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Seven Tips (and Three Pin Trading Non-Tricks) to Survive a Pathfinder Camporee

I was a precocious 12-year-old the first time I attended the International Pathfinder Camporee in 2019. I had been a Pathfinder for one year. Even before I joined Pathfinders, it seemed as though all roads pointed toward Oshkosh, Wisconsin. The relentless planning and fundraising! The pin trading! The massive play that personifies ancient biblical narratives! The sea of people from around the world! I was regaled with the lore of Camporees past. I watched the 2014 “Forever Faithful” Camporee musical about Daniel with rapt attention months beforehand. My cousins had the 2009 “Courage to Stand” Camporee musical about Esther, the Persian queen, on DVD, and my younger brother and I watched that one too. I was enamored by the ethos of this gathering before I arrived.

The hype is (mostly) deserved. It is a massive event—the Pathfindering mecca. 50,000 people attended in 2019, and more than 55,000 are expected to participate this August. More than young Pathfinders attend it; their parents, club sponsors, and friends often come along for the journey. The quinquennial General Conference Session is the only Adventist event in North America that could rival Camporee.

Photo of the massive human cross at 2019 International Camporee

The event is full of challenges, too. My skin crawled the first time I showered in one of the bathhouses. Everything is crowded to the maximum. Occasionally, post-shower “streakers” ran by our campsite. Did I mention it’s crowded? The campground is enormous. Getting around takes forever on foot. 

Some of these will probably be mitigated by the Camporee’s change of venue from Oshkosh’s EAA Camp Scholler to the CAM-PLEX facilities in Gillette, Wyoming. Still, to help prepare for this odyssey, we’ve compiled a list of helpful tips for surviving the Camporee, including some pin-trading tips.

  1. Plan to bathe early and quickly; prepare for less-than-ideal conditions.

Many of the day’s activities begin at 8:00 a.m., so there is always a bathing rush around 6:00 a.m. that continues through mid-morning. During peak times, the line for a shower will often snake outside the bathhouse door and onto the nearby road. Plan to bathe at irregular times to maximize your time and sanity. The demand for showers is slightly lower during the early morning (3:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m.). If your schedule is flexible and you don’t mind forgoing a shower for the first part of the day, the showers are less crowded around lunchtime and afternoon hours. When you do take a shower, make it quick. There could be twenty people outside waiting for a shower to open up. 

The bathhouses at Camporee are notoriously busy, dirty, and cold. The sheer volume of people at Camporee means that all kinds of elements from the outside world end up in and around the showers. Wear shower shoes or flip-flops to protect yourself from dirt, fungus, and other harmful matter. Don’t plan on getting a hot shower, at least during peak hours. Many bathhouse water heaters can’t heat water quickly enough for all the showers.

Flimsy plastic curtains divide many of the showers. I remember at least one instance where a gust of wind blew the curtains up while I was covered in soap suds, leading to a brawl between the wind and my determination to maintain some form of shower decorum. The wind won. I gave up on my privacy for the duration of the camporee. Once again, this is an instance where showering during off-peak times will serve you well. Not only will your water be marginally warmer, but you might have more privacy, too.

Whatever you do, do not avoid bathing. If you are a Pathfinder leader, ensure your club members shower regularly. You will get dirty at this camporee, and you will annoy your peers if you smell horrible. If the prospect of showering in one of the bathhouses is just too much, consider purchasing a tent solar shower. 

  1. Pack for all kinds of weather.

Camporee weather is neurotic. Sometimes, it’s unbearably hot; other times, it’s cold enough to warrant donning a coat for the day. There are days when the rain pours and other days when the thought of rain is laughable. I’ve never heard of it snowing at Camporee, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it did someday. Old-timers regularly enthrall young Pathfinders with stories of the freezing cold Camporee in 2004 and tales of thunderstorms at the 2014 “Forever Faithful” Camporee. At the 2019 “Chosen” Camporee, I witnessed weather vacillating between unbearable heat and nearly torrential rain.

Packing good walking shoes (you’ll be doing plenty of walking), light clothing, and appropriate headwear for sunny days is essential. It is equally important to bring rain boots, a warm jacket, a blanket for the evenings at the main stage, and an umbrella or poncho. You might be able to survive with only t-shirts, shorts, and sandals, but you’ll get drenched or start shivering when the weather changes. 

Pathfinders walking in the rain at Camporee
  1. Bring a quiet generator or large battery pack.

While you will be camping at Camporee, you’ll need electricity to charge your electronic devices, light your campsite at night, and maybe even cook (if you aren’t using a gas stove or propane refrigerator). 

There is no guarantee that your campsite will have electricity on it or even nearby. It’s also possible that there will be power outages during peak usage times. Plan on bringing a “quiet” generator in an enclosed frame. (Open-frame generators are obnoxiously loud, and you won’t be allowed to use one at night.) An alternative is to bring a large battery pack to charge your electronic devices, but finding an outlet to charge it could be challenging.

  1. Bring your own sanitation products.

The bathrooms and portable toilets at Camporee are known for their less-than-ideal cleanliness. Sometimes, they don’t lock. They are often dirty. In high-traffic areas, there is a long queue. While the toilets are serviced, they aren’t serviced frequently. 

It’s common for toilet paper, hand sanitizer, or soap to run out. Having an extra roll of toilet paper and a bottle of hand sanitizer is helpful. Better yet, make a small pack with sanitation products such as toilet paper, hand sanitizer, bug spray, and sunscreen that you can fit inside a backpack. It could save you in a pinch!

Mud makes it hard to walk to the bathrooms
  1. Pack simple lunches each day, and bring a reusable water bottle.

You never know what you’ll be doing when you get hungry. If you’re between “honor” classes or activities, you might not have enough time to trek back to your campsite and make lunch. Concession stands with tasty international food are available, but they can be expensive and have long wait times.

Plan on making simple sack lunches after you finish breakfast. Packing simple sandwiches, chips, finger vegetables, and cookies can go a long way in saving money and time. 

It’s essential to bring a reusable water bottle, too. Because of the hot weather, dehydration is common at Camporee. Drinking water regularly is a no-brainer. In the long run, a reusable water bottle is cheaper than buying water, and you won’t have to worry about creating more plastic waste.

  1. If you’re staying in a tent, bring a cot or mat to place under your sleeping bag.

Tents sit on the ground, and the ground is hard. The ground is especially hard after a long day of walking, tracking younger Pathfinders, and other over stimulating activities. Sometimes, lumpy roots are on the ground directly beneath the floor of your tent. It’s not fun to feel that, especially when you’re tired. If you bring a cot or mat to put under your sleeping bag, you’ll be much more relaxed and sleep better. Unless, of course, you enjoy sleeping on the ground.

  1. Eat dinner and leave earlier to find better seats at the Main Stage.

One of the most iconic features of the International Pathfinder Camporee is the evening program, held at the Main Stage. Each night, it has featured talent from around the world, music, prayers in multiple languages, and even a ventriloquist. But the most anticipated part of the evening is the musical play based on the camporee’s biblical theme. 

Because it is such a highly anticipated part of the camporee, finding seating close to the stage is very difficult. There are large screens closer to the back, but there is something special about watching the program up-close. You must bring your own chair. There is no real “seating” at the Main Stage; it is just a large open space for camping chairs and blankets.

If you eat dinner earlier, at 4:30 p.m. or 5:00 p.m., and leave earlier, you’ll find better seating. You probably won’t get front-row seats—for that, you’ll need to show up several hours earlier. And, for every two spots you reserve, one person has to stay with them, according to Camporee rules.

  1. Make sure you explore other camping areas and pin trade!

The campground is vast. Each of the nine unions in the North American Division has a part of the campground. The size of the event can be intimidating, and it’s undoubtedly easier to stay near your home union area. Much of the “experience” is in the connections you can make at the camporee. Don’t be afraid to explore a bit—or a lot. Change your daily routes and activities so you can pass by new places. Even if it takes longer, you’re making memories that will last a lifetime.

Unions, conferences, clubs, and ministries often create their own unique pins that memorialize the event and also have details that express their uniqueness. If you have enough pins to start with, you can easily connect with a lot of people very quickly—and amass a lot of pins, too!

Remember to trade fair
  1. Understand what a fair pin trade is.

When I attended Camporee for the first time as a 12-year-old, I was pretty naive about pin trading. Beware of dishonest traders who take advantage of kids.

A friend of my Pathfinder club’s director had given me a valuable pin. “Don’t trade this away!” she told me. It was part of a sought-after set. (For those who care, it was a blue “Beltsville Broncos” crab pin.) As the week progressed, that pin became increasingly valuable. I held onto the pin for a couple of days, waiting for the right moment to trade it.

In the meantime, I was on the hunt for a set of pins from the Canadian Union. Their loud red tones with muted blue and green landscapes imprinted upon their metal faces beckoned me. I dreamt of the day I could proudly display the entire set on my backpack. Finally, I encountered an older woman who had a Canadian set. She wouldn’t trade it for anything I had. She did want one thing, though: my blue crab pin.

I was reluctant to give it up. Still, she was intent on getting that pin. She offered to trade an entire set of guitar-shaped pins from Texas for my blue crab. I didn’t like the idea, but she convinced me, mainly because I was a bit shy and wanted to be respectful. She seemed too nice to try to cheat me. Why was I stalling on this? She took my blue crab. I took her tiny guitars.

The rest of the day, I regretted my decision. I hated the guitars. They were ugly! Eventually, I sat on the floor of one of the EAA airplane hangars and traded the guitars for the entire Canadian set. Still, I kicked myself for the rest of the week, especially at the end of the camporee, when the crab set was especially valuable. Years later, when I sat in on a pin trading honor class, I realized that we had treated each other unfairly in that trade. She twisted my arm into trading the pin; I only traded one pin for her set. 

The ethics and etiquette of pin trading are important to consider as you trade at the International Pathfinder Camporee. Pin trading is supposed to be fun, friendly, and fair. This means you shouldn’t have to force someone to trade—particularly if there’s a power imbalance. In general, you should trade a pin for a pin and a set of pins for a set of pins. Of course, there are many exceptions, especially as the value of certain pins increases throughout the event. Not all pins are created equal, either. When in doubt, just remember the three “Fs”: Fun, Friendly, and Fair.

  1. Start pin trading earlier.

Everyone is excited about the forthcoming events on the camporee’s first night. As the sun sets and evening dusk settles, the campground roads fill with people looking to trade pins. This is the best time for you to start pin trading. You can easily find beautiful pins that will be more valuable later for one or two of your pins. 

As the week drags on, pin-trading fatigue begins to loom over the tired campers. Many will hold onto their valuable pins and wait for a deal that will never come. Nonetheless, you’ll remember the connections you make through pin trading. My pin set is buried somewhere in a cardboard box, gathering dust, forgotten by the boy who once treasured them. I don’t even remember what many of the pins look like. I keenly remember the people I traded with, though. I don’t know their names or where many were from, but I remember our conversations and how thrilling it was to gather with thousands of people like me. 

Samuel Girven is a Special Projects Correspondent for SPECTRUM. You can email him at  

Samuel Girven

About the author

Samuel Girven is the Special Projects Correspondent for Spectrum. You can email him at More from Samuel Girven.
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