I spent my weekend helping with the Surrey Scouts Expedition Challenge weekend. Our scout troop entered this competitive event for the first time, and we had two teams. The elder scouts, including my son, were the competition team. Five younger scouts made up a training team, and I accompanied them on their walk through the Surrey Hills.

Surrey Scouts Expedition Challenge

The Surrey Scouts Expedition Challenge has been running for several years, more than eight. It’s a competitive event that is scored. The basis are the requirements of the Expedition Challenge badge. The expedition challenge badge is one of the precursor awards to the Chief Scout’s Gold Award.Scouts camp for two nights, and hike on Saturday and Sunday. On both Friday and Saturday night they are given a set of waypoints and checkpoints as six figure grid references. It is up to the scouts to plan their route and fill in a route card. They get about an hour for this on Friday evening. On Saturday the time they have depends on how well they organise themselves.Over the whole weekend the scouts have to look after themselves. They pitch their own tents (twice), cook all their meals, and clean up afterwards. They need to get themselves ready, and the time of departure reflects this. The competition teams do the hike carrying all their gear, including tents and food.It’s a real challenge for a bunch of 12 or 13 year olds. It’s longer and harder than DoE Bronze, which you can’t do until 14.

Notes on Competition

What follows are some thoughts on the competition side. Mostly so we remember to prep our scouts for next year.The competition marks a lot of things, and uses that to grade each team to one of three standards.

  1. Green. These teams took part in the full event and met the requirements of the Expedition Challenge badge.
  2. Silver. The team did significantly more than expected. So far as I could tell all of these teams finished the route on at least one of the two days.
  3. Gold. These teams finished the routes on both days and performed at a good standard on all other areas.

Before the Camp

One of the things we missed, even though at least 12 people read the instruction pack, was the need to bring a menu and a kit checklist. These needed to be handed in and were scored.

Team Selection

Both our teams had issues with teamwork. Not because they didn’t know how, but because some of the individuals were mismatched. The training team also had two speed settings on the hike. This made it a lot harder to keep them together.As leaders this is the bit we have the most influence on. Being fair to ourselves we only took over the scout troop at Easter and this was a short notice entry. So we’ll have more time to consider it next time.


We probably need to have the core teams set a month before the event. They need time to coordinate the menu, they also need to practice using all the kit they’ll be using. Especially putting the tents up.They could also do with agreeing who will do what before the weekend, and a practice camp and walk, like Cowhorn, would be a really valuable way to make this work.

Food Prep

There was a wide variety of food on the go. Some of the best ones looked like they’d really planned ahead. Some of them had created their own meals ahead of time and brought them frozen to reheat. One group had made their dinner at the previous scout meeting and bagged it up.

Route Cards

Laminated cards with Naismith’s rule and a time/distance table on the back (photo: James Kemp)
None of our scouts had done route cards to the level of detail demanded. There was a relatively short time window and the scouts were tired. It’s really hard to operate when tired, and this was more than they could do. Neither team did a route card on Saturday night and the training team didn’t manage it on Friday either.I did do them an aide memoire on Naismith’s rule. However the tiredness and time limit defeated them. What would help next year’s teams

  • Practice using detailed route cards beforehand
  • Identify a lead planner, the scout in each team with the best experience
  • Chunk the job into parallel tasks (i.e. coords could be plotted on two maps simultaneously, with one doing bearings and the other detailed routing)
  • Have compasses with roamers on them to make plotting faster
  • On Saturday night sending someone to start the route planning as soon as possible, while others pitch tents and cook dinner


The tents get inspected several times. I helped with the lights out checks both nights. There were also checks at mealtimes and after the pitch is vacated.

Lights out checks

After dark a small group of leaders, three usually, tour the campsite. They are looking to see how the scouts are. The emphasis on this check is that scouts and all their kit are inside a tent. Also that the tents are safe from risks of falling down, blowing away or leaking. Points get lost for

  • Noise, especially if it can be heard more than a few feet away.
  • Bright lights
  • Inappropriate language (in addition to the noise)
  • Tents not fastened up,
  • Missing pegs/guys where that makes the tent look insecure (we accepted not all the guys needed to be pegged where the tent was obviously secure)
  • Kit left outside the tent
  • Rubbish or spare tent pegs lying on the pitch
  • Anything else that looked unsafe or dangerous

Other Tent Checks

scouts breaking camp, with kit in front of their tents
Competition team breaking camp on Saturday morning (photo: James Kemp)
Most of the above still applies to the other checks, although noise and light isn’t a problem. The area needs to be tidy and look like it’s been looked after. Having stuff being used out is okay, but not kit strewn everywhere.Also team dynamics are being looked at when the scouts are up and about. Are they working together and cooperative, or are there outliers? Bickering and ostracism are noticed and marked down.When scouts have packed up and left the pitch there’s zero tolerance for anything left behind. They need to gather up all the rubbish, tent pegs, and spilled food. There should be no trace that they were there apart from flattened grass.


See above on planning and practice. The meals are marked on the following criteria

  • Quality of the food/menu – do the scouts look like they’re enjoying eating it?
  • Quantity, is there enough given the level of exercise that they are doing and is there enough of each food group?
  • How well is the menu suited to the cooking ability of the group, and how skilled are they?
  • Have they worked as a team, and have the dietary needs of everyone been taken into account?

For the training team there’s also the factor of the level of adult involvement. Where there was an adult visible they got marked down. Even more so where the adult answered the questions. We wanted to quiz the scouts about what they were doing. Listen to what they didn’t say as well as what they did, and form a view on whether or not they had enough to eat and were enjoying it.One of the important factors here is that the scouts need to know to bring more food than they think they need, and to eat until they no longer feel hungry. They can’t wait for an adult to ask them if they want more. Equally, they need to share with each other and ensure what they have is shared evenly until the point that people feel full.

Walking the Expedition Challenge

A big part of success is how well organised the scouts are in the other parts of the weekend. Being up early, working as a team, and getting in first will give more walking time. Competition teams are sent out in the order they are ready at ten minute intervals. This means that a slow team could be kept waiting a couple of hours before they can start walking. All the teams finish walking at the same time. So getting up early, and getting ready first means that the team gets out much earlier and has a better chance of completing the course.


On Saturday our competition team was the last of nine to leave. They were almost two hours behind the first and only visited 5 of 9 checkpoints.Each checkpoint is worth up to 40 points in the competition. There are ten points each for

  • High vis vests and scarves (ten minus one point for each missing scarf or high vis).
  • Attitude. Are the scouts happy and enthusiastic about what they are doing?
  • Teamwork. Did they all arrive together, are they looking after one another?
  • Navigation. Have they arrived from the expected direction given the official route? Do they know where they are going next?

It’s worth paying attention to the difference between checkpoints and waypoints on the route planning. Checkpoints all have a leader at them and usually have water and sometimes also food. Waypoints are just to guide you safely between the checkpoints.The rules won’t let you leave a checkpoint until you are at least five minutes behind the previous team. It’s definitely worth having a snack and a drink and refilling water bottles at every checkpoint.If it’s a hot day then scouts must drink at least half a litre between each checkpoint.


It helps to have more than one navigator, but always be clear who is the lead navigator. Designating the lead navigator helps them to focus on where the team is and what should be coming next.When navigating try not to stop walking to check where you are. Pay attention to the clues on the map, and follow as you go along. You can use contours, roads, power lines and anywhere two linear features cross to get a proper fix.If in doubt check with a bearing. Always use two compasses for bearings. If they agree it’s fine. If they don’t get all the compasses out and go with the majority.Don’t use Google maps, it doesn’t have the resolution you need and it’s routing doesn’t work outside urban areas. In fact pedestrian routing is suspect even in urban areas.It’s practically impossible to be completely lost in the Surrey Hills, but it is possible to walk in the wrong direction. As soon as the map doesn’t match what you expect pause.


There’s a limited walking time. So it’s important to keep moving as fast as you can. You also need to arrive at checkpoints in a cohesive group, this is a safety issue.Minimise stopping time to what you need to get a drink and snack and remove/add layers. Check you have laced your boots properly before you carry on. Only stop when you have deliberately planned to. Checkpoints are usually good for this.When having lunch don’t stop for more than ten minutes. Try and do it at a checkpoint when you have to stop anyway. Definitely don’t have lunch until you are at least halfway round the course.Keep snacks and drinks where you can get them without stopping. As you get tired it’s harder to start moving again. Resist the urge to stop for as long as you can. But do drink as much water as you can.

Look after each other

If anyone starts to struggle put them at the front where they can set the pace. You can also see them and there’s no risk they’ll fall behind. Ensure your team members drink and get food.If they keep struggling take some weight off them. Split the content of their rucksack or daysack between the rest of you. If they really can’t go on then tell the leader at the next checkpoint.Where a team member cannot walk to the next checkpoint then use the emergency phone. Work out exactly where you are and give an eight figure grid reference to the control team. Stay with the casualty, give first aid if appropriate. Its way more important to be safe than to finish.