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Backpacking With Girl Scouts: A Whole 'nother Level

Mountain Range

I did a lot of backpacking (family, friends, solo) before I started backpacking with Girl Scouts. Girl Scout backpacking - I think - is a whole ‘nother level. I was in line last summer at the Inyo-Kern Visitor's Center, waiting to pick up my permit for a trip with my daughter. When the woman in front of me heard I was involved with Girl Scouts, she told me how on a previous trip in the Sierras, she had run into two groups separately: A Girl Scout group and another scout group that was not girls. The Girl Scouts were friendly, seemed prepared, and respectful of the environment. The other group was trying to feed the marmots! This is one of the ways Girl Scout backpacking is different from family backpacking; when we’re out there, we represent the entire Girl Scout movement. No rule breaking.

Girl Scout backpacking is different from family & friends backpacking due to the following:

  1. Safety

  2. Integrity

  3. Girl-Led


When you come to the creek that is deeper and swifter than expected, if you’re with friends, you might jump across. If you’re with your own kids, you figure, there’s not a waterfall downstream, and they can probably make it; you have them jump across. When you’re leading a group of Girl Scouts, whose parents have entrusted you, and whose abilities you don’t know as well -- you turn around. Of course, it all depends on the details of the creek, but the point is, the risk threshold is lower.

In regards to safety, I have to mention what may be my number one most difficult Girl Scout rule: No swimming without a lifeguard (check your council’s Safety Activity Checkpoints for the details). Maybe you have thought of trying to get around this by stopping the official Girl Scout trip right before the swimming hole and just calling it a family & friends trip from that point on. Or maybe the parents all agree ahead of time swimming is okay. However, imagine someone falls and breaks an arm. The girl ends up fine, but her health insurance hears it was a Girl Scout trip…you can imagine how this could turn into a liability nightmare for you. Be safe. No swimming.


Along with following the rules on your permit (if you need one for your location), follow the Leave No Trace principles.

  1. Plan ahead & prepare

  2. Travel & camp on durable surfaces

  3. Dispose of waste properly

  4. Leave what you find

  5. Minimize campfire impact

  6. Respect wildlife

  7. Be considerate of other visitors

Girl-Led The first two were kind of downers, but Girl-Led has the opportunity to add so much fun - think girls setting up a tent! Girl-Led is difficult on your first couple trips, but you should always be thinking about how to work it in to your trip and planning. Here are a few ideas you can add to the girls' responsibilities as they gain more experience.

Trip 1

  • Take turns as hike leader (one adult NEAR the front, one adult always in the back)

  • Set up the tent, make the fire, and filter water

  • Reflect on the trip in Closing Circle

Trip 2

  • Plan the menu and shop for and repackage food

  • Pack their own clothes and personal things

Trip 3

  • Choose location as a group

  • Identify risks (weather, water, distance, etc.)

  • Consider backup plans and what if scenarios

  • Take a First Aid class

This is why we’re out here, right? If she can start a fire with damp wood, sleep in the woods with bears, or find her way home, when she starts a new job, stands up for herself, or takes her significant other on a backpacking trip, she remembers, she is capable of anything. Marin leads Girl Scout backpacking trips and troop leader trainings for Girl Scouts of California's Central Coast.


Editor's Note: Val Ross, our founder, kicks off our blog with her thoughts and reflections on why taking girls into the wilderness is a mission worth our endeavors.

Please Note

The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this blog belong solely to the author of each article and do not necessarily reflect the views of California Girl Scout Backpackers or Girl Scouts of the United States of America.

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