Jeff McHenry finishes 87 miles at Philmont

Hello Glen,

Attached is a photo of me at the end of an 87 mile hike at Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico. I am sporting my G4 which served me very well – providing the capacity and comfort  to handle the bulk of Philmont’s food at our resupplies, and scale down nice and light when we worked the food down. The pot hanging off the back is actually a Philmont issued one that someone left behind at a campsite (probably couldn’t bear to carry it any further) and I felt light enough to do a good deed for the day.

We did a good job keeping our scouts (and adults) base weights down in the teens and the advantages of this were really on display as we repeatedly passed troops sitting and sweating on the trail side our boys flying by not even breathing hard. It really made a huge difference – we saw boys and their leaders lugging around unwieldy packs and looking miserable and exhausted at the end of the day – our group was quite the opposite we would get into camp with plenty of energy to enjoy the programs offered at the different camps.

It was a memorable experience and the G4 and the Ultralight philosophy were keys to our success and enjoyment.


Best Regards

Jeff McHenry

23 Responses to Jeff McHenry finishes 87 miles at Philmont

  1. Trey February 1, 2012 at 7:52 pm #

    I have wondered if the G4 would make with the possible demands of tired scouts. Can you elaborate on gear and tents? You had everyone ultralight?

  2. Jeff McHenry February 1, 2012 at 11:39 pm #

    Hi Trey, we work hard to get our scouts baseweight to 13 lbs or less, we had a variety of tents but generally 4 lb tents for two (Hubba Hubba type tents) – and the boys had light foam pads, light bags and we shared our cooking gear. Philmont is a challenge because they include food in the program and their food is very bulky and heavy. In the end though we had quite afew scouts that were on the young and light (less than 100 lbs) side but we were passing other troops every day. I have never felt so convinced of the benefit of Ultralight hiking than on this outing, we did a lot of work to get the troop out to New Mexico for this trip and to prepare them (training hikes etc) but nothing as beneficial as keeping the weight off their backs, it allowed them to fully enjoy the programs ad activities available at Philmont and have nothing but great memories.

    • steven rosenak March 19, 2014 at 2:04 pm #

      great article, I’m bringing a mariposa, and my son a G-4 this summer to philmont. Went in 2011 and carried 50+ lbs, not again. We have smaller boys in our crew so I have preached the light weight concept with most of the boys and adults listening. Please advise your adult and typical youth gear list if possible. thanks, steve

  3. Rhett Lloyd February 2, 2012 at 7:10 am #

    Jeff

    As an eagle scout and former Philmont attendee, I enjoyed reading about your experience. Good for you for setting an ultralight example for the BSA! I remember my Philmont trip in 1967, lugging around a heavy pack that today would be the combined weights of a party of 4 ultralight packers. Not only is my pack 1/4 of the weight I carried then, but my ease in carrying it is 4 times greater. Life is short. Hike accordingly.

    Rhett

  4. Greg M February 2, 2012 at 9:58 am #

    Thanks for sharing you ultralight packing experience at Philmont. Nice job getting your group down so low, I can appreciate that being exhausted when you arrive for program is not as fun as feeling rested. Your story makes me want to share my own.

    When I went to Philmont as a scout in 1988 and 1991, my packs weighed in the 55-65 pound range. Seriously. We even had a scout in our crew carrying a cast iron skillet for 70+ miles (his choice).

    I went back as a staffer in 1994 and 1995 and hiked (on days off) with packweights closer to 30-40 pounds, unless we were hauling extra gear for friends in the backcountry.

    As an adult leader in 2005, I tried to get our packweights down as low as possible. My personal base packweight was right at 15 pounds, but most of my scouts were in the 20s and we had one leader around 35 pounds – he just couldn’t leave certain things behind – even adding them back after our final shakedown.

    In gearing up / preparing for that 2005 hike, I found the gossamergear website and purchased a significant portion of my technical gear from it. The most “WOW” item was certainly the one piece carbon fiber hiking poles, which other hikers just couldn’t believe were so light.

    I’ve been reading along on the adventures here ever since.

  5. Doug Prosser February 2, 2012 at 10:33 am #

    Great story. Your crew got the right idea. I have seen exactly what you describe at Philmont, big, heavy packs on the majority of crews then they hike really slow, the adults look like they will have a MI any second, the crew when getting to camp has NO energy to enjoy the activities. So many advisor coffees I have heard nothing but complaints about the hiking in a great place to go hiking.

    Our crew were so light and they enjoyed the hiking so much we tend to go off our route hit another camp for program then go to our scheduled camp. Sometimes in less time than other crews took just getting to their scheduled camp. The boys really loved that.

  6. Trey Cure February 2, 2012 at 10:41 am #

    Thanks Jeff. We had two troop meetings in January focused on backpacking and Ultra Lighter, Paul Dryer, spent some valuable time with the boys discussing pack weight. We had two G4s in the meeting and I think it blew their minds they could spend a week living out of that pack. My son left the meeting wanting to learn how to sew his own gear.

    I wish Philmont would work on their food. Oreos and Ritz Crackers just don’t pack well.

  7. Jim Brovelli February 2, 2012 at 10:57 am #

    Excellent Jeff! Had our Philmont scouts pare down their weight reasonably well by normal standards but nowhere near 13 lbs each! We got alot of resistance from Philmont staff about lighter gear. Our lightweight steel cable line substitute in lieu of the heavy ropes issued by Philmont was unfortunately rejected by staff. We too saw many overloaded adults and scouts looking tired and miserable. I will push the light weight envelope with our next crew.

  8. Walter Underwood February 2, 2012 at 11:36 am #

    Nice! That is still under 30 pounds with a maximum load of four days of food and three liters of water.

    What are some of the things you did to teach the crew ultralight practices? My Philmont base weight was 19 pounds, but almost all our Scouts were heavier than that.

  9. Jeff McHenry February 3, 2012 at 2:23 pm #

    Thanks for the great comments guys, While we ran into a few “lightweight crews” I would say 75% were carrying packs that looked like 50 lbs or so with adults at 60lbs plus – its really a shame because these people just cant be having as good a time as they could be.

    Walter – To try and answer your question I have foud it is an iterative process to get the boys to where they need to be. We send out some emails to the boys and their parents providing some weight targets (i.e. target a sleeping bag at less than 2 lbs, etc) – I try to make them reasonable targets that dont necessarily involve investing in a Western Mountaineering bag (but I will recommend that to the parents/scouts that are on board).

    Then we do a number of shake down backpacks leading up to Philmont (or our regular Sierra Week long backpack) and we try to spend some time on each hike reviewing what they brought and what they could have left behind. On the longer hikes a pre-hike pack check helps as well. Its funny how many times you find a one pound flashlight in a kids bag that you would think knows better. I think its just consistently delivering the message and over time convincing them to leave the extra shirts, socks, etc at home.

  10. Michael Danielson February 4, 2012 at 2:12 pm #

    Going out to Philmont for the 5 time in 2013. I am going to use the G4 I own and go as light as possible. Since almost all the crew will be going for the first time, I am going to stress going light weight and teach them how to do it. Love the idea of the weight in the teens. What month do you attend?

  11. Jeff McHenry February 6, 2012 at 1:02 pm #

    Hi Michael we attended in mid July in 2011 – They just had the lowest June rain total since the 30′s and we only got a couple light showers.

    We just got notification that we will be going back in 2013 as well. We start our trek on July 10th – let me know if you will be there at the same time.

  12. Pat Brenden February 7, 2012 at 7:08 pm #

    Great job Jeff! The G4 has served me well on the trail also. My son used it for our trip to the West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island last summer and it worked out great for him. That was a 7-day trip and his total pack weight at the start was a mere 22 pounds.

  13. Gene Brown February 9, 2012 at 10:40 am #

    I used my Mariposa on my last trip. With 5 days food and the needed water and all the gear Philmont requires, I was under 30 lbs.

    Do they still do the “contest” at closing ceremonies where they ask for people to stand up by pack weight and cheer the heaviest guy? I thought this to be backwards.

  14. Ron Alexander February 9, 2012 at 11:35 am #

    Hi Jeff, I was also there in July 2011, crew 720-B1, trek #24, also around 85 miles. Maybe we saw each other at some point! I also used my Gossamer Gear G4 pack and it performed flawlessly. I have modified that pack slightly and added a very light U-shaped frame tube that I took out of another pack – the tube ends slip into pockets that I sewed onto the hipbelt. It really helped keep the load off my shoulders. I also was under 30 lbs the whole trip, and I was appalled at some of the crews I saw. Kids with 6 full water bottles hanging off the *back* of the pack by carabiners swinging around, guys with the full Trail Chef cook pot set hanging off the back. The coup de grace was the guy with the solar cell phone charger on the top of his pack. These guys were sweating and puffing at the *bottom* of a hill, I can’t imagine what they were like as they headed up.

    I also used a 1 lb. “Appy Trails” floorless tent that I purchased on eBay for $100. I used the GG lightweight groundcloths (2 oz.). But one warning for you Philmont bound folks – Even though there’s *nothing* in the Philmont literature, written, on the website, nor in the Ranger Handbook, that says a tent has to have a floor, our ranger gave me grief about it, and I had to go all the way to the top guy, Mark Anderson, to get special dispensation to use it. It was nonsense as far as I was concerned, but if you are planning on using a floorless tent, you should think about clearing it with Philmont before getting there.

    Our troop is going back in 2014, and I hope to go again with them. It’s crucial to bring a bunch of 15-18 year old boys, because you can load them up with all the extra gear and they don’t even feel it.

  15. Bill February 11, 2012 at 9:40 am #

    Jeff:

    Great article. I am an ASM with Troop 75 in Mentor, Ohio, and although I have never been to Philmont I have backpacked with the troop on yearly section hikes of the AT since 1999.

    One of the things we do to force our smallest hikers to downsize is to give them a small pack that they can’t overpack. We try to lend out as many smaller, lighter sleeping bags as we have available. (The Scoutmaster and I have accumulated a lot of gear that we loan out.) We hike the AT in the summer, so there is no need for anything warmer than a 40-degree bag. All of our Scouts sleep in floorless tarp tents (Bat-Rays and a Walrus), while all of our adult leaders use Hennessey Hammocks.

    We dehydrate our food ourselves and we don’t permit anybody to buy prepackaged backpacking meals. With food and water we strive to keep the boys pack weights around 30 pounds. Sometimes the hardest thing we have to do is convince parents that their boys don’t need a change of socks and underwear for each day of a seven day trek.

    Unfortunately, the BSA has been slow to adopt many of the ultralight methods. Prepackaged food at fully-outfitted camps like Philmont tends to be bulky, heavy and excessively packaged. I’m sad to hear about their ban on floorless tents (fear of rattlesnakes or scorpions, I presume). I have already heard that they do not permit hammocks, and this 50-something isn’t about to sleep on a 1/2″ foam pad.

    Other things we don’t compromise on: Water filters–we filter all our water from unprotected sources–we don’t use iodine. We typically carry 2 filters for a group size of 10 or more. Stove(s)–we carry 1 or 2 Whisperlite stoves with a 2 qt. and 3 qt. pot for the group, depending on group size. Our AT dinners are actually pretty good, and are sized to feed 8 hikers.

    One of my pet peeves is gear hanging from packs, which seem to be common for many Scouts. A pair of damp socks strapped to the outside of your pack to dry is one thing, but I won’t allow them to hang water bottles, cooking gear, rain jackets and other stuff. Nothing makes you look more untrailworthy than walking through the woods like a circus elephant with all your gear swaying from side to side while the interior of your pack is half empty.

    Bill Sheehy, ASM, Troop 75

  16. Tim Hogan February 12, 2012 at 2:52 pm #

    Nice Jeff!

    I would be greatly interested gear lists- both yours and the boys. I’m one of the few lightweight promoters in our district.

    When I went to Philmont for the fall seminar TAOS adult leader’s course (Teaching Advanced Outdoor Skills) in 2008, my base weight plus consumables in our group of 12 was 23 pounds. The next closest was around 32 pounds and the vast majority were carrying 40 plus pounds. I took more than my portion of Philmont food and the Philmont issued bear bag and rope. I got special permission to use a bivy bag. Today I could cut that weight down by three pounds easily, particularly by replacing my 2.5 pound down sleeping bag with my 19.5 ounce down quilt and my 1.5 pound each bivy and thermarest full-length with my Mt. Laurel 7.75 ounce bivy and my Kooka Bay inflatable climashield 12.25 ounce 20 x 48 x 2.5″ pad…at least if they would allow me to use a bivy.

    Can any other Philmont scouts or scouters comment on what Philmont allows for a tent at this time? I think it was Doug Prosser who said several years ago their Philmont group was allowed to use the Black Diamond BetaMid’s and BetaLight’s (both floorless).

    Cheers, Tim Hogan, ASM Troop 18 & Crew Advisor/ Crew 18, Everett, WA

  17. Jeremy Best February 13, 2012 at 10:19 am #

    It’s really great hearing all of your stories. I too was a scout in the eighties, and now my son is one. He is now 12 and starting his second year of scouting. On the first hike we attended the others were amazed at the size of our packs and even more so about the weight. He carries the G6 which is no long made, bummer. It is small but for most sub 5 days it works great. On the last trio he was about 12lbs with food and water (keep in mind we pack in the Sierra Mountains). He is able to keep up with the 17 year old kids without effort. He gets to camp and is ready to play.
    I use the G5 also no longer made…. But has served me well for years. I usually can’t fill the thing but carry around 15 or 16lbs with food and water. For me no more sore days bruised hips from oversized over weight backpacks.

    My biggest challenge is to get the leaders and scouts to recognize the importance, and easy of light weight packing and gear. Does gossamer have any such programs or education for the scouts? I try my best.

    • Dave February 13, 2012 at 11:45 am #

      Gossamer does work with the local council to help spread the word. Later on this month, we are presenting a clinic in conjunction with Philip Werner from SectionHiker.com. You can find out more about it at this link. Also we offer discounts to Boy Scouts on our backpacks and deep discounts on purchases of 15 or more packs at the troop level. Thanks for working to spread the word! Please don’t hesitate to contact us if there is anything we can do to help you or your troop or council. -Dave

  18. Glenn February 14, 2012 at 5:19 pm #

    Regarding tents with floors:
    My understanding is that the 2011 Philmont Guidebook specifies “tents with floors or good ground cloth.” Previous versions referred to only tents with attached floors though others have been allowed to use floorless tents with ground cloths in the past. The concern is related to Hantavirus spread by rodents in the long used Phimont campsites.

    My son used a Tarptent Rain Shadow with hybrid floor and a Gossamer Gear polycro ground cloth at Philmont in 2011.

  19. Eddy April 12, 2012 at 10:11 am #

    I am heading to Philmont in June 2012. Can anyone tell me what of the Philmont issued gear was not taken on the trail and on the personal gear what was actually carried? I am asking this because when I was at the Sea Base of the packing list (minus personal scuba gear) I only used 1/3 of what they said bring.

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  21. Sam Williams June 1, 2014 at 8:50 am #

    I was wondering what pack rain cover u used for the g4

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