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Philmont gear selection..
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Mark Verber
(verber) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re:Tents versus tarps w/ bears: where's the research on 04/30/2006 18:46:06 MDT Print View

Hi Shawn:

You stated that:

Nearly 50 years of research has shown that campers out in the open or under a simple tarp are more than 3 times as likely to be attacked be grizzlies and more than twice as likely by black bears than campers in enclosed tents.

I have heard simular sorts of statements, but whenever I have asked for more details I get a "well.. I didn't see the research, but John's friend Sam did. I have never been able to find someone who has actually seen this research. Reminded me a bit of a number of myths I have come across at one time or another.

Can you point me to any good, hard for core research papers which have both the data and a description of the research methodology? I have looked for this sort of information before, but couldn't find it in the places I would expect like


Shawn Basil
(Bearpaw) - F

Locale: Southeast
Re: Re:Tents versus tarps w/ bears: where's the research on 04/30/2006 19:46:43 MDT Print View

You could make a request directly to the National Outdoor Leadership School at This is my source of information through which I was then told you WILL camp in tents in the backcountry in the Absarokas. You could also do what the school has done - sit down with information from bear research organizations which have compiled the info for years. Bear attacks get reported - they tend to be very high profile. So there is a great deal of information available in most cases, at least if the victim was part of a group or was a solo hiker who survived to tell what happened. There ARE certain lessons learned: Groups of 4 tend to be attacked much less frequently than smaller groups or solo hikers; campers in tents are much less likely to be attacked than campers in the open; black bears tend to eat those they kill while grizzlies do not. There's not a great deal of "why's" given, but the tendencies are notable. It doesn't stop me from hiking solo in grizzlie country or always using a tent in black bear country (I usually use a tarp in the Smokies), but it's decent info to base institutional risk management decisions on. I DO agree with the earlier poster who said bear attack on sleepers is not a big deal in most areas, but historically MANY of the bear attacks at Philmont HAVE occurred at night, usually with scouts who did something foolish like wear deodorant to bed or brought snacks into their tent. As I said in the original post, all bets are off if you're being a chowderhead.

Vick Hines
(vickrhines) - F

Locale: Central Texas
Re: bears on 04/30/2006 20:40:58 MDT Print View

Does this remind us of the argument that a tent will keep snakes form crawling into the sleeping bag with you?

cary bertoncini
(cbert) - F

Locale: N. California
bears & tents on 04/30/2006 23:53:01 MDT Print View

maybe the tent is for the bear like a convertible jeep is for lions

in africa, as long as people are sitting in the jeep, lions never attack and pretty much ignore you - step on foot on the ground though and they suddenly start looking

maybe being "the man behind the curtain" in a tent is similar for bears?

Shawn Basil
(Bearpaw) - F

Locale: Southeast
Re: bears & tents on 05/01/2006 06:40:48 MDT Print View

I don't know the "why" of how this phenomenon works. I just know that it is born out by a lot of empirical data. I've only had three encounters with Grizzlie bears, but I've had run-ins with black bears on more like 3 dozen occasions. Only four of those situations were in camp and 3 of those four were in tents (one was at Philmont while I was a ranger by the way) - none of those resulted in any injury except to a pack which a scout had left a koolaid-filled water bottle in a side pocket. I don't think it's likely that bear is going to seek out a person in the open or in a tent if they are careful with their smellables. This is why I'm willing to tarp in bear country. But I don't think it's unreasonable for an institution which is responsible for thousands of young people to make a policy saying "Use a tent instead of a tarp." NOLS does it in many of its branches due to bears. So does Philmont. I agree that ultimately it's a matter of liability more than absolute danger. But that doesn't make it a bad idea when bear attacks have occurred at Philmont in the past.

One side note on a bear attack that happened 3 years ago on a NOLS course. On a river course in Utah, a student who kept his hair in salty dreadlocks was bitten on the head while sleeping out in the open. When the press contacted him and NOLS about the incident, they wanted to have him on the air until they found out this was a small black bear in the Utah desert weighing maybe 100 pounds. I guess a 100-pound bear biting a 200-pound make on the scalp wasn't dramatic enough. Would the bear have been deterred by a tent wall? I don't know. If you bring food smells into your tent, you just never know.

Mark Verber
(verber) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Re: bears & tents on 05/02/2006 10:47:27 MDT Print View

I took Shawn's suggestion and contacted the NOLS research department. They have never published anything on tents -vs- tarps because their data is "weak". They have 2-3 million successful user days & nights of camping in bear country with a single bear attack (which Shawn described above). So the data represents a "null" set. It shows "correlation", but no causation. Another correlation (and I would argue a much better better canidate for causation) would be proper handling of odors which the bear would find attractive.

The folks from NOLS suggested checking out the research of Tom Smith (see and Stephen Herrero

There is a nice summary of their findings at

Their research (at least that is easily accessable on the web) has no data about tents -vs- tarps, or any indication that tarp use is statistically riskier than using a tent.

What was really clear from their research was:

1) Odor / food management is a huge factor.
2) Avoiding surprising grizzly bears
3) Black bears (in Canada and Alaska) are much more likely to hunt humans as food! This is exactly the opposite of what I expected.
4) Groups are safer than solo. Number of attacks -vs- size of group drops significant with each additional person until the group size is 5 (or larger) where the number of attacks becomes flat.

Reportedly, most of Herrero research result are discussed in a practical form in the 2002 book "Bear attacks: Their causes and avoidance". I haven't taken a look at this book yet. I will update this thread with whatever I find in the book.

Edited by verber on 05/02/2006 11:12:41 MDT.

kevin davidson
(kdesign) - F

Locale: Mythical State of Jefferson
Bears 'n tents on 05/02/2006 11:31:06 MDT Print View

Thanks, Mark, for the research.

Mark Verber
(verber) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Bears 'n tents on 05/03/2006 15:04:14 MDT Print View

The index of "Bear Attacks" by Stephen Herrero has two pages under the words "tent, value of"

The first entry (pg 48) discusses an attack of a couple sleeping under the stars. The grizzly was a habitual feeder due to poor food disposal at a chalet and had learned it is ok to approach people sometimes. The couple has some candy in a pack near the sleeping bags. Stephen belieces the attack was opportunistic feeding. Stephen notes that a tent might have prevent this encourage. He notes that his research identified 4-6 others encounters which might have turned out differently if people had been using tents.

The second section about tents (pg 125) is in a section about avoiding encounters. In this section Stephen says

"My data strongly suggest that people without tents were more likely to be injured, even killed, than were people who slept in tents. He also noted it is best to have a tent which lets you stay 1-2 feet from the walls, so if a curious or garbage adicted bear crawls the tent to see what's inside that you would get hit.

I would note a number of things:

(1) The sample size is tiny... which isn't suprising given the small number of attacks.

(2) Most of the incidences seem to be sleeping under the stars rather than under a tarp. It's not clear to me the relative protection of different shelter types.

(3) Most of the incidents, the issue of the tent providing additional protection seems to be secondary... e.g. being in the wrong locations or poor management of food / odors / etc seem to be a much more significant risk factor.


Tarp poles on 05/16/2006 10:01:47 MDT Print View

How did you velcro the poles together? I tried it this past weekend with velcro straps without much success.

Tony Burnett
(tlbj6142) - F

Locale: OH--IO
Re: Tarp poles on 05/16/2006 11:25:48 MDT Print View

You need 3 adjustable straps. 1 to loop between the straps of both poles, and two more to lash around the "joint" to keep it stiff.

Here's a picture...

Obviously, Oware sells the 3 straps.

Edited by tlbj6142 on 05/16/2006 11:26:49 MDT.

was doing ultra-lite at Philmont in 85 on 05/25/2006 20:45:48 MDT Print View

I just saw this string of posts and saw "Philmont" and that immediately caught my eye. Some of the comments in some of the posts did not ring with my own eighties era Philmont experiences, however.

I was a camper at Philmont...I did the old one month long "Trail Crew" program followed within two days by the famous Philmont "Rayado Trek" back in 85' at age 16. Man that was a great experience. Absolutely the best backpacking experience. I know they still have the Rayado Trek program...that is Philmont's flagship or NOLS-like program. The Trail Crew program, I have sort of lost touch with what goes on at Philmont and I'm not sure if that program still exists. I never went to Philmont as a "regular" camper, with a council contingent.

The following summer, in 86' I returned to work in base camp before I had even graduated from high school. I was formally accepted to be a Philmont Ranger for the summer season of 91, but canceled my Phil-contract at the very last moment (I curse myself to this day for cancelling that Ranger contract).

I am no longer in the Boy Scout organisation and havent been to Philmont since 86, so I havent kept up with all the changes that have occurred.

Anyway, I read here that Philmont doesnt allow tarps anymore? When I was on both Trail crew and Rayado Trek, we took nylon tarps to cut the weight down so we could go "lighter and faster" way back in the mid eighties. On my days off during the summer of 86, I mostly went backpacking for three days at a time and NEVER took a tent...only a tarp. Sometimes I would go to Taos on days off, but mostly went backpacking and logged 20-30 mile days.

I remember once, on one of those three days off in 86, this other base camp guy and myself did that "Ranger marathon." Fifty miles in one day...from the north end of Philmont all the way to the South end. We went "ultra-lite" for that and basically jogged or walked super fast for the entire 50 miles, constantly eating and drinking water. We could have gone on for another 10 or 20 miles if we had had to, thats how good of shape I was back then at age 16-18.

Now, if I even attempted that, Id probably have a heart attack. LOL

I remember on my Rayado Trek (dont worry I wont divulge any Rayado secrets), I spent one night all by myself in bear country, under an Army poncho I had strung up as a tarp shelter.

For Rayado Trek, I had to sign a waiver releasing Philmont from any responsibility and the program was openly admitted to be "very strenuous and even potentially dangerous."

We were doing "ultra-light" at Philmont way back in 85!

Maybe regular campers werent allowed to use tarps, but I know on the Rayado Trek and during the ten day backpacking section of the Trail Crew program, we were TOLD we would be carrying nylon tarps, supplemented of course by the now all but defunct simple Army poncho.

As far as bear attacks at Philmont when I was there in 85 and 86, I cant remember if there were any bear attacks in 85. I was in the backcountry almost that entire summer and was out of the Philmont newsloop.

The following summer however, (86), there were several bear attacks at Philmont that were highly publicized in the national media. I know so because my family would call me and tell me "they had heard on TV that some Scouts had been attacked by bears at Philmont!" We were briefed on these bear attacks in base camp and I served one these bear attack survivors in the chow line at the Philmont mess hall.

What we were told was that one of the kids attacked by a bear the summer of 86, had been playing with spray anti-perspirant that night. And of course bears love anything "smellable" and the bear mauled him that night wandering thru camp.

I never wore deodorant of any kind while at Philmont, despite the extremely intense backpacking I did back then. Didnt need anti-perspirant there, due to the extremely low humidity and I have dry skin and hair. I didnt use scented soap, shampoo or any kind of anti-perspirant or deodorant. Neither did any of my Philmont Rayado Trek or Trail Crew buddies.

We never had any major problems with bears.

I do agree with many of the posters in this string about one thing though. The BSA is conservative...and I suspect has become even more liability conscious in the last decade or so. I really dont know what goes on at Philmont anymore...if they have banned tarps for bear reasons or whatever, I think thats a shame.

Enjoyed reading the Philmont posts, even though I hate to hear that Philmont has become so extremely liability paranoid. Insurance companies are screwing up this country.



Re: Philmont gear selection.. on 05/27/2006 17:03:44 MDT Print View

>Switching gears a bit, I didn't netting >mentioned. Are bugs not much of an issue >at Philmont?

In my two summers at Philmont back in the mid-eighties (Rayado Trek, Trail Crew and base camp staff), I dont ever remember mosquitos being a problem. I dont think I ever used insect repellant, not once.

Its so dry there, I dont see how mosquitos could thrive and live.


Re: heavy packs and the John Wayne mentality on 05/27/2006 17:23:37 MDT Print View

>The other strange thing is to watch >people lining up to leave and they >weigh their packs and they are so proud >when they weigh 50 or 60 or even 70+ >pounds. These things are monsters to >look at. I would never put one on my >back otherwise I would be one of the >"cripples" in my article. Our group >passed about every other group on the >trail because we were so light & could >hike so fast (efficiently as a team). >Some people on the trail with those big >packs looked like they were going to >have a heart attack in any minute.


Oh man, this brings back memories. When I was at Philmont in the mid-eighties, I remember thinking it was "cool" to have my pack (Lowe Alpine system internal frame) as heavy as possible. Yet my Rangers and Trail Crew Foreman were always on us to "keep it light as possible." The Rayado Trek Rangers and Trail Crew Foreman were experienced backpackers and even back then, they liked to go "light and fast" although they didnt have cool, catchy slogans like that back then.

I remember when I was in the Trail Crew program, we had to go on these food runs from our campsite near the trail we were working on to Cypher's mine...about two miles away. Every other day we made a "food run" where we would hike with unloaded packs to Cypher's mine, hike back into the cool, dark mineshaft where our fresh food was deposited (safe from bears BTW), load the food into our packs and haul back to camp. The trip back was carrying monstrous loads of up to 70-80 lbs, on a rocky trail. At an altitude of around 8,000 feet. It was tough. I definitely wouldnt have wanted to backpack all over Philmont with a load like that.

But doing that for shorter distances every couple days...2-3 made a man out of ya. <grin> I KNOW that was actually good for that age of course.

Philmont cuts the age off at 21 for the Rayado Trek program for a good reason. Philmont doesnt want "old" Scouters in their thirties and forties having heart attacks while attempting to keep up with young guys doing 25-40 miles a day at altitude for two straight weeks.

I remember getting off the airplane near sea level after having been through six weeks of strenous backpacking at altitude at Philmont. Felt like a physical superman for a few days, all that extra oxygen back on the east coast at a lower altitude.



Re: Boots versus "trail shoes" on 05/27/2006 18:22:07 MDT Print View

>After 4 Treks our unit recommends boots >with a substantial sole. We have had >numerous trekkers with rock bruises from >some of the trails. Makes for a very >uncomfortable trip. The usual OTC pain >relievers don't do much for this >condition.

I wholeheartedly agree with this statement. Philmont is rough terrain. Even if you keep your pack weight truly light, such as 25-30 lbs, boots are IMO still necessary. I definitely do not believe that old fashioned, heavy Vasque -style "wafflestompers" are necessary for Philmont, but for most people I believe it is poor advice to tell them they can go with just trail sneakers or shoes.

I am sure there are a few people who could get by with trail sneakers for backpacking, but generally its poor advice even for ultra-light backpacking. There are plenty of lightweight boots on the dont have to choose a heavy boot that weighs four pounds, but you should wear boots.

I remember years and years ago when I first started out in Scouts as a boy, we had some Scoutmaster tell us "we could go backpacking in running shoes." I tried this and my feet were wiped out. Trail shoes...running shoes...whatever they provide absolutely no real support of any type and are for primarily trail running, "knocking around" camp and non hardcore backpacking usage such as day hiking.

Philmont is hardcore backpacking. Boots are necessary.


Re: Re: Boots versus "trail shoes" on 05/27/2006 18:58:41 MDT Print View

>Boots are necessary.<

I really don't agree with this statement. It depends on the person. Some people need them and some don't. Conditioning has alot to do with it.

I spent four years as a Marine Infantryman. We regularly did hikes ranging anywhere from 3 to 25 miles. Pack and gear usually added up to 60-80 lbs depending on your weapon (and sometimes well over 100 when carring the gear of someone who had fallen behind.

My footwear of choice was the infamous "jungle boot" which offers no support of any kind, but are light and more breathable than combat boots. The only problem I ever had was a stress fracture from carring too much weight. Never rolled an ankle, got blisters etc.

Now I fractured my foot early on in my enlistment because I was not properly conditioned. Once I got used to it there were no problems whatsoever.

I don't see the boots a nescessary, I see the need for proper planning and preparations as nescessary. Strengthening the body is good for you.


p.s. Sorry if this comes off kinda rude, its not meant to be :-)

Vick Hines
(vickrhines) - F

Locale: Central Texas
Re: Re: Boots versus "trail shoes" on 05/28/2006 15:13:56 MDT Print View

I led wilderness backpacking trips with young people for nearly 10 years. These were hikes considerably more difficult than the norm at Philmont. During that time, we went from recommending boots to advocating light trail shoes or athletic shoes. We found that boots caused more injuries than lighter footwear. The kids did better in shoes that were more like what they wore every day. In the Big Bend National Park, we recommended ankle-high orange work boots since they were the closest thing to tennis shoes and the cactus and lechuguilla out there made the protection provided by leather necessary.

Stephen Randolph
(steverandolph) - F
tarps and tents on 05/31/2006 15:23:30 MDT Print View

Background: Philmont as a youth (69/71) with cnavas open bottom tents with plastic sheet ground cloths; Philmont '04 and going back in '07.

Philmont currently states the reason for tents vice tarps are due to Hantavirus from rodents; I didn't realize open bottom tents such as the ones noted by Dave were approved; will have to rethink for '07!

As far as crew tarp for cooking; we used a Campmor ultralight silnylon 10x12 tarp... four hiking poles (two front corners and side middle points), then dropped the back half to gground (lean-to) towards the prevailing direction of the everpresent afternoon/evening thunderstorm. Worked great... was able to get entire crew (8 boys/4 adults) under when needed. Usually youth were in their own tents. Only had one dinner cooking/eating during rain.

Philmont is very risk adverse; crews are required to camp in specific spots; usually 2-4 crews in common area (except for 2-3 "trail" camps where you were probably alone). Almost all the bear incidents were from not following the rules established by Philmont (food in tents). In 2004, they dropped the requirement to have sleeping clothes; though was still recommended.

Outstanding review; works well with Cooper Wright's Philmont Leaders Guide. if Philmont would let me take my Hennessy Hammock and Jack-R-Better quilts... ::grin::

paul johnson
(pj) - F

Locale: LazyBoy in my Den - miss the forest
Re: tarps and tents on 06/01/2006 03:08:24 MDT Print View

Hantavirus and tarps??? Airborne infection is possible - rodents are the vector; their droppings (saliva, also???) are a problem.

So, i'm guessing that they must be thinking that either the increased airflow of a tarp vs. a tent can be a contributing factor, or the relative easy accessiblilty of a tarp vs. a tent might encourage any nocturnal rodents to have a "look-see" for food. The second seems more likely, but neither is a very compelling argument. A tent isn't much of a barrier to a rodent. A small LED flood-light inside of a tent or tarp would be more of a deterrant to nocturnal rodents - generally they don't like to be exposed by light - too easy for nocturnal predators (e.g. owls) to see them.

So, food odor management and proper food storage seems to be in order. Stealth camping away from normal camp sites would be advisable (though not always permitted), and wise (if one really wants to hold down chances of contracting Hantavirus). These steps, IMHO, would be much better than tent vs. tarp. Sealing oneself in a large odor-proof, air-tight poly-bag would work too - to keep both Hantavirus and contaminated air out - by morning you'd never have to worry about contracting Hanta, or any other illness for that matter, again - though in a couple of days the air in the bag would be pretty foul [i trust, my sarcastic point comes across].

I've had friends/co-workers who have had rodents eat through through their tent, pack, food storage bag (NOT O.P.) to get to a food scent - from spilled food.

Rodents 3 (score 1 for biting through a tent, 1 for pack, 1 for food storage bag)

Tents 0

[at least with a tarp, my co-worker's score would only be 2 to zip]

Even an Ursack might not stop a rodent if odor is present, but then y'all already know that.

My two shekels.

Edited by pj on 06/01/2006 03:11:47 MDT.

Vick Hines
(vickrhines) - F

Locale: Central Texas
Re: Re: tarps and tents on 06/01/2006 15:08:50 MDT Print View

I'm wit you, Paul, No tent will stop a determined chipmunk as soon as he realizes that hurling himself against it is less effective than knawing through. I've seen them go through tents and into packs as well.

Philmont is a nice place, but experienced troop leaders might do better to consider the Pecos Wilderness, a few miles farther west. It has real mountains - although they are still walk-ups. You hike all the time at higher altitudes than Philmont achieves. You can get above timberline and out of the green tunnel. You can plan a hike of just about any challenge or duration. The country is spectacular. Kids never fail to be impressed. I know you don't get a Philmont shirt, so I guess patch baggers would be disappointed.

Bob Brown
(zinschlag) - F
boots on 06/09/2006 08:28:35 MDT Print View


Thanks for a great article. I have a concern regarding footwear however. The scout master of my troup went to Philmont last year, and I'm going in 2007 for the first time. My SM wore boots that at a minimum were medium duty, and complained that the rocky trails killed his feet. You advocate trail shoes. No problem with rock bruising etc at the end of your trek?