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How often backpacking?
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Bob Shaver
(rshaver) - F

Locale: West
Boise troop activities on 01/14/2012 19:13:16 MST Print View

Our troop was a car camping troop when we (my son and I)joined about 5 years ago. I started leading off-the-calendar day hikes and backpacks our first year, and when we set the calendar the next fall, enough parents and scouts were interested in backpacking that maybe 5 backpacks were scheduled for the next year. Now they are the norm for our monthly campout.

Each spring I lead an easy backpack, about 2 miles, that 11 year olds can handle. After doing a 2 mile backpack (one way) they are pretty comfortable trying a 4 mile. In the middle of summer I have a 4 day backpack that 11 year olds can handle. By the end of the year, almost all our 11 year olds have been on a backpack.

Last year we had maybe 6 or seven backpacks, and two different 50 milers were available to scouts over the summer. We also sent a group of 12 to Philmont, and we usually do a spring break 50 and 30 milers to Southern Utah. Last summer we had a group go to Sea Base in Florida, and another group is going to Philmont next summer, to Konderstag scout hostel in Austria, and to SeaBase again. We usually go on a winter camp where we hike in to a hot springs, and sleep in tents in the snow, usually February. We are based in Boise, Idaho.

Some trip reports are here:

Mark Rash
(markrvp) - M

Locale: North Texas
One Bag No Hands on 01/15/2012 19:53:22 MST Print View

I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the "One Bag, No Hands" rule for campouts. When I am Scoutmaster next year I will implement this policy for at least some of the campouts. I'll explain more in my next post why 90% of our campouts are car-camping style campouts... but I want to paint a picture for you of how most of our scouts show up for a campout:

1 Tote that contains clothing, sleeping bag, etc.
Cheap tent from Wal-Mart in its carry bag
Air mattress (outside of the tote)

As you can guess this is a nightmare packing in the scout trailer, as it takes a lot of time and takes up a lot of space. With the one-bag policy, where do you guys sit at the campout? We like the boys to have a chair on car campouts so they have somewhere to sit while we do instructional topics.

Mark Rash
(markrvp) - M

Locale: North Texas
Backpacking on 01/15/2012 20:20:59 MST Print View

Back to the original question, our troop has actually only gone on one overnight backpacking campout in the last 3 years. Our previous and current Scoutmaster do not like backpacking. Our troop normally has a monthly 2-night campout February-May and September-December. We have summer camp in June and don't camp in July and August due to the temperatures being in the 100s here in Texas. One of those campouts is usually a canoe trip.

Knowing that we have two crews going to Philmont this summer I was able to take our troop on a 2-night backpacking campout last May. Prior to this I did a presentation on lightweight backpacking techniques that most of the kids were receptive to. We will be doing two shakedown campouts in March and April that are 15 miles each to further prepare for campout.

Here is what I see as the challenges to backpacking in our troop:

1.) Cost - most of the kids in our troop just don't have the money to buy suitable gear. I would guess that half our scouts don't have a backpack and the only reason the other half have them is because they are going to Philmont.

2.) Size of New Scouts - Even small adult backpacks are too large for most 11-year-old boys. We had one scout whose dad went out and bout him a brand new Kelty Coyote backpack. Even after I adjusted the torso length as short as it would go, the hip belt was still drooping around this kid's butt. To get an appropriately sized pack, the kids would need to spend big bucks for a down sleeping bag and lightweight tent that would stuff into the smaller pack. Even when these kids get bigger, we'll have a new batch of tiny 11-year-olds each year at the March crossover.

Bottom line, our kids just don't have the gear to go backpacking. When I become Scoutmaster I will work to raise money to get some troop packs, bags, and tents that are suitable.

Edited by markrvp on 01/15/2012 20:24:26 MST.

Bob Shaver
(rshaver) - F

Locale: West
no gear for new scouts on 01/15/2012 21:15:02 MST Print View

I think that is the norm for new scouts. They have a huge sleeping bag, which won't keep them warm and is a nightmare to pack. I have accumulated gear to loan out, including sleeping bags, raincoats, and fleece pullovers. I get very small external frame packs, and keep an eye on craigs list for them for our equipment room. We supply tents, stoves, and cooksets, so about all they need are backpacks. Many in our troop are fairly affluent, so most kids get outfitted in the first year.

Its not easy when they are underequiped. But it sure worthwhile to show some kids the outdoors in a genuine way. Good luck.


Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: no gear for new scouts on 01/15/2012 21:38:57 MST Print View

Bob, if you need to get inexpensive bags for scouts get the military surplus patrol bags. You can sometimes get them for under $20. They are probably good down to 35-40 with a little extra clothes in bed (however, they are "rated" to 30). I think they weigh about 2.5 lbs, compress down to about the size of a good quality 15-20 degree down bag. Overall good quality. Obviously there are better out there, but nothing for such a low price and much better than those rectangular fleece lined nightmares.

Ken K
(TheFatBoy) - F

Locale: St. Louis
Re: One Bag No Hands on 01/15/2012 23:29:00 MST Print View

>> As you can guess this is a nightmare packing in the scout trailer, as it takes a lot of time and takes up a lot of space. With the one-bag policy, where do you guys sit at the campout? We like the boys to have a chair on car campouts so they have somewhere to sit while we do instructional topics.

That's exactly why we implemented the "one bag, no hands" rule. We had a small troop trailer (6'x10'), and it was used as both a general storage shed AND gear shuttle. Our Scouts would do exactly like yours... Separate duffel, sleeping bag, an extra bag with some clothes, maybe a plastic bag with extra shoes, and a pillow! When we loaded up all that gear, our trailer was overloaded, and when we got to camp, we'd have "gear vomit" all over the parking lot when the trailer doors were opened.

We don't enforce the rule for brand new scouts, but seeing the older boys doing it usually motivates them to fall in line. We also let the rule slide just a bit for week-long resident camps.

As for sitting... Most of the campouts where we might be sitting around already provide picnic tables or benches (summer camp, state parks, etc.). For campouts where we're staying in a base camp and expecting rain, we may allow chairs. For those where we're getting off the beaten path, the scout is still free to bring a chair, but it has to be lashed to their pack. Some have picked up lighter three-legged stools. Most fore go it.

Bob Shaver
(rshaver) - F

Locale: West
military surplus patrol bags on 01/16/2012 11:03:42 MST Print View

Never heard of them, but I'll check them out now. Having a few extra sounds like a good idea for new scouts.

When we started, we didn't know if 11 year olds could pull off a backpack, and the norn in other troops was to require first class, and/or 13 years old. But it has worked out just fine. The kids who really want to car camp go to other troops, and the kids who want to backpack come to our troop. On any one backpack, there will be only a handful of kids totally new to backpacking, and they learn pretty quickly from the more experienced scouts.

The trick to getting a troop to do more backpacking is to have a bunch of parents in favor of it and willing to go on backpacks. You need maybe 4 parents passionate about backpacking, for leadership, and maybe half the parents preferring backpacking for their kids.

Kai Larson
(KaiLarson) - F
Regular outdoor activities are key. on 01/22/2012 00:46:53 MST Print View

We do an outdoor overnight every other month during fall, winter, and spring. On the months we aren't doing an overnight, we do day hikes or other activities (backcountry skiing, rock climbing, ice climbing, survival skills training, sledding, etc.)

Overnight trips vary from car camping to short overnight hikes, to overnight backcountry ski trips.

Every summer, we do a multi-day backpacking trip. Depending on the age of the boys in the patrol, it varies from 2 to 5 nights.

J Thomas Peterson
(tpeterson1959) - MLife

Locale: Southwest
Backpacking and Participation on 02/08/2012 15:29:13 MST Print View

I'm a retired SM and I have some very strong feelings about this issue.

The bottom line is if the unit isn’t getting outside, the troop will die.

The troop I was associated with had been around for 40 years when my oldest son and I started with them. At that point they had a very outdoor activity oriented SM, who was preceded by a not so outdoor activity oriented SM. During the year or so before when the troop was not so outdoor activity oriented, the unit lost about a dozen boys.

When the outdoor activity oriented SM began his tenure, he cautioned that he intended the unit to be out side doing something every month. We – and five other families - joined the troop about three months into his tenure because they were active.

I took over two years later and continued that tradition. Both of us had annual and semi-annual planning meetings where the Scouts brain stormed what they wanted to do, followed by a parents meeting where we (only sometimes) brought in a dose of reality. Starting with my predecessor, the troop went for nearly eight years (I was SM for 6 years) with backpacking, camping, or paddling trips every month, and sometimes even more often.

Both of us emphasized backpacking more than just car camping and during that time we averaged about 25 active Scouts with another 10 – 15 less active to inactive registered boys. The Scouts frequently wanted to return to hikes and spots they’d gone to before and we would occasionally let them, but more often than not we would encourage new hikes in the same region. We tried to rotate the trips by both distance from home, distance for the hike (some were car camping in wilderness areas, to some as long as ten miles in), and terrain (forest, desert, mountainous, or beach – ocean, Colorado River, or Lake Mead/Lake Mojave).

Being from we hiked within about a 300 mile radius, with the majority of trips being either to the southern Sierras (averaging about 150 miles round trip for driving). The best year I had was one when the troop got weathered out (rain, snow, and oppressive heat for the location) four times during the year. The Scouts insisted we find another trip on short notice and they stuck with their planned outings for the year (that year it was twelve troop activities, Fall and Spring Camporees and Summer Camp).

After I retired and moved away, the new SM was a more not so outdoor activity oriented guy. The first year, he stuck with the monthly pace, but starting the second year he actually discouraged hikes because it didn’t fit his vacation schedule. By the third year there were less than ten Scouts actively involved with the troop. That was when he declared there wasn’t enough interest to go backpacking (he had three active ASM’s). The fourth year, after more than fifty years, the troop folded.

It’s an old saying, put the outing in Scouting, but it is a key element for any troop.

William Carpenter
(alancar) - F
How Often Backpacking? on 03/06/2012 15:06:03 MST Print View

Im an ASM in Central OH and our troop has been having sucess with having Adventure (Under 10 mi weekends) and High Adventure for the older guys that do up to 32 Mi in a weekend but usually in the 16-20 mile range. We are lucky to have some phenominal hiking areas in Ohio that are under 2.5 hrs away (Zaleski, Shawnee, Archers Fork, Twin Valleys, Mohican State Park, Buckeye Trail..ect) our schedule this year is :

Jan Cabin Camping with weblos
Feb. Backpacking 1st class scouts and above 16 mi
Mar. 10 mi Sat training hike then next weekend
Backpacking Adventure and High Adventure Level 9.4 mi + I wil have 9 adults and 17 youth
April 10 mi Sat training hike then next weekend
Base camp for lower level scouts and high adventure backpacking trip
May Base camp for lower level scouts and high adventure backpacking trip

June 4 day Monongohila high adventure trip
sea base
Summer camp
July Philmont
Aug Canoe Trip
Sept back packing
Oct 3 day KY backpacking trip
Nov-wilderness survival campout making own shelters
Dec. Cabin camping

Steven Scates MD
(scatesmd) - MLife
camping frequency on 03/20/2012 12:59:52 MDT Print View

Our troop schedules a backpacking trip monthly. Once set up, the trip goes rain or shine. This weekend, we were at the Pinnacles National Monument and it stormed with rain, sleet, and hail all weekend. Some parents wanted the trip cancelled, but 13 of us went and I was highly impressed with how the boys did. The prior month, we hiked 20 miles at Point Reyes, California. Again, it is easy to underestimate how well the boys will do.

Thanks, steve

Walter Underwood
(wunder) - M

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Either backpacking or walk-in camping on 03/21/2012 22:01:48 MDT Print View

Checking the schedule, we've had five or six backpacking trips each year for the past couple of years. I'm not counting the 1/2 mile walk-in campouts, like the rafting trip or camporee. That does include high adventure treks.

We always schedule a couple of three mile backpack outings in the late spring to get the new Scouts some time on the trail. We also have a few outings where we can split off a Venture Patrol for a longer, more challenging route to the same destination.

All our campouts are with backpacking gear. We don't have chuckboxes or dutch ovens. Nobody has a chair or a cot, they spent that money on a backpack or a sleeping bag.

We do not limit backpacking to older Scouts. Tenderfoot requirement 1 says, in part, "Show the camping gear you will use. Show the right way to pack and carry it." Not "how you will load it on the trailer."

We also don't have a trailer. I can fit seven people and seven backpacks in the minivan, no problem.

Edited by wunder on 03/21/2012 22:22:07 MDT.

bill berklich

Locale: Northern Mid-West
Re: Backpacking on 05/22/2012 04:26:41 MDT Print View

Mark - Thought about having them use their school backpack? Carry water, clothes and personal gear then use the trailer to stage the heavy or bulky stuff (tents, Stoves, sleeping bags) at the camp. We are a "Trailer Troop" and generally do it that way. Lightens the load for the new Scouts. Also, I don't know about your area but Craigslist, Ebay, Garage Sales and Salvation Army are great places to pick up $10 backpacks (usually from the 70s or 80s). My son stumbled across an old Jansport D5 at a local garage sale for $5 because it matched my D2 from the 70s.

James Tisdale
(Jameyt) - M

Locale: PaNW
Every month, rain or shine on 06/18/2012 14:35:27 MDT Print View

We started a Troop last April. We camped every month last year and ended up with a total of 30 nights outdoors. All our guys are young (11 or 12 with one or two 13 year olds). We ended up with 9 guys with 20 nights camping and 3 had all 30.

We did 1 backpacking trip the first year and have started increasing the frequency. We just completed the first of this year (second overall) to Mt. St. Helens and we've got 3 more on the calendar this year (with the threat of a couple more to be added). Just looking at our calendar we've got 42 possible nights on the calendar already. This includes 6 nights for a Ross Lake kayak trip and summer camp. Because we guranteed an overnighter each month, and because we camp so often I've got 10 ASMs bucking to go out whenever they can. The adults are trained and my biggest issue lately has been turning some away from a trip because we can't have too many SMs out there.

We've made a concious decision to not get grub boxes, dutch ovens or anything else that is heavy. We're (hopefully) getting ready to purchase a tarp for each patrol so they can use it as a dining fly and sleep under it and a water filter by patrol.

I've been hammock camping from the get go. Over time more adults and Scouts have taken it up. After this weekend when some of them saw the difference between a hammock and splitting up their 10 lb tents I suspect almost everyone will be in the trees on the next outing.

. .
(RogerDodger) - F

Locale: (...)
... on 06/18/2012 16:03:37 MDT Print View


Edited by RogerDodger on 07/11/2015 15:02:54 MDT.

Jeffs Eleven
(WoodenWizard) - F

Locale: Greater Mt Tabor
Re: 1 car camping, zero BACKpacking. on 06/18/2012 16:21:46 MDT Print View

Thats a good post, Rog.


I see that stuff too.
...People feeding the poles through clips as if it were sleeves.

" it was chaos child daycare in uniform under the trees."


Steven Shumway
(Shumway@T49) - F
Put the Outing in Scouting... on 07/02/2012 18:25:56 MDT Print View

We founded our troop 5 years ago and have had an outing every month. We are now moving into more backpacking trips. We are also using camping hammocks. That's where we are now.
If are moving towards more backpacking go camping every month. You have to do this every month with out fail. Even if none of the boys go. Go anyway. Add day hikes. Get High Adventure trained. And then go out and hike some more.
Good Luck...

Wesley Witt

Locale: Northwest
Getting Outdoors... on 07/16/2012 09:19:17 MDT Print View

For those of you who have mentioned the high cost of gear please have look at They sell to scouts at serious discounts. The gear is not top notch, but great for kids getting started. All the gear is good, safe and reasonable quality. It doesn't qualify as "light", but for the prices it works great.

In terms of backpacking or camping frequency the rule of thumb is 10 outings per year for a unit, minimum. If you're not getting out this often then you're really not going to survive as a troop. When I was scoutmaster my troop ran an active outdoor program for the troop where we got out every month. We also had a high adventure program for the older scouts where we offered a long term, challenging backpacking trip every summer. The HA program serves to give a challenging program for the older boys and something for the younger boys to look forward to. Our HA program did things like Philmont and one year we went on a 10 day backpacking trip in the Sierras with a summit of Mt. Whitney (BTW this was WAY better than Philmont).

Bottom line is that if you want a thriving troop you must get the boys outdoors and my opinion is that car camping is not enough. The boys need a challenge and something difficult. Backpacking provides things that other outdoor activities simply cannot.

troop on 07/16/2012 17:23:16 MDT Print View

To have a thriving troop, all many need is a constant influx of new crossovers from cub scouts every year. Some troops dont care that they lose kids every yr as they get older and less interested because the troop just basically does nothing outside of car camping.

In some troops , 95+% of scouting is oriented toward getting these youngest kids progressing to rank of first class. While older kids are just working on trying to make Eagle so that they can finally quit. High attrition rates are not surprising.

But the troop "thrives" with 50 members.

. .
(RogerDodger) - F

Locale: (...)
... on 08/07/2012 16:22:07 MDT Print View


Edited by RogerDodger on 07/10/2015 07:06:07 MDT.