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Backpacking Merit Badge

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I am curious about how to enable a group of boys to finish the requirements for Backpacking Merit Badge. The final requirement (#11) calls for a hike of at least 30 miles spanning 5 days and 4 nights. The problem is finding adults who can take the time to do such a trek with the boys.


In this instance, there are 4 boys, all in the same patrol. Each is an extremely competent scout (one is Star, the others are Life), ages 15-17. I would venture to say that every one will make Eagle - they exemplify the best in Scouting: skills, leadership, attitude. They are well-versed in first aid, wilderness survival, etc.


Because of the time requirements, it's impossible to schedule this hike outside of school vacations. Even with long weekends, it's almost impossible to find 2 adults who can abandon their families and jobs to take the time to cover 5 days. We have even tried to coordinate the hike to have two adults start with them, then trade off with two other adults mid-trek. Logistically, it is nearly impossible due to trail access.


Summertime is not an option, because 2 of the boys are employed at Council camps and another is away with relatives all summer. There's still the problem of adult coverage.


One adult even suggested making it a 4-day hike with the last night being a backyard campout. I nixed that idea, since I believe it is counter to the intent of the merit badge.


I would be very comfortable letting these 4 boys to a trek of this nature by themselves. They have access to cell phones and 2-way radios for emergencies.


The Guide to Safe Scouting (GSS) seems to be contradictory.


From the GSS:

Two registered adult leaders, or one registered adult and a parent of a participating Scout, one of whom must be at least 21 years of age or older, are required for all trips or outings. THERE ARE A FEW INSTANCES, SUCH AS PATROL ACTIVITIES, WHEN NO ADULT LEADERSHIP IS REQUIRED. (Emphasis is mine.)


Also from the GSS (2 paragraphs later):

Safety rule of four: No fewer than four individuals (always with the minimum of two adults) go on any backcountry expedition or campout. If an accident occurs, one person stays with the injured, and two go for help. Additional adult leadership requirements must reflect an awareness of such factors as size and skill level of the group, anticipated environmental conditions, and overall degree of challenge.


This seems to indicate that the boys cannot do this merit badge requirement without aduls accompanying them. One person even suggested doing the trek just as a group of friends - not Scouts. I'm not real comfortable with this idea.


What have others done in order to meet this requirement of the Backpacking Merit Badge?


Thanks in advance for your ideas, suggestions, and input.

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Funny you should ask...


We just completed the second 15 mile, two night hike requirement this past weekend with a group of three scouts, right near your neck of the woods. In this case, the backpackers met up with our new scouts on the second night at a primitive campsite that was about a mile hike from the trail access parking lot. I had to leave that night and hiked the final mile out myself. (I had a FMS radio, and radioed back to the group when I reached my car.) The final night the backpackers still had three adults with them, one that had hiked the previous night and day with them, and two that hiked in with our younger scouts.


We did this hike in Washington State Forest in Southeastern Mass. The State Forest borders CT, and NY and the combined trail systems intermingal with the Appalachian Trail and several rural road crossings. I believe with a little planning you could find access, eggress points in this area where adults could change in and out of the crew. It is a nice area to hike, with long sweeping views of the Hudson valley and Berkshires, waterfalls, and streams. I did find one 5 day itinerary on the net in this area, but have not hiked it. It is not a particularly challenging itinerary and was posted on a site for beginning backpackers. However it describes the area and identify's possible bail-out points, where you could concievably change out adults. In addition to the below, search Brace Mountain, Mount Alander, Bish Bash Falls. There is an extensive trail network in this area where you could meet folks in a vehicle and continue on the trail.


Good luck,




Check out:



Saturday, October 8, 2005



Drive to CT route 341 in Kent, just west of the Housatonic River, storing final non-essential items in the car. (Thieves take note!)


Begin Hiking, elevation 400'.


Hike 7.0 Miles to Stewart Hollow Brook Lean-To, elevation 400'. Camp


There are several good views in the hilly section that includes St. John's Ledges. The second half of today's hike is very flat and follows the Housatonic River.


Possible bailout: Skiff Mountain Rd.




Sunday, October 9, 2005


Hike 6.6 miles, to Caesar Brook Campsite.


The first half of the day is flat, the second half is hilly, surpassing 1000' twice (Silver Hill, Pine Knob, with views at both)


Camp at Caesar Brook Campsite, elevation 800'. Total mileage: 13.6



Cornwall Bridge


Possible bailout: Cornwall Bridge (CT route 4)




Monday, October 10, 2005


Hike 8.6 miles to Belter's Campsite.


Quite hilly, with views at Housatonic State Forest, Mt. Easter, and Sharon Mtn.


Camp at Belter's Campsite, elevation 750'. Total mileage: 22.2


Possible bailout: West Cornwall Rd.




Tuesday, October 11, 2005


Hike 7.1 miles to Limestone Spring Blue-Blaze Trail. Hike .5 miles down to Limestone Spring Lean-To


Views at Belter's Bump


The first half of today's hike is downhill or flat. The second half climbs Prospect Mtn.



View from Prospect Mountain


Camp at Limestone Spring Lean-To, elevation 1000'. Total mileage: 29.8



Limestone Spring Lean-To


Possible bailouts: US routes 7 & 112, or iron bridge in Amesville




Wednesday, October 12, 2005


Hike .5 miles back up to the Appalachian Trail.


Hike 8.1 miles to Ball Brook.


Views at Rand's View, Billy's View, Lion's Head, North Outlook.


Camp in group campsite just South of Ball Brook, elevation 1700'. Total mileage: 38.4


Possible bailout: CT route 41, Salisbury




Thursday, October 13, 2005


Hike 7.6 miles to Race Brook Falls Trail. Hike .5 miles down to Race Brook Falls Campsite


Hike over Bear Mountain, elevation 2316', highest summit completely within the State of Connecticut.


Cross over into Massachusetts


Views at Bear Mountain Lookout, Bear Rock Falls, Mt. Race, Race Brook Falls.


Camp at Race Brook Falls Campsite, elevation 1500'. Total mileage: 46.5


Possible bailout: No good options. Back to CT route 41 via Undermountain Trail or Paradise Lane Trail




Friday, October 14, 2005


Hike .5 miles back up to the Appalachian Trail.


Hike 6.2 miles to MA route 41 at April Hill Farm, elevation 750'. Total mileage: 53.2


Hike over Mt. Everett, elevation 2602', the highest point in this hike.



Mt. Everett


Possible bailout: Jug End Rd.


Ride back to hotel/motel/B&B in Great Barrington, MA (TBD).


Pick up car(s) from trailhead.




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I am willing to bet that if you applied earlier, they would have taken time to backpack at a high adventure base. I would. There is Ten Mile River in NY(backpacking and canoeing). There is a new base near Philmont, forgot the name - sorry.


By no means should there be any youth backpacking without adults along. From the GSS: Safety rule of four: No fewer than four individuals (always with the minimum of two adults) go on any backcountry expedition or campout. Backpacking should be in the backcountry - it is in the Spirit of the badge and as it say campout...


Two registered adult leaders, or one registered adult and a parent of a participating Scout, one of whom must be at least 21 years of age or older, are required for all trips or outings. THERE ARE A FEW INSTANCES, SUCH AS PATROL ACTIVITIES, WHEN NO ADULT LEADERSHIP IS REQUIRED. Backpacking/camping trip is not a patrol based activity. A cook out, day hike,or service project would qualify for the patrol exception.


Nothing says that all the adults have to from your Troop(ie Provisional Council Troop for a Philmont trek). Ask at a Roundtable, someone may want to help out.


My old Council had lots of property with under utilized trails and outposts in one of the camps, perhaps one near you is like that. Stay at various outposts/lean-tos and hike thru most/all the trails to get the mileage in. As trails cross back thru the main camp, you could swap adults and pick up fresh food if necessary.



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I'd love to take some vacation to do this with my son and his friends. But I guess I don't represent everyone.


I'd let them go as a group of friends. You don't have to do merit badges as a Scouting activity - you work on them individually. You'd have to use judgement, naturally, in deciding what seems ok for your own son. But I don't know why they'd need to ask for permission from anyone other than their parents to do this.


And it does seem very similar to the above-mentioned patrol activity, where no adults are required. It doesn't even seem like it's against the spirit of the rule. The G2SS doesn't say any more about what patrol activities do not require adults.


If they are on maintained trails, and they have cell-phone coverage, this should be a pretty safe activity.


Oak Tree


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Thanks, folks, for the quick and thoughtful responses.


Scoutingagain, thank you for the detailed itinerary. The boys have already done several sections of the AT. They were looking primarily at doing another section in southwestern Massachusetts (south of the Mass Tpk). I'm pretty sure they were totally unaware of the other trails in the area. I'll pass this information along to them.


Vigil-Hiker, the issue is the amount of time modern-day adults have available to take off from work, balancing scouting against organized sports, family vacations, religious obligations, etc. A high-adventure venue isn't going to change that, and I doubt that most people would plan a year ahead to do backpacking merit badge! You do present an interesting point regarding coordination with some other unit -- we can check out that possibility. All of the adults who have been consdidered thus far are registered scouters over 21 (two are BP MB counselors), except for one who is 18, so the "qualifications" are not an issue. We wouldn't want to take certain other parents because they are not properly equipped or physically able/conditioned to do this kind of trek. So what is a boy to do?


Oak Tree, I agree with you. Thanks for picking up on the point that merit badges are not patrol activities, even though the participants coincidentally might be part of the same patrol.


I'd be interested to hear what others think.

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"They were looking primarily at doing another section in southwestern Massachusetts (south of the Mass Tpk)."


If they want to do this, they could easily get a 30 miler in with a loop that included the Taconic Trail along the MA, NY Border, and the Mt. Frissel trail that connects with the AT. See the trail map on the Washington State Forest, MA site. http://www.mass.gov/dcr/parks/trails/mt-washington800.gif


And as I said there a several points that come close to areas of vehicle access where you could exchange adults and pick-up food at mid-trek. There are plenty of streams for water, but it needs to be purified. The hiking is not as challenging as the White Mountains or Philmont, but is quite scenic. Elevation changes are mostly under 1000' and the peaks are in the 2400' foot range.


We found the trails to be relatively well marked.




They could also include trails that run further south into CT. The Taconic Trail goes all the way to Mt. Greylock. The AMC has detailed topo maps available of this entire area.


I hope to do a more extended hike myself in the area.



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You folks seem to be up in New England. Not too far south is the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal tow path along the Potomac River. About 180 miles of almost level hiking from Hagerstown MD to Washington DC. Lots of Hiker-camper sites, state parks and historic sites along the way (Antietam Civil War battlefield, Harpers Ferry, Wash DC). Many in and out places, crosses AT. Contact National Park Service or National Capital Area Council. Excellent guide book available. Commemorative patch and rockers for each section of canal walked.

Smile ansd wave as you go by!


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Yah, given what you said about their level of ability/responsability, I'd let them do this on their own, eh? Make them fill out an itinerary, check out their gear, have them present their emergency plans... in short, treat it like a pre-project review for an Eagle project. When you're comfortable with it, drive 'em to the trailhead, and let 'em loose until the arranged pickup time/location (with plans in place for delays/revisions).


That'd be the right level of challenge and growth for them, eh? After all, in a year or two, they're goin' to be adults in college who will be launching off on such trips without all that prep oversight... or ASMs who will be doin' the overseeing for your next bunch of guys.


If you let 'em have the keys to the car Friday night, you can let 'em go hiking together. Da car is a lot more dangerous, eh?


But if you're not comfortable with it, and you really feel you need two adults along, then you need to start recruitin' some younger leaders. Look to APO organizations at colleges, contact adult outing clubs in your area (AMC?), keep in touch with your former scouts and pull 'em back in, etc. Even if they don't want to be "regular" leaders, many of these people and groups would help your guys out on a one-shot.



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  • 2 weeks later...

I am not up on the current requirements for Backing MB - I am currently a Bear Den leader for my son's den, so I am not sure it says that this must be a group activity or not. I guess, if they go as a group of friends together to share porting food and safety for injury - they could do it with parents permission.


I would personally frown on encouraging it though.


I know that if a group of scouts need to do this, my wife would not have issues of losing me for a few days to help them out. One scheduling possibility to not have to use a lot of vacation time is take 3 days off surrounding a weekend. Or split it up among adults around a weekend. Two adults do Friday-Sat, and gets Sunday w/family; the others cover Sun-Tue. (My cavat to do this now, if I faced this, is that I only have 3 vacation days until July 2007 - changing jobs sucks for vacations).


How do you manage to attend Summer Camp? Or do you split the adult leader coverage? I stayed at Summer Camp once for two evenings after work while another leader went to work his evening shift.


Hope you find out something that works for your boys.

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BP MB requirement 11a states: "Write a plan for a backpacking trek of at least five days using at least three different campsites and covering at least 30 miles. Your plan must include a description of and route to the trek area, schedule (including a daily time control plan), list of food and equipment needs, safety and emergency plan, and budget." Requirement 9a says to "Write a plan for a patrol backpacking hike that includes a time control plan", and 9e says "While carrying your pack, complete a hike of at least 2 miles" -- hardly the same scope as 11a. There is nothing that says the 30-miler is required to be a group endeavor.


I believe you'll find in earlier posts that we already considered the adult trade-offs, which included working around long weekends, and the the problems we have encountered. Your own situation illustrates that quite well.


Summer Camp is a different situation: that's something that is planned MONTHS, even a YEAR, ahead so that we generally have 2 adults who do take a week of vacation time to cover camp. One or two others might rotate in and out from year to year. Summer Camp also benefits the entire troop, not just 4 boys, so there's a different perceived order of magnitude between the two.


I don't know yet what is going to happen with BP merit badge....

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oldsm, Have you approached your council about this? Have you asked at roundtable? Both very good suggestions. I know that our council recently did a hike like this and formed a council provo troop to do it. They do something like that about once a year for boys who have been working on this MB. Also there are a couple of venture crews around here that do a lot of backpacking - is that an option in your area for these boys to team up with?


14 year olds may not be particularly adept at planning ahead and you're right that a handful of boys working on a MB is different than summer camp in terms of planning needs and time tables. But, this is an arduous requirement simply from the logistics point of view and if your council can or will be doing something along the lines of the above, I don't see a lot of reason why these boys couldn't decide to join up with the council next time the opportunity arises.


Yeah, I know, they want to finish the MB soon. I'm glad they're this excited about backpacking, too. Just seems to me that this is a perfect example of how scouting teaches leadership and development, using the outdoors as a laboratory. They'll probably learn as much about planning as about backpacking from this.




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Oops, looking again I see that the 4 boys are between 15-17, not 14. Don't know where I got that idea from! Anyway, same basic thing applies, except possibly for the 17 year old (will he age out soon?).



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Our RT isn't until the 1st Monday in May, so I haven't had a chance to ask yet. I know our Council doesn't do anything like this, nor does our District. But I might be able to get something going by making the need known.


The oldest won't age out until late October. Scheduling is a problem because our troop goes to summer camp the 1st week of July, and two of the boys are on staff at 2 different Council camps, which means they have to report at least a week before; that also kills most of the summer. And, of course, school isn't over here until mid-late June, thanks to too many vacations and snow days during the year! Neither of those boys wants to miss camp employment for the MB, because they're already losing over a week going to the National OA Conference in July/August. Sometimes, boys get too involved (sort of like us adults!).


The sad thing is, the boys started this MB last July. It's been really hard to get it finished (really, just the scheduling issues and not wanting to make this a December trek), so that's why I'm trying to intervene on their behalf.


Thanks to all for your suggestions.

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  • 2 months later...

Time for an update. It's a long story, but I'll give you the Reader's Digest version.


We did let the boys go on their own. They whittled down 50 miles on the AT to 30 miles. They planned a detailed itinerary, purchased dehydrated food, had water purification equipment, an emergency plan, thorough maps, etc. They had chosen some of the most difficult terrain on the AT (the Mahoosic Range in ME/NH - they wanted to do Mahossic Notch, which is about 1 mile of bouldering).


They started out in great spirits in the rain(!), immediately having to ford a swollen stream, then head uphill to where I could no longer see them.


They found that the section of trail they'd chosen was more difficult than they had anticipated. One boy started with "treated" blisters that had developed during an athletic camp the week before. Two others were totally exhausted by the time they reached their first shelter (4 miles of up and down with about 2000' of vertical gain that took almost 6 hours -- and that was to be a short day!). They wisely determined that they had bitten off more than they could chew and decided to shorten the trek (there was no way they were going to make it to the planned pickup point by the appointed day). Since there was cell phone coverage, they called with their revised plan.


They spent 2 nights at that shelter, and on the 3rd day hiked another, easier 6 miles to the next crossroad where I picked them up (in the rain, again!). Total distance: 10 miles.


This was not a failure! The boys learned more on this shortened trek than they would have from listening to adults. To wit:


1. They met with some other AT hikders (both thru- and section-hikers) and learned some valuable tips. Such as not taking Backpacker Pantry meals (the hikers they met exist mostly on ramen noodles, foil-packed tuna or chicken, peanut butter snack crackers, etc.) - saves weight and money. Ditch the tent on the AT: take a tarp for emergency shelter and use the lean-tos. Just for starters.


2. Be sure to do conditioning hikes close to the big hike. I'd tried to get them to do a couple before going, but they were sure that they were ready - after all, they'd done AT sections before (easier ones). Conditioning doesn't last over several months - you have to keep at it.


3. Really examine the topgraphy on the maps, read the trail guides, and check out blogs and other online resources when planning the trek. I think they overestimated their abilities and underestimated the difficulty of the section they chose.


4. Lighten, lighten, lighten. They knew this, but didn't pay enough attention to their own knowledge and experience.


5. Backpacking MB doesn't require the 30-mile hike to be difficult - just 30 miles.


In spite of not achieving their original goal, the boys are not discouraged. They're planning to do some conditioning hikes this summer and try again (on an easier route) over Labor Day weekend. Mahoosic Notch will wait for another time; it's now a distant objective. I'm certain that all the parents are behind them.


The boys impressed the other AT hikers at the shelter by showing them how to start a good fire (in an established fire ring) when everything was soaking wet ("Now there's some real *#&$* Boy Scouts").


Our guys came out of this happy, wiser, and aware of what they need to do in order to make the next attempt successful. No one was hurt, no untoward incidents with strangers or animals (they did see some moose).


The cost besides the food that they ate (some is left for future treks) was two 600-mile round-trip drives to Maine for me. Even at $3.00 a gallon and a very tired butt (mine), it was a small price to pay to give these boys the experience they had and the knowledge that they gained.


For 4 boys:


Cost of food: $200 (including meals en route)

Cost of transportation: $225 (plus the tired butt)

Cost of the experience: PRICELESS



Incidentally, regarding the G2SS issues, I've been reminded by people wiser than I that the operative word is GUIDE. If an activity isn't expressly prohibited ("may not"), or a requirement isn't stated as a "must", then the G2SS is advisory ("should"). Good advice, to be sure, but not the final dictum. In this case, the G2SS was considered for guidance, and no hard-and-fast rules were violated -- which I think is the way the G2SS should be used.


I just wanted to share the results of the trek to provide closure to this thread and thank everyone who posted previously.


It's a good thing I don't write novels!

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