Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Why Pack Light Part 3

While all the advantages I listed in the two previous posts are big, they are not the reason most of us pack light.  Sure, not being worn out from a heavy pack at the end of a big mileage day is a plus.  Knowing how to rely on skills to keep yourself safe if definitely important.  However the number one reason to pack light is that it is just MORE FUN!

There, it is just that simple.  Most of the hikers I know are out there just to have a little fun.  They want to get away from the civilized world and all that it entails to enjoy all the scenery that nature has to offer.  The first thing you discover with a lightweight pack is that you are not staring at the ground. Because you no longer have that load on your back, your center of gravity is closer to your body’s center.  Your head is up and you can look around to see where you are.  I keep a camera in my hip pocket and click off pictures all day without having to drop a pack.  Heck many times I forget the thing is back there.

Want to do a little off trail hiking?  Not a problem.  Without the burden of an extra 35+ pounds, pick your own route to catch a special view or explore a new area.  The best views are not always on a trail and especially out west there are an abundance of opportunities to hike where few other dare to go.  One reason may be that with less gear your range of travel increases.  Higher mileage days with less effort allow you to reach remote areas.  Fording a stream or even a river is not a major obstacle.  

With more room for food, you can even hike more days.  In 2012, I hiked ten days with a 26 pound pack covering 213 miles.  I did make an unplanned stop in Franklin, NC when the Bartram Trail turned into a road walk and passed right by a Zaxby’s.  It was just too tempting to pass up.  I ended up running into a friend in town and got to enjoy a hot shower and a comfortable bed.  Because my pack was down below 18 pounds I had no trouble meeting a ride at Fontana to collect my scheduled resupply.

Since I started packing light, getting ready to go on a backpacking trip is less of a chore.  With less gear, there is less to pack.  I’ve found that a weekend trip or a month long trip requires about the same gear.  I take into account changes in weather on longer trips with maybe an additional layer but that’sabout it.  Packing food is where I spend most of my time.  I’m notorious for packing too much on short trips and not enough on longer ones.  Not by much but it’s a developing skill.

So that’s it.  Start leaving that extra “just in case gear” at home.  Start looking around on your next adventure and see what you’ve been walking by.  Extend your hike a few more miles next trip with a lighter pack.  Just get out and enjoy.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Why Pack Light Part 2

In my last post I gave a number of reasons why Scouts and everybody else should pack light from a physical stand point.  Sure packing a lightweight backpack is a lot easier to carry and easier on joints and all the other stuff I mentioned.  It also has other benefits that I also think are as important or may be more important especially to the Scouting program.

One of the things we all try to engrain in our boys is “think” about what they are doing and more importantly why they are doing it.  When a hiker crosses over to the “light side” of backpacking, thinking becomes more important than ever.  They are no longer depending on “gear” to insure safety and comfort.  It now becomes important to possess “skills” to live and travel safely and comfortably in the back country.  Instead of investing in a bomb proof tent, a lightweight backpacker needs to be skilled in campsite selection.  Does this site drain well or am I going to wake up in a puddle of water?  Am I in an exposed area where strong winds are blowing or am I too low where cold air will pool?  If the weather suddenly changes, how can I use combinations of clothing or layering to stay warm?  I’ve gotten wet, how can I build a fire to dry my clothes and warm me up? This type of backpacking is not simply about hitting the nearest outfitter and buying the latest lightweight gear.  You need to know how to use it; its limitations and how it works with the other gear you carry.

Every piece of gear needs to be evaluated as it is packed.  Is this the best choice of gear for this trip?  Under what weather conditions will it have to perform?  Would a wood burning stove be the best choice above the tree line?  Probably not but it would be a good choice on a trip where there are an abundance of trees.  Would you need a zero degree bag on a late spring or summer trip?  Not likely but there are alternatives that would work and be much lighter.  The idea is to get the boys to think about their gear choices and understand the difference between “what you need and what you want”.  Here is an exercise I do and encourage my Scouts to do after each trip.  Dump all your gear in the floor.  Divide it into three piles.  Pile number one is the stuff you used on the trip.  It will include things like the pack, sleeping gear, and cooking kit.  Pile two consist the things you may not have used but should take anyway.  Items in this pile will be a first aid kit, rain gear, compass and the other items that are part of the “10 Essentials".  The third pile will consist of stuff you did not use.  This pile is usually big the first couple of trips and as time goes on hopefully works down to nothing.  Things that might go into this pile are extra batteries, changes of clothes and too many snacks.  

In addition to having less weight to carry on your back there are a couple of other pay offs from carrying less gear.  If you carry less stuff, there is less to keep up with and less chance of losing gear.  Since there are so few items in your pack, it is easy to do a quick check each morning before leaving camp.  I always run an inventory list through my head as I hike out of camp.  With such a short list it is easy to remember seeing item as I packed.  I also make a habit of packing every item in the same place each day.  That makes it easy to find when I need it.  

Another advantage is a neater campsite. There will be very little gear to leave sitting around.  The only clothing outside your shelter most likely will be pieces that need drying.  Having a neat campsite not only implies an experienced camper but increases your efficiency the next morning when you start packing.  

So not only is a lightweight pack easier to carry, it also requires us to become more skilled as hikers and campers.  It makes us evaluate what we carry instead of just tossing it in “just in case”.  It reduces the chances of losing gear and after all, how many of us can afford to keep replacing stuff.  It also makes us more efficient getting out of camp in the morning.  As someone wrote in a journal at Walnut Mountain Shelter, “morning miles are the best, get up and hike”.

Next post we will look at the fun factor!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Why Pack Light?

A few months ago I read a post by a traditional backpacker that pretty much bashed the idea of lightweight backpacking.  His point was that when things get a little rough that lightweight backpackers get in trouble.  They miss out hiking during the colder months because they don’t carry enough gear.  Well I must admit that on more occasions than I care to count I have cut trips short because of sudden weather changes.  However when I’ve planned on less than desirable conditions I have enjoyed hiking in falling snow and sleeping on the ground on a sub-freezing night.

So what are the advantages of hiking light?  What is it that challenges some of us to drop pounds and ounces when others are convinced we are taking chances with safety and comfort?  

In another post I told a story about an adult leader that was convinced a 50 pound backpack was required to hike at Philmont.  If you have ever gone to the Scout ranch in New Mexico and checked out the crews leaving base camp you could easily conclude that many have the same opinion.  At the end of that trip my friend was happy he had cut 15 pounds out of his pack.  He also wished he had cut more.  He was not alone.  Another Scouter in a different crew went the traditional route and has since contacted me several times about cutting weight.  Why?

There are numerous reasons to cut the load you carry on your back.  It’s not just a number game or a contest to see can have the lightest pack.  There are legitimate reasons to cut down on what you and your Scouts carry into the back county.  Let’s start with some of the physical reasons.

A lighter pack results in fewer aches and pains.  It is less stressful on the knees and ankles.  I don’t think I know of a single person that carries around a 50 pound pack on their back almost every day.  Yet many of us would shoulder that weight for a weekend in the woods thinking that we are getting outdoors and doing something healthy for ourselves.  One of the leading problems with our joints including our backs could be contributed to by “Weekend Warrior” activities.  All week we are somewhat sedentary or worse and come the weekend wehead out for an exciting activity.  Our bodies and those of our Scouts who have spent the week sitting in a classroom don’t always adjust to the change.  As a result we twist ankles, strain knees and hurt backs.  No wonder my chiropractor keeps a couple of open appointments on Monday mornings.  

Most of the time these injuries heal and we are all the better and stronger on the next trip.  However repeated damage especially to joints can lead to long term mobility problems.  My Philmont friend also pointed out on the last night of our trip, his lighter pack had not strained him to the point of needing Ibuprofen to sleep much less get up and hike.  I myself experience less soreness after a hike with 20+ mile days than I did at a younger age with much shorted days.  The only difference is the weight in my pack.

If you ask any hiker what is the number one injury their answer would most likely be blisters.  Oh, have I experienced my share of those painful water filled bubbles on my feet.  Blisters are a reaction to the rubbing of your skin inside your shoes or boots.  The first defense against blisters is proper fitting footwear including socks.  However when you strap on that pack the increase in weight puts extra stress on your feet.  Swelling of your feet is the body’s reaction to this stress.  Since your feet are now larger, there is more rubbing.  More rubbing results in blisters.  If the load on your back is lighter, it just stands to reason that the stress on your feet and the resulting swelling will be less.  All I can say here is that the lighter my load the fewer blisters I develop.  Even on days when I’m constantly walking in water I usually don’t have problems.  In 2010 I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail.  On the entire trip I only had two blisters. Both were on the rocks in Pennsylvania.  My pack weight was never over 24 pounds.  

One of the sadder moments on my AT thru-hike was seeing the dreams of other hikers interrupted as they left the trail because of injuries.  One that I remember well was in NC near Cheoah Bald.  It’s a rocky section of trail that is seven miles of straight up from the Nantahala Gorge on one side and down over five miles on the other.  The day before I had met a hiker namedBucksnort.  He was an older hiker but appeared in good shape.  To celebrate his seventieth birthday he was hiking to Maine.  On the way down the trail he asked me to go ahead since I walked a little faster than him.  When I got to Stecoah Gap I saw a couple of members of the local rescue squad.  They were hiking up to carry Bucksnort out.  As he came down the mountain with his traditional size pack, he stumbled and broke his ankle.  There is no way to say that a smaller pack would have prevented this injury.  However I find that carrying a smaller pack allows me to be more agile and easily move over uneven ground.  There were many spots on the AT such as Mahoosuc Notch where Trail Trash and I breezed through while others carefully had to pick their way around and over and even under the rocks.  A lighter smaller lighter pack keeps the weight closer to your natural center of gravity.  This makes moving over uneven ground easier and helps avoid falls and injuries.  


While all of the above reasons could apply to any backpacker this next one is mainly directed at us older hikers.  We didn’t get here without some wear and tear on us.  Some old injuries are work related and others are from sport endeavors.  Either way trying to do too much can cause them to rare their ugly heads when we had plans that did not include nursing a pain from the past.  A bone crushing dive over the handle bars of a bicycle a few years ago left me with a permanent reminder that I’m not indestructible.  Despite the back injury I’m still able to backpack for days at the time.  One of my fellow Scouters in the Greensboro area has a lower back issue and has found a lighter pack helps keep him on the trail too.

So less weight is not just about that light weight load.  There arephysical reasons not to load yourself down with unnecessary gear.  I plan to continue my reasons for lightweight backpacking in additional posts looking at both skills and enjoyment of a lighter pack.

Monday, November 4, 2013

A 21 Ounce Quilt for Under $100.00!

One of the three heaviest items in a Scout's pack is his sleeping bag. Not only is it most likely to be the heaviest, it's usually the largest single item sometimes requiring a bigger pack. This one item can cause another piece of gear to be larger and heavier. On a recent trip a newer Scout told me he couldn't carry a tent. After putting his sleeping bag in his pack, there was no more room. I helped him find room but it was a tight fit. By the way the pack he was using was one of mine I don't use any more because it's so big. 

Some years back I noticed I had stopped using the zipper on my sleeping bag. Instead I was draping it over me like a blanket. It made it easy to regulate the temperature on warmer nights and was plenty warm on cold nights. On very cold nights I could wear my jacket for extra warmth without interfering with the loft of the bag. 

My first real quilt was a homemade one with .8" of Climbashield XP insulation.  The rating of such a quilt should be above 50 degrees. On a couple occasions I've used it down into the 30s by just puting on a jacket and an extra shirt. 
The quilt in the picture contains 5oz. Climbashield Apex. One of the advantages to this material is it only needs stitching around the edges. This makes the sewing as simple as making a pillowcase. You can order the materials from ThruHiker.com on their kit page and they will supply you with 2 1/2 yards of insulation, shell and liner. All you need is some 100% polyester thread, a sewing machine and a pair of sciccors. 

When your package arrives, lay the materials out flat. I went ahead and laid the three pieces the way they would be sewn. Bottom layer is the Climbashield. The middle layer is the liner with the dull side up followed by the shell, dull side down. Give it a day or two for the wrinkles to relax. 

Make a pattern out of newspaper. You will lose 2" in both directions when you sew it together. I made mine 85" long and 54" wide at the top.  This makes the finished quilt 83"x52". 
Pin the pattern to the assembly and cut it out. Rotary cutters work great but a good pair of sciccors will do the job too. 
Once the quilt is cut out, tack the assembly together with a few stitches every 10"-12". This isn't absolutely necessary but will help to keep the Climbashield from bunching up in the machine. Then sew the two long sides and the top. Now turn the quilt right side out so that the dull sides of the shell and liner are out.  Trim the Climbashield so the liner can be folded over it and sewn. Fold the end of the shell to the inside and stitch the final end of the quilt together. 

To make a foot box, fold the quilt in half the long way. Starting at the folded corner of the 40" end sew the two sides together and continue sewing up the back of the quilt about 20". The foot box keeps the quilt from pulling up and exposing your feet in the middle of the night. 
The over all rating of this quilt is 38 degrees. Keep in mind that with a fleece and long underwear you can go much lower and remain comfortable. Best of all it compresses in your pack to almost the size of a football!

Enjoy your new quilt. 

Friday, November 1, 2013

Wilson Creek Backpacking Trip

I'm sure at one time or another every Scoutmaster has been questioned as to why their Troop goes backpacking. Over the years I've used a number of reasons but the best one I can possibly give us the connection that children need with nature. For that matter the connection we all need with nature and how it enhances our playfulness. On a recent trip onto Wilson Creek Wilderness Area I was reminded of the shear joy kids get playing outside. Richard Louv in his 2005 book "Last Child in the Woods", addressed the need for children to have time to explore the outdoors.  So when I saw a post on Facebook about kids having phones and tablets and social networking but we had the outside I started thinking about how a Scout outing could help nurture the bond between boys and nature. 

Fall of 2012 I proposed a backpacking trip to the Troop. While I have a reputation for cramming a lot into a trip this one would be different. Total mileage for the weekend was only about 6 miles. The boys questioned me asking what would they do with the rest of the day?  My response was "I'm sure we'll find something to do".

The big weekend rolled around and temperatures were a little cool but I felt they would be warm enough for what I had planned. We drove up on the Blue Ridge Parkway and headed south toward Linville, NC. At Roseboro Road we descended down off the mountain ridge to a campsite next to a stream. In the dark we set up tents and crawled in for the night. 
The next morning the boys took their time with breakfast. For some reason making pancakes takes them forever but then we were only hiking 3 miles today. Finally we got on the trail fording a couple of streams and of course getting wet. Just before lunch we walked out on a rock surface with a cascading stream forming three good size swimming holes. 
The other leaders and I set safety boundaries for the boys but for the most part they were allowed to just have fun and play in the water. 
It didn't take long for their creativity to kick in. They found the wet rocks slick enough to slide down. It was one big natural water slide. The other adults and I watched as they experienced fun that came from just being in nature. For the better part of the day iPods, cell phones and Gameboys disappeared from their memories as they splashed in a clear mountain stream and laughed as they hit the cold water. 
After a late lunch we set out to find a campsite. A couple fords later we came across a suitable spot. But instead of stopping I asked the boys to hike a little farther up the trail. A couple just wanted to set up their tents but came along anyway. About a quarter mile later we turned the corner to discover a waterfall with two large swimming holes. There were smiles all around as they jumped in for another swim. 

It reminded me of the days when I was a kid and spent time in the summer in a farmer's irrigation pond or an old sand pit. The only thing missing was a fresh picked watermelon out of Bradley Forest's field. 

When this seasons schedule was being put together it was decided early on that the Wilson Creek trip was to be repeated. The number of boys participating this year was almost double. 

The outdoors never goes out of style.  

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Boone Fork to Beacon

If yesterday was about the fall colors I guess today is about water. Both Sunday and Monday I've had to carry extra water to drink since sources were far apart. Not today. There was water everywhere. 

At 5AM this morning I was awakened by a gentle rain. There are really only two times I dislike rain while hiking. One is while I'm setting up camp and the other is while breaking camp. Neither activity takes more than about 20 minutes so all I need is a quick break in the showers. I feel back asleep and waited out the rain. After all I did about 28 miles yesterday so today should be an easy 20 or so I thought. 

Less than a quarter mile from camp I encountered Boone Fork. At first I thought it would be a rock hop but half way across I realized I was going to get wet. I finished the crossing in knee deep water. It actually did not feel all that cold and I was feeling good about all the fords I knew were ahead of me. 
I stopped after about a mile and had breakfast on a rock outcropping. I had walked down a side trail to Hebron Falls but I didn't find it all that impressive so I looked for a drier spot. 

I continued on the Boone Fork Loop for 3 miles before getting on the Tanawaha Trail. The trail started out pretty easy and past through pastures and open fields as it approached Grandfather Mountain. The closer I got to Grandfather the more I was sure Tanawaha meet roots and rocks. This is a difficult trail. Some parts are seldom used as it is somewhat over grown in sections. A few places I was only able to walk about 1 1/2 miles an hour. 

Late morning I stopped and talked to a couple from Rakeigh. They had been hiking a few of the trails in the area. They gave me the latest weather report. When I left I had expected a littl rain Tuesday and then cooled temps toward the end of the week. They said that had changed and snow was now in the forecast. 

I walked along and thought about the new forecast and decided to check the weather on my phone. I didn't see snow but I did see a 40% chance of rain for the next couple of days. What was more disturbing was the daytime high on Friday. It was only 38 degrees!  Yips. Now cold is one thing and rain is another but both together in the mountains of NC can spell disaster. So I started thinking about options. 

I could hike at least one more day but that would put me in the middle of Wilson Creek Wilderness where it would be hard to get out if I had to. I also needed to think about who could come get me. Then I remembered Trail Trash and his new bride were heading home from their honeymoon. I hesitated to call but decided to ask anyway. When he answered the phone his first words were "you need a ride?" Well it wasn't like I had rescued him off a trail before. He said it would be awhile and I said anytime will be okay with me. 

I slowed down my pace a especially enjoyed Rough Ridge. The views are spectacular on top. As I looked out at the landscape I could see the lead edge of the front moving in. 
Everyone I met was bundled up and several were talking about how cold it was and how it was going to get colder. I was comfortable in shorts and a long sleeve T-shirt. I don't know what the temperature was but this fellow was enjoying a nice spot in the sun. 
About 5PM I arrived at Beacon Heights and as always when I hike early I was second guessing my decision.  Well in two and a half days I had covered 57+ miles and I enjoyed some outstanding views. I also know that these mountains have been here thousands of years. They will be here when I can come back. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Deep Gap to Boone Fork Trail

Monday is the day I normally spend time with my three year old grandson Henry. So several times today I thought about what he and I would be doing. One day he will be ready to take a trip with me. I'm looking forward to those hikes. 

This morning I woke up to the sound of traffic on 421. That steady drone of car engines. I quickly left that behind as I hiked parallel to a section of the parkway that was closed. This section was described as most trail. Well the first half was. The second half was mostly road walks. As the cars speeded by I kept wishing to be back where all I heard were my foot steps and the occasional buck snort. 
After Blowing Rock I was back on all trails again. I saw a few people near Cone Memorial Park. Other than that I've been pretty much alone. I'm just walking along and enjoying the fall colors. I don't think they could be better. I even found an apple tree to get a snack   
I'm not real sure about today's mileage. There were a few new sections open and I missed where I planned to camp. So I'm thinking about 28 miles. That will be the longest day this trip. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Check-in/OK message from SPOT EZ Hiker

EZ Hiker
GPS location Date/Time:10/21/2013 18:47:12 EDT

Message:Out on a week long walk from Horse Gap to Mount Mitchell on the Mountain to Sea Trail!

Click the link below to see where I am located.

If the above link does not work, try this link:

EZ Hiker

You have received this message because EZ Hiker has added you to their SPOT contact list.

Ready for Adventure

Horse Gap to the Continental Divide on the MST

WhT a weekend!  What a wedding!  Trail Trash and his new bride Emily married at Sugar Hollow Retreat. It was a great time and my vegan lasagna and cheese cake was a hit. Totally screwed my stomach up but all the vegans and vegetarians loved it. My sisters want the recipies. 

My lovely bride decided I needed some hiking time. So on the way home she dropped me off at Horse Gap on the MST. My plan was to stop at Pbillip's Gap but I was thee by 4 o-clock and decided to hike on. 
I stopped for supper at the spring house in Jefferies Park. Made a pot of Mac and Cheese since it wouldn't take long. Dumped a package of tuna on top.  The esbit can stove worked great. While supper cooked I got a couple of liters of water from the spring. No water for the next few miles. 
Tonight I'm camped near the Continental Divide. Not as big a deal as the one out west but I'm happy to be here anyway. 

I covered 14.25 miles in just 6 hours. Tomorrow is my biggest day. To get to Cone Park it will be 26 miles. 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Check-in/OK message from SPOT EZ Hiker

EZ Hiker
GPS location Date/Time:10/20/2013 19:12:38 EDT

Message:Out on a week long walk from Horse Gap to Mount Mitchell on the Mountain to Sea Trail!

Click the link below to see where I am located.

If the above link does not work, try this link:

EZ Hiker

You have received this message because EZ Hiker has added you to their SPOT contact list.

Ready for Adventure

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Trail Salsa

It's been a rushed week to say the least. Over the weekend I spoke about backpacking to three different groups. On Saturday afternoon I was at Woodfield Scout Preservation with Webelos Scouts and their parents. From there I drove to Hagan Seabase where I slept to the sound of a gentle rain all night. At first light I put up a second tent for my demo and it poured. However I still had a great time with the group of adult Scouters taking the IOLS class. 

Back home that night I did an on line interview with Scout Circle. My internet died about 40 minutes into the podcast. However it was my iPhone that came to the rescue. We finished the conversation and then I spent the next several hours thinking I could of done better. 

All week long I've been cooking. Not much in the way of trail food. My son Trail Trash is getting married this Saturday and I'm cooking supper for all the bride and groom's friends and family Friday night. By the way the bride and groom are Vegan. Got love a challenge like that when normally I cook everything Paleo. What's on the menu?  We're having lasagna with cheese cake for desert. It's amazing what you can do with a few cashews. 
I like to surprise my Scouts with interesting foods when we go backpacking. A few trips back I carried in a bag of corn chips. Of course you need salsa to go with them. Below is the recipe. How did the boys react?  At first they were a little skeptical but after one of my braver Scouts tried it out, it disappeared quickly. It also is good served over a bowl of beans and rice. 

1/3 cup  Sundried Tomatoes 
1⁄2 package Taco Mix 
2 tsp  Dried Onions 
2 tsp  Cilantro Leaves 
2 tsp   Sugar 
2/3 cup  Water

At Home: Chop tomatoes a fine as possible (they'll rehydrate better). Put all ingredients except the water in a zip lock baggie. 

In Camp: Add the water about 30 minutes to an hour before you are ready to use. 

I like plantain chips. They hold up better than potato chips in a pack. My grandson Henry (age 3) likes the Trader Joe's brand with monkeys on the package. He calls them monkey chips. 

Hope you enjoy the salsa. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Dealing with Philmont Bears

My original plan was to present Amsteel 7/32" rope as a light weight alternative to the Philmont ropes.  However as I did my research and talked with one of their rangers from last summer, I found the practice of using lighter rope has been discontinued.  In looking for an explanation it became clear one major problems with the thinner rope was the ability to haul heavy loads up on the bear cables.  Not that the rope could not handle the load, it was the Scouts unable to pull the load on such thin rope.  My crew always wrapped the cord around a stick but evidently this didn't work when other crews tried it.
So the question would be why were the bear bags so heavy?  After all there should only be food, sun screen, insect repellent and a few other smellables.  But from my last trip out I remember that is not always the case. One major source of weight is drink bottles.  On the east coast we seldom worry about a water bottle that has had Gatorade or some other drink mix in it.  Our bears are a little more cautious of humans and have an easier time finding something to eat other than electrolyte replacements.  At Philmont, the bears regularly chew up Nalgene bottles that have been used to mix Gatorade.  As a result, all bottles used for drink mix are hung each night.  Now an empty bottle is not that big a deal but think about a crew with six boys and they all have two bottles full of water to haul up on the cable.  My suggestion is have each boy bring only one hard plastic bottle (other water containers should be soft sided like a Platypus) designated for drink mix.  Around 5 PM remind them to drink whatever is in the bottle.  This way all the bottles hung on your bear line are empty. 
Another source of weight could be the goodie bag. Philmont gives you an ample supply of food. Boys that are not big eaters or whom are picky eaters may not eat as much food as they are supplied. Some leaders believe in cooking all the food they are given. There is a good rationale for that line of thinking. The members of the crew are hiking a lot miles and need calories. But if it gets cooked and not eaten then you have more weight to carry. And this is messy weight. I've found it is normal for backpackers not eat a lot the first couple of days. Don't worry as long as they are eating something. About day three or four they will start to eat. They will be hitting the hiker boxes at every camp looking for snacks. Watch the nut butters. They will usually go for them first. 
Philmont also requires you to carry their bear bags.  They are not heavy and with the abrasive dirt they are exposed to it is probably a better idea than trying to use your own.  I would suggest having individual stuff sacks or large plastic zip lock bags for each boy to store his smellables.  This way in the morning each crew member simply retrieves his bag from the bear bags instead of spending time sorting it out.  Remember at Philmont the daytime temperatures can approach triple digits so hiking early and enjoying the midday shade makes a lot of sense.

And when you see a bear at Philmont, make a lot of noise.  Yes everyone wants to take a picture and send it home to worry mom.  For the sake of the bears, scare them off as quickly as possible.  For the most part they have lost their fear of humans.  Philmont's policy (at least when I was there) is three strikes and you are out.  If you see a bear with an ear tag, it made one mistake.  If it has two tags, it messed up twice.  You will not see any with three tags.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Shelters at Philmont Scout Ranch

It seems like an appropriate day to talk about shelters at Philmont.  First of all tents are one of the heaviest pieces of gear at the ranch.  Even their new tents are almost four pounds.  But again let me say that Philmont gear has to be built "bombproof" to withstand the use it gets from the hundreds of Scouts that visit each summer.

The other reason is it is pouring rain today.  A tropical low is riding up a front through North Carolina and dumping on us.  Normally I wouldn't give this a second thought except DOT is in the process of paving the road that leads to my driveway.  My wife left the house a little while ago and called to tell me all the water on the new street was flooding our drive.  So I just finished walking up the road to take a few pictures of the soon to be new ditch across my driveway.  Looks like either DOT or I will have to be burying some pipe to route off the water.  Sure hope its them.

Now for tents at Philmont.  When we attended in 2009 I asked about a fly with a bug tent underneath.  The answer was very clear about their requirements.  First, for youth there should be at least two to a tent unless there is an odd number of Scouts.  The preference is for two adults to a tent but they were a little more flexible on this point.  The reasoning is that there is limited space for tents in the campsite.  Secondly the tent or shelter has to be fully enclosed.  There are sometimes afternoon rain storms that could possibly blow water into an open style tent and wet a Scout's gear.  With temperatures dropping into the low 40's at night it would be an uncomfortable night.  Floors do not have to be attached to the tent but be advised, the ground in the campsites is bare and hard.  Water will puddle but fortunately not long.

After considering several options for shelters we decided on Tarptents.  I already owned a Cloudburst II and had access to two others.  We checked www.tarptent.com and decided to purchase two additional tents.  The Squall II looked like a good choice.  Both tents were in the 34 to 36 ounce range.  The Cloudburst II uses its own poles while the Squall II uses a trekking pole for support.  The Cloudburst II could be set up quickly with three stakes and the Squall II is set up with 4 stakes. 

Philmont requires a dining fly just in case of rain.  I've been to the ranch twice and I think it only rained briefly one afternoon while we were still in base camp.  However there is always the chance and its best to "be prepared".  Instead of their tarp and poles we elected to carry a 8x10 silnylon tarp.  We used hiking poles to support the center and staked it out in a modified "A" frame.  It was a little tight to get all of us under the tarp, but we really only used it to store our packs at night.  Weight of the tarp in a stuff sack is 17 ounces.  The weight of the poles was free since most of us used hiking poles.

Our crew consisted of ten members.  There were six boys and four adults.  As the crew gear came together we were able to hold the amount each member carried to about two pounds.  Here are a couple of pictures displaying our packs.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Lightweight Insulated Mess Kit

I spent most of yesterday afternoon working on a presentation for lightweight backpacking.  One of the segments is about packing and gear errors that Scouts tend to make.  Recently a young man decided to transfer to our Troop.  His mom was so happy to hear that we were going backpacking the very next week. She said he had just gotten a new mess kit and couldn't wait to try it out.

Over the years I have seen a lot of mess kits.  They usually range from the official BSA model with a frying pan, cook pot, plastic cup and dish.  There is also a knife , spoon and fork set to go with it.  I've also seen my share of the heavy metal military surplus kits.  Come on.  Enough is enough.  What does it take to eat a meal prepared in the patrol's pot?  Nothing but a bowl and a spoon.  After a few trips I can usually talk the boys into an old margarine tub and a plastic spork from KFC.

A few years back as we prepared to go to Philmont, I decided to make each crew member an insulated mess kit.  I made a quart and pint size bowl and the pint ended up being the one the boys liked the best.  Two of my assistant leaders are still using ones I made.

So here is what you will need:

1- Rubbermaid Tagalong Screw Top Container
Some foil bubble wrap
Foil type duct tape
5 minute epoxy

Cut a piece of the bubble wrap 4"x13.5".  Mark one of the long sides into eight equal segments.  Counting from the bottom corner, number the marks 0-9.  At each end make a mark 1 7/8" from the bottom.  Also make a mark at 1 7/8" above marks 2, 4, 6 and 8.  Connect the marks to form a series of triangle like in the picture below.

Cut out the triangles and fold the cozy together.  Using the container as a form may be helpful.  Use 1" strips of tape along the length of the cuts to hold the foil together.  Cut a circle of insulation to fit the cap.

Using a sharpie and a 1/4 cup measure, add water to the container and mark the outside of the container for measuring.

Mix the epoxy and spread on the outside of the container on the bottom and under the rim.  Slide the insulation in place.  Smear epoxy on the cap and apply the circle of insulation.  Give each a slight twist to spread the epoxy.

The results is a neat little insulated mess kit that with a cut off spoon (to fit inside) that weighs less than 2 ounces.  Clean up is a breeze.  Add a little hot water, place spoon inside, replace cap and shake.  Cleans up like the dishwasher back home.  One word of caution, be careful when you open the container after washing.  The hot water expands any air in the container so there will be some pressure inside.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Personal Gear for Philmont Scout Ranch

I know exactly what you are saying.  It’s not my gear that’s so heavy, it’s all that crew gear that Philmont makes us take.  Well there is a lot of truth in that statement but it’s not the whole truth.  Philmont’s gear is heavy out of necessity. With hundreds of boys using it week in and week out, it wouldn’t hold up unless it was built bombproof.  We’ll talk about that later but let’s take a look at your personal gear.

Pack: It is a known fact that larger, heavier packs carry a large load more comfortably.  It is also true that if there is room in the pack, a few (or more) extras will find their way into that empty space.  Philmont suggests a 4800 cubic inch pack I assure you a pack that is about 4200 cubic inches or even smaller will do the job.  The pack I carried in 2009 was 3200 cubic inches.  It had no frame and held everything I needed on the trek.  It did attract a lot of attention from other Scoutmasters that where tired of lugging around expedition packs.  Whatever you carry just make sure it is in good condition before the trip.

Pack Cover:  Many hikers like a pack cover.  With the older heavy canvas type packs every drop of water makes the pack that much heavier.  If you have a cover and like it by all means use it.  If you are using one of the new lightweight packs made of dyneema or nylon then you might want to use a pack-liner as an option.  Get a heavyweight plastic bag big enough to hold your sleeping bag and clothes.  When packing, you simply stuff your bag and clothes into the plastic bag and twist the top and stuff it down the side of your pack. This is all I ever use anymore and my sleeping gear and clothes stay dry even in all day down pours.  If you can find unscented compactor bags, they will work just fine.  If not Gossamer Gear carries pack liner bags on their website.  Don’t waste your money on a silnylon liner, they are not totally waterproof.

Another advantage is that when it starts to rain you don’t have to stop and cover your pack.  At night you will put the packs under a tarp to keep them dry.

Sleeping Bag: I quit carrying a sleeping bag a long time ago.  They felt too restrictive and I never had the correct one for the overnight low.  I now carry a sleeping quilt.  It simply drapes around me and allows me to add insulation without disturbing the blanket’s loft.  A quilt or bag rated for the mid 30’s should work just fine during the summer at Philmont.  I also carried a torso length pad.  Yes my feet hang off but I don’t find this to be a problem.
Sleeping Clothes: Philmont is very careful when it comes to their bears.  They prefer that the bears do not feast of young Scouts that have spilt food on them-selves during the day.  So, sleeping clothes are required.  I carried a set of polypropylene long underwear but if you are carrying a 20-30 degree bag, gym shorts and a t-shirt will be fine.

Hiking Boots/Shoes:  The first time I went to Philmont I wore a pair of full leather boots.  If you had told me on the next trip I would wear lightweight trail runner I would have laughed at you.  Well, I laughed up and down ever trail we hiked because my feet felt so much better.  With a pack under 25#, heavy boots just are not needed.  Okay, you have weak ankles and don’t want to risk turning them over.  The truth of the matter is with boots unless you lace them very, very tight, you can still roll your ankle.  With loose trail runners I have found on a misstep, the shoe rolls and my ankle is not forced over.  Now for the big plus, in trail runners (non gortex) my feet breathe better and as a result stay drier.  Drier feet equal fewer and most of the time NO BLISTERS.  Consider it.

As with boots, trail runners need to be fitted properly.  Buy them a size larger than normal.  As you hike, your feet will swell.  This increases the friction between your feet and the shoes causing blisters.  Whatever you are going to wear, start wearing them now to make sure they are going to be comfortable on the trail.

 Sneakers: These are to wear at some of the program areas.  They will be more comfortable than boots.  But if you are wearing trail runners then you are all set and don’t have to carry them.

Socks: Bring 3 good pair of hiking socks (wear 1, carry 2).  Medium-weight in boots and light -weight in trail runners should be fine.  I wear Wright Socks Merino Wool (made in Burlington, NC.).  If you wear liners, that’s fine.  Just be sure that when you purchase your boots you get fitted with the liners on.  Remember as you hike your feet will swell.  If there is not room for the expansion, you will blister.

Underwear: How can I put this?  I don’t when I hike.  I wear hiking shorts with a liner (like swimming trunks).  If you wear underwear, it should be synthetic.  A compression type will prevent chaffing.  Just bring/wear one pair.  You will several opportunities to wash clothes on the trail.

Shorts: Nylon woven shorts or gym shorts will work fine.  Do not bring cotton.  You will get wet and cotton will take forever to dry.  I know your Mom just said to carry extra pairs so you can change if you get wet.  That’s fine but will Mom be carrying the wet clothes in your pack?  If you are wearing them they will dry much quicker.  I like Nike running shorts. 

Hiking Shirt:  Philmont says a short sleeve shirt.  I disagree.  I recommend wearing a lightweight long sleeve shirt.  This will give protection from the sun as well as any annoying bugs without having to rub on all sorts of protection.  Remember the temperatures will be much like here.  The difference is the humidity will be about 17%.  No matter what you choose make sure it is a wicking material.  I find the Columbia Omni-Wick works great.  Again one should be enough.

Hat:  You will need sun protection so bring a hat with a brim.  A baseball style cap will do just fine.  I have started wearing Head-Sweats.  They make their caps out of CoolMax.

Long Pants: In the evening it gets cool quickly at Philmont.  The days may jump to 100+ plus but the nights can dip to the low 40’s or below.  Bring a pair of pants to wear around camp plus you will need them at some of the program areas.  DO NOT BRING JEANS!!!  A pair of lightweight woven nylon pants will well.

Jacket: A fleece or puffy insulation jacket will work.  It only needs to be a lightweight jacket.  After hiking and participating in program all day you will not be up late.  If you do get cool you can always layer with your rain jacket.

Toboggan Cap: I carry a fleece cap but I’ll leave this as an optional item.  It does make the evenings a little more comfortable.

Gloves: Yes it is summer.  However a lightweight pair of glove liners feels real good as the temperature drop in the evenings.  Mine weigh on 1.5 ounces so I don’t mind carrying them.  Polypro is best but a cheap pair of wool gloves will work just fine.

Rain Gear: Bring a lightweight rain jacket and pants.  You may want to consider a set of Dri-Ducks.  Your rain gear can also act as extra layers if you get cold.  It’s also something to wear when you wash clothes.

Eating Gear: A bowl and a spoon is all you need to carry.  An insulated plastic food container and a lexan spoon are ideal.  I’ve made them out of quart and pint containers and the boys in my crew liked the pints the best.

Water Bottle: Camel Backs and the like are fine but I have found that I can never keep up with how much water I have left.  Water is important but it also the heaviest thing in your pack.  A one liter and a two liter platypus style container should be sufficient.  Fill the one liter when there is plenty of water on your route and add the other two liters when the route is dry.  If you work it right, you will use all your water just before your next source.  If not you are carting too much.  One of the jobs the navigator will have on your trip is to identify how far it will be to the next water source. 
Other Personal Equipment: A small flashlight (powered by 1 AA battery) or a headlamp.  One or two cotton bandannas (this should be you only cotton).  A small tube of chap stick will come in handy.  A toothbrush and a sample size tube of toothpaste.  If you want, some crew members might carry sunglasses.  A whistle (in case you get separated from the group, but that better not happen).  Hiking poles are useful but not essential.  A camera for taking pictures and a small stuff sack to store your small items.

Okay, that pretty much sums up the personal gear my crew took to Philmont.  The base weight of the pack came to 7 pounds and 3 ounces.  I’ll be adding in the crew gear over the next couple of days.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

It Takes a Monster Pack for Philmont!

Don't be distressed by the title of this post.  That's a comment I hear over and over each season as Scouts get the word they are going to New Mexico for a week to ten days of backpacking.  Four years ago I was in the position that some fortunate Scoutmasters are in right now.  One leader recently contacted me and explain an "old timer" in his Troop declared that there was no way to do it with less than 50 pounds.  I called him back and assured him that that information was not totally accurate.

That leads us into today's post.  The crew leader for my trek and a couple of the other boys were determined to go as light as possible on their 2009 trek.  After all two of them had been shaving ounces off their pack weight for a couple of years and were determined not to carry a heavy pack again.

As with other crews we planned a number of shake down activities with the crew.  I'll never forget the first one.  One of the other adults that had three previous trips to Philmont under his belt showed up with a 49 pound pack.  I looked at it leaning against his vehicle and asked why such a big pack.  The reply was "that's what it takes to hike at Philmont".  I rolled my eyes and pulled my 18 pound pack out of the backseat of my car.  His reaction was "why did you bring that pack?'.  "Because that's what I'm taking to Philmont", was my response.
This was one of the first shake down hikes on the AT in Virginia

Over the course of our practice hikes, I spent a time showing the hows and whys of light weight backpacking.  While the boys were eager to take advantage of most all of my suggestions, I found my friend with the 49 pound pack was a little reluctant.  He did change a few items like his eating gear went metal to light plastic, he changed to a single wall tent and he finally got the concept of collecting water multiple times a day instead of starting out with three liters of water in the morning.  In the end we shaved over 15 pounds from his pack.

So what was his reaction to the lower weight?  The last night on the trail as we sat around the final campfire he had this to say.  "This is my fourth trek at Philmont Scout Ranch.  Each one is special in its own way.  This one is special because with my lighter pack it is the first trip where I didn't need a bottle of ibuprofen just to get up in the morning.  If I ever get to come back you can bet my pack will be even lighter."

The pack is still big but a lot of weight has been removed
No you don't need a monster pack for Philmont.  Over the next couple of weeks I'll be posting the things our crew did to have light comfortable packs as we hiked through the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of New Mexico.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Simple Chicken Can Esbit Stove

As you can tell I've been off the trail for a few weeks.   That doesn't mean I haven't been thinking about my next hike.  Fall is the perfect time to get out and hike but somehow every year life seems to throw me a curve that becomes more pressing than a good walk.  Yesterday I found out my dog Bonnie has a tear in her knee joint.  A 73 pound Golden Retriever needs good joints so later today I'll call to set an appointment with the vet for our next visit.

Anyway I've been working on an idea for some time for a new stove.  Last year BSA decided to ban homemade alcohol stoves and discourage the use of alcohol as a fuel.  Over the years alcohol has been my fuel of choice.  First it burns clean.  There is no soot on the pot at the end of supper to scrub off.  It is readily available.  I have never walked into a town and not found alcohol.  Either an outfitter had some behind the counter, the hardware store had a can or in one town in Vermont I got it at an auto supply.  But I can understand BSA's decision.  Methyl alcohol is a serious poison not only when ingested but can over time be absorbed through the skin.   Another problem is that because it burns so clean it is hard to tell if the stove is lit.  I had a friend injured when someone attempted to refuel a stove that was still burning.  No the stove did not explode but flames traveled up to the fuel container and created a fire that landed my friend in the burn ward.  so for these reasons I no longer cook with alcohol.

however one of my favorite alcohol stove I made over the years had a damper in it to lower the heat and simmer a pot for 20+ minutes.  Talk about a hit at an AT shelter.  Everyone there wanted to know how I could cook so long on so little fuel.  That stove cooked meal after meal for Trail Trash and me when we thru hiked the AT in 2010.  So the quest has become to find a reasonably safe fuel that is light in weight and a stove that will simmer.

Looking at the more popular fuels didn't do much to inspire me.  I don't like propane stoves.  While lighter than some others I just can't get past dropping those steel canisters in a garbage can.  They are easy to use and very fast but that one obstacle has steered me away from them.  Yes they can be recycled but not easily where I live.  Seems the local government here thinks landfills are still the way to go.

For a short time I pulled out my old Whisperlite.  Enough said there.

I tried a Bush Buddy stove.  Yes is does solve a number of problems but unfortunately I'm not a great fire builder.  I lack the patients it takes to collect all the little pieces of wood to start and maintain a fire for that long.  One of my assistant scoutmasters cooks on nothing else but it just wasn't what I required to replace my old alcohol set up.

So decided to try Esbit.  It gives a fast hot flame and is a very light fuel.  A tab weighs about a half ounce in the package and burns for 13 minutes.  Now all I needed was a way slow the down the burn.  A review of a small stove that allows you to simmer with Esbit seemed to how the answer.  I purchased one of the tiny titanium stoves and gave it a try.  It worked great!  Just one problem, it requires a separate pot stand.  No that may not seem like much of a problem but after a couple of different set ups I decided it was time to make my own stove that would also act as a pot stand and fit easily into my MSR kettle for transportation.

After several attempts I came up with this design.  It is a chicken can from the canned meats department.  I've drilled 15 half inch holes around the top and 2 quarter inch holes at the bottom of the can to allow air to circulate.  A half cube burned for over 12 minutes and raised the temperature of a pint of water 110 degrees.  That should be enough to bring one of my dehydrated meals to a nice simmer.  I've got an over night coming up in just over a week. I'll let you know how it performs in camp.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Sunday in the Shining Rock District

After not a lot of sleep on Friday night, I slept really well Saturday night. The wind was gentle and steady while the temperature dropped into the low 50's for perfect conditions. I woke up just in time to see the sun peak over the mountains.

After a breakfast of plantain blue berry pancakes and bacon, the group was ready to hike back to the trailhead. Matt joked that it was all down hill as we climbed out of the gap.  I told that was like saying that from Clingman's Dome to Katahdin on the AT is all down hill.  There was plenty of down hill but there were several good climbs. The trail itself was narrow with blue berry and black berry bushes on both sides. Unfortunately the berry were not sweet like the ones in the gap. They were also full of bees. Luckily only one person got stung and he said he didn't usually have any reaction. 

About half way down there were two stream crossings. At the first one four of us decided to brave the chilly mountain water and go for a quick swim. A quick dip was all I could manage. It was so cold I hurt in places that I'd rather not hurt ever. 

At the second crossing a couple of the hikers got wet but not by choice. I ended up stepping on a rock just under water but my trail runners usually dry very quick. 

After the crossings we had just over three miles to the cars. I'm not sure where the rest of the group went after the hike but the occupants of my car told me they wanted to stop at the first place with fries, cheeseburgers and 32 ounce cokes. 

Hiking to the Shining Rock

Several times I've hiked in the Shining Rock Wilderness. Just before Trail Trash and I hiker the AT we hiked along the MST and could see the big white rock off in the distance. This weekend's trip would go the  top of Shining Rock. 

This morning started early, 4 AM early. I did a little last minute packing. You know the kind where you throw in those last minute items you thought of in the middle of the night and then never use. I've gotten better over the years but I still do it every so often. 

This hike is a Piedmont Hiking and Outing Club trip so on the way to the trailhead I picked up three other guys. After a couple of stops we arrived at a crowded trailhead. I guess a lot of other people decided to take advantage of this weekend's great weather. 

Today's route is the Big Butt Trail. It is not a long trail but it is steep and narrow. Most of the time it was thick laurel but closer to the top there black berries and occasionally blue berry bushes.   As I walked along I reached up for a snack. 

At the top of the climb was Shining Rock. I climbed to the top and found a stop for lunch in the warm sun. It may be August but the temperature is in the 60's here. A Scout Troop from Hickory came up to check out the views and play on the rocks. Their Scoutmaster and I struck up a conversation that ended up being a Q&A session about my pack and lightweight backpacking. Later he passed by our camp and checked out my tent. He really liked The One by Gossamer Gear.

There are nine of us camped on at Flowers Gap tonight. The air is chilly and I'm glad I packed my puffy jacket. We didn't hike very far today but its been a long day and I'm ready for some sleep