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Ultralight Backpacking for Scouts?

Posted on 10 July 2012 by MikeD

Ultralight backpacking may be the biggest change to hit Scout backpacking since the development of the hip strap. While still slightly contentious among some traditional Troops, Ultralight is increasingly accepted as a viable alternative to carrying the entire equipment list developed by traditionalists. Many experienced backpackers have already made the transition and Ultralight principles are showing up in popular basic backpacking courses and in many hiking groups.

Ultralight practitioners promote the idea that a Scout can lower his pack weight by purchasing newer and lighter equipment, eliminating potentially unnecessary items, sharing equipment among the group, and using things for multiple purposes. It’s not unusual for an advocate to get their pack weight down from the traditional 40-50 lbs to as little as 15 pounds by carefully weighing each item and continually seeking improvement. Their goal is to maintain the same level of comfort and safety at a significantly lower pack weight to improve their hiking experience.

Weigh everything in your backpack down to the last ounce!

Ultralight backpacking is a continuing commitment. Packs are designed to carry minimum weight, tents are replaced by tarps, sleeping bags might be just a blanket or quilt, boots become light trail runners, and clothing is limited to the bare minimum. Food is often eaten cold to save on fuel weight and many will even cut off the handle of their toothbrush or the straps on their backpack to save half an ounce. (These people are called ‘ounce counters.’)

Since the heaviest items are the most expensive, initially many Scout backpackers try to lighten their loads by counting ounces on smaller cheaper things in their pack. Or they try leaving extra clothing, food, and equipment at home. This is a nice idea but you can’t make a big weight difference with small sacrifices. The only way to significant lower your pack weight is to replace your backpack, tent/shelter, and sleeping system – often called the “Big Three of Backpacking” and pay the price at the cash register.

The “Big Three” accounts for a lot of your pack weight, but not all of it. If you want to minimize your load and move towards Ultralight, here are some additional rules for lowering what you carry:

1. Weigh everything
2. Take less stuff
3. Choose equipment carefully – Emphasize multi-use items
4. Know the difference between wants and needs
5. Continually try new and lighter things – experiment on practice hikes
6. Load lightening is a gradual process of trial & error so set goals every year and meet them

There are lots of groups and web sites that cover the subject. Possibly the most comprehensive is They publish a newsletter, review products, and act as a clearing house for information. As an added bonus, the editor is an Eagle Scout.

Some adult leaders have not totally embraced the concept of Ultralight backpacking due to the initial cost. There is also resistance because Ultralight means the margin for error is reduced and the risk of encountering problems might be higher. Difficulties are created when traditional (heavy) equipment is integrated with an Ultralight system. For example, you can’t, in an emergency, ask a hiker with an Ultralight pack to carry a heavy tent or sleeping bag that belongs to someone who is not also Ultralight. There is also an argument over footwear. Ultralight footwear is more like tennis shoes than boots (trail runners), built for speed but not ankle support. Many adults think that teenage boys need the support of regular boots to protect against sprains.

Despite the opposition from some quarters, most Ultralight concepts are here to stay. Equipment is getting better and lighter. Adult training is more enlightened and the boys are much less inclined to push themselves by carrying super heavy loads on their backs. As a result, the best advice for new backpackers is to start thinking about pack weight early in your hiking career and invest in the best and lightest equipment possible, even if you have to purchase it used off Craig’s List or EBay. The lighter the load, the farther you can walk every day.

For lots more information about Scout backpacking, visit request a free copy of “Backpacking for Boys.”

Mike Dubrall writes about backpacking, snow camping, and other high adventure outings at His email is or you can be connected through the “ Outing Resource Center” on Facebook.


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MD Snow Shoe Trip

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Five Degrees of Snow Camping

Posted on 08 March 2012 by MikeD

The following is a Guest Article by Mike Dubrall. Mike “Uncle Dub Zero” Blogs and writes informative articles on backpacking and snow camping at 

Snow camping is a popular winter activity for sturdy Boy Scouts.  Every year, thousands venture into snow covered fields and conduct a variety of maneuvers, all designed to prove that they can survive and thrive in cold conditions that cause their parents to mutter about hot tubs and hotel rooms.   However, while cold weather outings can be challenging, not all winter outings can be called snow camping, no matter what your leaders tell you.

Winter is a great time for Scout outings.

Snow camping requires, at a very minimum, that Scouts build shelters in the snow and sleep in them.  These could be tents, Ice or Hop Houses, Quinzies, Snow Trenches (sometimes called Ice Coffins) or the most popular of all – the classic Snow Cave.   Anything less than spending the entire night in one of these shelters  is just a winter outing with snow involved.

To clear up any confusion, here are the degrees of snow camping clearly defined – from easiest to most difficult.

Zero Degree: Staying in a cabin. Gentlemen, this is not snow camping.  No matter how many times you go outside and walk around in snowshoes or how cold you get making snow angels wearing only your shorts, it’s not called snow “camping” when you sleep in a “cabin.”  Even your little sister knows this.  Give it up and try again next winter.

First Degree: Car Camping.  Adults drive you up to the mountains and park near the snow.  You get to pitch tents or dig snow caves right next to the cars and keep all your shovels, extra tools, snacks, water, and tarps in the trunk, grabbing them as needed.  Adults sit in a Winnebago preparing hot chocolate and there is no need to dig out a cooking area because there is a propane stove in the back of  the truck.  Often you have KYBOS nearby, but you have to be brave enough to use them, partly because of the frigid temperature inside.

Second Degree: Tent Camping.  After arriving, Scouts pack up their equipment and leave the parking area to find a campsite.  Travel from the cars can be via snow shoe, cross country ski, or by booted foot.  Upon arrival at a suitable location, snow is cleared or smoothed and tents are erected with “dead men stakes” covered by snow.  Gear is stowed in the tents and the group works together building  a common kitchen area and latrine before heading off to explore the frozen lake.  After dark, Scouts climb into their tents and hope that the temperatures outside do not drop below 30 degrees or that it doesn’t snow too much.  If it does, they shiver in their sleeping bags and think about real snow caves.

MD Snow Cave

Digging a Snow Cave is much more difficult than just erecting a tent - but is usually more comfortable.

Third Degree: Cave Camping.  Scouts load their backpacks, fasten on their snow shoes, and carry all their equipment across the snow and away from the parking lot until the desired separation is achieved – usually when the weakest camper drops from exhaustion.   (The longer the hike, the more adventurous the outing.)  After testing the snow with an avalanche probe for hidden large rocks and other surprises, Scouts spend hours sitting or lying on tarps digging caves using snow shovels, saws, and their gloved hands.  During the afternoon, volunteers takes turns sculpting a kitchen area near the shelters.  Someone makes sure the cooking stoves are constantly lit and that snow is being melted into drinkable water.  After dinner, everyone climbs into their cave, lights their glow stick, and settles into a soundless trance until morning.

Fourth Degree: Cave or Tent Camping as part of an extended trek.  This is full metal jacket snow camping and only for the strongest and most prepared youth in the Council.  In addition to carrying a heavy backpack full of food and supplies across the snow on snow shoes, Scouts have to get up early every day

MD Snow Camping Levels of Difficulty

Leaving the vehicles for several days is the most challenging kind of fourth degree winter outing.

(when it’s really, really cold), break camp, and start moving so they arrive in camp in time to create new shelters and melt snow for drinking water before it gets dark.  On top of the significant physical and psychological burdens, everyone has to navigate across a frozen and alien geography where trails and landmarks are covered in snow, rending most maps almost useless.

Of course additional points can be earned when something difficult happens an any of these outings.  For example, when a storm unexpectedly dumps two feet of snow on your shelters overnight collapsing tents or forcing campers to dig out of their caves in the morning.  Likewise, when adults inexplicably insist that everyone buckle their snow shoes  after dinner for a night hike in sub-arctic temperatures.

Now that you have a snow camping barometer, what kind of winter camping does your unit do?

Mike Dubrall writes about backpacking, snow camping, and other high adventure outings at His email is and you can friend him on Facebook.


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Photo Fridays: Proper Positioning Techniques

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Photo Fridays: Proper Positioning Techniques

Posted on 17 February 2012 by BrandonQ

Photo Friday
We recognize that our audience has an interest in photography to capture special moments such as Courts of Honors, campouts, winter activities, family vacations, sport events, and other gatherings. “Photo Friday” is intended to help photography amateurs improve their photo shoots through photo tips, which may include basic skills, creative shooting techniques, and proper care and maintenance. Tips in this section are written by amateurs, professional photographers, and by other contributors. We hope that you find these tips useful in your Scouting program. Photo Fridays are brought to you by Brandon Queen Photography.

Proper Positioning Techniques


We talked about choosing the right cameras on last weeks tip. Now we will talk about proper positioning techniques:

  • How to hold your camera properly
  • How to stand when holding your camera
  • Hand placement on the camera.

Holding Your Camera

Anyone can pick up a camera and take a photograph. We want to do it the proper way so that your pictures can be crisp and clear. All cameras are different. We are going to focus on the point and shoot cameras. You to can shoot like a pro!

Step One: Most point and shoot cameras come with a wrist strap. Therefore the strap goes on you right wrist.

If you ever get bumped, your camera should be safe with the strap.

Step Two: Your thumb should rest gently on the back of the camera.

Your right thumb should rest near the buttons. It also gives you comfort when holding your camera

Step Three: The rest of your finger should rest on the side of the lens.

The rest of your fingers should rest on the side of the lens.

Step Four: Your index finger should be free so it can access the shutter button.

Your index (pointer) finger should be the finger on the shutter button.

Step Five:Your left hand should be a brace to hold the camera in a sturdy position.

Your left hand should be the brace to hold your camera and provide comfort. (Back View)

Your left hand should be the brace to hold your camera and provide comfort (Front View)

Now once you have practiced these techniques, you must keep your elbows tucked in your side (ribs) to keep your camera still. This prevents camera shake.


Standing Positions

  • Your feet should be flat on the ground and one slightly ahead of one another. There are may standing positions that you can use to take a photograph. One is the one knee position. This position is used to “Get on their Level”, which mean that you are at the hight of the subject. We will cover that in the upcoming tips.

    Standing photo position allows you to stand up and take a photo. This is just one of the photo standing positions.

Remember that your elbows should be planted into your side to help with stabilization. Holding the camera at arms length will result in shaky photos.

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Igloo Building

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Beyond Ski Trips – Winter Outings

Posted on 07 February 2012 by MikeD

The following is a Guest Article by Mike Dubrall. Mike “Uncle Dub Zero” Blogs and writes informative articles on backpacking and snow camping at 

It may come as a surprise to Scouters in Montana and Wisconsin with their cold weather camping traditions, but for many Scouts in other areas, winter has become a camping holiday.  Parents and Scout leaders in warmer climes point to the high cost of acquiring cold-weather clothing and the risks associated with driving boys to the mountains on snowy or wet roads.   In addition, many don’t like hiking, cooking, and camping in bad weather – not to mention all the planning and safety issues to consider.  For them, real camping in winter is just too much trouble.

To keep their program going when the weather is bad, some units organize outings in the city.  Overnights in museums, park gazebos, rock climbing gyms, and fitness centers are possible; and, if they are lucky, the boys might even sleep in decommissioned battleships or submarines in some areas.  Many Scout Camps are also open year round and they often have enclosed areas for sleeping and daytime activities.  A few boys even organize winter campouts in the backyard of their Patrol Leader where they can easily evacuate to the living room if it starts to rain.  And while all of these are great Scouting experiences, they do not always deliver the adventure of Scouting that is described in the Scout Handbook.  Real Scouts spent at least part of every year dealing with real winter weather.

If your unit does not have a tradition of overnight camping in the snow, then it No Wimpsmight be wise to start out with some winter day trips.  They are usually less challenging than overnights and more accessible to participants with little cold weather experience.  All you need for a day trip is an idea, a destination, and some leadership. (Plus a new Tour Plan.)

The majority of Scouts live within a day’s drive of a ski resort – so for most, there is no excuse for not organizing a one-day Troop ski or boarding outing.  Sledding is also a possibility in many areas.  Most resorts provide group discounts – some even offer snow sports merit badge programs.  Just remember the safety issues.  BSA now requires boys to wear helmets on the slopes and it’s a very good idea to make sure boarders are wearing wrist protection.  Older Scouts can resist both helmets and wrist protectors, so you might have to make a big deal about it ahead of time.

However, a winter day-trip does not have to be about downhill skiing or boarding.  Here are some other ideas to consider:

Snow Shoeing is possibly the fastest growing winter sport in America.  Just Snow Shoeingstrap the snow shoes over your boots and start walking away from the parking area.  It delivers immediate gratification.  Head down to your local REI or sporting goods store to rent some snow shoes.  Then pack a lunch, put on your clothing layers, and head to any wilderness area with snow.

Cross Country skiing is not as exciting as its downhill relative, but it’s still pretty fun.   It’s easy to learn for even the most uncoordinated boys and adults.  Cross country skiing does not require expensive lift tickets, and will not usually result in scary falls while hurdling out of control down a blue diamond slope.  Most cross-country resorts and sporting good stores will rent skis at very reasonable prices.

Igloo Building is not easy, but a group of Scouts can certainly put together a Igloo Buildingcredible structure in an afternoon.  This gives everyone a taste of what snow camping is all about and proves that they can actually create a safe place to spend the night no matter how cold it gets.  (Note: it is a bummer to spend all afternoon building a structure, only to tear it down without sleeping in it.)

Photography takes on a whole new aspect in a snow covered environment.  Find a counselor and work on the merit badge or pass out disposable cameras for a photo scavenger hunt.  Then post the pictures on the Troop website.

Snow Sculpture Contests can be organized in a number of ways.  Picture an entire army of snow men in a field, each built by individual Scouts hoping to win a grand prize.  Larger Patrol sculptures could be built and judged around a theme (animals or Scout Leaders are examples) or judge them on originality, height, sex appeal, or difficulty.  Make sure you plan ahead and bring the right tools and decorations to finish your masterpieces.

Overnight outings are more difficult to organize and execute, but they are usually worth the trouble.  With this in mind, many Districts organize Klondike Derbies or winter Camporees.   Most Klondike Derbies welcome visitors from other areas so find one in your state and participate.   (A search in Google for  Klondike shows an astonishing 790,000 results from which to choose).

Older Scouts need to be challenged, summer or winter.  That means helping them find exciting activities and convincing trained adults to participate – not always an easy task.  However, if you don’t keep them engaged in January and February, your Venture Crew might not be around when the weather finally does improve.

Mike Dubrall writes about backpacking, snow camping, and other high adventure outings at His email is and you can friend him on Facebook.

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George Washington

Words of Wisdom Wednesday: The Unexpected Guest

Posted on 01 February 2012 by ScoutingNewsStaff

Words of Wisdom Wednesday

The Words of Wisdom Wednesday series is composed of anecdotal segments to inspire and supplement a Scout’s personal development, building core values and moral character. An anecdote on WWW is similar to a “Scoutmaster’s Minute”. These anecdotes are intended to be shared with your units. We will strive to publish updates to Words of Wisdom Wednesday weekly.

George WashingtonThe Unexpected Guest
Retold by Kristi Bell

One night, a soldier had been out scouting the area for enemies. On his way back to camp he stopped at a humble cottage and asked for shelter. An older couple answered the door, took pity on him and told him that he can stay the night. The stranger was exhausted and retired as soon as he was shown his room.

Before the mistress of the home went to sleep, she locked up all of her valuables in case this man was a thief. As she was locking up her valuables, she heard speaking in the next room. She listened closer and heard a prayer offered in gentle yet solemn tones. It was the stranger praying for his country, for the soldiers who were fighting for the noble cause. The woman became ashamed of her suspicious fears, got up and put the key back in the cupboard door. She slept peacefully and soundly through the night.

The next morning, the stranger could not stay, but offered to pay for his night’s lodging. The old couple refused. “Then,” said the guest, “you deserve to know who I am, who you have entertained and treated so nobly. I am General Washington.”

A .pdf of this article can be found here.

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