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Mike Long

Backpacking

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In our local council I have noticed that most troops do not do much if any backpacking. Backpacking MUST be a intregal part of every troops outdoor program. It has many virtues that I will expound upon here.

 

1. Backpacking teaches the differences between wants and needs. This helps to create a value system that the scouts can apply to every aspect of their life. Sure that camp chair is comfy, but do you really want to carry 5 extra pounds for ten miles? Perhaps you can find something else to use as a chair, maybe sitting on your sleeping pad isn't so bad. Your scouts will stop bringing so much unnecessary junk on trips.

 

2. Backpacking enforces the patrol method. The scouts will learn that they need to interact and support each other in order to have a successful trip. You will see your scouts bond together like never before. I have seen my Scouts remove heavy items from a struggling scout's pack and share the extra weight among the whole troop; without an adult leader saying a word and without a single complaint from any of the scouts.

 

3. Backpacking promotes physical fitness. 30 to 45 pound pack, 10 to 15 miles, one day; need I say more?

 

4. Backpacking exposes scouts to a REAL outdoors experience. Most developed campgrounds are no different than sleeping in your own back yard the only real difference is the scenery and the lack of TV. When scouts see the real backcountry they gain a new perspective of they way America looked before it was developed and an understanding of what the first settlers endured.

 

5. Backpacking give scouts a true sense of accomplishment. Earning awards are great but physical achievement has staying power. Many years from now your scouts will remember hiking the AT and climbing to the top of Clingman's Dome with a full pack in full detail. They won't remember when they earned Personal Management Merit Badge.

 

6. Backpacking has less of an impact on the environment. Units that practice Leave No Trace princpals carry less junk, they produce less garbage, spread the impact of their presence over a larger area, and are usually quieter. This is far preferable than beating developed campgrounds to death.

 

7. Backpacking develops self-sufficiency and maturity. When a scout can pack a backpack and have everything he needs to be comfortable, fed, and protected for a weekend, our job as Scouters is almost complete. At this point you have molded a confident, self-secure individual who knows how to take care of himself. All you need to do now is polish the rough edges.

 

Backpacking is not just for older scouts, all scouts can do it. Gender does not matter either. However, Scouters that are not familiar with backpacking need to do their homework and have a couple of backpacking trips without the troop to "tune up." These trips will save you a lot of potential embarrassment later. I will post several tips that work for me on this forum.

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here! here! Very good points Mike. Our troop is an active backpacking troop and most of the adult leaders are well versed in "woods wisdom". Backpacking truly gets you back to nature and away from the hustle and bustle we get caught up in...

 

Steve

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Mike you've said it well; many of my most enjoyable Scout experiences back in the day when a hip belt was high tech involved backpacking away from the same old District camp. Looking forward to seeeing this thread develop a bit...

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Couldn't agree more with Mike. I think one of the reasons more units do not backpack regularly is a lack of interest or self confidence on the part of the adult leadership. This is a problem that should be solvable.

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Mike,

I am very grateful for your words on backpacking and thoughts on the lack of backpacking experiences in some Troops and/or councils. I couldn't agree more.

 

It is for this reason that our young Troop is starting a High Adventure program. Challenging, fun, great for Scout retention and all the things you mentioned in your post. Thanks!

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Our esteemed Mr. Long is right. It is for these reasons that my troop is coming back to backpacking after a long hiatus. After our first boy went to Philmont (just this past summer) we began to realize what it could do. He came back self-confident, and ready to take on any leadership opportunity in the troop (in his case, senior patrol leader). A little weighted-down hiking can do wonders.

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WOW, responses!

 

I haven't developed this thread cause I though it had withered on the vine! (First post August of 2000)

 

Well allrighty then, I'll start it going again.

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Mike,

Right on the money! I took my Troop backpacking once & they loved it! I have to make the effort to get this back on our calendar.

 

Ed Mori

Scoutmaster

Troop 1

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Mike

Excellent post. We take all of our new leaders/parents on a 2night backpacking trip. This gives them the confidence to help their son.

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Backpacking promotes physical fitness. 30 to 45 pound pack, 10 to 15 miles, one day; need I say more? No, my neck and shoulders are cramping up just thinking about it. I think there should be a limit of 20-25 pounds for the young kids and 30+ish for the more able-bodied if youre going that far in one day, IMHO. I think you stand a chance of loosing interest from those not physically/mentally equipped doing that kind of mileage. Regardless, excellent post! I think all troops should have at least two backpacking trips annually, one in the spring and one in the fall so the heat doesnt become deterring factor.

 

 

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The mileage depends on the terrain of course. Here in Florida a 10-15 mile day is easy. It's flat. In hilly or mountainous terrain 5 to 8 is good.

 

Packweight is a big issue. Unless you have a large budget and some high tech gear you will not hit 20lbs and be prepared.

 

20lbs or less is called Ultralightweight backpacking and should not be attempted unless you are very experienced in woodcraft. I've had to drag many a lightweighter out of the woods when things got rough.

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We use 25% of body weight as a max guideline for backpack loads. Even this gets hefty for the leaders who push over 200lbs!! My son weighs in at around 100, so I try to get his pack to weigh no more than 20 or 25 lbs. This usually covers all his "scout essentials" plus gear and clothing. He has his own tent (3.5 lbs). The max weight I have lugged is about 48 lbs (I weigh 196) and even this was tiring after 4-5 miles on the AT in western Maryland. Hilly, rocky terrain can drain your stamina quickly with this kind of weight on your back. Since that shakedown hike, I have been able to keep my pack weight below 40 by leaving all the stuff that may be "nice to have" but not really necessary, at home. We also repack all of our foodstuffs and don't carry any fresh or canned foods with us. Backpacking has become a family activity for us - my wife and daughter join us on weekenders when we're not out with the scouts. Even our dog, Daisy, comes on these jaunts into the woods (yes, she has her own pack). Getting away from the high tech in our lives has added a lot and we value this time together.

 

Steve Harter, Asst SM, Troop 2, PA Dutch Council

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Here in Florida a 10-15 mile day is easy. It's flat. That would explain much; Ive never backpacked flat before, I sure wish the Taum Sauk Trail was in Florida. Heavy packs for preparedness usually involve cold weather camping with a winter sleeping bag and more clothing. Thats why I think spring and fall are ideal for its weather.

Pack-weight is a big issue. Unless you have a large budget and some high tech gear you will not hit 20lbs and be prepared. My 20lbs is an arbitrary estimate in relationship to size and ability and would only affect the patrol/company issue of sharing an objective balance of weight appropriate for the individual. Redistribution of pack-weight along the trail is usually remedied upon the recognition of distress to the Scout but I think the mental trauma is lasting to the younger scouts. We use 25% of body weight as a max guideline for backpack loads. I like this method and agree the higher weight individuals would struggle with the 25%. I think 35-37 is max for tough terrain and the redistribution of all gear with all team members is essential for a happy experience, IMHO.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This business of redistributing weight within a group on a trail is a sensitive matter. There are situations where it is mandatory, in case of injury or altittude sickness.

 

Requiring participation in training hikes with loads both identifies problems and solutions before the main event. This is particularly important for new scouts with new gear. We do these as simple day hikes with some elevation gain and loss. I don't think we have ever had to redistribute loads on a real event just because somebody was having a tough time. Either those who struggled on a training event decided not to go on the main event, or we managed load distribution at the front end of the main event to accomodate differences in capabilities.

 

I have been in situations where loads had to be redistributed because of real problems, and that is when you find out who is a real scout and who is not. To me, these kinds of challenges to a group are when the most important lessons that scouting has to offer are learned.

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I promise I will address the weight issue (and some ways around it) in a later thread in depth.

 

I like all trails exactly where they are. Trust me, I have a huge amount of experience with rugged and steep terrain. More so than most people.

 

I used the percentage methodology religiously for many years but it is nothing more than a good guideline. Physical conditioning should determine how much you carry, not a formula.

 

The mileage and weights given OBVIOUSLY need to be adjusted to fit the capabilites of your members.

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