Lightweight Backpacking at Philmont Scout Ranch

Baldy Mountain Single scout w flag

Baldy Mountain Single scout w flag

I was lucky enough to go on another Philmont trek this summer with 8 Boy Scouts and two other adults. This was very memorable in that out Scoutmaster Lance Kistler (65y/o) was able to go on a trek with his son, John, and grandson, Hayden. Once Hayden called Lance, “Grandpa”, you know what Lance’s nick name was for the whole trek from all the boys.

Son, Grandson and Grandpa Philmont 2013: 3 generations

Son, Grandson and Grandpa Philmont 2013: 3 generations

Over the years a number of people ask me why go to Philmont? Why not hike the Sierra Mountains instead. The biggest advantage at Philmont is the activities the scouts find in each staffed camp along the way. Some of the activities our boys did were navigation, black powder shooting, gold mining, blacksmithing, homesteading, farm animal care, group singing, search and rescue, wilderness medicine, fly tying, fly fishing, team building, and trail building.

Pack Trains at Basecamp NO GG packs in site

Pack Trains at Basecamp NO GG packs in site

Lightweight backpacking was not in evidence at Philmont. You can see from the picture of the pack lines at basecamp that most people were taking much heavier packs than our crew was. I only saw one other Gossamer Gear backpack while out on the trail. My lament on the trail was that we have taught our scouts too well how to lighten their packs and we were now, not able to catch them going down the trail.

Bear Prints on trail

Bear Prints on trail

When we came off trail 4 of our 11 packs were less than 20 lbs. I was carrying the Gossamer Gear Gorilla which worked extremely well at Philmont and is about the perfect size for the gear and food I had to carry. My base weight was 12 lbs. and with food & water I was 23 lbs. when leaving base camp. Some of the other major items I used were a down sleeping bag from Zpacks, a Skyscape Trekker tent from Six Moon Design, a Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite pad, and a MontBell U.L. Down Parka.

 

Team Building. The Wall. Could you get everyone over

Team Building. The Wall. Could you get everyone over

I’m a bit encouraged by the recent changes to the Philmont 2013 Guide Book to Adventure, but was disappointed with the live instruction provided by our ranger. The 2013 Guide Book says “Check your pack weight. 20-25 pounds without food is preferred.” This is a positive change from their earlier Guidebooks. But when we went out with our ranger who was there to show us the “Philmont Way,” he was carrying 49 pounds which included a 10+ pound tent & 4.5 liters of water, when there is plenty of water all around.

Second Peak of the day

Second Peak of the day

There were so many times when we were laughing so very much that we were crying. We also enjoyed “Thorns & Roses” which is at the end of the day we all get together and tell each other one thing you did not like that day (Thorn), one thing you liked that day (Rose), and something that would be nice for tomorrow (Bud). The scouts sometimes really surprise us with what they say.

Baldy Mountain. the pure joy of accomplishment

Baldy Mountain. the pure joy of accomplishment

I asked a couple boys what they got out of Philmont and I think you might be impressed with their thoughts:

Search and rescue training

Search and rescue training

Ben Fraser writes, “The most important thing that I took back from Philmont was the life experiences given to me. For example, hiking over Hart Peak and being that close to hypothermia as well as being nearly struck by lightning or running out of trail and having to navigate back using geographical features around us, presented me with challenges that I had never been faced with before. Some of those situations stuck with me the most because although I’ve had training on what to do in various scenarios, being trained by book is a lot different than being given the challenge and having to act on it in real life. Hiking 18 miles in one day, climbing up the wall on the way to Copper Park the next day, and following it up with the accent up Baldy on our “layover” day were very valuable to me. I think these three days challenged me to find out how far I could push myself, physically and mentally, and showed how far my determination can take me. Most importantly, the leadership and teamwork values I learned at Philmont will be with me for the rest of my life. I learned how important being part of a team really is; being able to rally around the group and use their support to accomplish anything we set our minds too is very important in any situation with challenges being present. I also learned how to be a better leader at Philmont by not only understanding how to gain the respect of my peers, but how to stay calm in a situation and perform under pressure when your team is depending on you. Although there are countless life experiences from Philmont, I feel these are the most important. I hope this helps you with your article.”

Rainbow after the rain

Rainbow after the rain

Matt Mussoni writes, “One thing I got out of Philmont was that light weight backpacking is a lifesaver, no pun intended. As we hiked around for those 10 days, we encountered many other treks that had upwards of 50 to 60 pounds on their backs. No one enjoys a 10 day trek with that much weight. Some advice I’d give to the future trekkers of Philmont is to only pack what you need or substitute a heavy item with a lighter more conventional one. You don’t need that super heavy mess kit, when a tupperware bowl does the trick. Also unless you plan on carrying a lot of weight or need ankle support, people should stick to trail runners. I wore a pair of New Balance trail runners and they were perfect for the trek, lightweight, breathable, and most of all, I didn’t have any blisters even after that intense rain storm. Light weight backpacking is key in order to have a successful, injury free, and fun Philmont trek.”

Lance, John, & I are privileged to take these boys to Philmont and we hope to continue enjoying it for years to come.

This post was written by Trail Ambassador Doug Prosser, who is an assistant Scoutmaster with the Boy Scouts of America. 

, ,

8 Responses to Lightweight Backpacking at Philmont Scout Ranch

  1. Keith Erickson October 29, 2013 at 2:09 pm #

    Good story. As a scout leader sometimes I scratch my head at the pack weight of some kids. Our troop primarily uses hammocks and tarps for shelter although most backpacks themselves are still very heavy. More emphasis on lightweight backpacking should be made in scouts. It may not be as light as a true light weight backpacker but the scout would have a better time and still be able to do it safely.

  2. Heather October 30, 2013 at 2:13 pm #

    Your personal blog, “Lightweight Backpacking at Philmont Scout Ranch

  3. takehikes November 1, 2013 at 2:26 pm #

    50 years backpacking and I have done 2 Philmont treks. Also lived in New Mexico so we went to Philmont for other activities too. We taught our boys lightweight and at the closing campfire they asked people to all stand then they started asking you to sit down based on base pack weights when you started. Our crews were the only one’s to sit when they said 20 pound base pack weight! One fool was still standing at 65 pounds. Make it fun for the kids and that includes cutting the loads. Also we had figured out that a lot of what Philmont wants you to haul in crew gear is un-needed and heavy. We left some behind and substitued others without our ranger knowing. He wasn’t happy until he saw us set up and realized we knew what we were doing.

  4. jweaks November 1, 2013 at 5:14 pm #

    Went earlier this year. Great time. Our crews were fairly light. 40+ pounds is nuts. It simply isn’t needed. I would caution folks however about going with a too-light pack. Frameless and semi-frameless packs are great, BUT if you get into a situation, such as someone getting hurt and they need to go without a load, you need at least a few people with packs that can carry extra weight and not collapse.

  5. Ernest Detmers November 1, 2013 at 5:31 pm #

    My son and I went to Philmont this summer. We are part of Scout Master Hendrix, Crew 2, Troop 90 out of Newport Beach, CA.

    Scout Master Hendrix Mantra

    1. “oz. = lbs. lbs. = pain!

    2. Crew avg. back pack weight was under 30 lbs. (including food)

    3. Reduce wt. at each resupply by removing and giving up those items not calorie positive.

    4. Trekking “shoes” not Heavy Hiking Boots.

    5. Think before packing it!

    Excellent Article!

    Yours in Lightweight Scouting!

  6. Dale Fletcher November 11, 2013 at 10:55 pm #

    I was at Philmont this summer. One of the most difficult challenges for me was the mindset of the other leaders and staff. My ultralight mindset conflicted with their idea of backpacking! I tried hard to convince them, but to no avail. The giant cook kits, heavy bear ropes, and first aid equipment really weighed our packs down. The Scoutmaster insisted on carrying a first aid kit that could have supplied a MASH unit! Thats just not needed.

    So while lightweight is good, at Philmont the “When in Rome” philosophy does end up coming into play. I think my pack weighed twice as much as it does on a ‘traditional’ backpacking trip. Its just the reality of Philmont and something you have to build into your plans. Our troop did 4 prep trips and I used those to try to educate the other Scoutmasters on going lighter. It did help a little, but not much. The ‘this is the way we have always done it” played out a lot. At least the prep trips gave me a chance to get ready for the extra weight I was to carry.

    One thing I would not recommend if you are a lightweight backpacker is weighing your pack in front of other at Philmont if you can avoid it. When others see how light your pack is they will insist you carry more of the troop gear. I had to stand my ground and explain to them that I would carry my fair share of gear but that I had worked hard to get my weight down and I was not going to be penalized for my efforts. It did not go over well at first, but as the trek went on crew members constantly asked me about my gear choices and methods and once they understood what I was carrying it was not as issue. They just wished they had listened more on the prep trips to me!

    We did have some crew members that got sick along the way. We did have to spread out their gear among the rest of the crew which really put a load on everyone. Also, we had some dry camp days that required me to carry up to 7L of water. It was sunny and hot and even with 7L I was close to dehydration. I was glad I had a pack with a little more capacity than I thought I would need.

  7. Anastasios Drakos November 25, 2013 at 7:22 am #

    I Love mountains………..

  8. Zach December 3, 2013 at 10:49 pm #

    When talking with a representative for Philmont at the National Jamboree this year, I learned that they are moving a little bit towards lighter gear. For the most part they are ditching the heavy blue A-frame tents for custom tents from MSR are that like a simplified version of the Hubba Hubba. It will be interesting to see what more is done.

Leave a Reply