After last year's shenanigans on Mount Kirabalo in Malaysia, when a group of soldiers lost themselves so completely it took the SAS weeks to locate them, you could be forgiven for thinking that the average army expedition could not find its way out of a paper bag. Not so. If you want to get from A to B, whether it's across an ice-bound peak in the Cairngorms or from one end of the playground to the other, the army can steer you in the right direction.
Expeditions, a free pack for schools, comes in a tough, uncompromising folder. The video is designed to whet people's appetites for adventurous pursuits in the great outdoors: mountain walking, canoeing and suchlike (though how many schools could realistically contemplate a ski-diving jaunt is questionable). The emphasis is on good teamwork working together to achieve a group aim and safety.
The teachers' guides don't shilly shally in this respect: "because the risks were under-estimated, many fatalities have occurred . . . in areas that appeared comparatively safe". The pack's repetitive insistence on planning, training and safety precautions is its strongest point.
The pupils' activity section takes students through the rudiments of locating certain points on a hand-drawn map (which can be done in a classroom or gym), through basic orienteering, to planning and undertaking an expedition in a hazardous environment. This is definitely not a teach-yourself-to-be-an-explorer guide.
There are several Ordnance Survey maps of a section of Dartmoor which are used in all the preliminary exercises on orienteering, map-reading and compass skills. While the map-reading is straightforward enough, I, for one, became hopelessly lost trying to get my bearings using a compass. A teacher who can separate magnetic North from grid North is essential here.
The maps are colourful with large, clear legends but they will not survive heavy-duty class use.
If you can't get your bearings thus far in the pack, then you are not going to be doing that little canoeing trip down the Zambezi, which is a great shame because it is in its latter stages that Expeditions really comes into its own. From what to consider in choosing and setting up a base camp, and what to pack in your rucksack, it takes you through daily routines who gets to count the tent poles to safety, kit, and the critical question of leadership.
The leader not only needs to know how to strap up a sprained ankle and where to go for help in an emergency, but also to make sure that people are enjoying themselves. Although expeditions are supposed to be more challenging than a walk in the park, they are not supposed to be so tough you wish you weren't there. So hints are given on pastoral care and how to involve those who look left out.
The last item in Expeditions is the personal record of achievement, or diary. This is designed to be a permanent record of new skills learnt and progress achieved. The goal is not the end itself and whether or not you finished, but self-recognition and personal development. Which sums up the entire contents rather well.
Expeditions forms part of the Army's Teamwork programme, which in addition includes a Maths Pack, Map Pack and History Pack. All free from the above address.