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Words of Wisdom Wednesday: Brave

Posted on 29 August 2012 by CharlesN

“A Scout is never taken by surprise; he knows exactly what to do when anything unexpected happens.” Sir Lord Baden-Powell

A Scout is Brave.  Bravery comes in many forms.  Many of us think of bravery as having the courage to camp out in the woods at night surrounded by wild animals, climbing up a rock wall for the first time, hiking up to the Tooth of Time to find yourself so high up above base camp, or jumping into action to save a life.  Yes, those are all examples of showing bravery.

As another school year begins, there will be many opportunities for you to demonstrate what it means to be a Scout.  You will need to be brave in a number of these situations.  How will you respond if you see another classmate being bullied?  Will you stand by and watch or will you lend your classmate a hand?  What will you do if you see another cheating on a test?  So among the tests you will be administered throughout the school year, your character will also be tested.  Be sure to refer back to the Scout Law and Oath, and carry on accordingly.

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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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Feeding A Bunch of Hungry Backpackers

Posted on 10 June 2012 by MikeD

On a 50 miler, getting into camp every afternoon means a brief sense of accomplishment which is followed by a flurry of activity. Backpacks have to be emptied of group equipment. Water has to be filtered. Bear bag trees need to be located. Tents need erecting. And most important for many, dinner has to be prepared and eaten.

Meals on a backpacking trip assume an inordinate importance to Scouts. During the long afternoon climbs, everyone thinks about what they are going to eat for dinner. Then as soon as dinner is finished, hikers start to talk about what is on the menu for the next day. Changes in the plan, delays, short rations, confusion, or just plain bad food can send even the most mature backpacker into a temper tantrum.

Many groups believe in communal cooking. If there are twelve hikers on the trip, one meal is prepared and eaten by everyone. This fosters camaraderie, promotes equality, ensures consistent calorie consumption, and provides a common experience. No one is better off than anyone else and everyone has a vested interested in making sure the food is tasty, well prepared, and served efficiently. As a result, discipline and leadership become critical components of every meal.

On the other hand, some units reject communal eating as too restrictive or difficult. They break into smaller eating groups of three or four, each with their own menus. Teams typically are responsible for buying their own food, repackaging it, cooking it, serving it, and cleaning up afterwards. This eliminates the need for large cooking pots and sometimes makes menu planning easier. Eating groups work well if there are strong feelings about food (I won’t eat canned chicken). However, it is much harder for trek leaders to be sure that everyone is eating enough food to keep them going.

After eating, lick the bowl clean before putting it into the dishwater.

It’s rare and somewhat odd for hiking groups to decide they want to travel together but eat separately for every meal. Part of the experience of a long backpacking adventure is working as a group and sharing dinner after a long day on the trail. It is the perfect time to wind down, discuss the hike, and think about what everyone is going to have for breakfast.

Menus and Duty Rosters on a long trip are critical and can save a lot of aggravation. Posted Duty Rosters speed things up when you get to the campsite and eliminate arguments over who is supposed be helping. Duty Rosters also create a structure that young hikers like because they see that the work is fairly allocated and they understand their role clearly.

Menus should be developed and reviewed ahead of time so that all hikers can make sure they can eat everything planned. This is especially important if hikers have dietary restrictions or food allergies. Menus also help ensure healthy diets and minimize the possibility of skipping some of the planned meal because the group is too tired to prepare it.

When it comes to meal preparation, the assigned cook has a critical role to play. He is responsible for making sure that everyone gets a fair and equal amount of food. This means counting the cookies and slices of salami before handing them out. If hikers want to trade food or share after they get their meal, then great. However, there is nothing worse than being the last person in the chow line and finding out that all the bread or crackers are already gone.

Food Preparation

Count the salami slices and crackers before handing them out! Make sure everyone gets a fair amount.

Many backpacking classes teach that a hiker needs 3,000 to 4,000 calories per day to maintain energy and attitude. That is a lot! To put this in perspective, a typical one cup serving of a freeze-dried meal only provides about 250 calories. Therefore, you would need about 12 to 16 servings in a day to meet your energy requirements. Most Scouts cannot and will not eat that much, especially considering that appetites often diminish with mileage. Trek leaders should be watching to make sure that everyone is consuming enough calories to keep them going, even if it means pulling a sleeping hiker out of his tent to eat dinner.

Some inexperienced groups take and prepare too much food, which should usually be carried out if it is cooked and not eaten – a messy and unappetizing proposition. Therefore, all food portions should be planned and measured to reduce waste. You can also cut collective pack weights by skipping lunch on the first and last day of the hike, substituting personal emergency food instead. To compensate, plan a big breakfast on both days. Usually, Scouts do not like to stop on the last day for lunch anyway – they are too eager to get to the cars.

For lots more information about eating on the trail, menus, and cooking, visit and/or 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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