Campout: A How-To Guide
The campout is one of the best ways to get some dedicated time with students and is often a fraction of the cost of a full blown retreat to a camp or conference. This walkthrough is for a group of 50 people either camping or lodging somewhere for a weekend. This is going to be a general guide and you will need to plug in your own content for it to really make sense. The purpose is to give you a visual of the things you need to think through to make a campout work.
For a Campout to work and be successful you need to do quite a bit of preparation work. The more work you do in advance the smoother the weekend will go. Anytime you see the word EXCEL it refers to a sample sheet in the accompanying excel file. We will be using a 3131 Planning Guide.
3 MONTHS OUT
- Location: This is your first big step. You need to select a place that can house your expected group. Some things to consider when selecting a location.
- Camp Grounds: These work super well because they always have water, fire wood and bathrooms. Sometimes you can only put 8 people at one site but there are group sites and you can connect sites. If you have to connect sites make one your “social/food” site.
- Rustic Camp: There are often local camps or Scouts camps that can be rented for cheap but the facilities are simple. If they have a lodge and a kitchen you’re golden, but even if it’s just a big building and rooms for tents it can definitely work.
- Someone’s Yard (Personal Fav): Depending on where you live someone in your church may have some land you can camp on with your group. This is the BEST situation for low cost and the bathroom issues can be solved with a port-a-potty rental. This is also fun if it’s a small group or just your adult leaders.
- Lodging: This step should be done at the same time as the location step. Again, figure out your group size and then think through some of these points
- Tents: If you can find a place to tent you’re basically golden. You can also create additional shelters with tarps or large tent coverings.
- Lodge: A Lodge is nice because it gives you a place to be outside of the elements. However, they can be harder to find. Be open to mixing tents and a lodge for the best of both worlds.
- Kitchen: You don’t really need one (see food needs) but if you can find one or even just 1 stove you are set. Keep in mind you will need tables to prep at and tables to eat at. For example, if you are tenting and don’t have a kitchen you will need tables of some kind, if not for eating than definitely for prep.
- Trailer/s: This is a fun option for the people you invite to come help you (see Leaders Needs), especially for your cooks. However, it’s not needed for everyone. Part of the value of a Campout is being with kids.
- Transportation: this is 100% based on where you choose to go.
- Based on your location and lodging you will need to either take a bus, drive up in cars or get dropped off. If it’s bus or drive you need to make sure you think through your supplies and may want to consider a dedicated truck to bring up what you need. Also, kids will ALWAYS pack more than you think.
- Food Needs: This is often what makes or breaks the whole idea. Because people need to eat, you need a way to prepare and cook and the size of the group determines everything. You need to think through the following.
- #1 NEED IS WATER: Is there fresh water to drink or does it need to be treated. This is why a Camp Ground is a nice choice when tenting. Often the province/state is required to treat the water and make it safe to drink. You can also treat the water with a chlorine treatment if you need to. Check out your local camping store for supplies. You will need 5-10 Gallons a day for 50 kids.
- Storage: This is always your limiting option when camping in tents. But if you have a lodge or someone’s yard this problem can go away with electricity and the potential of a fridge. However, when in doubt think LOTS of ice packs and consider planning an ice run during the weekend
- Distance: How long stuff needs to stay cold depends on your distance. If you have a fridge at a lodge but its 4 hours away you need to pack a lot of ice. If you’re tenting consider how far away the closest ice is. Your best bet is not to skimp on a good cooler for your food, especially the meat and dairy cooler. Consider freezing your meat ahead of time to help with the cold issues
- Type of food: This is more advice than anything else. I have some simple rules especially when camping in tents with no kitchen
- Dairy goes first – In hot weather this doesn’t keep, so yogurt is DAY 1
- Bread goes second – It gets stale faster than you think. For sandwiches think wraps (oil content.)
- BBQ Once: BBQ is meat heavy and meat is hard to store.
- Think simple: Best meal on my menu… KD and Veggies
- Avoid: Things that go sour or bad if not prepared right i.e. CHICKEN
- Ease of Cooking: Remember even if you have a lodge and a kitchen it’s still 6-7 Meals you have to prepare.
- Everything is made in a pot – I cook everything in pots over a three-burner big propane grill you can buy at Costco. It’s perfect and makes life very simple.
- Frying pans are helpful- But don’t try and cook bacon for 50 instead by the bag of pre-cooked. You save time, money and can portion.
- Leaders Needed: This is a critical step as well, you need to make sure that you have:
- Leaders to expected kid ratio (check policy)
- Volunteers to cook- trust me, this is best
- Drivers if you need
- EXTRAS: Games Team, Worship, Life Guard (check policy)
1 MONTH OUT
- Promotion: This can happen earlier then 1 month out but I have found that anything more than a month and a half and people just don’t pay attention. Your promotion should include the following:
- Registration Form: You need a registration form for kids for sure. It doesn’t have to be fancy but it is the one place you can house all the information in the promotion section. You will also need contact info just in case something happens.
- Waiver: Check your church liability but a waiver is always a good idea for any Campout, even if it’s in someone’s yard.
- Medical Info: Do they have any allergies? Take medication? Any Mental/Physical challenges?
- Location Information: You need to explain where you are going for parents. They want to know their kids are safe and will have a good time.
- Packing List: Be CLEAR about what they need. I once wrote “Bring toiletries” and a kid asked me if they needed to bring their own potty.
- Dates/Times: When are you leaving and when is the bus pulling away. Make sure you give yourself some room, especially if you live in the city.
- Emergency Contact Info: How can they get a hold of you if there is a problem? If they can’t that is ok, but they need to know that. You also need to have an emergency call plan in case you need medical help.
- Cost: How much is it and when is the money due. Consider trying to discount multiple student families, and being flexible with parents on payment. If numbers are tight or your group is very last min with registration consider an “Early Bird” price and then raise the rate after, trust me it works.
- Social Media: Create some kid of special media graphic that can be shared with your students so they can share it with others. Also consider filming a short on-site promo if you are talking about what the weekend will look like. Just remember this is a teaser for information and always direct them to get a Registration Form for all the details.
- Registration: Towards the end of the month you should have a database of registrations. My suggestion is to use EXCEL and make a Master File. From there you can create tent/cabin assignments, know who is doing what for your leaders and have a quick access sheet if something goes wrong.
- Digital Copy: As a pro tip make a digital copy of your final Master List available to you by email or a service like Dropbox. I would still print copies but if worse comes to worse all you would need is internet somewhere and you would have the information. Can’t tell you how often my paper forms got wet on Campouts.
- Supplies List: This is a critical step early on in the 1 month out process. However, it’s also very specific to your needs and what kind of Campout you are doing. My recommendation is to use EXCEL to navigate these big supply areas. That way from year to year you can keep track of what you needed.
- Camp Supplies: This is a list of anything you need for general camp life. i.e. axe, wood, tarps, propane, generators, gas.
- Cooking Supplies: Think pots, pans cheese grater, whisk, BBQ, Cooking Burners.
- Sleeping Supplies: Tents, mats, air fresheners, wet clothing line.
- Games/Activities Supplies: Whatever you need to play your games.
3 WEEKS OUT
- Supply Acquisition: It is now time to buy your supplies. My recommendation is to start early and slowly collect. It will be way too much work if you wait until the last minute. If you can my encouragement is also to find a Leader or Parent that might be willing to do this for you. People love to shop with other people’s money, just be VERY CLEAR about what you are looking for.
- Meal Plan: Now that you should have an idea of how many people are coming and where you are going it’s time to plan your meals. Again, this is very group specific to not only your needs but also your cooking ability. However, I have attached an EXCEL as a sample. Here is my process for making my plans.
- Figure out how many meals you need to cook for
- Plot out the meals remembering the rules (Dairy first, Bread Second, BBQ Once)
- Once there is a rough guide go back through and add quantity for each item for each meal. EXAMPLE: If cheese comes up in three meals, figure out how much each meal needs.
- When your done, copy the ITEM and QUANTITY to a new EXCEL file.
- Now sort the EXCEL file by ITEM, first basically make an alphabetical list
- Now combine your items. EXAMPLE: If you need 2L of Milk for 3 meals. Just one row to say 6L of Milk and delete the other rows.
- When you are done you now have an itemized menu to follow and a shopping list with exact bulk quantities. See the EXCEL for the examples.
- NOTE: Don’t forget about planning SNACKS and AFTERNOON MUNCHIES kids get hungry. I call this the “All the time food” in the EXCEL.
Finalized list: Within 2 weeks of your event you probably should cut off registration and create you finalized attendance list. Once you have that you can build every other list you need and then put them in an event binder ready to go.
- Master Contact List: This is just everyone’s complete info on one sheet. Use an 11 x 17 (tabloid) paper it’s a lot easier.
- Room/Tent List: Who is staying with who?
- Small Groups List: This is great for discussion, bible studies and even games. If you have a mixed group (Jr and Sr Students) consider mixing them up so they get to know each other. It may be tricky but the outcome is worth some of the drama.
- Games Teams List: I would combine individual Small Groups into bigger teams.
- Travel List: Bus Sign-In Sheet and or Van Assignment Sheet
- Check-In Sheet: Something to help you know everyone is there.
Mail Out/Email Blast: I have always found it best to send some kind of reminder of where to be and what to bring. Email is good and quick but if you have the time I would send a quick letter. That way you GUARANTEE it gets home and into the hands of parents. You can also add something to that letter to get kids PUMPED but that’s your call. One year we got camp tattoos and sent them with every letter.
Weekend Planning: It is now time to PLAN you actual Campout event. Here are some questions to consider and you can also check the EXCEL for a sample schedule.
- Times: When will all your activities be? What time will meals be? How early will you wake up and how late will you go to bed?
- Games: What kind of games can you play in the space? How often do you want to play them? Can this be team/Small Group building? Is there someone who can run these for you? What supplies are needed?
- Free Time: Give kids a list of activities they can do and have leaders assigned to them or prepared to get involved
- Devotional/Chapel: This is a question about purpose. Why are you getting together for a campout? Is it to teach? Build relationships? Both? Regardless, this will inform how much of this you do. I recommend at least once for sure, but after that it’s up to you. Personally, I like Small Group bible study time.
- Worship/Campfire: Same as above, at least once. If you can do late night worship and S’mores, you’ll get heaven on earth for almost any student. This may also need some volunteers and supplies so make this decision earlier than later.
- Wide/Group Games: This is very much space dependent but consider one BIG THING each night or a late night something. It doesn’t have to be a game either. Skit nights and talent shows are a blast as well. Movie under the stars is great but the prep/supplies needed can be tricky based on location.
- Rules: Have a clear understand of rules. Print them off and have them ready to post around so there are no misunderstandings about expectations.
1 WEEK OUT
- Confirmations: This is just your reminder to check all your details off your list.
- Location: Check your booking and any details you may need like keys or codes.
- Supplies: Do you have all your supplies YES / NO / MAYBE
- Bus/Travel: Are your drivers or bus company ready?
- Volunteers: Did everyone actually book time off? Are they ready to go and know what they are doing?
- Printing: Do you have your lists printed? Songs sheets done? Schedule made?
- EXTRA BOX: Make a box with just some extras that are always needed: Tape, pens/pencils, blank paper, deck of cards, matches, duct tape, rope, girls bathroom supplies (trust me they will thank you.)
- Shopping: Finally, it’s time to buy food. Here are my suggestions, because it can be harder than you think. Lots of your food buying needs to happen the day of because of quality.
- Dry Goods: Buy them any time
- Meats: Buy 2 days in advance and freeze everything. If space is tricky take stuff out of their packages and place them in large Ziploc bags.
- Produce: Can be bought at the day 2 mark but I prefer the day of. A quick tip would be to contact a local grocery store or produce market and pre-order your stuff. Most of the time you get a discount but they also pack it all up for you. All you do is roll in and pay, it can be a life saver.
- Dairy/Bread: Day of ONLY… remember the food rules.
HAVE FUN: The time has come for you to go on your trip and I promise you it will be amazing. Following a guide like this will make sure you are prepared BUT there will be things that will come up for sure. You need to be flexible, roll with the punches and make notes for next year. My first year we had enough food to the spoon full, NO EXTRAS. However, because I had an EXCEL with the shopping list when we got home I modified all the numbers. So next year we were ready and had plenty of food. Planning is important but don’t let it keep you from having FUN.
Make sure when you get home from Campout you review it with your leaders, students and key stakeholders. Think about the following questions.
- What worked well?
- How were the meals?
- Did the location meet our needs?
- How well did games, chapel, campfire etc. go?
- How could we have added to the event?
The goal with this Walkthrough is to give you a glimpse of the top to bottom plan for an event. There are a few things I have always tried to remind myself, my leaders and my students at every event we do.
- Flexibility is primary: Things always need to be adapted. As much as this guide works it need to be modified to fit your context, location and needs. But more importantly things always come up the night of any event. Our job is to be flexible and adapt on the fly. Its why it’s so important to have a plan and a guide to the event.
- 10% Rule: Never forget that 10% of people that come to anything that you do will not be happy. Some part of what happens will bother them. We need to listen and learn from the 10% but don’t let it override the 90% that are having a fantastic time.
Have Fun: Just enjoy yourself, have fun, and follow the above things and you will have a BLAST!
Jesse Criss is the Grade 11/12 Pastor at Willingdon Church and he recently founded FRESH MINISTRY CONSULTING. He is a veteran Youth Pastor with 17 years worth of experience, is married and has beautiful twin girls.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.