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Philmont trip report / gear review

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Got home from another Philmont trek earlier this week and figured Id do a combination trip report / gear review to capture some thoughts.


I was part of crew 705-L; 9 youth and 3 advisers from eastern Iowa.  One youth, the lead adviser and I had all been on previous treks.  The third adviser and 8 youth were on their first trek.


The lead adviser headed up our preparation this time - his focus was on brushing up skills that we don't use as often in daily Scouting and on teamwork.  We covered use of our backpacking stoves, hanging bear bags, wilderness first aid scenarios, navigation and Philmonts bear procedures.  We worked some on reducing pack weight but not a lot.  We did not put much emphasis on physical conditioning and only had a couple of short training hikes. 


The youth in our crew are pretty athletic so I was not overly concerned about their physical conditioning; the advisers understood the need and were doing more on our own.  About 10 weeks before the trek I began running a couple of miles a day.  I know it helped but when you live at 742ft elevation there is just not much you can do to prepare for altitude. 


As on previous treks, we traveled by Amtrak to Raton then Philmont shuttle to base camp.  The timing causes you to miss lunch at base camp so the bus stops at "fast food row" before heading out. This was all smooth and efficient.


Our Philmont Ranger was a great young man and connected well with both the youth and adults.  Our in-processing went pretty well - we had reserved and paid for 7 spots and brought a check for the correct amount to cover the other 5 spots.   We forgot to bring a check to cover the $45x12 for the shuttle to/from the train station - our oversight on that one.  We called the museum on our first day in base camp to make a Villa tour reservation for after our trek.


The only complaint with in-processing was that our bus to the trailhead was not until 2pm so the hike from Rayado turn around to Backache Springs was hot, hot, hot.  An earlier bus would have been very welcome - and totally feasible as we had everything done and ready to go before lunch.


We hiked itinerary 28; Rayado turn around to Six-mile gate with one dry camp, optional Tooth side hike and layover day for Baldy hike.  We had spar pole at Crater Lake, rock climbing at Miners Park, Shaefers Pass, Hunting Lodge, Visto Grande, challenge events at Head of Dean, black powder at Miranda, chuckwagon dinner at Ponil and archeaology at Indian Writings.  A side note - this was a different number but almost exactly the same itinerary as we had on our previous trek. 

  • Backache springs was a pretty nice camp.  The sites are very large and seemed lightly used.  The water source is a bit of a walk from the sites.  The bear cable was down for some reason so they had a bear box for smellables.
  • The campfire program at Crater Lake was (again) a crew favorite.  In fact it is a ranch favorite - there were lots of visiting staff in the audience.  The Tooth as a backdrop and a thunderstorm over the plains made for a beautiful setting for the show. 
  • Time management was not a strength of this crew.  That and water management made skipping the Tooth side hike a wise choice.  Instead we went to Shaefers Peak for sunrise - definitely a worthwhile alternative.  The hike is about 35 minutes.
  • The visiting foresters at Demonstration Forest were great.  Very entertaining and engaging; much better than the "just the facts" presentation that I remembered from our previous trek.
  • We left Hunting Lodge via Cathedral Rock/ Window Rock/ Hidden Valley - absolutely beautiful. 
  • Visto Grande - skip the campsites down near the spring, the sites up the hill (north of the spring) were large and wooded and off the main trail and quiet.  The spring was flowing about like I remembered from previous years, about 20 minutes to fill the 8qt pot.
  • Head of Dean - still the best porch view on the ranch IMHO.  They had a new challenge event since last time I was there.  Also now offer 60 and 90 minute challenge event time slots - dont remember this from before though maybe they did.  A 60 minute slot only gave us time for 2 ice breaker type activities and 2 actual challenge events. 
  • Sunset hike at Head of Dean was nice.  About 15 minute hike to a small rise out in the burn area (2002 Ponil fire) gave a great 360* view.  
  • Miranda was pretty much as I remembered - the staff this year were very colorful and entertaining in their persona's. 
  • Baldy was much tougher than I remembered - might have something to do with me being four years older and nearly 50.  Both the saddle below, and the summit itself were still worth the price of admission.
  • The staff at Ponil were surprised when we arrived to turn in our burro well before noon.  "Chuck" didnt slow us down any more than us old guys at the back of the line were already slowing us down.  I attribute this primarily to a couple of our youth having experience with horses and cattle so they knew how to keep Chuck moving.
  • The root beer at Ponil was cold (yum!) and the cantina show was fun, though the room was packed full and quite warm.  The chuckwagon dinner was a nice change from freeze dried, and the kids really enjoyed it, but I would not go out of my way to have it on a trek in the future.  Commercial size bags of Dinty Moore Beef Stew, slightly burnt dutch oven biscuits and simple dump cobbler.  It was all tasty but on day 9 of the trek it was more food than I wanted and didn't sit well in my stomach.
  • Though we stayed at Ponil, pistol shooting was not listed as an activity for our trek so the staff would not let us shoot.
  • Hiked over Hart peak on the way to Indian Writings.  A pretty easy hike compared to recent days and a nice view.  Check another named peak off my list.
  • Indian Writings was my only disappointment in terms of staff, program and camps.  The staffer that gave us the porch talk seemed to not be particularly well trained.  He first suggested that we eat lunch then do Atlatl, then he would take us to campsite and we'd come back for conservation.  The Atlatl was fun and the guy staffing it was a riot - the shining star of the camp. We headed to campsite about an hour before consv but only got about half way there and our guide said we would not have time after all so we went back to the cabin. 
  • Consv was up, up, up the hill most of a mile away.  The trail building was somewhat disorganized - after our safety talk the two staffers did not do a good job of giving directions as to what each group was supposed to be doing on a particular section of the new trail.  They spent most of their time chatting up a couple of the groups so there was much less actual work accomplished than there might have been.
  • After consv the same staffer was again going to take us to our campsite.  We stood around for about 10 minutes with our packs on because he wanted to take another crew to their site on the way.  The other crew however was not ready and was in no hurry to get ready - I dont think they knew he wanted them to come with us.  When we finally got to our site - 0.6 miles from the cabin - he told us to setup our tents in a particular area.  As we were doing so another staffer came by from dropping the other crew off and told us we were setting up in the flood zone and we should be in a spot across the road that was 100 feet away and 20 feet higher. 
  • Because of the distance we did not bother to go back for advisor coffee.  Also because of the distance and we were heading the other direction, we did not go back in the morning to do the petroglyphs or the archaeology dig.
  • The hike from Indian Writings to six-mile gate was quick and easy.  The TRex fossil was pretty neat.  We arrived at six-mile in time to catch an earlier bus back to camp, yeah!
  • Check in back at base camp went quickly and smoothly - tents, gear turn-in, showers and ice cream all before lunch.


We had campfires a couple of nights early in the trek but came under a fire ban about half way through.

We had showers several times during the trek - Clarks Fork, Baldy Town and Ponil.  They were available Indian Writings but we didnt bother.  Some showers were really hot, others luke warm but all served the purpose to rinse off the dust and stink.  At some camps we had to schedule a time slot with the staff, at others there was no schedule.  We never had to wait more than a couple of minutes at the unscheduled showers.  I decided at the last minute to leave the pack-towel behind.  For all showers I wore my compression shorts and crew tshirt in to rinse them out.  I used a bandanna to kind of dry off but put my hiking shorts on over my wet compression shorts and put my wet tshirt back on.  It was all dry within about 20 minutes. 

We had one Scout whose boots kicked the bucket on the way up Baldy.  We patched them together to get him back to camp.  When we went through Baldy Town for food he found that the trading post actually had boots, and actually had his size.  He was able to do a "trail charge" and wear them for the rest of the hike.  They sent his old boots back to base camp were we picked them up when we settle the charge.  Pretty nice that they have that option available.


Departure day we went to the museum to browse and get our Villa tour tickets.  They did not have a reservation for us.  After some research we discovered that it had been recorded on the previous day - a date/time when we were not even scheduled to be off the trail yet.  By splitting the group they found space for us 90 minutes later than our reservation - that was going to mess with our Cimmaron lunch plans but it was all they could do because earlier time slots were full of NAYLE groups.  We walked down to wait and talked to Nancy at the Villa.  She split us and put us in with the NAYLE groups on our original schedule.  THANK YOU NANCY!


Lunch was the St James Hotel.  Service was a little slow but the food was wonderful.  We had not made a reservation but they fit us in.  They did tell us that they request groups over 6 people to make a reservation.


The bus back to Raton for the train stopped at the grocery store for snacks.  There is a pizza place and a hot dog place across the street from the train station that I dont remember from previous trek.


Our tradition is to eat dinner in the dining car once we get on the train.  As soon as we get on someone goes to make the reservation.  They always grumble about the large group and reservations mostly full already but they always fit us in.  I asked how we could get the reservation earlier since we dont board earlier - they said we could add it as a note/request when we buy our tickets.


As for gear - I continue to refine my kit and get my base weight down.  I started with about 14lbs for personal gear (including extras like camera and GPS) and added a tiny bit of crew gear, 1/2 a Philmont tent, 4 days food and 3 liters water for a starting trail weight of 35lbs.

  • Tent - we used Philmont tents instead of Troop tents or (for a few of us) personal tents.  This was partly to save wear-n-tear on our tents and partly to save space in our packs for things that we needed to travel but would be left in the locker at base camp.  I have become so accustomed to a tent with two side doors that I didnt care for the single end door but otherwise the Philmont tents were okay.  Their weight is heavy compared to a good 2-person backpacking tent but is not bad considering it is more like an outfitter tent to withstand the constant usage.  It is down right light compared to the food anyhow.
  • Pack - Golite Pinnacle 70L.  This is the second Philmont trek and fourth extended trek for this pack.  It continues to carry the weight well and be very comfortable.  Absolutely no complaints here - have actually considered picking up another if I can find one to have when this one dies.
  • Thermarest Neoair.  This is the first generation, regular size.  It is also on its second Philmont trek/fourth extended trek.  I still like the low bulk and weight of this pad but still do not like the crinkly noise.  
  • Enlightened Equipment Revelation 20* quilt.  This is a new addition to my kit.  Previously I used a Ray Jardine MYOG quilt.  The EE is several ounces lighter, packs a bit smaller and is quite a bit warmer.  Our lowest overnight temp on the trek was 50* - with shorts and tshirt this was too warm on most nights.  
  • Helinox Ground Chair.  This is another new addition to my kit.  Previous treks Ive used a simple CCF sit pad but I had dropped enough weight with other items that I decided to take the 23oz splurge.  The chair is solid, well made and quite comfortable.  My only complaint is that it takes a moment to setup/pack up so I did not bother to get it out for quick stops.  Not sure if I would take it on an "on the move" type trek again.  For a canoe trek or other back country base camp/short days trek it is totally worth the weight.
  • Borah Gear down jacket.  This replaced my 100wt fleece.  It was so warm during our trek that I only wore it a few times, mostly it was part of the stuffing for my pillow.  It is less than 6oz and was warm sitting around camp down in the mid 50's.  I was surprised that it completely blocked the wind on top of Baldy.  We were told later that winds on the morning we were up there were estimated at 50+ MPH.
  • Rain gear.  I took my REI rain coat but only took DriDucks rain pants because they are less than half the weight of my regular rain pants.  I didnt expect to use any of it much because the rain normally doesnt last long and the low humidity allows things to dry very quickly.  Turns out the only rain we had for the entire trek was a few sprinkles as we boarded the bus back to the train station.
  • Again used 1L Smartwater and Powerade bottles instead of traditional lexan Nalgene's because of the weight savings.  The tall Smartwater fit the side pockets of my pack much better than a 1L Nalgene and I use the "sipper" lid from one of the other size Smartwater bottles.  We had several people comment about them not being rugged enough.  I think everyone in our crew had at least 2 Smartwater bottles and we had zero damage or leaks.
  • I carried a 3L Nalgene canteen and someone else carried the 10L water bag from our gravity filter.  These were both used quit a bit to bring water back to camp and save trips to the spigot/spring.
  • We did not bring a water filter this time; used the micropur tablets when necessary.  Many times the water itself tasted awful (even at staffed camps) but the tablets did not add any noticeable taste.  The wait time for the tablets was not a problem for our particular route.
  • Our crew first aid kit was way bigger and heavier than it needed to be.  I was not the one to review before the trek and did carry/use it during so dont know exactly what was in it - I do know there was a pocket size wilderness first aid book, a SAM splint, an ACE bandage and several travel size bottles of meds.  We used lots of moleskin and a few band aids but nothing else.  Need to do a better job of reviewing and reducing next time.
  • My personal first aid kit was a quart size freezer bag with moleskin, band aids, gloves and a half dozen of a couple meds.  It weighed about 6oz - I used none of it.
  • I carried a Garmin Geko 201 GPS to record our travels.  The size and weight were acceptable; it rode nicely on top of my pack and I remembered to turn it on/off each day.  I have some pretty big gaps in the track because the batteries died without me realizing it.
  • On past treks I carried a small DIY notebook made from stapled-together Tyvek house wrap and a small fine-point sharpie.  I did this so it was waterproof and  could carry it in my pocket for making notes along the way.  I used a standard mini spiral notebook and gel pen for my daily journaling - kept these in a ziplock with my sleeping cloths.  This time I purchased a few Rite In The Rain mini notebooks and a Fisher Space Pen.  I carried them in a cargo pants pocket and really liked this combination for both my daily journaling throughout the day and for random notes along the way.
  • Socks - I wear Merino wool hiking socks with liners.  I rotated two pair - rinsing the dirty pair each morning and hanging it from my pack to dry while we hiked.  I had a third pair in my pack because of my personal motto "never underestimate the power of clean, dry socks".  When we had not had rain by day 8, I used the fresh set for our Baldy day then put them into the rotation for the rest of the trek.
  • Other cloths - I carried an extra pair of compression shorts but never used them.  I carried an extra crew tshirt and switched mid way through the trek.  With the availability of showers that we had, I would probably leave it behind or use it as my sleep shirt next time.  I decided at the last minute to leave behind the second pair of zip-off hiking pants.  The pair I wore got pretty filthy as I never bothered to unload the pockets so they never got worn into the shower.  I was still cleaner than most of the youth in any given camp.
  • One other thing we did again for this trek is take a neck tie.  We wear them on Sunday to "dress up".  It is just something fun that boosts moral and makes people smile.  This time it was sparkly red-white-blue bow ties because we left home on July 4th.

I cannot think of anything that I didn't bring but wished I had.

Hopefully this helps someone else in their preparation.  Im sure it will help me a few years from now when Im trying to remember what I took and what I left behind.



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@@jjlash, outstanding summary, thank you!


Interesting and informative, I appreciate you taking the time to provide us the write up.


I did a trek at Philmont in '77.   Been trying to get back ever since.  :)


Congratulations to you and your crew.

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jjlash how much backpacking do you do?


Not nearly as much as I would like ;-)


Not very much in reality - I may get a few 5-10 mile day trips per year and maybe one 15-20 mile overnight.  About every other year my Troop does a backpacking high adventure - usually around 50ish miles over 5-6 days.  About every 4 years we do Philmont so 100ish miles over the 10 days.

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Perfect timing we are hitting the road to Philmont on Tuesday and we also have itinerary 28. I will definitely print out your post and bring it with me on the trail.


Cool - feel free to message me if you have any questions.  It is a very well-rounded itinerary.

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