More thoughts on “Be Prepared”

Original painting by JC Leyendecker

After my post about the trope of “Better to have it an not need it…”,  be it by comments, direct messages, or overall discussion, the Scout Motto of “Be Prepared” tended to be referenced.

However, the reference, as interpreted today, is different from what the founder of Boy Scouts, Robert Baden-Powell, meant.

In our 21st Century American culture, we take the motto of “Be Prepared” as meaning to take gear and copious amounts of it. Be it people stating why they take gear for climbing, hiking, camping, biking, or even first aid,  or more minimalist minded outdoors people saying this motto is outmoded,  yet focus on the latest inflatable pad offering or puffy in great detail, “Be Prepared” as a motto has a much different intent than how people commonly use the motto.

As stated by Baden-Powell in Scouting for Boysthe motto has a military-focused meaning befitting what (in many ways) started as an organization to raise the next generation of soldiers for the British Empire.

The Scout Motto is: BE PREPARED which means you are always in a state of readiness in mind and body to do your DUTY.

  • Be Prepared in Mind by having disciplined yourself to be obedient to every order, and also by having thought out beforehand any accident or situation that might occur, so that you know the right thing to do at the right moment, and are willing to do it.
  • Be Prepared in Body by making yourself strong and active and able to do the right thing at the right moment, and do it.

We can debate the merits of the military and nationalistic roots of the motto. However, the idea of being prepared mentally and physically is an idea worthy of emulating.  Baden-Powell did not mention gear once in this motto. And a wise outdoors person would be wise to emulate the idea of being prepared in mind and body over the idea of taking a lot of gear or even focusing on equipment in general.

Carry as little as possible, but choose that little with care. -Earl Shaffer

I can have the best tool kit in the world, but if you do not know how to use the tools it will do you no good. Your meals will come out crappy, your house will be reminiscent of the “House The Jack Built”, and your car will be on the side of a road with a flat tire.

In other words, be physically fit to go hiking, have the appropriate skill set and knowledge to enjoy hiking and to use your tools (gear) correctly,   and be prepared to go out when the opportunity presents itself.

And how to Be Prepared in both mind and body?

  • Be active.  To enjoy your time outdoors, have a good base level of fitness. You don’t have to be a mean lean Crossfit machine. But being in shape enough to go on a backpacking trip at the level you want is desirable.  I’ll be the first to admit my weight ebbs and flows esp. when I spent time in my beige box. But I always did make the outdoors my priority and tried to make hiking, skiing, and even camping a routine event.   When the gift of time presented itself, the Collegiate Loop as a shakedown hike, at the pace I wanted, ended up being a joy. Rather than a trudge if I had been in worse shape.


Photo by Dave H. A sub-24hr overnighter.

  •  Have the skills to enjoy the trips you want. Go out and hike and backpack on easier trips to pick up the skills you need. Many MeetUp groups offer beginner friendly trips. Prefer a more structured environment? Guided trips offer an excellent way to jump-start your skill set. (Disclosure: I guide trips as well)  Want something in between? Liz Thomas, Andrew Skurka, and Cam Honan are all excellent resources for reading about needed skill sets, and the gear to go with these skills,  that can assist when you go on your trips.  Need to brush up on specific skills?  Local outdoors stores and groups often have workshops for such topics as navigation, for example.



  • Gear is, of course, necessary. But it is not about gear per se; it is about taking the right gear.  Take the right equipment based on your skills and knowledge. And get out as much as you can! I’ve been an active outdoors person for almost twenty-five years now. But I am still learning new things and making tweaks. Always more to learn, do, and apply as the years continue forward.

For example, I want to learn more about pack rafting.

  • Prepartion is very important. Be organized have the gear ready to go. Research your area for terrain conditions, ideas, permits, driving directions, etc. If you are prepared to be outdoors both mentally and physically, you will be able to spend your gift of time wisely.



Be Prepared is an excellent idea to emulate. But not in the way people often state. It is not about massive amounts of gear..or even gear at all.  Take the right equipment,  but don’t dwell on it as the end all of the time spent outside.  Be prepared mentally and physically and you will enjoy time in the wild places.

And time outside is the goal of purchasing gear, learning new skills, and reading about a place.

Getting out more is the end goal of “Be Prepared.”

At least in my biased opinion. 🙂


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5 years ago

Bravo! Excellent dissertation! Should be discussed in depth with all new adult scout leaders.

5 years ago

Being flexible and adaptable to routes and itinerary could be included as a skill in preparedness, in my experience the initial planning is a guide and overview and more often than not plan A becomes plan B and switches to C as I move along. Being flexible and anticipating the impending change seems to often enhance the adventure so I view flexibility and adaptability as a preparation skill.

SM Ron
SM Ron
5 years ago

What is the light thing and most important thing to bring on any outing? Knowledge.
When asked what we should Be Prepared for, B-P said, “anything.”
An Army Sargent said his unit would say its “Be Ready, Not Get Ready.”

5 years ago

Yes, definitely a commentary on our culture when “being” is translated as “having.”