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The 45-Year-Old Boy Scout

We asked, you answered: Lightweight Testimony Contest Runner Up!

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by Frank Steele | 2010-05-11 00:00:00-06

The 45-Year-Old Boy Scout - 1
My son and I on a Scout outing, with our Exos packs on.

I have fond memories of hiking and camping during my one and only year in Webelos, back in the 70s (yeah, man). So when my nine-year-old son asked to join his buddy in Webelos three years ago, I was excited. I am just a big kid at heart, and now that I have my own money, I wanted to do this camping thing right! To get ready for going on Boy Scout backpacking trips, which wouldn't be for another year, I went out to the local retail store and went crazy. I bought Osprey packs for me and my son, a "light" (7 oz) stove, aluminum "lightweight" pots, a "lightweight" two-man tent (4 lbs 14 oz), "ultralight" (2 lbs 7oz) Slumberjack 40 degree (yeah, right!) sleeping bags and... well, you get the idea. If it had the word "light" in it, or better yet, "ultralight," I bought it. And I always got the lightest piece of gear. I mean, if it's the lightest in this famous store, it must be the lightest out there, right?

For our first father-son trek (before any troop outings), we picked a four-mile, 1200-foot elevation gain hike to a spring on the Mogollon rim here in Arizona. My "lightweight" gear weighed in around forty pounds, and my nine-year-old's was twenty pounds for this super-long-extended trip (less than twenty-four hours). Boy, was this backpacking thing tough!

My son crossed over to Boy Scouts, and the troop backpacked more often than when we first joined Scouting. I was used to seeing these eighty- to ninety-pound kids hauling a thirty-five- to fifty-pound load up and down the trails (for me, that would be equivalent to a ninety-five-pound pack!). I continued to struggle on steeper hikes and longer trips. My son is a trooper; he was carrying around 35% of his body weight on a regular basis.

After a brutal three-day trip that had us starting off with heavier-than-normal packs, because no one was sure of what the water situation would be, I thought "there has to be a way to carry less gear and still enjoy camping, I mean I already bought all this lightweight stuff." I discovered Backpacking Light, and my life and my hiking/camping enjoyment has been changed forever! My son and I have become enlightened, and it has helped me to enlighten his troop.

The 45-Year-Old Boy Scout - 2
A troop outing, in the olden days (a few years ago). Ouch!

I now tell the boys two things about lightening their loads. One, being prepared doesn't have to mean being equipped for every single possibility, and two, ultralight gear doesn't always have to be ultra expensive. Let's face it, these boys don't have a lot of their "own" money, and Mom and Dad just don't understand if they haven't hauled a fifty-pound pack up and down a mountain for three days. A lot of these kids have inherited their gear from an older sibling, and most of that stuff was considered heavy back then! I have had the boys make tea light alcohol stoves, aluminum can cooking pots, do-it-yourself tarps and have even sent them to Taco Bell to get their free ultra-ultralight spork.

Every new Scout that comes into the troop has to hear "The Speech" about the big three. I tell them, and their parents, that they need to get as good a durable light pack as they can afford and a good sleeping bag that is under four pounds, preferably three pounds or less. At first we couldn't do much about number three, the shelter. We had what we had. The boys had to trudge around with an eight-pound Coleman 7 x 7 dome tent.

But the boys have learned, as I have, to really look for multi-use items and to make some of their own gear. The latest favorite is the poncho-tarp. We don't get a lot of rain when we hike, but when we do, it is heavy. The boys are getting more comfortable with sleeping under a tarp if it is raining and under just the stars if it is not. Forget those expensive and heavy Nalgene bottles; use the bottle of water you just bought at 7-Eleven. Contrary to Mom's philosophy (sorry, but we still love ya!), you don't need four pairs of socks, three pairs of pants, three long sleeve and short sleeve shirts, a winter jacket, and a wind breaker for a three-day trip.

The 45-Year-Old Boy Scout - 3
Our campsite, a Bivy (Ti Goat), a Double Rainbow and a sub-five-pound Eureka.

Going light is especially important for the younger boys starting out, because if hiking isn't fun, they won't continue doing it. Let's face it: carrying 35-40% of your body weight on your back for two or three days isn't fun. But going light isn't just for the young, it helps us "old people" quite a bit. Forget some of the often cited advantages of going light: the faster pace, the better maneuverability, and more opportunities to observe nature... a forty-pound pack kills my knees, and a fifteen-pound pack doesn't!

BPL has really enabled me to make going lighter a continuous process, and it doesn't have to break the bank. I comb through all the articles, looking for new ideas to try and nuggets of wisdom I can share with the boys. No, it's not a cheap hobby, but it's less expensive than being a two-channel stereo audiophile, and better for you. Just like audiophiles, most BPL subscribers treat their gear with kid gloves, so when you go to the Gear Swap forum, (if you are diligent and fast enough) the used items you pick up are often as good as new. Gear Swap really changed how I built up my UL kit (thanks all you early adopter gear heads) and it lets me help the boys who don't have many resources. I can surf for something that wasn't "light enough" for a BPL'er, but is a blessing for some of these younger boys.

My son and I have our packs down to fourteen pounds or less, including clothes, water, and food for most of our two- to three-day hikes. It is fun to flabbergast other troops, passing by those boys and young men leaning forward carrying monster packs, often sticking up a foot or more above their heads. They see us and often say, "We're going up for three days, you just going for the day?" "Nope," we reply, "we are heading up for three days too. See you at the top."


"The 45-Year-Old Boy Scout," by Frank Steele. (ISSN 1537-0364)., 2010-05-11 00:00:00-06.


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The 45-Year-Old Boy Scout
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Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
The 45-Year-Old Boy Scout on 05/11/2010 14:56:00 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

The 45-Year-Old Boy Scout

Douglas Prosser
(daprosser) - MLife

Locale: Camarillo, California (SCAL)
I've been there too on 05/11/2010 23:32:54 MDT Print View

I have been at the same place with the heavy gear when my boys started Scouting. Boy if I only knew then what I know now I would have a lot less gear in my garage.

Good article. It brings back those memories. After carrying those light loads now go and carry someone's 50 pound pack for a while then you will really remember why you went light.

Charles Vandenbelt
(chuckwagon) - F

Locale: Nashville
The 45 year old Scout... on 05/12/2010 01:44:27 MDT Print View

Great read. Thanks for sharing. It should be mandatory reading for all hiking scouts ! Regards.

Charles Hill
(chuckster) - F

Locale: Georgia
The 45-Year-Old Boy Scout on 05/12/2010 07:47:43 MDT Print View

Great article! Like you, my son and I went through cub and boy scouts together too. We did a little backpacking with the scouts but mostly car camping. All the troop's gear was waaay to heavy for backpacking. My son, now 20, has been backpacking with me since he could carry his own pack (around 6 yrs old). He doesn't get to go with me much these days, he's away at college, but when we do go I'll be able to keep up with him with my lighter gear!

Enjoyed your article, very smart, good advice, thanks!

Edited by chuckster on 05/12/2010 14:23:01 MDT.

(ssejhill) - F

Locale: Western NY
45 year old boy scout on 05/12/2010 08:36:18 MDT Print View


Thanks for the story. It's great that you are sharing your found wisdom with the next generation. I aspire to be able to do the same with my girls and their friends.

Einstein X
(EinsteinX) - F

Locale: The Netherlands
both an audiophile and a BPL-er on 05/12/2010 08:39:44 MDT Print View

"(Hiking)'s not a cheap hobby, but it's less expensive than being a two-channel stereo audiophile, and better for you."

Just imagine being both an audiophile AND a BPL-er, like me... Luckily both (!) my turntables have already been bought many years ago. Now I'm looking for a Marantz tube amplifier and my collection of backpacks has been stagnant at a dozen for more than two years already and I need new hiking shoes and I need lighter trekking poles and I need a new bicycle and and and.....

The problems of a gear head.


Bradford Childs
(Ford22) - F
Ultralight epiphany during scouts on 05/12/2010 10:27:55 MDT Print View

Great story! I converted to ultralight backpacking during scouts too.

We went on a 6 day trip in the Weminuche Wilderness of Colorado. I remember weighing my pack at just shy of 50lbs. I also remember that I weighed 110lbs! Almost 50% of my body weight! On the second hiking day of the trip, I had to carry the group trash. The added load forced me to stop every hundred feet to rest for the whole hike.

I was convinced that backpacking could be better. When I returned I hit the internet and found the then handful of ultralight backpacking sites. Today, I am gearing up for a Colorado Trail thru hike this July with a base around 8lbs. It is hard to imagine how I thought that a 50lb pack was backpacking.

I think that scouts are the perfect canidates for ultralight backpacking. They are less likely think that camping under tarps, using cat food can stoves, and sleeping on 10 dollar foam pads is trashy.

If you have sons in scouts or a troup near you get out there and give a presentation about how ultralight backpacking can change the way you experience the backcountry!

(cuzzettj) - MLife

Locale: NorCal - South Bay
RE: "The 45-Year-Old Boy Scout" on 05/12/2010 10:44:46 MDT Print View

I love this article. I wonder when we ar going to start having Scouting related articles that cover "How to Pack" and "What to Pack". "How" drives me crazy.

But Mom's Yoga mat (Logo Included) covered in cotton that is 3 inches thick may be comfortable. But the anguish in her son's eyes as he struggles up the hill, items falling off of his pack, oversized items in the arms, devistates me. I didn't know do a good turn daily would add to my load. But it often does. Especially since I knew this boy when he was a Tiger Scout (read 6 years old here). Do a good turn daily, right?

Thank goodness this is how we teach the new boys. Park the cars at the bottom of the hill and let them head "up" to camp for their gear. No more than a 1/4 mile. Lesson learned? I think so. At least it gives them a starting point.

Glenn Holliday
(GlennBP) - F
The 45-Year-Old Boy Scout on 05/12/2010 20:41:13 MDT Print View

Thanks Frank. Your insights are encouraging. It may encourage you (and other Scouters) that when I took my Council's backcountry training, the first thing they did was weigh our packs. Scout backpacking is becoming more weight-wise.

I'm helping to teach a group of younger Scouts who have yet to try their first backpacking trek (planned for next month). I still have a long way to go myself. This community is helpful.

Sunny Waller
(dancer) - M

Locale: Southeast USA
Free Gear to good home on 05/13/2010 06:20:40 MDT Print View

Frank.. I tried out several things before I found out what gear works best for me. As an ex girlscout and explorer scout I would love to donate my extra gear to your cause. If you are interested please send a PM with your shipping address and I will send it to you.

Frank Steele
(knarfster) - F

Locale: Arizona
Thanks! on 05/13/2010 13:23:31 MDT Print View

Thanks Sunny,

PM sent. There have been others on BPL as well who have donated to our troop.

Thanks to all of you!

Jim Cowdery
(james.cowdery) - MLife

Locale: Central Florida
Scouts on 05/14/2010 08:06:16 MDT Print View

I too am a scouter. My first trip was with over 50 lbs and included a kitchen sink! I just got off an 80 mile AT section with my brother, also a scouter. It was his first extended backpacking trip and we averaged just over 12 miles per day.

I started at 18 lbs including my "elephants" and he was at 21 with more "elephants." It would have been a much different experience if he had packed with his normal "scouting" attitude which includes almost every piece of gear you can imagine.

Thanks BPL for the help in changing my attitude!

ABO HAMDAN alfowzan
(alfowzan) - F
Thanks on 05/19/2010 15:40:49 MDT Print View


Unknown abc
(edude) - F
"The 45-Year-Old Boy Scout" on 05/23/2010 17:29:55 MDT Print View

Great article, I can definetly relate. I wish all the bset to your troop in it's new LW endevours!

Andy Mullaly
(apmullaly) - F
Stoves on 05/29/2010 23:35:16 MDT Print View

Great story. I'm the new ASM for a brand new patrol and it gives me hope for what we can accomplish ourselves. The only thing I want to point out is that the BSA doesn't allow the boys to use alchohol stoves. Other than that keep up the great work!

Walter Underwood
(wunder) - M

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
BSA and alcohol stoves on 06/09/2010 17:29:51 MDT Print View

The BSA forbids homemade alcohol stoves.

Alcohol as a fuel is "not recommended", but it is not forbidden.

So, commercial alcohol stoves are within the range of allowed stoves.

I agree, a liquid fuel stove requires more care than something like an MSR Pocket Rocket. I would have the younger Scouts use a stove like that.

I like my SuperCat stove, and think it is a great example of "A Scout is Thrifty".

I'm ASM for the Venture Patrol (13 and up), Troop 14, Palo Alto.

Edited by wunder on 06/09/2010 17:30:49 MDT.

Tad Englund
(bestbuilder) - F - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: BSA and alcohol stoves on 06/09/2010 19:21:48 MDT Print View

Walter, this is from the BSA website GSS-
"Prohibited Chemical-Fueled Equipment—Equipment that is handcrafted, homemade, modified, or installed beyond the manufacturer’s stated design limitations or use. Examples include alcohol-burning “can” stoves, smudge pots, improperly installed heaters, and propane burners with their regulators removed."

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Re: BSA and alcohol stoves on 06/09/2010 20:03:15 MDT Print View

> Prohibited Chemical-Fueled Equipment—Equipment that is handcrafted, homemade,
> modified, or installed beyond the manufacturer’s stated design limitations or use.
> Examples include alcohol-burning “can” stoves,

So it's OK to give a Boy Scout an XGK running on white gas with the MSR recommendation for 'fireball' priming, but it is not OK to let him use a small alky tea-light stove?

Totally Ridiculous.


Tad Englund
(bestbuilder) - F - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Re: Re: BSA and alcohol stoves on 06/09/2010 20:25:08 MDT Print View

I agree Roger- but I think it is a lawyer thing.

I think they need to rethink this issue. The might be letting liability get in the way of their core values.

Bob Gough
(Raven333) - F

Locale: New York
Re: Re: BSA and alcohol stoves on 06/25/2010 06:31:37 MDT Print View

Actually in the Greater New York Counsel all liquid fuel stove are out of bounds. I was recently doing a cooking demo where I had a number of stoves to show the pros/cons of each

MSR Dragon Fly
MSR WhisperLite

MSR Windpro
MSR Reactor

Brasslite Turbo IID
White Box Alcohol Stove


and was told I couldn't use most of them in camp. I was a little disappointed

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Organizations and rules on 06/25/2010 08:53:38 MDT Print View

It's a problem with organizations. They are looking for the common good and things drop to the lowest common denominator. In this case that means fire and CO emitting equipment in the hands of children and uninformed adults. People kill themselves all the time using fuel heaters indoors, etc, etc, etc. And then there are insurance companies...

That aside, it looks like Esbit stoves would be a good UL option for the Scouts. For those councils that allow liquid fuels, there are certainly decent manufactured alcohol stoves like the Trangia. The 28-T would make a reasonable Scout cooking kit.

Any option needs some adult supervision with the younger ones. There are some brain/reality disconnects with kids and firebugs can pop up now and then.

Joseph Schwartz
(craftsman) - F
Re: Re: Re: BSA and alcohol stoves on 07/07/2010 13:09:52 MDT Print View

Rodger, the policy is rediculous but they may not even allow a "fireball priming" MSR. When I was an ASM they were forcing us to convert or replace our white gas Colman stoves to propane. Insurance risks were too high. It sounds to me like inattentative leaders not properly training their charges.

Michael Sagehorn
(msagehorn) - F
Scouters sometimes play it too safe on 07/26/2011 18:21:39 MDT Print View

I'll weigh in a bit. A good share of BSA's struggle are the local council and district leaders.

One issue about teaching Scouts low impact/lightweight camping is the structure of the outings themselves. Camporees, for example, are more about creating base camps similar to backyard picnics--tables, heavy stoves, units dependent on trucks,large SUV's, and leaders sleeping in trailers, campers, and even RV's and cabins on the outing sites. At one camporee I attended the Camp Director was so obese he traveled from troop campsite to campsite in a bloody golf cart!

At the district level, I proposed an expedition-type theme camporee. We have a local mountain with several campsites suitable for large groups. Boys and their units would "climb the mountain" (a 3-4 hour walk) with only their backpacking type gear. A "safety vehicle" would be onhand for any med issues. Much of Tenderfoot, 2nd, and 1st Class requirements could be completed as well as much of the Backpacking and Hiking merit badge tests. The State park rangers were key to it as well and agreed they could come up with a mix of service project ideas for a two hour period.

It was rejected because it was too "high adventure" and some of the adults could not keep up with the boys or even walk that far. I made no sense and I retreated from leadership roles beyond my own unit. The issue wasn't the BSA lawyers, it was the some of the Scouter's themselves.