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Scoutmasters- I need help.
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Johnny Gish
(jtgish) - F

Locale: Coppell, Texas
Scoutmasters- I need help. on 06/09/2007 01:10:12 MDT Print View

I have been asked to give a "clinic" on backpacking (very general) to a few local scout troops who are going to Philmont soon. There is no way I can show up with my gear and try to explain why I backpack this way.
I understand that the scouts have strict rules espically with Philmont, so I'm asking for a little more insight as to what is allowed and what is not at Philmont as well as what you might think I should focus on so these kids will not be carring 40+ pound packs. All I was asked to do was teach them about backpacking, so Im so confused as to what to teach them and their dads.

Mike Barney
(eaglemb) - F

Locale: AZ, the Great Southwest!
Re: Scoutmasters- I need help. on 06/09/2007 08:42:10 MDT Print View

If they're going 'soon', they're a little late to start thinking lightweight, but there are some distinct advantages you can bring.

A few of questions to ask:
Do I *really* need this item
As a group, how many widgets do we need / does everyone need their own (water purifier, eg)
What could happen if I don't take it
Is there a multifunction / dual use capability
Is there an alternative (sharing, something lighter, etc)
And, finally, Do I ***REALLY*** need it

They can get there by incrementally reducing weight, as few have a free Visa card to buy all new $$$ gear (much less the time to learn to use and appreciate it)

At this stage of the game, as most treks will start within the next month, I'd suggest comparisons of things like:

Flashlight:Your regular 8 oz flashlight vs 0.7 oz nano flashlight (one of these will last the entire trek if you don't leave it on overnight)

Tent: A 'lightweight' 2 man $39-49, 3 lb Sports Authority vs. Philmont issue 7-8 lb 2 man tent

Backpack: A G4 1+ lb backpack vs. a 5-7 lb other bag (note that just getting a G4 or other lightweight / lowcost bag doesn't work as well if you still try to stuff the heavy / bulky stuff in it.)

Layers: This is often a function of what they already have, but if they think about it, 3 layers can cover just about any weather likely for a July Philmont experience.

Dry layer:
Sleeping bag: If it's not down, it gets pretty bulky and typically pounds heavier. I think this is one of the areas that is the biggest deals, and can make the most differences. Temperatures @ Philmont in July can range from 30's to 90's depending upon altitude.

Cooking: Between the heavier alcohol stoves they issue and the large cook sets, vs. lightweight approaches, you can save 10+ lbs pretty easy. We used canister Pocket Rockets, went through 2.5 lbs of canister gas, only took 2 pots and a spoon, adopting turkey bag cooking (major time and cleanup saver) Do you really need that 7 lb cast iron skillet as one Trek carried?

Crew Gear: Philmont is going to give them 'crew gear' that will take up more space and weight, so they need to lighten up before they get there.

Anyway, these are some the areas where we made the most difference last year. Our loaded packs ranged from 24 to 50 lbs, most others we saw ranged from 40 - 80 lbs. We're going again next year, and I expect all of our trek will be between 20 and 35 lbs. There does appear to be a correlation between weight and speed, and that translates into more free and setup time.

If the packs are beyond the 40 lbs range, they need to seriously look at what they are carrying and why, + possible alternatives, and sharing.

If they count ounces, they will save pounds. I spent a year getting ready, and went from a 51 lb pack to 24, and my knees really like it.

My 2 oz. worth.

Good luck,

Edited by eaglemb on 06/09/2007 08:45:04 MDT.

James Pitts
(jjpitts) - F

Locale: Midwest US
Re: Re: Scoutmasters- I need help. on 06/09/2007 11:00:17 MDT Print View

As with all Scouting activities, this should be boy-led. You can tell them the "answer" (whatever that means) but the process of them sorting it all for themselves is of more value than the end-experience. Like backpacking, it's all about the journey and not the destination.

In my case I break this into several sessions. I build on their prior experiences.

The first session we talk about backpacking in general and how it differs from camping they have done in the past. We brainstorm what unique challenges backpacking provides.

The second session we brainstorm the types of things they would need to bring with them. Then we take this list (which has all sorts of things on it, some crazy) and sort it into categories.

The third session I bring a print-out of our brain-storming exercise and we do something fun. Generally I'll have them build alcohol stoves (this project is always a hit because it involves fire... haha!) I send them back with homework... next to things like "toothbrush", "silverware", "raincoat", etc put down the specific item you would bring trying to keep the item light, cheap (affordable), and effective. Have them bring three items to the next meeting that they think they have found a particularly creative way to address.

The fourth session we go over all the ideas and I'll add a few of my own. By this time we have our first trip "planned". I send them out from this meeting telling them to get their gear in order from the gear list we produced.

The fifth meeting is a shake-down meeting. They bring their fully-packed backpack. We weight them and I look for what will be obvious problems. We fit the packs as best we can. This is where we really see the problems come out. The most common two are cheap backpacks that don't/can't fit properly and cheap poly-fill sleeping bags that don't compress and fill up the entire backpack. What can you do? Bottom line is that parents either don't have a lot of money to spend or, sadly, just don't want to invest the money in their sons. I digress...

In general there will be a few that still don't get it. I have been REALLY impressed at some of the packs the boys bring. The one that almost made me cry was a guy that had literally pulled together a GREAT pack out of WalMart using his external-frame backpack he got selling popcorn. He had a BLAST on the trip and was clearly totally hooked. I was about read to cry... such are the good points in playing with the guys!

Most important, Mike, HAVE FUN! You can have a fun program that is not effective (there are a lot of these) but you can't have an effective program that is not fun. Anyway, find your own way. I just felt like sharing my personal experience here. YMMV! :)

Edited by jjpitts on 06/09/2007 11:02:14 MDT.

Mike Barney
(eaglemb) - F

Locale: AZ, the Great Southwest!
Re: Re: Re: Scoutmasters- I need help. on 06/09/2007 12:08:12 MDT Print View

I think you meant "JT", not Mike. :)

Phil Barton
(flyfast) - MLife

Locale: Oklahoma
Re: Scoutmasters- I need help on 06/10/2007 18:46:25 MDT Print View

JT, first, thank you for helping a Scout troop.

Second, Mike offers some great advice for a crew heading to Philmont in 2007. Mike's questions can help the guys to think through where they can find ounces and pounds to take out of their load. For a crew headed to Philmont in 2008 that's about the best they can do.

I find that parents usually ask for specific examples of gear and prices. It's helpful to know local retailers that provide Scouts a discount as well as the big name web retailers. In addition to Mike's examples here are some ideas:
- Campmor Goose Down 20° Mummy Sleeping Bag Regular, 2lb 4oz., $110. Can save a pound or more over a synthetic sleeping bag. Reducing weight for sleeping gear has a cost.
- free, used 1 quart water bottle (Dasanti, Aquafina, and many other brands) replacing a Nalgene bottle
- lightweight hiking shoes rather than leather boots

There is some helpful information including gear lists at These lists might stimulate ideas for how to make use of shared gear and lighter alternatives.

When thinking about crew gear, substantial weight savings can be found. Doug Prosser covers a lot of this in his excellent article -

I like this quote found on the BSA Philmont website:

When deciding what equipment to bring to Philmont, always
consider each item's usefulness, durability, weight, and
bulk. It's always best to travel light. Remember that you
are only packing for 10 days on the trail. It has been
said that "An ounce in the morning is a pound at night."

Finally, our troop is starting to work on plans for our 2008 Philmont trek. My goal is to get everyone working on lightweight ideas from the beginning.