Don, I understand your concern and have the same thoughts go through my mind every month when I take the boys out.
My approach is to train them on how to stay out of situations that will get them in trouble. If they have their essentials, they won't need a large knife (though at least 1 scout still brings his 1 lb SAN with 200 blades and things). If they follow what I've laid out they will be able to survive without bringing the kitchen sink.
I can make a point or bring up an example of why someone should bring a plethora of heavy items. But I’ve also seen someone survive in the woods without anything but the clothes on his back- he made a knife out of a chipped rock and skinned a rabbit with it faster then I could with my Buck knife (knowledge over material things), made a large fire, built a shelter and slept on warmed rocks, again with only the clothes on his back. Knowledge and training were the key.
>They are learning, but not yet to the point where they can function independently in difficult circumstances. And although they (and I) carry a lightweight, basic set of emergency essentials, it still falls to me, in the end, to be responsible for them. I go as light as I can, but I still carry basic, multipurpose tools for this reason<
All of my scouts have internal frame packs. To repair these we have needed a small sewing kit (0.3 oz) and Duct tape (part of their hiking essentials). We use canister stoves and alcohol stoves, if one isn’t working the other will (I’ve found the best tool to repair a pocket rocket is a SAN classic). I just do not see the need for a heavy knife or a multi-tool (if I carry a complete essentials kit).
> Kind of like explaining to a mother why her lost son can't be found - because he was doing as he was taught: when lost just keep walking, it can't be more than 20 miles cross country to a highway<
Standard operating procedure for what to do when lost is STAY PUT. This is the first and last thing taught! The above was only a demonstration to the boys that they aren’t far, less then a days walk from anywhere. This is if someone got hurt and they were sent for help, help was always close by! This is for when they are older and out on their own, they would know what to do. In my troop we use the buddy system and it works to keep a single boy from wondering off.
>But the stakes are different when you are responsible for a group of young men<
I find that the Parents are a bigger liability then the boys. I think the key here is to match the activity to the boys. If they are not able to properly deal with what might come up on an outing then we do a simpler outing.
Your training is far more important then that of the boys. And I’m not talking about just Woodbadge or Outdoor Leadership Skills or Scoutmaster Specific Training. Learn from others who have been there, done that, kind of training. Demand this kind of stuff from your roundtable meetings- search out other organizations, its there.
Man, what a ramble…. I had better wrap this up, I have to go and teach the Family Life merit badge at tonights meeting.
I’m going with just my SAN classic in my pocket... chuckle!