We just returned from Philmont. Wow. It was a much bigger and better experience than I anticipated. Our 2 crews had a great time. This was my first trip to Philmont. Our guys benefited greatly from the info shared here at BPL.
The significance of Philmont is helping the transformation of boys to young men. That it happens in a landscape as beautiful as the Sangre de Cristo is incredible. Here I will focus on our crew's experience with lightweight gear in the Philmont backcountry.
My crew was on Trek 23 starting July 10. We used lightweight gear and skills. Our 6 crew members and 3 advisors were relatively comfortable on the trail and in camp.
Leaving basecamp our packs carried 3 quarts of water and 2 days of food. Pack weights ranged from 20 to 35 pounds. We had an advisor with even more but he is a really large fellow. This one dad carried a huge pack, over 5,000 cubic inches. I am still amazed at all the stuff he had in there.
Here are some of my observations and experiences for lighter gear at Philmont --
We began last fall encouraging all of our crew members to go light with backpacks, sleeping bags, and other personal gear. Most did. Some changes were as simple as replacing Nalgene bottles with a Platypus or Aquafina bottle. The biggest weight reductions were in crew gear.
6 guys from the 2 crews used the Gossamer Gear Mariposa Plus. My son's only complaint was that the hipbelt was uncomfortable when he had to carry 4 days of food and 4 liters of water on a long, warm day.
Several guys used packs that they already owned or had available. Even so no one had an outrageously heavy load. Almost all our guys carried packs in the range of 3,000-4,000 cubic inches capacity.
I used a ULA P-1 pack that I've had for several years. It's a great pack for me and comfortable to carry. I used a MLD 3/8" foam pad as a sit pad and pack frame. The greatest feature of my pack is the hipbelt pockets where I carried my map, compass, camera, sanitizer, sunscreen, and such. Another advisor with a ULA Circuit also had a positive experience.
We had guys using both down and synthetic sleeping bags. Several of the boys carried 2.5-3 pound 20 degree synthetic bags. 2 of the boys carried the REI Sub-Kilo down bag. We had 2 guys use 45 degree down bags with a fleece jacket and fleece pants.
My sleep system used a Western Mountaineering HighLite, a 35 degree, 18 oz. sleeping bag plus a BMW Cocoon UL 60 Hoody, fleece beanie, and liner gloves. I was plenty warm. Philmont stresses separate sleep clothes. For me that was army surplus Polartec silkweight underwear. It was too warm to use the long underwear on at least 3 nights. Overall my sleep system worked fine. The lowest temperature we encountered was around 42F at Mount Phillips Camp.
My pure luxury item was a Big Agnes Clearview Air Pad. It provided the best backcountry sleep I've ever had. I could comfortably sleep on my side on rough ground. Bliss. Even though it looks like a kiddie pool toy, I had no problems with puncture.
Most of our guys used a z-Lite pad. A couple of guys used Therm-a-rest ProLite 3 pads.
Our shelters were all Tarptents. Our crew used 1 Rainshadow 2 (slept 3), 2 Squall 2 (sleeping 2 and 1), a Squall (slept 2), and my solo shelter, a floorless Virga. The Tarptents worked fine through fair weather as well as wind, rain, and hail. My only refinement on the Virga would be more headroom but 18 ounces is hard to beat. Our other crew also used entirely Tarptents with no problems. We did not carry ground cloths for the floored tents.
We used a Campmor 10' x 12' silnylon tarp for our dining fly. The guy lines were 50' of triptease cord. The dining fly was our only damaged gear. On the last night the crew did not pitch the fly taut. A grommet was ripped out in the wind. It should be easily repaired.
All crew members used light footwear (light boots or trail runners). Only one preferred a sock and liner over a single light wool sock. We used Leukotape for blisters. One crew member had some foot issues. He had even more blisters on a previous trek. I wore Brooks Cascadia shoes and Smartwool Adrenaline mini-crew socks. I also wore Integral Designs eVent Shortie Gaiters. I had no blisters.
My standard hiking clothes worked just fine -- Tilley LT6 hat, RailRiders Adventure Shirt, Mountain Hardwear zip-off pants, and Patagonia briefs. The one thing I'd change on clothing would be to bring a second pair of underwear. Since we had so many opportunities for showers (5 of our 10 days on the trail) it would have made it easier to wash. In a lot of ways, Philmont is luxury backpacking. Our trek had access to abundant water and hot showers.
We had our own crew t-shirt printed. We found a synthetic t-shirt at Wal-Mart ($6). With a silkscreen for our own small logo the entire shirt was less than $10. Most of our boys wore the crew t-shirt and shorts as their hiking clothes.
All our crew members except me carried a Crazy Creek chair. With the opportunity to sit on a porch most evenings for advisor coffee, I never felt deprived not having a chair.
The largest weight savings were in the kitchen. We built around 2 MSR Windpro stoves for each crew. Each crew carried 6 227g (1/2 pound) canisters. There were plenty of canisters at the 2 trading posts we visited. I bought 2 extra canisters at Ute Gulch but we didn't use them.
We used turkey bags for cooking our hot dinners at Philmont. We heated water in two 2-quart GSI aluminum pots with lids.The boys would combine the supper's 5 x 2-man freeze dried meals in a bag. Usually they would reinforce the turkey bag with a Philmont meal bag. They learned to add about 60% of the recommended hot water to the meals. We never had a soupy dinner. Using the bag cooking we never cleaned pots except for one spilled meal and coffee. We were able to sanitize our bowls and spoons for each meal in the 2 quart pots. A crew will need larger pots or a third stove to make this approach work.
There's been some discussion about the need for sanitizing It's part of the routine taught by Philmont rangers. So, it's not worth fussing over. It helps to remember that teenagers may not be completely hygenic. So, it's cheap insurance for a gastric event.
We had a small issue with serving food from turkey bags. It's not easy to serve from a bag using a spoon. So, we started cutting off a corner and squeezing the bag like a pastry bag. The technique works well but it's hard for the boys to master. We did have an accident where dinner hit the dirt. We recovered OK but not every crew member was equally able to server food this way.
Most of our guys carried an Orikasa bowl and a generic Lexan spoon. This was ideal for our hot meals.
We carried a 1 foot square of fiberglass screen for our sump filter rather than the frisbee. We used a long handled plastic kitchen spoon for mixing.
At wash time, everyone would lick his bowl and spoon clean. Then we'd add 2 drops of Dr Bronners soap and a little hot water. There was no food mess. This approach also insured that every crew member got his hands clean once a day.
Our ranger had no issues with our approach. I was surprised that we were only the second crew he had encountered this year using bag cooking. It is fast and easy. There is almost no mess to clean.
The only Philmont issued gear that we carried were the bear bags and ropes. The Philmont system works fine even if it is a bit heavy. With our light packs the boys hardly noticed. We provided our own oops bag, a large nylon stuff sack, and a carabiner to attach to the bear bags. We made sure that each guy's stuff was in a ziploc bag or stuff sack rather than just tossed in the oops bag.
For cutting tape and food bags I used the scissors of a Leatherman Micra. That was shared with crew members. I don't think I ever used the knife. We did use the screwdriver to repair a pair of glasses.
We used the Philmont provided Micropur chlorine dioxide tablets for the few times that we needed to treat water. Most of the time we were able to get water at a staffed camp where chlorinated water is available. The best water we found was at Ute Springs. One of our advisors carried a Katadyn Hiker. I think he used it at Porupine where we were alongside Rayado Creek.
We enjoyed delicious coffee on the trail. Every morning we would make 3 or so pots of cowboy coffee in my SnowPeak Trek 900 pot. After boiling the water we'd move the pot to a cozy and add 3 heaping spoonfuls of coffee grounds. The coffee would steep for 3 to 5 minutes. We would filter by pouring it through an MSR coffee filter basket. Within days we had 5 coffee drinkers. We carried two 12 oz. bags of Starbucks coffee and had plenty for the trip. Coffee grounds can be discarded using a yum-yum bag (1 gallon ziploc).
Our crew navigator used a map and compass flawlessly never taking a wrong turn. I carried a Garmin Geko 301 GPS as a backup. We did not need it. I saw a few crews carrying large GPS units with map displays. These were overkill.
We didn't go quite as light as I was first inclined on our first aid kit. That was a wise choice. We carried some skin lubricant (lanolin creme for cycling) that worked well for chafing. We had a few things that thankfully were never used -- Epi-Pen, band-aids, non-stick dressings, and antibiotic ointment. Meds we carried included ibuprofen, naproxen sodium, acetaminophen, Immodium, Gaviscon, cortisone cream, Lamisil AT, and Benadryl. We could have used some simethicone for flatulence! The trail diet didn't agree with everyone. Since we split the kit between the crew medic and me weight was not an issue.
We also provided each boy with a baggie containing 8 or so band-aids, moleskin, and a 2 oz. bottle of sanitizer. We could have skipped the moleskin since everyone used tape for blisters.
Finally, there are obviously challenges on every Philmont trek. The crew learned to work together well by about the fourth day.
I somehow sprained my left ankle on the 9th trail day. A very helpful staff member at Abreu found some ice for me. With the ice, a compression bandage, and a handful of Aleve I returned to the trail pain-free the next morning. That simply wouldn't happen with a 50 pound pack.
I also learned to check your Scouts' packs again on the morning you leave basecamp. They may sneak some items back in that they will later regret. They also may make some questionable decisions about what to leave behind.
Our best guess is that the crew walked somewhere around 80 miles on our trek. We found ourselves in search of extra calories all the time. Our guys would hit the swap box at every staffed camp we entered. Most of our guys lost some weight. Our other crew on trek 4 had a different experience. Walking only 50 something miles they had more food than they could eat. Their crew was dumping extra food in the swap boxes.
We owe thanks to the great gear manufacturers that helped us out. Gossamer Gear, Tarptent, and ULA all provide deals for Boy Scouts.
I was quite surprised to see the very large, heavy packs carried by many crews at Philmont. Based on questions from some other advisors I think that many crews just aren't aware of ways to take weight out of their packs. Our experience is that lightweight gear doesn't have to be expensive. It does take planning, careful buying, and a lot of coaching for the Scouts. Philmont is a much bigger experience than I anticipated. Our crew found that we could carry a lot less weight than most and have a wonderful time.