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Philmont Trek Experience
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Wesley Witt

Locale: Northwest
Philmont Trek Experience on 08/19/2009 23:27:32 MDT Print View

I just returned from our Philmont trek and thought I would pass on some notes and observations from our trek.

We hiked trek #27, which is booked at 85 miles. My GPS shows that we did more like 95 miles with all the extra walking. Our trek took us through the South, North and the Valle Vidal (off Philmont property).


We used the turkey bag cooking method. We brought two homemade cozies for holding the turkey bags and in 10 days of cooking we never had to clean a single pot. I cannot recommend this cooking method enough! We used 2 Snow Peak remote canister stoves for boiling water. Our dinners took about 20 minutes to prepare each night, with virtually no cleanup required. We met other crews that used white gas stoves and their cooking times we a lot more and they also had many hassles fussing with their stoves. We never experienced any of those frustrations.

Philmont Food

This is by far the weakest part of the trip. The food provided at Philmont is really horrible. I would NEVER take a single food item that they provide on any of my backpacking trips. The food has many problems:

1) The nutrition is insufficient. The food items are too low in calories and too high in salt/sodium.

2) The waste products is way too high. All of the meals produce way too much garbage. The packaging must be improved.

3) The taste of the food items is unacceptable. Many of the food items can easily be classified as "junk food" and have no place on a backpacking trip. The dinners are all freeze dried foods that taste like a chalky paste. You really have to choke it down as the food tastes horrible.

4) The pack volume required for the food is too demanding. When we received our food drop for a 4 day period I could not believe how huge the pile of food was. The volume was larger than what I took on an 8 day trek that I took on the JMT 2 years ago. My pack was totally consumed with the food.

Also the base camp food was no better. The food at the base camp cafeteria was poorly prepared, tasted horrible and was insufficient in quantity. You are not allowed to go back for seconds. Our boys were hungry after being fed. After returning to base camp after our trek we could not bear to eat at the cafeteria again so we drove into Cimarron and ate in town.

Crew Gear

Our preparation for Philmont included acquiring all the necessary crew gear long before our trek. In fact we used our own crew gear on all our training hikes so that the everyone was familiar with using the gear. When we checked in at Philmont we refused all crew gear except the bear bags and ropes. The people at Philmont could not believe that a crew would show up so completely prepared. After seeing the Philmont gear I was so happy that we brought our own gear. The cooking pots we unbelievably huge and heavy. The dining fly and poles were monstrous and unacceptably heavy. We even denied taking the Philmont Frisbee.

Pack Weight

Our crew had, on average, pack weights in the low 20's. I know that for most on the BPL forums this is considered heavy, but for a Scout crew this is amazingly light. Nearly everyone that I met on the trail was carrying a pack weight that was 45 to 55 pounds. Having a light pack enabled our crew to literally fly past the crews that we met on the trail. As we were climbing up Schaefer’s Peak, which is fairly steep and at an elevation of about 9000 feet, we passed another crew climbing the peak and we passed them like they were standing still. Our climb up Baldy Mountain took 2 hours and 10 minutes. We passed many crews on the climb that ended up taking 5 hours to do the same hike. Our speed and agility came from much lighter packs and better physical conditioning. One thing I learned at Philmont is that my crew is very fortunate to live at the base of the Cascades, Olympics and Mt. Rainier. We have the opportunity to hike some amazing trails that most people don't have. I met crews from Florida that had to train by climbing high rise buildings! This lack of good hiking trails and mountains for most people means that they show up at Philmont without much hiking experience and lacking the proper physical conditioning. For many people the experience provided at Philmont will be the pinnacle of their high adventure program, so I am happy that the BSA provided this opportunity to the Scouting community. I highly recommend that all crews attending Philmont go light weight. Educate yourselves about ultra light packing and reduce your pack weight. I also recommend that all crews create a full training program so that you are in proper physical condition. Our training program started in January and we hiked nearly as many miles as we did at Philmont. Hike often and hike far!

Back Country Activities

The Philmont program activities are really amazing. The back country staff does an incredible job providing a very diverse and engaging program. The activities really provided an incentive for the boys each day. We had a reason to get up early and get to camp before lunch each day so that we could enjoy the day's activities. When selecting your trek it is best to make your selection based on the activities.

david richardson
(drichi) - MLife

Locale: midwest
cozy's on 08/20/2009 13:41:09 MDT Print View

I would be interested in a description or possibly a picture if you can of the cozy's that you used to hold turkey bags. We have used another pot to hold them in the past with a cozy on the pot. thanks dave

Frank Renfroe
(frenfroe) - F
Trek thoughts on 08/20/2009 16:49:56 MDT Print View


I agree with you on pretty much everything. We had a much less difficult trek than you, thank goodness, because I could never convence our SM to make any attempt at lightening crew gear or requiring the boys to cut their weight. He refused to use our troop tents (about 6 - 6.5lbs) and chose to use the philtents. They had to weigh 10 lbs and took 14 stakes to sent up right. We used Coleman stoves....try lugging them around. Etc, etc, etc.

Factor in 3 boys under 100lbs and you can imagine why our packs weighed 45lbs and up with 2 l water starting the trail.

I got along fine with breakfasts, nobody EVER ate a Larabar or Crowbar after the first morning, but did we bust the bags and leave them in the swap box? Of course not!

The lunches were actually pretty good.

Dinners were terrible. Clear case of low bidder wins. After about 5 days I couldn't eat annother bite of the garbage.

The base camp meals were designed to make you hungry so you could/would eat the trail food. Returning to base camp we hit the snack bar never considering eating the remaining lunch we had or the mess hall. Never have I enjoyed a convienence store buritto as much as that one!

Don't know about the nutrition. I only lost 2 lbs and didn't come close to eating my share of each meal. I lost some inches though. I had a good training program and lost from 185+ down to about 165lb before the trip which probably helped a bunch.

The programs were great.

Would I go back? Never under the same circumstances....with different food and serious conderation to going light...I'd love to do it again.

George Geist
(geist) - M

Locale: Smoky Mountains
Re: Philmont Trek Experience on 08/20/2009 21:23:19 MDT Print View

Our crew was also caught by surprise by the volume that the four days of Philmont food took up in our packs. I dropped a picture on the Philmont Cooking Systems forum if folks are curious to see the volume and number of food packages. It is huge.

A good rule of thumb for Philmont food packages is that
supper packages weigh about 1 lb. Breakfast is a little lighter and lunch is a little heavier such that a breakfast and lunch package together weigh about 2 lb. But also remember that each package serves 2 crew members.
Four days of food is 2 breakfast packages, 2 lunch packages, and 2 supper packages.

So a consideration in going light is the weight of the Philmont food. The four days of their food plus 2 liters of water weighed 10 lb by itself in my pack at base camp. Add in a share of crew gear weight (say 2 lb) on top of that and our packs had 12 lb in them before adding in the weight of the tent, backpack, sleeping bag, cloths, pad...

Edited by geist on 08/26/2009 22:17:22 MDT.

Wesley Witt

Locale: Northwest
Re: cozy's on 08/21/2009 10:41:25 MDT Print View

Here is a photo of the cozies. I used Insul-Bright material based on Sara Kirkonnel's recommendation.


david richardson
(drichi) - MLife

Locale: midwest
cozy's on 08/21/2009 11:34:48 MDT Print View

thanks for the picture. Will they set up with a turkey bag and food in them or did you have to lean them against a rock, log or something? dave

david richardson
(drichi) - MLife

Locale: midwest
cozy's on 08/21/2009 11:51:10 MDT Print View

I would be interested in any dimensions that you could post also. sorry to be a pain. dave

Wesley Witt

Locale: Northwest
Re: cozy's on 08/21/2009 12:27:16 MDT Print View

I'll measure them this weekend and post the dimensions for you. To answer your other question, yes they stand up with a turkey bag full of food.

The thing I really like about this is that it is a brain dead easy way to prepare a meal for a large group and there is zero clean up. All you do is throw away the dirty turkey bag.

david richardson
(drichi) - MLife

Locale: midwest
cozy's on 08/21/2009 14:36:50 MDT Print View

That would be great. I know what you mean about using the turkey bags. In the past we have used our own pots with reflectex cosy's on the pots and turkey bags in the 8 qt and crock pot bags in the 4 qt. I am looking to possibly eliminate at least one pot. dave

david richardson
(drichi) - MLife

Locale: midwest
cozy size on 09/01/2009 14:58:07 MDT Print View

Wesley, did you ever get time to measure the size of the cozy. I am interested in how you made the bottom. dave

Glenn Smith

Locale: Southern Arizona
Re: cozy size on 09/02/2009 06:34:21 MDT Print View

We used some food grade cool shield bubble wrap pouches that we received as samples from Uline. Check out We had two - one for the main entree (if you can call it that) and one for the veggie. Most of the time we only used one. We used a Jetboil Helios with a 2L & 3L pot. Our other crew just took the 2L pot. They worked great. We then placed our turkey bags in the cozy (bubble wrap pouch).

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Re: cozy size on 09/02/2009 19:28:12 MDT Print View

Wesley, you did a good job with your jumbo sized cozies - and yes, Insul Bright is what we use in the cozies we make/sell. It is washable, breathable, light, insulates great and most of all is flexible so it packs small :-)

Scott Bentz
(scottbentz) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Turkey Bags on 09/03/2009 18:38:27 MDT Print View

I just got back from my JMT hike so I wasn't up on this report. Nice job at getting a Phimont crew to lighten up. It made all the difference in our trip.

Turkey bags: so, all the food gets pooled and put in the turkey bag. The water gets boiled, put in the bag, and then "cooks" in a cozy. Nice. Now, how do you evenly distribute the food to each hiker? Do you rip a hole in the corner and squeeze it out bakery style? What do the kids eat out of? Whatever they eat out of has be be cleaned no matter what (self sumping I presume).

We did not use turkey bags. We had each kid split their food in their own cups and the add boiling water. No dirty turkey bag to lug around, although, at Philmont it's pretty easy to get rid of trash. I would not want to have a dirty bag to lug around for the last 7 days of my JMT hike for example. That's why we didn't turkey bag. Just a wonderin'.

Glenn Smith

Locale: Southern Arizona
Re: Turkey Bags on 09/03/2009 20:31:43 MDT Print View

Carried one MSR plastic folding spoon for the crew which was used to spoon the food into lightweight GSI bowls. Also used to measure boiling water. Bowls had holes in them so a golf bag hook on a piece of triptease line could be used to sterilize the bowl in Helios pot. Worked very well. Lightweight too. Easily disposed of trash at the staff camps.

Wesley Witt

Locale: Northwest
Cozy Information on 02/26/2011 11:09:02 MST Print View

Several people have asked for some more details about the cozy, so here you go.

The cozy is made from Insul-Bright and ripstop nylon. The inside material is Insul-Bright with the outside being the nylon (see photo below).

The cozy is made like a giant envelope with the back larger than the front so that you have a flap that wraps over the front to seal in the heat. I used some velcro to fasten the flap down when in use. The bottom is slightly bunched up so that it can kind of stand up. The way we sized it was to take a turkey bag and inflate it with air to simulate one that it full of food. The cozy was then made to fit the full turkey bag.

The dimensions are as follows:

FRONT: 17" wide and 15" tall
BACK: 17" wide and 17" tall

Hope this helps,


Ray Spagnuolo
(Ray_S) - F
Trek 27 Info on 03/17/2011 11:34:21 MDT Print View

Hi Wes,

When I did a goggle search about Philmont Trek 27 this thread popped up. We were at Philmont about the same time as your crew in 2009 on Trek 24.

We are returning this year and are about to do the trek selection this Sunday. The crew leader has asked the other youth to pick their top 5 choices and then they will discuss, rank and vote. So far #27 is high on the list. Our crew leader was there in 2009 so he is very comfortable with Philmont practices & terrain. The other 10 participants have never been there before. Their experience ranges from limited to very experienced. Based on our hikes and shakedowns so far our crew leader thinks the crew would be up to handling #27 but I was hoping to get a little beta to help them in their selection. If you could PM me, I have just a few questions that I think you could help with.

My biggest concern is how understated is the mileage/elevation chart. On trek 24 we had a 12.5 mile day that turned out to be 18. Baldy Skyline to Devils Wash Basin. We handled it ok but would have started much earlier to account for the distance. Philmont has since modified the trek to start that leg at Santa Claus, which I had suggested on our return. The mileage was quoted to be 73, my GPS tracks after editing for GPS bounce showed closer to 92.

My objective is to make sure they know what they getting into (with proper limits, the crew leader & I already agreed Super Strenuous treks are not be considered) and to make sure they are properly trained and conditioned for the trip.

Any insight you can provide would be appreciated.

Edited by Ray_S on 03/17/2011 19:19:37 MDT.

K. S.
(bwalt822) - F
Philmont Food on 03/17/2011 15:47:19 MDT Print View

Huh, I went in 2000 and 2004 or 2005. I remember the freeze dried food being pretty bad in 2000 and then great in 2004 or 2005. I even ordered some after the season a few times before I learned how to make better meals. It probably helps to not get a negative attitude about the food and create self fulfilling prophecies. Eat a good meal for the first two days (teriyaki chicken) then the not so good ones (beans and rice) will be better.

Walter Underwood
(wunder) - M

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Jazzing up Philmont food on 05/27/2011 23:20:31 MDT Print View

I brought a good selection of prebagged spice portions (see: and our cooks used a lot of them. We also picked up spare food from the swap boxes. You can add the corn to almost any meal. Adding refried beans to the mac and cheese was surprisingly tasty. One evening, our crew of ten 14-16 year olds ate 18 dinner portions.

Some packets of Tony Chachere's Cajun seasoning help, too, though those add more salt.

I disagree about the salt content. I've been sodium-short in hot weather and it isn't a good thing.

I liked the Larabars -- they are almost the only real, non-processed food on the trek. They are also one of the main sources of fiber, so expect some constipation issues if crewmembers usually skip those.

We really liked the two-person packaging for breakfast and lunch. We carried food as "food buddies", so for those meals, it was "find your buddy, eat". Really efficient.

I agree that base camp food is yet another reason to hit the trail. Sigh.

Buy some of the surplus Philfood for your shakedowns. You'll be ready for the bulk and for compressing the trash.

2010 Trek 624-X, Itinerary 4

Edited by wunder on 05/27/2011 23:23:29 MDT.