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Scouts complete 22 miles on a weekend and want more
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John Taylorson
(heyjt) - M

Locale: SoCal
Scouts complete 22 miles on a weekend and want more on 03/21/2014 18:59:05 MDT Print View

The magic of lightweight backpacks, enthusiasm and allowing the Scouts to plan and lead made for an amazing weekend.

Enjoy the video! 22-Mile West Fork Loop

Edited by heyjt on 03/21/2014 19:00:06 MDT.

Brian Reyman

Locale: Rocky Mountains
Thanks for Sharing on 03/23/2014 09:21:09 MDT Print View

Neat video, thanks for sharing.

I hadn't ever seen the 500 feet elevation = 1 mile pieces to count for mileage in awards from the BSA before. Can you post the link so I can use in the future?


John Taylorson
(heyjt) - M

Locale: SoCal
"Backpacking Miles" on 03/23/2014 22:17:34 MDT Print View

Hi Brian,

I like your website!

Personally, I am not a fan of "Backpacking miles." I have not been able to find an official BSA rule, but our local Los Angeles High Adventure Team gives an explanation of what they call, “Scheduled Hours of Backpacking.”

The basic formula is: Scheduled Hours = miles / 2 + elevation gained in (1,000) feet

When I describe the amount of miles our Troop completes, I tell it in real miles plus elevation gain. But the boys are awarded based on “Backpacking Miles,” which include the formula. Honestly, I think “Backpacking Miles” are somewhat disingenuous. Can you imagine telling someone that you completed the PCT, and when they asked how many miles, you factor in the 315,000 feet of elevation gain to the 2,650 miles” That would be over 3,200 miles!

Here is the link to our Los Angeles Area Council High Adventure Team. The explanation is on Page 9:

Don A.
(amrowinc) - M

Locale: Southern California
Scouts on 03/24/2014 10:39:28 MDT Print View

Hi John-consider bringing some of the scouts up to the GGG/SOCAL event at Henninger Flats Apr 11/12/13. They might be interested in see some of the gear that will be there. Even if you/they came in on a day hike Sat it might prove educational for them.

John Taylorson
(heyjt) - M

Locale: SoCal
Re: Scouts on 03/24/2014 22:55:39 MDT Print View

Hi Don, I would love to go to the GGG/SOCAL event but I am booked Friday thru Sunday. I will pass it on to the boys. See you (hopefully) soon on the trail...

Bob Shaver
(rshaver) - F

Locale: West
way to go, John! on 04/16/2014 10:07:35 MDT Print View

So John, what went into making your troop interested in backpacking? Involved parents? A gear inventory to loan to new scouts? Are these all older scouts? How do you get younger scouts involved and interested in backpacking? How many adults went on your trip, and how many scouts?

John Taylorson
(heyjt) - M

Locale: SoCal
Re: way to go, John! on 04/16/2014 20:13:20 MDT Print View

Hi Bob, I appreciate your questions and ended up writing a short book on my blog! The short answers are: Yes, parental involvement has been key; minimal gear inventory; most are younger scouts because they learned about "light" as a Tenderfoot; We had 7 boys and 4 ASMs on the 22-mile trip.

The expanded explanation is at my website/blog. Check it out here!

Let me know your thoughts


Bob Shaver
(rshaver) - F

Locale: West
scout backpacking on 04/16/2014 21:29:32 MDT Print View

I had a good experience getting a scout troop to try backpacking. About half the parents were in favor of it and we could not have pulled it off without the support. My son is out of the troop now, and I wonder how long the troop will remain active in backpacking. I'm still involved, but the new scoutmaster is a car camper. All the trips so far in 2014 have been car camping trips. my backpacking blog is here:

with pics of some scout trips with other backpacking posts. Bob

Edited by rshaver on 04/16/2014 21:33:12 MDT.

Bruce Tolley

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
BSA Backpacking miles? on 04/16/2014 21:40:45 MDT Print View

500 feet elevation gain to count as 1 mile?

I have never heard of this before. Maybe it is some convention or tradition of some troops or councils for local awards or recognitions.

The BSA guidelines for advancement are pretty clear that Scouters are not supposed to subtract from or add to the requirements. To apply such a calculation to the hiking requirements of merit badges or rank advancement would seem to be a "subtract from."

John Taylorson
(heyjt) - M

Locale: SoCal
Re: scout backpacking on 04/16/2014 22:50:55 MDT Print View

Bob, I like your site and trip reports. As for Scouts and backpacking, I too got a little push-back from some leaders who felt Scouting is geared more for base camping than backpacking. Now that so many boys have caught the bug, the boys are bored with base camping. I do, however, think there should be a balance.

John Taylorson
(heyjt) - M

Locale: SoCal
Re: BSA Backpacking miles? on 04/16/2014 22:56:06 MDT Print View

Bruce, "Backpacking miles" have been a tradition with our troop for many years (we are now 100 years old as of 2013). I don't know how the counsel justifies the added miles except that it accounts for elevation gain, which is extra effort.

As I posted earlier, I am not a fan of adding miles. If I had my way, I would do away with the calculation. I tell the Scouts that a "mile is a mile," nothing more, or nothing less.

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Re: Scouts complete 22 miles on a weekend and want more on 04/16/2014 23:39:15 MDT Print View

I've long used the concept of "equivalent miles" to equate flat-land hiking to hillwalking to mountainous terrain. Because whether you're training, backpacking miles between campsites, or assessing how sore you feel afterwards, those vertical feet do count. And they count pretty close to 500 vertical feet being like another horizontal mile.

Of course, carrying more weight in your pack makes the miles more demanding as well. I haven't developed or so rigorously checked a formula for that, but Ray Jardine has a table in his book. And being overweight makes it harder, too.

Downsides: It might seem like misrepresenting the accomplishment if "equivalent" isn't stressed and explained. And people with minimal or no experience might not accept the concept, however carefully it is explained.

Upsides: You give kids who tackle more mountainous terrain credit for having down so. And it gives some consolation as they are slogging up the mountain.

On balance, I'd lean towards just awarding on horizontal miles, but discussing the equivalent miles concept with the boys and patting them on the back for having done more than the minimum effort. My "25 night", "50 night" and "100 nights camped" awards were all night-for-night. No double credit for that wilderness survival merit badge night in a self-made shelter. No multiplier for snow camping. There is validity to all those concepts, but maybe that needs to another award - "year-round camper" to have camped every month of the year. "Mountain Man" for a backpacking trip with over 10,000 feet of vertical up + down. etc.

Edited to add: for our metric members, the equation is easier. Figure every 100m of vertical adds the effort of another 1 km of level hiking.

Edited by DavidinKenai on 04/16/2014 23:41:20 MDT.

Michael Gunderloy
(ffmike) - MLife
BSA and Backpacking on 04/17/2014 04:51:55 MDT Print View

Our troop does *some* backpacking - typically 1-2 trips a year. Sadly (to me) they don't do lightweight; 15 miles over 3 days is considered a tough trip, and most of the boys are carrying more and heavier gear than I am. I think this has largely been driven by a few older scouts & adults who see backpacking as a macho test of "you have to be able to carry 50 pounds without collapsing" then as a way to enjoy the outdoors. There's also an awful lot of attitude that you have to carry everything you might possibly need for any trek; this reaches the height of absurdity when boys are told to carry a minimum of 4 full Nalgene bottles of water for a trip when we're never more than a mile from running water.

I'm hoping to change this but it's a long slog. At least my boy and I are carrying sensible loads.

As far as equivalent miles...yes, there are national standards. But my observation across many units around here is that everyone breaks the rules in some manner or other. Maybe we're all just slackers.

Bob Shaver
(rshaver) - F

Locale: West
elevation gain and loss = miles on 04/17/2014 11:50:37 MDT Print View

Our council has the rule 1000' of gain = 1 mile, 2000' of loss = 1 mile. Some of my trips are 6 days, and only 40 miles or so total, but I call them 50 milers and no one checks the math. Some of our leaders do 50 milers in 3 days. A 6 day trip is different from a 3 day trip. Younger boys can to a 6 day 50 milers, plus for old geezers, 50 miles in 6 days is easier. 50 miles in 3 days is a marathon, not a fun vacation.

What we did that was different from most troops was get 11 year olds on a backpack early on, and have backpacks as our monthly campouts. The troop previously had car camps as the monthly trips, and the few backpacks were really just a guy and his family going backpacking. They were not announced early, so nobody could plan on joining them, and who wants to do 50 miles in 3 days anyway? We found that 11 years olds could do backpacks of 2 miles with no problem, and after that they were ready to do backpacks of 4 miles the next time.

I fear that our 6 years as a backpacking troop may be slipping away.

As far as mileage for merit badges, that is strictly miles hiked, no adjustment for elevation. For counting as a 50 mile hike, I use the elevation fudge factor, and the mileage inspector from BSA has not audited us yet.

Edited by rshaver on 04/17/2014 11:53:45 MDT.

Rick Adams
(rickadams100) - M
scout backpacking on 04/17/2014 12:39:08 MDT Print View

we have found it very difficult to convert a car camping troop to backpacking. we will get a lot for a very short, 1-2 mile, trip. few will go farther, but once they do they are hooked. we had a 75lb 11y/o do an 18 mile weekend out and back last fall. he has reprioritized his schedule, dropping soccer and basketball, to be available for ever scout outing since. his mom and dad haver never camped.

we do not practice ul but most of our backpacking leaders are l without the u and the few that aren't are converting. we literally beg parents to talk to us before buying gear so they are spending money in the right places. we also encourage repurposing non camp items.

i think most of the resistance to backpacking comes from the parents. we start talking about more than a couple miles or hiking on snow to camp and the murmuring starts in the back of the room.

we still schedule backpacking and sell it as older scout activities and car camping for the younger guys. we end up with young guys backpacking for pride, and they end up liking it.

i've come to accept that boy's join scouts for a variety of reasons, a number just to do the minimum for eagle, the actual outdoor stuff is nothing more than a necessary evil to those families.

i talked to an old scouter and he said the best way to get them to go longer mileages was simply to tell them it's 2 miles and take them 5. once they learn it isn't so bad they come back for more.

i'm not comfortable with adding mileage for altitude. i'll take it into account for planning but not for any type of merit. we hike 20 miles for the hiking merit badge in the woods on real hiking trails, other area troops walk the local highway frontage road because it is easier. i guess that's why many towns have several troops to choose from.