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Path to Able Trailman
Trail Life Troop

Path to Able Trailman

Path to Able Trailman

A dad asked me recently what his sons should prioritize to advance to the Able Trailman Rank. Much of that conversation is relevant to many troop families, so I am going to focus briefly on that topic today.


As background, the Able Trailman Rank is a Navigator/Adventurer rank earned early in a Trailman's time in the troop. It follows the Recruit Trailman Rank in the advancement progression. The rank reflects the trailman having demonstrated initial proficiency in a few areas, combined with being active in the troop. Able Trailman are presented Trailman Standards and in some cases are entitled to extra privileges and priorities with the troop structure.

Basics Needed

The substantive items required for Able Trailman Rank can be broken into three categories:

  1. Involvement - Attendance at meetings and activities
  2. Service - Annual service hour completion
  3. Badge work - 4 Core Skills Trail Badges + 2 elective or Core Skills Trail Badges

Troop Involvement

Troop involvement has two pieces, which are often straightforward for Trailman aspiring to Able Trailman Rank. First, a Trailman must regularly be in attendance at troop meetings, wearing the appropriate uniform of the day. However, this is not a high standard, benchmarked around 60%. So we are talking routine attendance, not perfect attendance. Second, a Trailman needs to attend 6 non-meeting activities per year of membership. This includes campouts, service projects, Monday special events (such as our Reformation Day Festival), and day trips. It is also a non-meeting activity when Navigators and Adventurers serve or teach at a Woodlands event. There's more than twenty activity opportunities during a typical year.

For practical planning, a Trailman should regularly attend Monday meetings and strive to participate in the special events throughout the year.


The Able Trailman Rank service requirement is 15 hours per year as a Navigator or 20 hours per year as an Adventurer. Service can be troop-initiated projects or independent activity by the Trailman. Service hours do not accrue for service to family members, compensated activities, and certain other activities excluded by troop policy. First-year members need to complete the 15 or 20 hours. In subsequent years, the member needs to be on track to complete the year's service hours.

Trailman also receive service stars to recognize this service involvement.

Trailmen should start early in looking for service opportunities. Trail Guides can suggest areas to serve if there are not obvious choices to the trailman.

Trail Badge Work

Trail Badge Work can be the most intimidating aspect to work through for a new Trailman. However, if one breaks it down, it can be very manageable to earn these first six badges.

Able Trailman requires 2 elective badges (unless extra Core Skills Badges are used). Most trailman will find the elective badges to be straightforward to complete. These badges are catalogued on Trail Life Connect and include all manner of different topics of interest. It's a good starting place to pick a few of these that are doable and can be worked through independently. Badges in the Heritage and Sports & Fitness Frontiers are especially popular in our troop.

Planning Four Core Skills Trail Badges

When a Trailman is planning his first four Core Skills Trail Badges, the troop's sequence of badge instruction can impact planning. However, for the sake of discussion, I am going to ignore these group badges and focus on how one might individually plan to move through four badges.

Fire Ranger & Woods Tools

Fire Ranger and Woods Tools are some of the most foundational of outdoor skills badge work. Most Trailman are going to find it desirable to complete these early on, and I will typically recommend them as a foundation of a badge plan. It's often possible to do the practical segments during free time at a campout, or simply doing them in the backyard. For those less familiar with these subject matters, the Outdoor Skills Guide has information on Woods Tools requirements, and the Camping Guide has information on Fire Ranger requirements.

Third & Fourth Badges

It's helpful to consider the "hardest" requirement in each badge when selecting a third and fourth trail badge to complete. By process of elimination, one can pick the two needed.


Aquatics is a polarizing badge. Strong swimmers with access to a pool may find it very simple. Lack of pool access or swimming skills can make this trail badge a significant undertaking.


The most challenging aspect of the Camping Trail Badge is the requirement to camp 15 nights and participate in camping activities. Those pursuing this badge early would be advised to prioritize attendance at campouts.

First Aid

For trailmen old enough to complete a First Aid/CPR class, the First Aid Trail Badge can be completed with that certification plus a few extra requirements. Otherwise, there is substantial home study required to complete.

Our Flag

Our Flag is a popular choice as an early Core Skills Trail Badge. The most significant planning challenge is completing the 3 elective activities. When working independently, most will choose to learn about the 21 Gun Salute. The other options cannot be done spontaneously at home. Trailmen pursuing the badge will often want to volunteer in a troop outdoor flag ceremony. We do these at most campouts--see the First Officer to express interest. As the third elective, either participating in a Memorial Day flag planting service or instructing a Woodlands unit on flag ceremonies are the most accessible, but require advance planning.

Outdoor Cooking

Outdoor Cooking has many straightforward requirements. The challenge in this Trail Badge is completing requirement 8, the "grub master requirement". That requirement generally will need to be done within the context of a troop/patrol event, and only so many trailmen can complete at an event.


Ropework is a good choice as an independent Trail Badge. While it can be a significant amount of learning for a Trailman not proficient on knots, none of the requirements is independently complex to complete. The Outdoor Skills Guide has information about knots, as well as commercially available resources such as as the excellent Knots 3D app.

Trail Skills

Trail Skills has two requirements that sometimes prove challenging. Orienteering courses are not always readily available, and the five-mile hike requirement needs to completed inside of a troop-supervised activity.

Erich Fabricius Troop Committee Chair

As Committee Chair, Erich Fabricius provides overall supervision of the operations of the ministry. His family has been involved in the troop since 2015, and he has been part of Shepherd’s since 2008.

Trail Life Troop NC-613 is a ministry of The Shepherd’s Church of Cary, NC.
6051 Tryon Rd., Cary, NC 27518

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Ephesians 6:13 (ESV)

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