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Mike Long

Backpacking 101, Before you touch that pack.

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The most basic element of backpacking is walking.

 

Yes, you will have to teach them to walk.

 

Most kids walk at least five miles a day when you factor in going to the bus stop, changing classes, P.E., playing ball with friends and maybe going to the mall. Just stop for a second and really think about your kids average day. Yep, they walk alot. No wonder they have so much energy.

 

Long before you take your troop backpacking you must get them used to walking rather than car camping. The best way is to hike any nature trails that happen to be where your monthly campouts are.

 

On these hikes teach your boys to be trailwise.

 

1. Hiking Buddies. Two heads are better than one and take care of each other. I don't think the merits of this need to be explained too deeply but you MUST deeply ingrain in your boys that if they can't see their buddy then they are not using the buddy system. Buddies share gear when backpacking such as tent, food and cooking gear. The weight is divided between them.

 

2. Organization. Designate a Point, Center and a Sweep. Point is an adult or experienced scout. No one is allowed to get ahead of the point. Center needs to be an adult. As the name implies this person trys to stay in the center of the pack. Ours usually carries the "big" first aid kit. Sweep is always an adult. No one ever gets behind the sweep. If your troop likes to use radios these are the people who must have one. The point stops at all water and road crossings and trail junctions until he can see the sweep.

 

3. Be quiet. The largest complaint regarding kids on trails is that they are noisy and scare off all the wildlife. Obviously in order to see nature on a nature trail one must be quiet. Challenge your scouts by giving all of them a sheet of paper, a pencil and a guide book to the local floura and fauna. The pair (buddies remember?) that identifies the most wins. Food is a great reward. This is also a great way to get boys to look for landmarks. "Did anyone see the poison ivy growing on that really big oak tree? The one with three forks."

 

4. Stay on the trail. Nothing causes more damage than hikers who stray off the trail. Teach your boys to travel single file and no more then double when trail conditions allow. Volunteering to do trail maintenance would be a good way to show scouts how much damage can be done.

 

5. Right of way. Some trails are multiuse. They allow horses, bikes and foot traffic. The easiest way to handle this is to yeild the right of way to everyone. When horsemen or bikers are present step off the trail and allow them to pass. Oh yes, say hi too. Allow faster hikers or groups to pass your group.

 

6. Don't block the trail. This could go under right of way but when your group stops for lunch or a break try to take your break in an area off the trail. Look for places that won't be too heavily impacted.

 

7. Roads. Sometimes trails cross roads or follow them for a short distance. Review the hiking safty section of the Scout handbook regarding roads.

 

8. Breaks. Agree upon a break times in advance. Our troop rule is that if we are taking a break we had better see a water bottle in your mouth. Hydrate, hydrate and hydrate some more.

 

9. Avoid injury. This simple phrase will save you from twisted and broken ankles or worse.

Don't step on anything you can step over and don't step over anything you can step around.

Make your boys memorize this phrase.

 

10. Foot care. Teach your boys what a "hot spot" is and how to take care of it. There is no "take care of it later" stop immediately. Unfortunately this is one area that they won't learn until they get a few blisters. Bring extra foot care supplies with you. Also when one stops to take care of his feet everyone stops. If you have a lot of boys that haven't hiked make them take off their shoes and inspect their feet too.

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Mike,

Thank you so much for what you bring to this forum. It's information and past experiences like yours that drew me to this message board in the first place. Your willingness to share has always been well thought out and constructive.

 

As one leading a contingent on a 50 mile backpacking trip on Isle Royale next summer, I've found your posts to be very helpful and insightful. They will be put to good use. Thanks!

 

As a sidenote, you and I seem to see Scouting in much the same fashion. It's a pleasure replying to your posts.

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One quibble regarding point five. If horses are allowed on the trail you are using, the boys must be taught to do nothing to spook a horse. Staying absolutely quiet and still is the best strategy. Most horses are not a problem, but one never knows.

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ALL of your points are excellent Mike! We have a small troop - 15 boys - so for any given backpacking outing we may have 10 or 12 on the trip. Usually, there are at least three registered leaders and a couple of Dads along. The one thing that I have noticed on hikes and backpacking trips is the way that the line "fans out" when on the trail. Your pointers about staying together are very good and I plan to print them out for discussion at a future troop meeting.

 

Steve Harter

Asst SM

Troop 2

PA Dutch Council

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One thing I've noticed with our Troop as we've worked toward completing Hiking Merit Badge is the shyness of some hikers to acknowledge hikers going in the other direction, almost to the point of looking down or away as they approach. I've always been taught to be polite and greet others on the trail and I try to encourage that with our Scouts.

 

Obviously, the total conversation is likely nothing but a simple "hi" or "good morning" as you pass, but if it's done with a smile while looking at the other person, it offers a warm greeting, respect and courtesy to others that is, and always should be, a large part of Scouting.

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Responding to P Swigs' post, acknowledging hikers going the other direction is not only polite, but an opportunity to obtain information about conditions ahead of you. This may be less critical in a day hike close to urban areas, but can be extremely valuable in the back country.

 

SLHarter,

 

There is another thread, I think under Open Discussion, entitled "Moving at Different Speeds" that deals at some length with this issue of keeping groups together on the trail. Mike, among others, had some useful suggestions there. You might want to look at it. "Fanning Out" as you call it can lead to a lot of bad consequences unless it is managed.

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Good point Eisely.

Hense point 3- Be Quiet.

But yes, absolutely, the point needs to be expounded upon in case one of the boys gets excited upon seeing Mr. Ed up close for the first time.

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I talk to everyone who is willing to talk. Once I ran into a young man who was thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail who gave up speaking for the entire 6 month trip. Very interesting converstion via his pen and notepad.

 

One thing about asking "how far is" questions. It is my experience that you should be very skeptical about mileages people report to you, they are usually wrong. Folks generally aren't good at judging trail miles. If instead when asked how far to the next (junction, water source ect.) and they reply in time ie: "about an hour". The information is typically much more reliable. Bring a pedometer and a watch and check. It's a game I like to play and I have found that timers are statisticly 80% more accurate than milers.

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Mike is right about judging distance. Time is the more meaningful measure in any event. But the "distance" to the next camp site is not as important as information about trail conditions, water supplies in arid areas, animal activity (e.g., bears), and conditions at designated camp sites.

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waitaminute....I've gone Senior! Congradulations Mike, its deserved well beyond any arbitrarily accumulated amount of posts. Your knowledge and writing skills are appreciated for the betterment of this great institution we all love and respect, not unlike you.

 

 

 

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Eisely, thanks for the pointer to "moving at different speeds". I checked it out and printed the posts for future reference. I think the problem we are experiencing in our troop is that 12 of the 15 registered scouts only just came over from Cub Scouting last February. Even though I was one of their Cub Leaders, we did not do a LOT of hiking as Cubs and this should get better with experience and some gentle coaxing from our Scoutmaster and Assistant Scoutmasters in the troop. The older boys seem to know how to hike and hopefully they will help the younger ones learn as we go forward. Don't get me wrong - we have a lot of fun on our hikes and backpacking trips, we just need to fine tune our troop with the new mix of scouts and leaders.

 

I really enjoy this post in the forums. Mike Long - you seem to know a whole lot about backpacking - thanks for your input.

 

Steve Harter

Asst Scoutmaster

Troop 2

PA Dutch Council

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