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How to Plan a Boy Scout 50 Miler

Defining a 50-Miler

In doing research for this post, I found there are a lot of differing opinions about what the Boy Scout 50-Miler Program is all about. In a nutshell, the award recognizes a Scout who travels 50 miles in at least five days. Some describe it as a self-supported, high-adventure activity only for older Scouts or Venturers. Others dismiss certain modes of travel such as bicycling or horseback riding. Most agreed it should be hard.

Scouting 50 Miler

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10 Responses to How to Plan a Boy Scout 50 Miler

  1. Bill Sheehy November 22, 2013 at 12:59 pm #

    Very good explanation of the 50-Miler. Our troop hikes a 50-100 mile section of the A-T every year. The participants must be age (at least 13) and rank (at least First Class) qualified to go on these hikes and must complete a number of shakedown hikes as well.

    I have to say I’m not really on board with the inclusion of bicycling and horseback riding in the 50-miler award. My feeling is that this should be completed under your own power, not that of a horse. And let’s face it, you could ride 50 miles on a bicycle in a few hours, without packing more than some bottled water and a bag lunch. Does every scout who earns Bicycling Merit Badge (a 50-mile ride is a requirement) automatically earn the 50-Miler Award?

    Besides, I like the look of the old patch better, with the inclusion of the words Afoot and Afloat. The new patch has no character and looks cartoon-ish. But then again, I’m a 55 year old Geezer…

    • Derek January 29, 2014 at 11:08 pm #

      Bill, I completely understand your concern, and I think for a lot of folks, we have a preconceived ideal of what the 50-mile Award is all about. I had to rethink and reevaluate my own perceptions after receiving that letter from the BSA.

      The case of the Bicycling Merit Badge _wouldn’t_ count because it wasn’t done in the minimum 5-day period. I think that helps differentiate it a little. But from what National says on the subject, the award isn’t meant to be restricted to just backpacking or hiking. However, there _are_ awards that are designed for more rigorous treks, such as the National Outdoor Badge.

      What I’ve had to grapple with is that the 50-miler Award has its own unique framework and I think over time we Scouters have projected meaning to it beyond its scope. Even recent updates to the award have tried to clarify that it isn’t as difficult or restrictive as we have tried to make it.

    • Jim August 26, 2014 at 4:18 pm #

      Coming from an Eagle Scout who has completed 3 50-Milers (one each backpacking canoeing, and biking), I must disagree with you. The biking 50-Miler was undoubtedly the most difficult of the three, and that was completed when I was oldest.
      To earn the 50-Miler Award, you are required to spend at least 5 days and 4 nights on the trail and complete 10 hours of service. Because of this, just earning the Cycling merit badge does not fulfill the requirements.

  2. Herb Ellis November 22, 2013 at 2:14 pm #

    As I read the description of your 50 Miler trip with your scouts I looked up at the canoe paddle with a 50 Miler decal that I have hanging over my fireplace. I am a 65 year old backpacker that does consecutive sections of the AT every summer. But the foundation for such activity was laid as as a 12 year old Boy Scout paddling down the Suwannee River over a 7 day period. We did our service project at the Sheriff’s Boy’s Ranch. Thank you for the efforts you have gone to give these young fellows an outdoor experience that will stay with them their entire lives.

  3. Diane Pinkers November 22, 2013 at 2:47 pm #

    Our local troop walks 50 miles every summer along a Rails-to-Trails trail between our town and Chehalis. They do not carry any packs (driven by van), and they camp in farmer’s fields. Reading this article, technically they are fulfilling the requirements, but I’ve always thought it a great shame that they walk along this easy path, when the Olympic mountains are not far away. I don’t know the age of the scouts involved, but it doesn’t seem like the logistics would take much planning, so I’m not sure what the scouts are accomplishing other than trudging 50 miles.

    • Derek January 29, 2014 at 11:15 pm #

      Diane, I think what your Scouts are doing is fantastic, and yes, it appears it would qualify for the award, provided they do the required service component and advancement requirements.

      As I said in my post and earlier comments, I think we, as leaders, have created an ideal around the 50-miler Award that takes it beyond its scope. Yes, there are harder badges out there to earn (e.g., the National Outdoor Badge), but the 50-miler can be organized in so many ways that can make it an entry-level event for new scouts, or even planned as a more rigorous activity for older scouts.

      Again, from what I’ve learned, the 50-miler is often a byproduct of careful planning than an event in and of itself (if that makes sense). For younger scouts, the achievement of crossing the threshold of 50 miles over 5 days is quite an achievement, worthy of recognition, whether they rode horses, bicycles, or walked with some assistance. I don’t think this downplays the intent of the award.

      I think we sometimes get caught up in the destination and forget about the journey. The 50-miler seems to be about the journey of miles over 5 days; the participation in service, and the opportunity for advancement.

  4. Carol Rodgers November 22, 2013 at 6:37 pm #

    Missing in this discussion is the additional requirement that an environmental-oriented service project of 10 hours be completed. Philmont only gives 3 hrs towards the requirement. :-)

    • Derek January 29, 2014 at 11:17 pm #

      Yes, that is true. That is mentioned in the post, as is the requirement to have opportunities for advancement. The award _is not_ just about covering 50 miles, but having an adventure along the way through service and advancement opportunities. Again, I think that the 50-miler is more of a byproduct of a carefully-planned week-long trip than just hiking 50 miles.

  5. Bert Skillen November 23, 2013 at 6:39 am #

    Our troop completed 55 miles along the PCT over five days this summer. We were very thankful to be resupplied on day two as five days worth of food is a lot to carry. I feel that the 50 miler should be rigorous but it should also be enjoyable and open to any boy in the troop who is willing and able. I agree that preparations and “shakedowns” are key to helping a Scout and his parents decide if he is ready for such an adventure. It’s far better that they come to the decision on their own rather than being told they are not ready.

    • Derek January 29, 2014 at 11:27 pm #

      Great points, Bert. I agree.

      One of our jobs as Scouters (adult advisors) is to allow the Scouts to make plans and decisions and let them fail gracefully as it provides teachable moments and opportunities. As I wrote in my post, younger scouts can help plan an activity, with the guidance of adult mentors, to make sure the trek is within the skill level, but not to dismiss the goal of finishing 50-miles out of hand. That goal could be achieved in a variety of ways that qualify for the award and still provide advancement opportunities, leadership growth, and service in a safe manner.

      As I said before, the 50-miler Award doesn’t have to be a self-supported, 5-day backpacking trip in the High Sierras to qualify. It can, but it doesn’t have to. The Scouts can ride horses, bikes, or day hike their way if that is how they plan it.

      If I were working with a patrol with older Scouts who wanted to earn the 50-miler award, I would encourage them to go for something more rigorous, to push their limits a little, and help them get more out of it. Our troop has made this easy by insisting that patrols are divided by age groups. If you mix in 11-year-olds with 18-year-olds, than having a patrol do an activity like this is made more difficult because the ages and stages of abilities and maturity of each boy within the patrol is significantly different.

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