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.
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.
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.
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.