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Philmont Backpacks
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Ernie Delcher
(EFD57) - F

Locale: Northern New Jersey
Philmont Backpacks on 02/01/2012 12:10:13 MST Print View

Heading to Philmont next year (July 2013) with two treks from my scout troop.

We plan on incorporating as many BPL concepts as possible (sil nyl tarps, lightweight stoves, good gear choices, etc). As the amount of gear is reduced and better gear replaces heavier and bulkier gear it is unclear what size packs we should be looking at.

I've read everything I can find on appropiate backpacks for Philmont and I'm well aware of the PSR recomended sizes of 4800-5200 ci for internal frame and 4000-4200 ci for external frame packs.

When embracing the BPL philosophy, at what point are the PSR recommended pack sizes inappropriate (i.e. too big)?

Can those that have gone down this road give some guidance on what you used?

To keep things in perspective I would also need to know about any special gear you used that would shrink your needed volume (e.g. used tarps instead of tents, 2 quart pots instead of 8 qt, UL down sleeping bag, etc).

Thanks in advance!
Long time lurker/first post

John Myers
(dallas) - F - MLife

Locale: North Texas
Re: Philmont Backpacks on 02/01/2012 12:24:51 MST Print View

Welcome Earnie,

Volume is an issue primarily due to the food.

Food comes in bags that contain 2 meals each. For a 4 day resupply that means you need the space to carry 6 bags of food plus your share of other troop gear.

If you have lightweight, compact personal gear you can get by with a smaller volume pack than they suggest. I recommend purchasing some Philmont meals to check pack volume. You can get them directly from Philmont.

Read some of the other articles about packing light at Philmont to see what is possible.

I'm headed back this June and am really looking forward to it!


Manfred Kopisch
(Orienteering) - F
Pack Size for Philmont on 02/01/2012 13:01:26 MST Print View

Hi Ernie,

Most of our scouts used the Osprey Exos 58 with states a gear capacity of 3500 cubic inches and a weight of 2 lbs and 8 oz. We could have gone with smaller backpacks, but for our preparation hikes in Yosemite we needed the ability to carry bear canisters in our packs.

We had a competition "Be the biggest Loser" going on during our preparation phase and the scouts were really competetive in winning the three prizes. As a result they left unecessary stuff at home and lightened up whereever they could. In the end the lightest pack was 12 lbs and the heaviest 18 lbs. These are some of the decisions they made.
1) Tent: BD Betalight - just 19 oz for two
2) Groundcloth: Polycryo - just 2 oz
3) Sleeping Bag: Some down (Kelty Cosmic) and some synthetic (NF Cat's Meow)
4) Cooking: We ordered the Philmont meals for our prep hikes. Seeing the Mountain House meals our boys decided to leave pots and messkits at home. They would just bring quart sized Freezer ziplocks and a spoon. The Mountain House was re-hydrated in the bag and than half of it poured into a ziplock. Both scouts would eat out of bags and after finishing their meal the boys just needed to roll up the bags and lick their spoons. There was no dishwashing required and no dealing with the sump. So they left the pots and the frisbee and the spatula, etc. all back at Philmont.
5) Bear Bags: The scouts each got a 1.8 oz silnylon dry-sack (20 l) for their food. Instead of taking the heavy bear bags from Philmont and throwing everything in there they used these. The added advantage was that there was no time lost for sorting items. Everyone would just clip their drysack to the bear rope in the evening and clip it off in the morning. That was fast and effcient. The drysacks came in different colors and the scouts wrote their names on the bottom, so they could see from below which one is theirs. A great side effect of that was that they sorted out food they didn't like when splitting up the food packages. We had done all our prep hikes with the Philmont meals and the scouts knew what they like and what they dont' like. So every time when we re-supplied at Philmont, we would immediately break the bags open and split the food. That reduced weight and volume as well.

Have fun at Philmont,


Edited by Orienteering on 03/08/2012 15:12:40 MST.

Mark Rash

Locale: North Texas
ULA Circuit on 02/01/2012 13:58:56 MST Print View

Hi Ernie:

I'm going to Philmont this summer and I have been preparing for my trek for over a year now.

The backpack I chose is the ULA Circuit. It has a total specified capacity of 4,200 cu. inches with all the pockets. I had tried both the Exos 58 and the REI Flash 65 prior to the ULA Circuit which was my favorite of all 3. I really wanted to like the Exos 58 the best, but it just didn't seem as solid as the ULA Circuit.

Our troop purchased Philmont meals and I found the Circuit's extension collar perfectly able to carry 4 days of food (6 packs)along with my other gear.

As you are looking at gear that goes in your pack, keep in mind how bulky it is at the same time you look at weight. A down sleeping bag will compress more than a synthetic bag.

Also mentioned above was using the freezer bag method of cooking. This allows you to carry two 2L pots instead of the 8L and 4L pots required for the "Philmont Method" of cooking. That reduces both weight and bulk.

If you haven't purchased stoves yet, I suggest you give the Primus Spider remote canister stove a look. $50-$60 and not too heavy.
Primus Spider for $49.99

Please come back here often and let us know what you're thinking... I really enjoy these discussions.

Edited by markrvp on 02/01/2012 14:00:52 MST.

Joe Clement
(skinewmexico) - MLife

Locale: Southwest
Philmont Backpacks on 02/01/2012 14:21:40 MST Print View

Gossamer Gear's web site has a picture of a troop that all used Mariposa Plus backpacks, and I think they're a lot smaller than that recommendation.

John Myers
(dallas) - F - MLife

Locale: North Texas
Re: ULA Circuit on 02/01/2012 15:06:33 MST Print View

"Also mentioned above was using the freezer bag method of cooking. This allows you to carry two 2L pots instead of the 8L and 4L pots required for the "Philmont Method" of cooking."


We cooked using that method on our last trek and took two 4 liter pots. Our crew found that it wasn't quite enough volume and recommended one 4 liter and one 6 liter pot. That's what we're doing this year. It's still smaller and lighter than the Philmont pots.

But whatever pots you take, you need the space in someone's pack for them.

Mark Rash

Locale: North Texas
No Tarps on 02/01/2012 15:11:35 MST Print View


Keep in mind that Philmont doesn't allow you to use a tarp as a shelter... you are required to have a tent. That doesn't mean the tent has to have an attached floor. Many people have written here how they used floorless shelters with a piece of tyvek or polycro as a groundcloth.

Also keep in mind that solo shelters for scouts are not allowed. It is at the discretion of your Ranger if adults are allowed to use solo shelters, but it seems rare for a ranger to deny leaders the use of solo tents.

I tell you this so you can account for the bulk of a tent in your pack selection. If you have traditional two-piece tents, one buddy can carry the fly and a pole, and the other buddy can carry the tent and other poles/stakes. If you have single-wall tents then one buddy can carry the tent and the other buddy can carry more of the food.

Manfred Kopisch
(Orienteering) - F
No Pots at all needed on 02/01/2012 16:41:05 MST Print View

Our crew used JetBoil Sol canister stoves on their trek last summer. They would just heat 2 cups of water and add that to the Mountain House bag. Once the food was re-hydrated, half the food was poured into a ziplock bag and the two tent buddies would each eat out of the bag. Thus no pots were needed at all. We had to check out the frisbee and spatula, but we left them in the locker after explaining our cook method to our ranger. Doing it this way meant no pots, no bowl, no frisbee, no sponge, no spatula -- only a spoon. We also needed only 2 JetBoil Sol - they boil two cups of water in under three minutes. Cooking was really a low key thing for us and we gained lots of extra time for extra activities.

Mark Rash

Locale: North Texas
Sil Nylon Dining Fly on 02/01/2012 16:43:04 MST Print View

If you are looking for a low-cost low-weight silnylon dining fly, you might consider this 10x12 silynylon tarp from Campmor. It is $109.99 and weighs 19 oz.

I also noticed Campmor has the MSR Windpro remote canister stoves on sale right now for $59.97. This is one of the stoves my crew is taking to Philmont (the other stove is an MSR Reactor with 2.5L pot). They come with a foil windshield, round heat reflector, and carry case. Not ultralight, but not really heavy either.

If you go with the Spider or Windpro stoves, take a look at these 2 quart aluminum pots $9.95 for 5.7 oz pots. Two stoves with two of these 2 quart pots should be enough to boil water for a crew of 12 (figure 1 cup water per person per rehydrated meal = 12 cups total = 3 quarts water per meal).

Finally, if you haven't done so already, please read these articles here at BPL:

Article 1

Article 2

Article 3

Edited by markrvp on 02/01/2012 16:45:43 MST.

Mark Rash

Locale: North Texas
Pot Selection on 02/01/2012 19:37:56 MST Print View

John Myers:

I completely missed your post above about taking 4L and 6L pots. I have a couple of questions...

1.) How many people were in your crew?
2.) Did you have meals that required more than 2 cups of water per package?

Here's why I ask... My crew will have 8 (maybe 9) people. In our previous shakedown campout we bought Phil Meals to practice with. We were okay with the Reactor stove and its 1.5L pot along with the Windpro stove and a 2 quart pot. Our two meals were the Mac & Cheese and the BBQ Beef. Neither meal used more than 2 cups of water per entree packet (2 people). I boiled 4 cups in the Reactor pot and 4 more cups in the 2 quart pot on the Windpro. One of the meals also had an apple cobbler which we had to boil more water for. We boiled this while the entree was rehydrating.

In anticipation of meals that have dessert, I bought the bigger pot for the Reactor Stove that will boil 2L at once. I can almost boil 2 quarts of water twice on the Reactor faster than boiling 2 quarts of water once on the Windpro stove. The Reactor is a beast when it comes to boiling water. If I need more capacity for the Windpro stove, then I also have the 4 quart version of the Open Country aluminum pot that I referenced in an earlier post. It weighs 1.05 lbs. 4 Quart Pot

It seems like 6l and 4l pots are more than my crew would need, so I'm curious to see if I'm missing something.

And sorry to Ernie for veering this discussion away from backpacks.

John Myers
(dallas) - F - MLife

Locale: North Texas
Re: Pot Selection on 02/02/2012 07:08:47 MST Print View


We had 11 in our crew, so we cooked 12 meals.

I'm going by memory and it was a few years ago but it's my recollection that several of the meals needed 3 1/2 or 4 cups of water per meal, plus some of the meals had side dishes that needed more water. Even though the pots are 4 liters, we didn't fill them to the brim to avoid spillover.

Our guys wanted to eat all at the same time so they wanted enough pot capacity to do that.

We also dipped our bowls in the pots to sterilize them before eating and a larger pot would have made that easier.

I'm not sure what the weight difference is between a 4L and 6L pot is, but as a percentage of the overall troop gear it would be a tiny fraction. And the boys are carrying it anyway and if they want a bigger pot and are willing to carry it, it's ok with me.

ok, now back to which pack to take. :)

Sarah Kuhn
(SCKuhn) - MLife

Locale: Mountainous Ohio
Available extra 'Volume' on 02/02/2012 10:55:30 MST Print View

Regardless of what gear you lighten up and what pack a person carries at Philmont, the rule of thumb I give people is there must be space in your pack to place a standard size bed pillow folded in half. Gives them a real visual, as well as a physical test to see if it will fit WITHOUT compressing. That extra space is needed for everyone's share of crew gear and food.... better to have a bit of extra space than to not have enough.

Check out this link to just recently hashed out 'Recommendations for Scout Pack" - yes there are 5 pages of conversation, but a pretty good bit of info -

And this is a SMALL pile of food for a resupply!!
Philmont food pile

Ernie Delcher
(EFD57) - F

Locale: Northern New Jersey
Re: Available extra 'Volume' on 02/02/2012 13:06:14 MST Print View

Thanks to all for your quick replies.

I can't address everything in one post as some are tangent to my OP (in reality it is all related).

The tarp I referred to in my OP was indeed the dinning fly. You all may be jealous when you hear that Campmor is just 1 mile north of where I work and plan on picking up 1 or 2 of the 19 oz for use at PSR.

I very much like the idea of everyone having a 20L bag for bear bagging their share of the food and the orginazation it will provide.

The "biggest looser" competition sounds very interesting.

At this point the plan is to use tents (the troop has Kelty Gunnison 2.1's which aren't too bad) but as Mark points out add bulk to the packing.

Sarah, that pic of the food pile syays it all. How many days for what size crew was that for? The folded pillow idea was kind of what I was looking for but as I realize mileage will vary depending on other crew gear choices.

At some point I will be looking for ideas on a first aid kit (our current one is 33 oz) and of course stove/pot/cooking options (looks like that discussion has already been started).

Regarding my OP... As an experiment I made a quick pile of personal PSR gear. Some items I just grabbed out of my drawer (like 2 cotton T's, I know these will not make the trip but grabbed them as an example and place holder). I stuffed my NF Cat's Meow bag into the bottom of a Deuter 50+10 pack (3600 ci). Clothes and other items I stuffed into a granite Gear UL compression dry bag and added that to the pack. I didn't bother with 1/2 of a tent as it was clear that the remaining space would be barely enough for food and my share of crew gear.

I can't fathom how Manfred's group could use 3500 ci packs (I'd love to see a complete list of what was actually carried in the packs) and obviously I have alot of work to do to reach tat level. The 4200 ci pack that Mark suggests sounds like it would work with a little more trimming of my gear.

And I'm the scoutmaster, the biggest challenge will be to get the other dads and all of the scouts into the same mindset.

Thanks again!


Greg Bohm
(GregInMI) - F

Locale: SE Michigan
You don't have to carry all their food! on 02/02/2012 18:14:54 MST Print View

I would only plan to carry 3/4 of the food that Philmont gives you. Our crew routine at resupply was to open all the bags with your partner and get rid of the stuff you don't like. Then we would swap amongst the crew to get more of what you like and get rid of your discards. At the end we would take all our excess and put it in the swap box. You could really cut your pack volume and weight with some smart wheeling and dealing.

Carl Zimmerman
(CarlZ993) - MLife
Pack size on 02/03/2012 15:18:27 MST Print View

If you carry all the provided Crew gear, you'll need a big pack. If you minimize or forego most of their gear and bring light/small stuff from home, you can get by on a smaller pack. I used a GoLite Pinnacle during my 07 & 08 treks. My individual stuff was light and compact. We used all of their stuff (with the exception of tents) and it was very bulky. My Pinnacle did okay on both treks.

On our scheduled 2013 trek, we're planning on using very little if anything of their issued gear.

Walter Underwood
(wunder) - M

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Pack volume on 02/06/2012 22:07:16 MST Print View

I carried a Six Moon Designs Starlite, 65 liters, and filled it all the way up a couple of times.

The food is bulky. Here is our initial four-day load for ten people.

Edited by wunder on 02/06/2012 22:07:49 MST.

terrance guidetti
(Baloo) - F

Locale: calif
pack size on 02/08/2012 22:13:19 MST Print View

I showed up at Philmont in 2011 with a Mariposa Plus and a 10 lb. personal kit. I left camp carrying a 55 lb. Kelty pack purchased at the last moment. In spite of light community stoves, pots, and silnylon dining fly; the weight and space requirements of the first 6 days of food could not be overcome. I left camp in shock!

As a leader ( with the additional gear we sometimes carry), I don't see how the food could be fit into a Mariposa plus. I was under the impression that we would probably carry 4 days of food, or 5 at the most, but with 6 days worth, the volume was staggering. I would say 4000 ci is a bare minimum.

In hind sight, sorting and repackaging food before leaving camp could save considerable volume and weight. The 10x12 silnylon tarp worked well. I liked the idea of bringing your own silnylon food bags as the Phil bags are bulky. We used 2 jetboil sol and brought a jetboil 3 l. pot to boil water. I was amazed at the efficiency of these stoves. On the entire trip we used 1 jumbo canister and 1 small one. About half of what we planned.

Floor less tents are not allowed at Philmont.

Jim Colten
(jcolten) - M

Locale: MN
Re: pack size on 02/09/2012 05:34:17 MST Print View

6 days of PhilFood

YOUSA! That WILL be bulky ... but that's a very rare itinerary. I hadn't noticed one like that the years I've gone.

But first time Philmont trekkers should KNOW that there is no reason to arrive at Philmont and be surprised by how many days food you'll carry. In mid March each crew will receive a planning workbook (will be sent to the person whose name and addr was on your lottery application). The same doc will be available online as a PDF file at about the same time.

Here is the 2011 version (itineraries change somewhat every year). This is a lengthy doc ... at about page 24 (2011 version) they start with 2 page descriptions of each itinerary. One page is a map and the other is a day by day summary. The map indicates where the itinerary's resupply points are located and where you will be camping each night. Just count the days between resupplies.

There is also a much shorter Itineraries at Glance web page that includes links to the same two pages for each itinerary.

Edited by jcolten on 02/09/2012 05:37:20 MST.

Ernie Delcher
(EFD57) - F

Locale: Northern New Jersey
Re: pack size on 02/09/2012 08:43:45 MST Print View

Looking at the replies, packs run from 3500 to 4392 ci
Osprey Exos 3500
Gossamer Gear Mariposa 3600
ULA Circuit 4200
Six Moon Starlite 4200
GoLite Pinnacle 4392

Walter - Thanks, I'll study your list.

Terrance - Thanks for the 4000 ci minimum. I agree 100% with your leader comment - it happens, especially when you have a few 14 year olds. What size crew did you have? What did you use for shelters (tents or a UL option)? What Kelty did you end up with? This is exactly what I want to avoid!

Those who used packs smaller than 4000 ci...
1. Did the entire crew use packs of this size or were there a couple of packs that were much larger and carried more than their share of the bulk? I can see where a couple of crew members could get away with 3600's but not the whole crew.
2. What shelters did you carry? We are planning on using tents and their bulk seems to rule out such small packs.

This is what I have so far...
Take as little personal gear as possible
Select the lighest and least bulky items personal items possible
Use as little PSR gear as possible as it is bulky and heavy
Study your itinerary for amount of food and water that will be needed
Break down food and only take what you will use
Cooking method will determine pot size
Purchase PSR food for shakedown/practice trips

I'm sure there is more!


Sarah Kuhn
(SCKuhn) - MLife

Locale: Mountainous Ohio
pack size - 'extra gear' on 02/09/2012 09:18:40 MST Print View

"As a leader ( with the additional gear we sometimes carry)" - this is the mentality that you HAVE to OVERCOME! The only 'extra gear' I carried as a leader was the surprise bag of Twizzlers & Skittles for a treat on that long hard day [or to bribe backcountry staff! ;-)].
All crew gear was divided equally among all of our participants (including leaders). Food was divided by 'tent buddies' and it was up to them to figure it out from there (you and your tent buddy carried all of your food).
Regardless of the age of your crew you should have done enough shake downs for EVERYONE to have their gear situated and not need a leader to fill in the gap.
A 3800 cubic inch pack is adequate for the entire crew.... unless you bring really bulky items - worst offender is sleeping bag and fleece jacket. (But you should have that figured out way ahead of time!)
WORK WITH YOUR GEAR!!! Figure out what will work for you ahead of time. There are NO hidden secrets - you can order Philmont food and even Philmont tents if you want! No one should be surprised when they arrive a Philmont, the expectations are VERY clear.