Our curriculum enables Basecampers to master mountain skills, learn conservation practices, and participate in service.


Being a Basecamper isn’t just a “two weeks during that one summer” sort of thing! Becoming a Basecamper means your child has joined a community of mountaineers - of which our parents are an important part! The goals of our programs are best realized when a child participates over years of their life, hence we’ve structured age appropriate groups and activities in the form of after school programs and summer camps for K-9th graders (and will soon grow to K-12th!) 

When we refer to the “Trail to the Summits” we are speaking of our extensive and growing achievement program designed to help kids master mountaineering skills, environmental education, awareness practices, and connection with others and nature. 

Without your encouragement and support, your child’s Backyard Basecamp experience will only partly be realized. Our intricate curriculum and achievement system is designed in a way that about 80% of skills and learning takes place and can be mastered within “Camp Weeks.” The other 20% must be achieved once the Basecamper returns home from camp. Much of this learning may still realized independently, with parental encouragement and check-ins.

Our curriculum exists within the metaphor of hiking a trail, where children are reaching “Cairns” and “Summits” as they travel along this path. Both are described in detail later, but Cairns (trail markers) exist as evidence of specific skill mastery (i.e. hiking, climbing, camping, cooking, navigating, etc.) and Summits mark a rank advancement in the program (typically associated with age). 


Your child will track and log their completion of their Cairns and Summits as they work through them. It is up to Guides and parents to check-off achievements and ensure completion. At Basecamp, this is not merely a “where do I sign?” moment, but rather an opportunity to talk about the child’s experience mastering that Cairn or Summit. We hope this practice will be echoed at home. Many requirements will be best shared with the whole family whether on your own camping or hiking trip or simply a walk through the park. We expect you will find these “requirements” fun and inspiring as opposed to difficult and cumbersome. 

By way of example, let’s say your Basecamper returns from Camp, excited about their newfound camping skills. They eagerly tell you about how they learned to build a fire and cook dinner over it! They show you their “Cooking” Cairn section of their Field Guide and you see they’ve completed all but one requirement. They ask if your family might go on a camping trip next week so they can practice “building three structures to start a fire.” While on the camp out you oversee them as they show you all they’ve learned, excited to pitch in with your tinfoil dinner for the evening. You help them complete this Cairn by signing off the last requirement and validating their learning and confidence by listening to their stories! Once complete, you may go online to purchase the Cairn patch and help them attach it to their Basecamp Rucksack. Next year, your Basecamper will proudly display their achievements to their Crew! 

Each year, in late August, at the end of our summer season, we host a Backyard Basecamp Summit picnic in Prospect Park where we gather with our family community and recognize and award Basecampers for their Summit and Cairn achievements. 


We realize that because our programs currently take place only in summer months, the “longevity” expectations of this program may seem difficult. We send monthly newsletters, updates, and host occasional events to help unify our community and remind you to continue helping your child work their way through Cairns during the “off-season”. With your help, our programs can grow to continue through the school year during school breaks and weekends to maintain Basecampers momentum! 

Climb the mountain not to plant your flag, but to embrace the challenge, enjoy the air, and behold the view.
— David McCullough Jr., Author

Achieving the Summits


* Currently, Bushwhacker age groups are only offered as an After School course. Contact your PTA or email Backyard Basecamp to suggest we come to your school! 

** Trailblazer & Voyager Programs are planned start in 2020. If you are interested in learning about our programs for these older age groups, join our email list to stay up-to-date! Trailblazer programs will be base in United States and Voyager programs will be internationally based adventures lasting from 2-3 weeks including backpacking, trekking, rock climbing, etc. 

Like all mountaineers know, it takes a lot of training, commitment, and teamwork to reach a summit. Likewise, as a Basecamper, each of the Summits you can achieve will take diligence. Each Summit requires you to earn a certain number of Cairns, walk/hike/bike/trek a certain number of miles, serve a certain number of hours, and keep conservation goals. You will rercord your progress both on paper in your Backyard Basecamp Field Guide and soon can track your progress online. Here are a few things about reaching Summits and Cairns you’ll want to remember:


You should make an effort to achieve the Summits in order (lowest to highest). They are organized this way to help you build on your skills and learning. You can work on any number of Summits at once. You cannot, however, achieve the higher Summits without first completing the lower ones that came before (i.e. You’ll need to finish Fuji and Teton before earning on to Matterhorn.)


The Summits have been planned so that you can (and should!) earn one about every two years in order to stay on track. Of course, if you join the program later, or get a little behind, you’re welcome to work on any Summits that you haven’t completed. For example, if you entered the program as a Pioneer, you wouldn’t have had opportunity to complete your Teton or Fuji Summits, but your guides will cover much of the information you’ll need to catch up. You can take this learning into your own hands and find opportunities to pass off goals and requirements on your free time during camp or after camp. It is totally possible to earn multiple Summits within a year based on your commitment to tracking and signing off requirements.


 At the end of each year we hold a Backyard Basecamp Summit Picnic where parents, guides, and fellow Crew-members gather to be recognized for their hard work and achievement. If completed, Summit patches are awarded at this time. Remember you can continue to work on your requirements throughout the next year so you’ll be ready to advance the following summer.

Everest Summit

The Everest Summit is the highest Summit you can achieve in Backyard Basecamp (and on Planet Earth!) As you’ve learned, this is no small commitment. Those who reach this final Summit have shown, over years, their mountaineering skills, given service, explored miles of terrain, and grown habits of conservation. When you achieve Everest, whether in a few years time or many years in the future, you will carry with you the pride of your hard work and dedication. You’ll be able to tell others of your accomplishments - family members, friends, future colleges, and employers. What an accomplishment this is!

Backyard Basecamp Guides and leaders can only support you part of the way along this “Trail.” YOU will need to push yourself the rest of the way - to finish these Cairns and Summits on your own. We promise you, the “View” is worth it. 

Put the quest back in question and the search back in research. Nature is where we begin to interrogate the world.
— Jon Young, Naturalist

Achieving Cairns

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While hiking, you’ll often see trail markers, called Cairns, to help you know you’re on the right track. While most cairns are made of stones stacked along a trail’s edge to mark the path, our Cairns represent outdoor skills you can master. Of course there are Cairns for camping, hiking, or backpacking, but you can also earn Cairns for navigating, first aid, conservation, cooking, tools, sciences, mindfulness, and activism… just to name a few. When you earn your Cairns, you’ll qualify for patches to show you’ve passed those trail markers. A Cairn patch is a symbol to those in your Crew (and especially to younger Crews) that you can lead them in that skill, if the need arises.

Cairn patches are are earned as symbol that you have mastered a skill. You earn Cairns by completing all the requirements in your Handbook and being signed off by parents or Basecamp leaders. Once you have completed a Cairn, you may order the patch from our shop. Once received, you may iron it onto your haversack or rucksack! Wear these patches proudly, as a symbol of your hard work!

Like Summits, Cairns will also require your time and effort both IN Basecamp and OUT of Basecamp. For example, for a Hiking Cairn, you might pass off 4 out of 5 requirements while participating in a summer Basecamp program. However, to finish this Cairn, perhaps you plan a hike with your family where you can complete your final goal. Once finished, have your parent sign off in your Field Guide, and you may order your Cairn patch online. 

Chapter 4: Trail to the Summits


Continue to Chapter 5: