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Dece Scouts

How a Bay Area Backpacking Club is opening up the outdoors one hike at a time

Kyle Pickering is a designer living and working in San Francisco’s SoMa neighborhood. Somewhere more typically associated with tech guys than outdoorsy types, Kyle, along with his workplace backpacking club Dece Scouts, has made it his mission to encourage as many people as possible to break out of the city and experience the joys of backpacking. Backcountry recently caught up with Kyle about why he’s so determined to help others enjoy the outdoors—even if it means getting up at 5 a.m. to get out there.

It all started—like most good obsessions do—with a mentor. Kyle Pickering was living in Canada and had little interest in self-initiating a big hike, let alone spending multiple days camping on the trail.

“I had a friend who was the primary driver for me spending time outdoors. I relied on him to call me up on weekends at 7 a.m. and say: ‘Grab your bags. We’re heading out.’ My dad instilled a passion in me for being outside, but it was my friend who really ignited my love for backpacking.”

Unfortunately, his new love was short-lived. Kyle got a new job, and a move to San Francisco put an abrupt end to his regular weekends in the wild. He also lost the connection to his main motivator, and soon settled for just a handful of solo outings a year.

“After several years of going it alone in California, I realized that I could be that person for others—a kind of facilitator—and that it might help me get out there more, too.”

And then, while chatting with some colleagues who’d never been backpacking before, the idea struck: “I didn’t think anyone at work was interested in backpacking at all, but it turns out there were a ton of people up for it, only they’d never been before. I did a few ‘how to’ sessions, and then I gathered a group up for a trip and we had an awesome time. They eventually started referring to the group as ‘Kyle Scouts’—which is obviously a horrible name—until someone suggested ‘dece’ [as in the first half of ‘decent’]. I use the word ‘dece’ a lot to describe things, so I guess it just stuck.”

From online packing lists detailing exactly what you need, to step-by-step guides on how to responsibly poop in the woods, Dece Scouts has grown out of a casual workplace social group to a club welcoming new members from across town. And after being unofficially established in 2016, they now have their own website, logo, and even a gear library to combat the often-cited barrier of expensive equipment preventing people from hitting the trail.

“Our aim is to be as welcoming as possible” says Kyle. “It’s a way of getting people up and running. It doesn’t take long to learn how to pack, how to set up a tent, and how to cook food. Even those who were total newcomers have now been on five or six trips.”

Because of the collaborative atmosphere in the group, Kyle refers to all members of Dece Scouts as co-founders. As much benefit as they get from joining, Kyle also profits from more opportunities to go on trips. It also engenders a strong sense of ownership—with scouts regularly suggesting new adventures: “I recently had a desert photo on my desktop at work, and one of my coworkers was like, ‘oh man. I want to go hike on a sand dune. So two weeks later, we flew to Vegas, rented cars, then drove to the Mojave and hiked on some sand dunes. It was such a cool way of inspiring an awesome adventure. I now make sure all my desktop backgrounds are outdoorsy” laughs Kyle.

Recent recruit Sarah Freier-Miller took on her first winter backpacking trip at the beginning of January. The group hiked to Ice House Reservoir in Eldorado National Forest through treacherous conditions, and Kyle describes Sarah’s experience as transformative—viewing her account of the trip as a clear example as to why Dece Scouts exists.

“I found myself able to enjoy the natural beauty, even though my body was starting to feel the effects of what was a pretty extraordinary weekend physically and mentally” explains Sarah in a journal posted to the Dece Scouts website. “I definitely had some uncomfortable moments trudging through the snow, but they were mixed with feelings of pride that we were so close to completing a trip I wasn’t sure, at the outset, I could handle.”

“This was one of the most memorable things I’ve done. I’m grateful for my fellow Dece Scouts who were all extremely patient with my slower pace and inexperience with certain gear. I felt completely safe and supported the entire time. I think that’s what makes a great scout pack, and why I can’t wait for my next trip with Dece.”

Ultimately, Kyle would love for the scouts to start planning and taking part in their own trips—introducing more people to the joys of heading out at the weekend for a taste of adventure. After all, one of backpacking’s main attractions is its simple nature. Plus, it’s a great way to make your weekends feel that little bit longer.

“We’re essentially weekend warriors,” says Kyle, “unless it’s a long weekend, then we’re slightly longer weekend warriors [laughs]. We’ll wake up at 5 a.m. on Saturday morning, drive to the trailhead, then hike to our destination. Next morning, we just chill, enjoy breakfast, sip on some coffee, then make the hike back to the cars. It’s pretty straightforward—we just help each other to spend more quality time outdoors.”

Planning your first backpacking trip? See our guide.