What Is Wilderness Training?

Jun 13, 2023

If you love hiking and camping in the great outdoors, wilderness survival and first aid training are among the most useful skills you can learn. They can mean the difference between a safe trek and a dangerous one, and they can save your own life and the lives of others. Naturally, Scouts BSA recognizes the importance of this training as well, which is why we facilitate two related courses for Scouts: wilderness survival and wilderness first aid.

If your child is already a Scout, here’s what you need to know about the wilderness training they can (and should!) obtain. If you’re thinking of enrolling your child in a local Scouting chapter, this training is an excellent reason to sign them up now.

Wilderness Survival Training

Here’s what Scouts will learn in a wilderness survival course and how it will benefit them.

The Training

This training is designed to help Scouts build—you guessed it—essential wilderness survival skills. Although many people think of these skills as applying to emergency situations, preventing emergencies is equally important. As a result, some components of this Scout training focus on anticipating and avoiding potential hazards that can arise during backcountry adventures, while others cover how to serve non-medical practical needs if an emergency does occur. Some key elements Scouts will learn include:

  • Preventing emergencies. This portion of the training teaches Scouts to be smart about planning their hiking and camping trips. Tips include bringing trusted adults, packing the right gear, planning for the weather, and respecting their own physical and skill limits.
  • Reacting appropriately to an emergency situation. Panic and knee-jerk reactions can make any emergency much worse, so Scouts learn to keep a level head in adverse situations. They learn the STOP approach, which stands for: stop and address immediate safety needs, think about what you should do, observe your surroundings, and plan your next move.
  • Building shelter. It’s important to know how to create shelter in the wild to protect yourself from excessive cold, wind, precipitation, and sun. Scouts learn to build A-frame lean-to shelters from fallen tree limbs, branches, twigs, and leaves.
  • Building a fire. The ability to build a functional fire can help you cook, stay warm, and signal your presence to aircraft if you need help. Scouts learn to build one without the use of matches, fire starters, or lighters, using only what Nature provides. 

Scouts of all ages are eligible to take this course during the summer; in winter, age restrictions may apply.

The Badge

After completing the Wilderness Survival training, Scouts are eligible to receive the Wilderness Survival Merit Badge. This is an elective merit badge, and you can find the specific requirements for earning it here.

Wilderness First Aid Training

Here’s what Scouts will learn in a wilderness first aid (WFA) training course and how it will benefit them.

The Training

Wilderness First Aid training Boy Scouts style naturally involves understanding how to address medical emergencies so that illness and injury can be mitigated as much as possible until someone can be treated by a professional. It’s an excellent complement to the wilderness survival training. In this course, Scouts will learn basic skills for addressing the following:

  • Patient assessment
  • Chest injuries
  • Shock
  • Head and spinal injuries
  • Bone and joint injuries
  • Wounds and wound infections
  • Allergies and anaphylaxis

Scouts who take the elective modules in the course can also learn how to deal with:

  • Abdominal problems
  • Hypothermia
  • Extreme heat
  • Altitude illnesses
  • Lightning strikes
  • Submersion
  • Packing a wilderness first aid kit

To be eligible for the 16-hour WFA training course, Scouts must be at least 14 years old. The course must be administered by a nationally recognized provider in both CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) and the use of an AED (automated external defibrillator). BSA Scouts recognizes 3 organizations that meet these requirements:

  • American Red Cross
  • Emergency Care & Safety Institute (ECSI)
  • Providers used by the American Camp Association (ACA)

The Certification

Scouts who successfully complete the WFA training are eligible for WFA certification. This is a useful certification to have in any number of non-Scouting contexts. In addition, Scouts who earn this certification are an asset to their troop and chapter, as all 4 of the BSA high-adventure bases (HAB) require at least one person per trip to be certified in Wilderness First Aid.

Wilderness Training for Kids

It’s best to learn wilderness emergency preparedness and first aid from a young age. If you live in the western parts of Pennsylvania, Maryland, or West Virginia, enrolling your child in the Scouting America Laurel Highlands Council is a great way for them to do this. Scouts can receive useful WFA and survival training that helps them know how to react in stressful situations. They can then earn their WFA certification.

Scouting’s programs and outdoor adventures give young people the opportunity to try new things, provide service to others, build self-confidence, and develop leadership skills. These experiences not only help Scouts while they are young, but help them grow into exceptional men and women that respect their family, community, religion, country, and selves.

The Scouting America Laurel Highlands Council serves youth members and volunteer adult leaders throughout Western Pennsylvania, Western Maryland, and parts of West Virginia. We aim to beneficially involve every eligible child and their family in the fun and adventure of our programs. We provide extraordinary youth development programs that develop and strengthen the values of the Scout Oath and Law. 

So what are you waiting for? Join now!

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