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preping for Philmont vs BWCA vs ....

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We have a single crew going to Philmont this summer.

I was wondering about the prep for this trek

vs what might have been experienced at BWCA

or other Venture Crew activities.

I've already had a thread on the physical vs teamwork aspect.

Some of the skills up at BWCA involved

backpacking types of food, cooking, & travel,

but the big difference being having the canoe vs just your back.


Also - what about map & compass skills -

Is it different nav'ing out at Philmont vs up at BWCA

(ignoring the mag declination topic for now)

Our crew has been out doing long hikes with their backpacks,

but only on our flatland nature trails and other crushed

or well travelled paths... just for endurance.


On the next couple of weekend campouts,

we will develop their backpacking, cooking & cleanup skills,

along with some map & compass.


Any other comments or suggestions

about a specific set of skills or activities to achieve

would be appreciated.


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Depends on which program you do at Philmont...

Vs. BWCA? - major difference would be learning to portage...carrying a canoe is different than carrying a pack..(and most portage packs are not the same as what you use for hiking/camping.

Philmont- hills...tall, tall, hills...Hiking in Mountains is not flat land hiking...FIND SOME TALL HILLS AND PRACTICE HARD...

Some crews have guys who never get out of Base camp due to altitude sickness...find hills...make sure your adults work hard with you...if they are going...good luck it will be a memory you will carry for life!


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some of these folks have been up to BWCA...


Didn't realize the altittude was that big a deal.

I do recall being out at Pikes Peak and Mt. Rainer,

and I didn't feel anything, but some others did feel it...


What about the actual paths or trails between camps ?

Is this a forced march along an easily followed set of trails,

or do you really need to drag out the map & compass

to figure out where the heck you are, and where you are going ? Are more crews using GPS's (along with a backup compass).

Just trying to decide what our folks really need in this area.


Also, what about menus for Philmont.

I've had an old PDF list from 1991.

Is this old list still the kinds of meals supplied?

Are they the usual dyhaydrated meals, or what ?

Just trying to replicate the meals so the Scouts

know how and what to expect.

tnx for the update and current info -


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Hi All


In my opinion you are doing it right. Proper fitting personal equipment is the biggest difference. You can have bad shoes, socks and packs and still have a fun week of canoeing and portaging. But a bad pair of boots or socks or a bad fitting or heavy backpack makes for a long painful trip at Philmont.



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You've gotten some good advice, the physical preparation is different between the two. Work on backpacking in hill country. Being in Illinois, there is nothing you will find that will adequately prepare you for what you'll encounter in Philmont. But do it anyway, it's a start.


Develop a workout regimen. We would go for a jog during some of our troop meetings. We'd go to the Y and work on weight equipment once a month. Anything to build strength and stamina is good preparation.


If your guys don't have experience at higher altitudes, work an extra day into the itenerary. We used to go into Colorado Springs and spend a day site-seeing. We'd work out and play basketball that evening. That extra day made the altitude problems virtually disappear. (We didn't do that on our first trek and had several guys suffer from it).

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tnx all for the great info. I've been passing it along to the Crew leader, as our son will miss Philmont, as he will be at Jamboree.

Here is another posting, from the scouting newsgroup -


>Here's some advice that I've posted here a couple of times in the past. Looking it over it all still looks valid so I'm happy to share it again:


>Far and away the best single thing you can do to enjoy your Philmont trek is to get in shape. Exercise. Walk, run, climb stairs, hike with a heavy pack. Start a good two or three months before your trek.

>This is equally important for Scouts and adults.


>Lose weight. Would you rather carry a 50-lb pack or a 60-lb pack? Well, losing 10 lbs. from your body has the same effect as losing 10lb. from your pack, and it's probably a lot easier.


>Get some backpacking experience. Our Troop backpacks regularly -- half a dozen times a year or so -- and we learned some things at Philmont that were new to us. I can't imagine going out there with no backpacking experience.


>Navigation at Philmont is generally not difficult. Trails are few and usually marked at intersections. But once or twice on your trek you will encounter an unmarked or poorly marked trail, and knowing how to read a map and use a compass might just save you an hour or two of hiking down the wrong trail and hiking back when you realize you're in the wrong place. So by all means brush up on your map and compass skills.


>Take a minimal amount of clothes. After a couple of days on the trail you get used to being dirty, so abandon all hope of staying clean and changing frequently. Two T-shirts, two or three pair of underpants, two or three sets of socks. One or two pair of shorts, one pair of

>long pants. Something like a fleece for warmth.


>Definitely bring good rain gear, because you will get rained on repeatedly.

>Plan on carrying lots of water. Three quarts or more. Leave your water filter home and plan on using the Philmont-provided iodine for purification. It's impractical to pump as much water as your crew will need in a day. The recommendation is 8 to 12 quarts per person

>per day. That's upwards of 24 gallons for a crew of 12. And be aware that water weighs about 2 lb. per quart so you'll be carrying around 6lb. worth.


>If your Troop has decent back-packable tents bring them. We did not use the Philmont tents, but we saw them. They looked big and heavy, were not freestanding and took an awful lot of rope and stakes to put up.


>Carry two stoves, no more. You actually need only one even for a crew of 12, but having a backup is nice. Two 22-oz fuel bottles will be enough to keep you going between commissary stops. You cannot take

>stoves or fuel bottles, even empty, on a plane. So if you're flying, plan to ship your stoves and fuel bottles ahead to Philmont and they'll be waiting for you at the Post Office. Be careful when picking

>up fuel at Philmont. At one point we were given kerosene or maybe a white-gas and kerosene mix instead of white gas. It clogged our stove pretty badly. Fortunately we had another bottle of pure white gas and we were able to get by on that till the next fuel pickup.


>Heed your Ranger's advice. Those guys (and gals) know what they're talking about, if our Ranger was any example.


>Dividing up food to be carried is a much bigger deal than you might think. When you pick up 4 days' food for a 12-man crew, you'll be getting around 40-50 packages of food. Every night it must all come out of the packs and go into the bear bags. And every morning it must all go back into the packs again. Making all of this happen without taking half an hour every morning takes some planning. Take a Magic Marker with you and mark each food package with the name of the person who is to carry it. It makes the morning pack-up go a lot faster.


>How will the crew handle the chores -- bear bagging, water, tarp setup, cooking, cleanup? We organized our crew into four teams of three: cooking, cleanup, water and aerials (tarps and bear bags).

>Scouts and adults all shared the work. Teams rotated jobs each day. It worked pretty well.


>Philmont will issue you bear bags but all bear bags look alike. Devise a way of tagging them so that you can tell your crew's bags from another crew's when you must share a bear cable, and so you can

>identify the "personals" bag from the food bags. One approach is to take your own, color-coded bags. Another is to tie something like a colored strip of cloth onto your bags.


>Everybody wants a Philmont tooled-leather belt. But they cost, with the buckle, around $40. Warn your crew that they'll need to have this much with them so no one will be disappointed.


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  • 2 weeks later...



Lots more good advice above.


We live at sea level and I knew altitude adaptation would be an issue, so we stayed in Colorado Springs for two nights before heading down to Philmont. Toured the Air Force Academy and did some fairly strenuous day hiking - guys loved it! Spending a couple of extra nights at high altitude helped a lot - we had no problems with altitude by the time we were on the trail.


Map & Compass skills are essential, but not too difficult. Hardest part is getting the guys to use them and do the required thinking along the way. You can do about 90% of the navigating by just looking at a map and looking for trail signs, but there will be times when trails arent clearly marked, signs are down (or, worse, rotated on post), or when a phantom rabbit trail leads you off in the generally correct direction, but peters out leaving your crew searching through the brush for the trail. Make the guys use discipline in their daily planning. The navigator (or naviguesser) should study the maps and give a short briefing on the days trail before you strap on the packs. (Our Crew Leader and Naviguesser would huddle to study the maps every evening to get ready for next day.) He should know how far, how much elevation change, rough distance between trail changes, etc.


Try to get them to make a quick map & compass check before taking any trail. (You wont always be successful, but after having to backtrack a time or two, theyll learn that your recommendation is a good one!) Looking ahead for opportunities to fill up on water is crucial. You dont want to carry an extra 2 liters of water if theres more available in the next few miles only take what you need (plus some). And you darned sure dont want to miss your last water stop before heading into a dry camp.


As an advisor, I always had a map and compass out, following our progress, from the back of the crew. But I let the Crew Leader and Naviguesser make all the decisions and I intentionally let them take the wrong trail without comment. After a couple of miles, Id ask for a map check time for the Crew Leader and Naviguesser to show us where we were on the map. This didnt involve just pointing to the map. They needed to get it oriented, show trail was heading the correct direction, and point out landmarks (peaks, ridge lines, valleys, etc.) that all matched the map. When these didnt all match up and a cloud of confusion descended, Id ask if this picture (what we see here) didnt look more like some place on this other trail on the map (the wrong one which I was pretty sure we were on). After a few episodes like this, they got the point and paid a lot more attention to detail. BTW I didnt just call for a map check when I thought we were lost I did it other times to keep them on their toes and to build confidence when they could prove we were on the right trail. And at least once the guys were able to show me they were right and we werent on the wrong trail after all.


Its hard to be an advisor at the back, watching the boys make mistakes you could prevent by stepping in to take charge. But they learn and grow a lot from taking the responsibility, making decisions, facing the consequences of bad decisions, and learning to prevent them from occurring again. Its well worth a few extra miles on these old legs.


One more thought about map & compass before I move on. I strongly recommend buying one of those higher-end compasses that allow you to set the magnetic variation for your hiking area. Philmonts is about 10-deg, meaning when the compass says something is at a magnetic bearing of North (360 or 000), its really at a true bearing of 010. Since maps are oriented to true north, this difference must be accounted for. You can learn to do the math in your head, but it can lead to confusion when trying to triangulate position, etc. The better compasses where you can dial in and forget Mag Var are worth the money.


Now onto other stuff.


We also used the bag method for food. Had different colors for breakfast, lunch, and dinners. Each of the meal bags has a number (Lunch #5, etc.). We kept them grouped together in storage bags so it was easy to find all the Lunch #5s when it was time to eat. The bags were very useful in keeping things together and made it easy to reach into packs to pull out all the food when we got to camp.


Every hiker also had his own bag for his personal "smellables." These all went up into the bear bags at night and kept the sorting and confusion to a minimum. In addition to marking your crews bear bags with some identifying tape or tag, we had a separate color tag to identify the personal smellables and we used a separate rope to hang it. Almost every night we would be out there with a flashlight to pull down the smellables bag because someone forgot to stow his toothbrush, needed some medication, etc.


One piece of personal gear I would highly recommend for adults is one of those Crazy Creek chairs. You still sit on the ground, but the support for the old back is wonderful after humping a pack all day. If there's room in your pack, put it right against your back to cushion against odd shaped things like stoves that want to dig in. At night, open it up flat and put it under your sleeping pad under your torso. Won't cushion your entire body, but keeps rocks/roots from digging into your shoulders and hips where it really counts.


Weight is at a premium, but consider making sure your crew has a few things for recreation. My last crew brought a few Frisbees that served as dinner plates and hours of fun playing tag, long-throw contests, etc. The guys might never do this at home, but they get creative when they're in the boonies without TV, Nintardo, etc. To my astonishment our first night on the trail last summer, my guys also pulled out a bag of poker chips and a few decks of cards. I had mixed feelings about this, but they had a lot of fun and crews would come over from nearby campsites to join the evening tournaments while us advisors shared coffee. (No real money changed hands.)


Speaking of coffee - two things to consider:


1. If you're a coffee addict like me, you might well run into a conflict in the mornings. Most of the breakfasts are non-cook. This is good in that you can get on the trail quicker, but the downside is that there's no reason to fire up the stoves - except for meeting the addict's craving. Since the other adults on my crew last summer weren't similarly afflicted, I was alone in insisting on a hot cuppa joe on morning #1. And the crew had to wait on me - impatiently. From then on, I stirred the crystals into a cup of cold water, winced, and quickly met my need. Consider different options; a) coffee drinkers get up 1/2 hour early (but this is kinda counterproductive if you think about it), b) slam it cold, or c) taper way back before you get there so you're functional in the morning without a fix.


2. Most staff camps have an advisors coffee in the evening. This is a great time to have some good (by trail standards) coffee, meet other advisors to share stories/ideas, usually get a snack. Trail camps, however, have no staff so nobody to provide coffee. Since about half of our camps were trail camps, we brought a stash of coffees, cocoa, teas, sugar, etc. and had our own Advisors Coffees at the trail camps. We had a great time visiting with some of our sister crews (crews that were on the same itinerary as us) and took turns hosting. Things really brightened up when someone pulled out a stash of goodies to share. (Wish I had thought of that. Next time!)


I wish I was going back this year, but thatll have to wait. Already have plans for a visit in 2006.




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Yes - having a GPS with trail waypoints marked would help sometimes, but not all the time. Philmont rotates its trails - periodically they'll shut one down and route you via another trail to give the old one a chance to recover from the abuse of 1000s of boots every summer. They'll also have conservation crews working to repair and prevent erosion on the closed trail. The point here is the trails change some, so you'll have a hard time getting precise waypoints for all trails. If you depend solely on GPS, it will let you down sometimes.


Philmont maps also aren't as precise as your GPS, so don't be surprised if they disagree.


One of our Boundary Waters crews in 2003 took a nice GPS loaded with maps of the area. They found it to be very useful and almost didn't even take a compass. But were glad they did when they dropped the pricey GPS unit into Lake Agnes.


I'm old school and prefer map & compass, but one of our adults brought a GPS to Philmont last summer. We wouldn't let the boys use it, but kept it on while we were hiking to keep a digital log of our hiking miles. Eventually the boys got smart and asked us about elevation - very useful in sorting out one of those confusion clouded times.


For me, GPS falls in the category of "nice to have" items that I think hard about before tossing in the pack. Given the choice, I'd rather carry a big bag of Snickers bars to share when we reached the top of Mt. Baldy. Or maybe a little camcorder to capture the memories. But that's just my opinion.


Happy hiking!



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  • 3 months later...

So far this thread has done a good job covering Philmont, but....


I found out last minute (two weeks until I depart) that I'm filling in for someone going to Northern Tier. From those of you that have been, how should I spend two weeks preparing? As a little background, I used to be "that-overactive-kid-with-all-the-merit-badges" in scouts, but I've been on a 2 year hiatius from scouts since I started college. This is my first _major_ trip as an adult.


I'm still solid on camping skills and know that my physical condition can handle it.


I guess I should focus my question more towards "What will I experience at NT that I wouldn't have experienced in elsewhere, and how can I be prepared for the nuances of NT?"

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Hi All


Portaging is the biggest difference in my mind. Learning how to load, unload, and pick up a canoe to put it on your shoulders would start the trip a little easier. What makes loading and unloading canoes a challenge is doing it with other crews at the same portage. So understanding how to get in and out without clogging up the trails or loading points is an advantage. You need to learn how to lay your gear off the trails to prevent blocking the other crews, or even the folks in your own crew.


And it wouldn't hurt to find someone in your area who can teach each person in your crew how to pick up and lay down a canoe. It doesn't requires as much strength as one would imagine if you know the proper technique.


Our crews packed about the same for Philmont and Northern Tier. Need more fishing gear for Northern Tier. You need different shoes that can drain water quickly. We used Army Jungle Boots, but they didn't hold up very well our last trip. Not sure what we will use this year. Anybody have advise and boots?




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I recommend good old fashioned canvas tennis shoes. They dry fairly quickly, and supply enough support for the short distances you are portaging. Make sure you don't have shoes with too much leather ont hem, as the constant drying and wetting causes the leather to shrink up. BRING BUG SPRAY!! And if you're lucky, sun screen!



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Give me some background... I wasn't a Boy Scout. My son is a Wolf in Cub Scouts. At what age do hikes such as Philmont(?) come into play? I read references to "adult supervisors". Are these Boy Scout Leaders or parent volunteers? What are the chances of my hiking with my son one day on such an adventure? I'm an engineer so I could figure out a compass and map, but have no experience on a trail.

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Philmont and other high adventure treks are restricted to Boy Scouts 14 years and up and Scouters. With a son in Cubs, you have a couple years before this type of adventure gets onto your radar screen, but its never to early to start hiking! Day hikes with Cub Scouts are a great way to start.


"Boy Scout leaders" = "parent volunteers" ! (One becomes a Scouter by volunteering) Most (though not all) adult Scouters with troops are parents with sons in the unit. If your son joins an active troop with a strong program of adventure for the older boys, and if you become an active registered leader in the troop, there is an excellent chance you will both have the opportunity to trek at Philmont.


That said, many Boy Scouts (and adult Scouters) never get an opportunity to hike at Philmont - but there are lots and lots of other high adventure treks for troops in all parts of the country.


With a Wolf son, you have some GREAT years ahead!

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