troop, you might be able to find an REI near you that offers classes in various outdoor activities. The location near me offers monthly classes on beginner camping and backpacking. YouTube videos might be another option. You could also look for an outdoors-oriented Meetup in your area. You may be able to learn from these members.

Josh Kurland

Posted 2017-07-10T15:10:59.223

Reputation: 751

10Having inadvertently prompted this question, allow me to strongly echo this sentiment. There are many troops who would benefit immensely from another adult involved—no skills needed. For instance, Scouting requires a minimum of two adults on every campout for safety reasons—I know troops that have at times struggled to even have campouts as a result. Literally just having another adult body there can be a huge boon to a troop. And Scouting is a great way to give back to a community, and you definitely will have ample opportunities to learn.KRyan 2017-07-10T20:44:02.460


That said, Josh, you probably should address this comment about concerns for qualifying, as well as religious undertones, directly. It’s kind of assumed in your answer that adults can join troops without having a child in the troop, but saying it explicitly would help. And the religiosity of the Boy Scouts of America is something to consider (the organization is non-denominational but assumes belief in something and atheism has been controversial in the organization).

KRyan 2017-07-10T20:51:06.940

Good comments @KRyan. Updated.Josh Kurland 2017-07-10T21:02:56.817

8It may be worth mentioning that how seriously religiosity is taken is going to vary widely from troop to troop and/or place to place. For instance, growing up in New York City, it might have been an item on the paperwork (can’t recall), but it certainly never came up in our actual activities—with the glaring exception of the reference to god in the Scout Oath. But I have also heard of scouts in other parts of the country being kicked out, and even having awards up to and including Eagle stripped, for declaring themselves atheist.KRyan 2017-07-10T21:09:36.373

9I remember looking into the Boy Scouts some time back, and the insistence on you proclaiming you were religious and the mention of God in various places, including some mandatory oaths, really turned me off. I attended a Eagle Scout honor court recently, and was taken aback at all the references to god even this many years later. I agree that since they are a private organization they have the right to do that. It's a shame they do though. More people could benefit otherwise, and they'd have a stronger and more diverse membership.Olin Lathrop 2017-07-10T21:13:34.320

13@KRyan "I have also heard of scouts in other parts of the country being kicked out, and even having awards up to and including Eagle stripped, for declaring themselves atheist" and that part is alarming to me about the BSA, something I would very much like to avoid for my child.Jonathan Landrum 2017-07-10T21:18:53.873

4With the Mormon church backing out of BSA, perhaps they will become more lenient with these things in the future.Josh Kurland 2017-07-10T21:21:48.907

@JonathanLandrum Well, it may be worth noting that Girl Scouts of America, though related, is independent of Scouting (the umbrella organization that includes Boy Scouts of America), and is much more progressive in my understanding. Less emphasis on outdoorsmanship, too, though. But I don’t think there really is any scouting-type organization for three-year-olds, regardless of sex or religion, so for now this is for yourself rather than your daughter.KRyan 2017-07-10T21:22:17.620

1@JonathanLandrum, I think it will drastically depend upon the Troop leaders. My own troop (when I was a kid) would have never done anything like that.Wildcard 2017-07-11T04:20:12.467

1@KRyan But does an extra untrained adult actually contribute much to safety? Suppose the leader trips and knocks himself unconscious. Now what?David Richerby 2017-07-11T09:43:11.577

2@DavidRicherby There is a basic course adult leaders have to take, but really the answer is, in most cases, you call an ambulance and keep the children together and calm while that arrives. Any adult can do that; all that is really being sought is maturity and basic legal authority. Most campouts are pretty tame, after all, in designated campgrounds that have rangers and other staff. Being the only other adult on a particularly intense outing, sure, that is a bad idea, but the troops I referred to are much more interested in the basics anyway.KRyan 2017-07-11T12:51:02.013

3@DavidRicherby The main thing with two adults is for child protection reasons more than physical safety. Never having an adult alone with children protects both the child from abuse and the adult from false accusations.Kevin 2017-07-11T14:06:50.740


@DavidRicherby Extending KRyan's answer, for activities where help is significantly harder to get AFAIK they do require more advanced training. Prior to accompanying his sons as an adult leader to the Philmont adventure camp (where older scouts can do activities more difficult than an average troop can support), an acquaintance of mine took advanced first aid/life saving courses that covered how to keep someone seriously injured alive when rescue was hours away at best and communication to the outside might not be available.

Dan Neely 2017-07-11T15:19:38.147

I had no idea about this. The Boy Scouts of America require you to be a member of a large religious organisation? Huh? Why?!Lightness Races in Orbit 2017-07-12T17:29:00.763


@LightnessRacesinOrbit Wikipedia has a pretty good article on it. In many ways, making Scouting non-denominational, rather than explicitly Christian, was progressive of Baden-Powell at the time. I’m not certain how Scouting responds to “unrecognized” faiths, but as I recall, the list of faiths that had their own associated award (which is presumably a subset of “accepted” faiths, assuming there even is such a thing) was immense. They do go to great lengths to be inclusive of all faiths. It’s just atheism that is controversial.

KRyan 2017-07-14T17:06:58.983

2@LightnessRacesinOrbit To try to give a fair consideration here, the premise is that faiths are tied directly to tradition, family, and community, which are things Scouting strongly supports. The vision of Scouting is as a way to prepare young people to be mature, involved, and skilled adults, and recognizing one’s place in history, community, nation, and yes, “creation” is seen as part of that. As an atheist myself, I object to the conflation here, and the insinuation that these things are impossible or degraded in the absence of faith, but that’s the history of it.KRyan 2017-07-14T17:13:17.130

@KRyan: InterestingLightness Races in Orbit 2017-07-14T17:28:13.410


I don't know of any organization as you describe, but there certainly ways for adults to learn outdoorsmanship.

There are likely outdoor clubs in your area that run educational programs. Here in New England, the major one is the AMC (Appalachian Mountain Club). They regularly run educational programs on various topics and at various levels. I attended one many years ago on winter camping and cold issues. Very informative. I have helped in the past with their backpacking course and orienteering course. I imagine the Sierra Club and many other less well known organizations do similar things.

There are also organizations that exist mostly to run educational programs. One in NH I've been to is called SOLO. I think they specialize in first aid and medical issues. There are others. Ask around locally. If you don't know where to start, ask for advice at a place that sells equipment for backcountry camping.

Olin Lathrop

Posted 2017-07-10T15:10:59.223

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You could read the Boy Scout Handbook and the BSA Fieldbook to get a strong basic knowledge of scouting skills. You'll need to get hands on experience, but that doesn't require being in the back country.


Posted 2017-07-10T15:10:59.223

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3This is a good point. We practiced every Scouting skill (well, except swimming) in the basement of the church where we met long far more often than we did on campouts.KRyan 2017-07-10T20:45:13.497


There's a lot of great answers here, and one answer touched on it, but I really wanted to emphasize the quality of the resources and classes available at REI. Classes are open to members and non-members, with members getting a discount on paid classes but they also have free options for things like emergency preparedness. The REI website has a search page for local events and classes where you find classes near you. There's stuff from camping and backpacking and navigation, to survival, to paddling, and even stuff like bike maintenance for all levels of experience. And yes, there are classes on knot-tying, too.

If you have a location near you, I highly recommend it. They even do outings (which tend to be a little more expensive, considering many of the in-store classes are either free or $10 for members) that offer more hands-on experiences.

However, as far as getting the hands-on experience goes, once you know the basics, I would recommend using the outdoors & adventure tab to both get to know other people near you with similar interests and get experience from knowledgeable people. It's more cost-effective, and you'll probably have better experiences.

Once you are comfortable with your skills, get out and do it yourself! Nothing will help you learn outdoorsman skills like being out on your own in the wilderness, assuming you are safe, well-prepared, and well-equipped!

C. Starr

Posted 2017-07-10T15:10:59.223

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1+1 just for recommending meetup; i seriously hadn't considered that, and i frequently use meetup for other types of groups.Jonathan Landrum 2017-07-11T19:00:23.747

6 - has education programs for adults.

However, I think you're on the right track with just finding your local community in some online way. For example, you can learn a lot and meet local folks here:

Do not underestimate the value of becoming a Boy or Girl Scout leader - it can be very fulfilling. However, understand that scouting in those organizations is not just about outdoors stuff, it's about other life skills as well. If you are looking for outdoors groups, Boy and Girl Scouts isn't really the right group.


Posted 2017-07-10T15:10:59.223

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The American Alpine Club and the Alpine Club of Canada each have local sections that offer regular skills courses in ropes, weather, orienteering (map, compass, GPS), climbing, mountaineering, avalanche safety, glacier travel, backcountry cooking, ski touring, how to lead groups, and more.

Membership is usually very affordable (around $50 a year) and many courses are free at the section level.


Posted 2017-07-10T15:10:59.223

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Venturing Age Groups

Venturers Youth Participants: those who are age 14 (or 13 and graduated 8th grade) through the age of 17 are referred to as youth participants.

Adult Participants: those who are age 18 through 20 are considered adults (per youth protection guidelines), however, may still participate in the program through leadership positions, awards, etc.

Advisors Adult Advisors: those who are 21 or older serve as advisors. They do not lead the unit, but instead work with the youth leaders to help ensure success, safety, and personal growth for all members.


Posted 2017-07-10T15:10:59.223

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Baden-Powell Service Association (BPSA-US), a traditional scouting organization that promotes inclusive membership, outdoor skills, back to basic traditional program and service in the community. They have adult section called Rover open to adults.


Posted 2017-07-10T15:10:59.223

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If your looking for a club you and your child could participate in together then maybe checkout Spiral Scouts International. It is for kids aged 3-18 years old, co-ed. They are not religious, there are badges you can earn that are about religion but they are completely optional. Spiral Scouts strongly encourage the child's family to participate, and in their badge work they cover camping and outdoor skills.


Posted 2017-07-10T15:10:59.223

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Interesting! I'll check them out!Jonathan Landrum 2018-01-08T15:14:24.473


I think the closest "adult version" of Boy Scouts are Firefighters.

They help people, cut trees and any kind of useful "manual" work the citizens need.

Logically there are quite big differences but I hope you get the idea.

Fez Vrasta

Posted 2017-07-10T15:10:59.223

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1Firefighters as in the fire brigade? Maybe it's different where you are but the fire brigade in the UK deal with emergencies, not general "being helpful", tree surgery or manual labour. The only time I'd expect a UK fire brigade to cut a tree would be if it had fallen and trapped somebody.David Richerby 2017-07-11T09:49:10.167

2I think it depends by state by state. In my country they will help in situations different from emergencies. Especially in small towns.Fez Vrasta 2017-07-11T09:51:02.390

I was going to suggest volunteering for your local fire fighters. My kids are in it and learn how to do all sorts of useful stuff. Probably less forest craft, but they do fell dangerous trees and so.RedSonja 2017-07-12T07:56:58.787