gear

Planning a Backpacking Trek pt. 3

bepreparedThe motto of the Boy Scouts of America is “Be Prepared”.  Prepared for what?  Well, any old thing said our founder.  Being prepared for your backpacking trek is an absolute must.  When planning your next trek you need to consider those things that can go wrong.  Preparedness will reduce the risk and make the trek a lot more fun.
Andrew Skurka, an Ultimate hiker, Adventurer, and Guide, shares on his website “When I embark on a trip, I always try to abide by the Boy Scout motto — “Be prepared” — by bringing three types of resources, either carried on my back or between my ears, to help me achieve my goals:  Gear, e.g. clothing, shelter, stove, etc.  Supplies, e.g. food, water, fuel, etc.  Skills, e.g. how to hike efficiently, select good campsites, purify water, start a fire, navigate on-trail and off-trail, ford snowmelt-fed rivers, stay warm when it’s cold and wet, etc.”
Training.
Being prepared for those things that can go wrong starts with training yourself and your group to do things right.  Practice packing, unpacking, setting up gear, looking at the individual gear and group gear that is on the trip.  Map reading, first aid, and an honest to goodness understanding of where you are going.
Before a trek learn about the conditions you are walking into and how to deal with them.  Trail conditions, weather, and the condition of your crew.
Planning.
You know the route and conditions but what can go wrong?  Plan for it.  Injuries?  How do we react if someone twists an ankle?  Big cuts?  Sickness?    What are your bail out plans and how have you communicated them?
There is a fine line between over packing for your plan and making sure you are prepared to react.  I have hiked with guys that carry 65 lb packs because they plan for every contingency.  You can build kits for every plan, but what about that great tool between your ears.
In our Troop we have very few rules.  Rule number 1 is always to Have fun.  Rule #2 is no one gets hurt, if you are hurt you are not having fun.  Rule #3 is refer to the Oath and Law.  That is it.  Not getting hurt and putting yourself in a position to get hurt is a person thing and starts between the ears.
I have heard the saying “stay low and slow” on the trail.  That means to keep a good pace that reduces chance of injury and to stay grounded on the trail.  Jumping, climbing, and choosing to venture on bad trail increases the chance of injury.  Assess the risk and then go if it is safe.
Look at what you carry to react to or mitigate risk and risky situations.  We all carry the 10 essentials and in a lot of cases we carry gadgets and neat tools to make our backpacking experience fun.  Do you know how to use it all and have you ever needed it.  If the answer is no to one or both, get it out of your pack.
So what can go wrong?
Injuries.  Probably the thing that we worry about the most, but the fact of the matter is that we rarely have injuries that can not walk themselves off the trail.
Getting lost.  This is a big one.  More people get lost because they rely on guide books, GPS, and the fact that because they shop at REI they think they can take their shiny Subaru to a trail head and go hiking.  Learn to read a map and use a compass.  Train yourself on terrain association and staying oriented on the trail.  Don’t wander or allow group members to wander off or away.  Have a plan to rally should something go wrong while on the trail.
When hiking with a group always stop at any trail intersection and wait for the group to catch up.  Stop and check the map every once in a while.  Make sure that lots of people in the crew have a map.
Weather.  We can not control the weather, but we can plan for it.  Rain is not a downer on the trail if you are prepared.  Know when the weather is going to change by monitoring the forecast in the area.  Know that it will get darker sooner if you have heavier cloud cover.
If you are not prepared to hike during hours of limited visibility, be prepared to start looking for good camp locations before it gets dark.
Water.
Have a plan for water.  Filtering, boiling, or carrying a lot of it.  You need water.  Plan your day around your water availability and resources.
Sit down and list all of the things that you think will go wrong on your trek.  Think of ways that you can reduce those risks and plan for how you are going to address them when and if they happen.
Planning prevents poor performance and when you are backpacking you need to be aware and be prepared.
Know all of the skills that will make your trek fun.  Make sure that you share that knowledge with the members of your group.
Skills, Gear, and Supplies will get you through the toughest times on the trail.  What you have between your ears will go along way to making it a fun trek.  Your skills and attitude will reduce the risks that come with backpacking.  In short.  Be Prepared.
In our next segment we will talk about preparation of gear and what to consider for your next long trek.
Have a Great Scouting Day.

Categories: Backpacking, camp skills, fitness, gear, Leadership, Motto, Risk Management, Scouting, Skills, training | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Planning a Backpacking Trek pt. 2

bearcanisterWe have picked our destination, did a good map survey, know how long we are going be gone, and are super pumped that we will soon be on the trail.
The next thing that we need to plan is our food.
Why do I plan food second?  Food is an important part of your backpacking trek.  It is the nourishment that will keep you on the trail, it takes up space in your pack, it has weight, and it requires preparation before you leave and while on the trail.  How are you going to cook it?  What type of foods are you taking?  What do you like?
To many people think that trail food is trail food, but you can eat pretty much what ever you like on the trail.  You just need to plan and prepare it.
Freeze Dried meals and quick, easy and light and are a good option on the trail.  Dehydrating your own food is another great way to eat well and enjoy your meals on the trail.
Of course you can also pack in fresh foods or prepackaged meals.  All of these are good options.  I thought I would take a few minutes and discuss some thoughts I have on meal options.
When I plan for meals on the trail I take into consideration a few things.
1.  How long am I going to be out.  This is a big consideration as it will determine whether or not I can take fresher foods out with me.  Taking a nice steak out for dinner works if it is going to be cooked in the first day or two.  It requires a little more cold storage, which in turn becomes more weight.  I like a steak in the woods every now and then, but knowing how long I am going to be out is a consideration that I need to add to my decision-making.
2.  What are the conditions going to be.  The weather plays a large role in my decision-making.  Do I need to take more “warming foods” because of the cold, or can I get away with meals that are just filling.  That steak I mentioned.  Great winter camping food.  It will keep longer and the smell and taste are great motivators on a snowy night.  Along with the food, beverages need to be planned for due to conditions.  I like my coffee in the morning no matter what, but I may not take coco in the summer and drink water instead.
Hot beverages are a morale builder in the cold.  They do not really do much to warm the body, but you feel like it anyway.  They need to be planned for.
If it is real rainy, you will want to plan for foods that can be eaten on the move, or provide quick nutrition.   Same goes for winter camping.  You want food that is quickly prepared and consumed.  You may not want to wait around in the rain to long for your meal to cook.  Then when you get to camp and get shelter set up, a longer prep time meal is in order.
3.  Hot meals and Cold meals.  How many hot meals do you want to eat on the trail.  Hot meals require cooking.  Cooking requires fuel and time and pots or pans.  Decide how many hot meals you need for your trip.  Typically one hot meal is good enough for a day, and typically that meal is your evening meal or dinner.  This gives you something warm and solid in your belly for a good nights sleep.  Eating a quick non cook breakfast and trail lunch are great options to reduce the amount of fuel you need to carry and make you day on the trail fun and easy.
I love the cinnamon toast crunch bars for breakfast, throw in a pop tart and you have a feast.
cintoastcrunchBreakfast.  They say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  On the trail, some quick energy to get you going is essential.  But it need not be complicated or big.  Breakfast bars or breakfast drinks are fantastic means of protein and energy to get you going.  This is where planning is important for your day on the trail.  A quick breakfast before you hit the trail for the day is enough when you know that your lunch is only hours away.  In most cases lunch is on the go, so if mid morning hunger strikes, there is always a pouch of nuts or granola just a hip pocket away.  It is also important to plan for how you going to eat your breakfast meal.  On colder mornings, an idea is to pack up and hit the trail.  Hike for about an hour or so, then stop and eat.  This allows for the body to warm on its own, the temperature to rise and you get a quick jump on the day.  If you get to a camp site that will require a climb first thing in the morning, climb and then eat breakfast.  Putting your face in the sun and eating a nice cup of oatmeal is a nice way to start a day on the trail.
Lunch.  I am not a big fan of “lunch” on the trail.  The mid day meal should be quick and easy.  More like snacking along the way.  Trail mix, Jerky, and powdered sports drink are good.  Throw in some cheese sticks and you have a nice “lunch” on the trail.  I was over the course of the day.  Eating when we take longer breaks or at a point of interest.  I plan for enough snacks to get me about three servings over the course of a day.
Dinner.  The evening meal for me is the big one.  This is the meal that marks the end of a great day.  It is tasty and filling.  I am a big fan of dehydrating my own food.  There are lots of resources out there to help you with recipes and dehydrating tips.  My favorite site is the Hungry Hammock Hanger.  This guy has got it going on for back country cooking, specializing in dehydrating your meals.  The thing that I really love about it is that I cook it all, eat some, dehydrate some and get to eat it again on the trail.  This method is great for portion control and taste.
Prepackaged meals like Mountain House and Pack it Gourmet are also great options and can be prepared to cook in groups also.
Plan and Prepare.
Preparing your meals are an important part of your outdoor adventure.  Repackage everything.  No cans, No boxes, no extra wrapping.  Get in your mind to reduce your trash to 1 zip lock quart bag.  Everything needs to be reduces to be packed out in that bag.  I am not a fan of eating out of bags, some folks like the idea so they do not have to clean pots and bowls.  There is just something about it that I don’t like.  So even Mountain House meals get repackaged into a smaller zip lock bag and re-hydrated in my pot on the trail.
Reducing the amount of trash you have and marking the food makes life easy on the trail.  I have seen a numbering system or just writing the day for the meal on the bag.  This works great when planning for group cooking.
nalgeneWater.
Water plays a major role in meal planning, preparation, and clean up.  Know how much you will have available when planning your meals.  If you are boiling water for your meals, there is no need to filter, or at a minimum running the water through a coffee filter to get the sticks and rocks out is all you need.  Save filtered water for drinking.  Same goes for cleaning.  There is no need to filter if you are going to boil your dishes clean.  A small amount of camp suds goes a long way too when clean up is concerned.  Do not skimp on water.  You need it to stay hydrated and you need it to re-hydrate.  Make sure that when you re-hydrate your meals that they are completely re-hydrated.  Eating partially re-hydrated meals is not good for you and will lead to issues on the trail.
Protection.
You need to protect your food.  First from spoiling and then from critters.  Get in the habit of preparing your meals so they will have the least amount of chance of going bad.  Be careful not to cross contaminate your food when you prepare.  Then get in the habit of using a bear bag and hanging it.  No matter what the conditions or circumstance, get your food away from your camp area and get it high.  Bears are typically the least concern, but protecting your food is important.  If your food is robbed by critters, your trip is over.  Check local ranger stations or land managers for regulations.  A lot of areas are starting to require bear canisters.  They are a nice way to protect your food.  Waterproof, odor resistant, and nice to have in camp.  It is work having a few in your group for smell-able items that need to be protected.
Remember that when you protect your food, you are also protecting you.  Getting the food away from camp keeps you out of harms way.
Meals are a big part of your backpacking adventure.  Do not take this process lightly.
We will talk about planning for problems in our next post.
What are your favorite trail meals?
Have a Great Scouting Day!

Categories: Backpacking, camp skills, Cooking, gear, Just fun, Skills | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Training, Nature or Nurture

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe other day I posted my thoughts on training.  I received some great feedback and feel that I need to address a couple of the comments, specifically a question that came up about the leaders themselves in the unit and how our attitude toward training is part of the reason we have great trained leaders.
Bob asked, “I’m curious as to whether you find that this “going the extra mile” is primarily something that a leader brings to the unit (nature), something that the unit brings to the leader (nurture), or some combination of the two.  Or, to put the question another way, do you find that the adults that volunteer for leadership positions already have that “going the extra mile” mentality, or that the culture of the unit inspires a new (or existing) leader to go that extra mile?”
Thanks Bob the answers is simple.  All of the above.
I believe that it is a bit of both Nature and Nurture.  First, I think that our unit has built a culture of trained leaders and an expectation that leaders are trained.  We ask a lot of our adult volunteers.  It is the nature of the unit that we expect the adult to be willing to “go that extra mile”.  Because it is a cultural thing or part of the nature of our unit, the volunteer knows what he or she is stepping in to.  It is not a surprise when they ask that they will be given a list of training courses, materials, and expectations of what training in our unit looks like.  If an adult leader expects to do the minimum, they are quickly encouraged to participate in some position other than that of a direct contact leader.
The culture of the unit dictates that in order to deliver the  very best program to our youth, keeping them safe, and instructing them properly we need to do better than the training that is provided by the Boy Scouts of America.
We agree that the training provided by the BSA is designed for the common denominator and not adequate for high adventure, advanced leadership, and activities that take you more than an hour away from a car.  This is all well and good, but in our opinion we need to do more.  Maxing the minimum is not good enough.
We ask of the Scout to “Do his Best”… so should we.
We also Nurture our adult leaders to want to be “Over Trained”.  Again, this is part of the culture of the unit.  Firm expectations of the training that allows our unit to function at a higher level.  When a parent asks to become a part of the adult leadership of the unit, the parent is invited to participate fully.  But training comes first.  Before an Assistant Scoutmaster for example can function as such, he must complete all of the BSA required training.  He needs to seek advanced first aid training to include CPR/AED.  We ask them to attend Wood Badge.  We take the time to instruct them on being a mentor, teacher, and coach to our Scouts.  We remind them that we do not lead, we assist.  There are not patches in the Boy Scout program for adults that say the word “Leader”.
This nurturing and development of the new adult volunteer leads them toward advanced training.
What this does for the unit is simple.  It opens doors.  We need not rely on any outside instruction or guides for our activities.  If we want to climb, we have certified climbing instructors to facilitate that activity.  Water craft, backpacking, shooting, Orienteering, Pioneering, First Aid, and more are all on the table because of the adult cadre of volunteers that have become the culture of the unit.  We also find that the adults stay active, even when the Scout has moved on.  This level of commitment has kept our knowledge base growing and stable.  The culture of the unit dictates that we do it all for the Scouts and we go the extra mile to make sure they have the very best Scouting experience.
So it is both Nature and Nurture.  It is a culture that expects the adult to set the example by giving more.  Being a model of the expected behavior of a servant leader.  One that reinforces our 5 Leadership principles in the Troop.
Leading ourselves, Focusing on the small stuff, Being the model of expected behavior, Communicating effectively, and being a Servant Leader.
Once that culture is developed and has a strong by in, the unit will flourish with trained leaders.
Allan and Alex, I hope that answer addressed your questions also.
If you have more questions, comments of concerns, please feel free to drop me a note.
Have a Great Scouting Day!

Categories: Advancement, Backpacking, camp skills, Camping, Character, Citizenship, Climbing, comments, Cooking, gear, Good Turn Daily, High Adventure, Ideals, Journey to Excellence, Just fun, Leadership, Leave no trace, Patrol Method, Risk Management, Scouting, Scoutmaster minute, Scouts, Service, training | Tags: | Leave a comment

Backpack cooking- Patrol Method

Since word is out that our Troop is doing a 10 day backpacking trip this summer as our summer camp, there has been some concern as to how we are going to incorporate all of the “Scouting Methods” that normally come with the summer camp experience.
Well, I would first of all suggest that our Scouts will have more of the Scouting methods during our 10 day adventure than most Troops will have during your typical Summer camp experience, namely in the area of cooking.
Most summer camps offer a dining hall with cafeteria or family style dining.  This is great and takes a lot of pressure off of the Scouts during the day.
Our Scouts this summer will be using the Philmont cooking methods for our meals.  This will ensure that the patrols or crews will eat together, share responsibility, and eat the appropriate amount of calories that will be required on the trail.
I visited the Philmont web site and recalled a video we shared with our Crews before we went to Philmont.  This video basically sums up how we will be doing our cooking this summer while we trek through the Olympic National Forest.

Our Scouts will be eating on the go for breakfast and lunch, much like the Philmont experience.  We downloaded the Philmont menus plans for breakfast, lunch and dinner, to get a good feel for our planning.  It looks like we will pretty much stick to their plan.  Why reinvent the wheel?
Patrol or Crew cooking in this fashion will be a great experience for our Troop.  We are going to start using this method with our next camp out and continue to practice this through summer camp.  This means each camp out till July will incorporate our meal plan and methods for preparing, cooking, and cleaning while on the trail.  This should be real fun at Camporee this year.
I’d love to know how you all cook on the trail or in camp.  Leave a comment.
Thanks!
Have a Great Scouting Day! 

Categories: Backpacking, blog, camp skills, Camping, comments, Cooking, gear, High Adventure, Just fun, Leave no trace, Methods, Philmont, Scouting, Scoutmaster minute, Scouts, Skills, training | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

My Fire kit

It is a requirement for all Scouts to build their own First Aid kit.  This gets them in tuned with what they need, have, and how to use it all.  Being a backpacking Troop, building the personal first aid kit is an important task and requires a little more thinking than just band aids and mole skin.  The nature of backpacking takes you away from the cars and so the Scout needs to develop a kit that is compact, light, and serves his first aid needs.
In our Troop we also require the Scouts to build a fire building kit.  It should be compact, light, and serve the Scouts need to make fire.  Simple requirements right?
The ability to make fire is an important skill.  Fire is a motivator, cooking option, and method of warmth and cheer.  I was asked once what ‘survival’ skills we teach our Scouts.  I answered none.  We teach them to be prepared.  With a kit designated to build fire there is no need to rub sticks together or wait for lightning to strike.  The Scout reaches into his pack and makes a fire.
I carry my fire kit with me every time I enter the woods.  On a day hike or a 50 miler, the fire kit is as much a part of my pack as my first aid kit.
My kit is simple, light, and works 100% of the time to start fire.
I am not a fan of flint and steel or primitive methods of making fire.  I do not pretend to be a bush crafter and am not fascinated with that whole life style.
I use what works and that is it.  Again, I need not know how to ‘survive’ I will survive because I am prepared.
Here is a short video on my Fire Kit.
Question or comments?  Please leave them here at the blog.
Have a Great Scouting Day!
**NOTE- my batteries died twice in the camera and a part of the video I thought I was shooting was lost.  The SOL Tinders somehow got cut out.

Categories: Backpacking, camp skills, Camping, gear, High Adventure, Just fun, Leave no trace, Methods, Scouting, Scouts, Skills, technology, Winter Camping | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

The Little Stuff

bsa-tentOne of the big misconceptions in leadership is that the leader needs to worry about the big stuff.  Yes, the leader has to know or have vision and that requires a look from the 1000 foot view, but when it really comes down to leading, it is the little stuff that matters.  The little things that make all of the big things happen or lead to big success.
Lets go back to our example we have used here of “The Tent”.
When we set up our tent there is but one correct way to set it up.  As a leader to ensure that the tent is set up correctly a look at the details, the little stuff, is important.
Is the footprint extended beyond the flap of the tent?  If so, it’s wrong.
Are the stakes in so that it will actually hold the tent down?  Stakes improperly placed will allow for the tent to be unstable, not tight, and ultimately not serve their purpose.
Is the vestibule staked out properly?  Are the vents open or closed dependent on the conditions?  Is the tent located in a good position to leave no trace?  Out of the elements?  In low ground?
Are the guy lines being used properly?
Are the storage bags put away or just blowing all over the camp site?
Is the rain fly on correctly or inside out?
Is the door facing away from the wind?
Is there food in the tent?
Is the gear stored properly (not in the tent)?
You see there are a list of little things that go into setting up a tent.  Multiply that by the number of guys in the Patrol and how many tents are set up and you have a lot of little things to look at.  When all of those little things are done right, everything tends to fall into place.
This habit of doing all the little things right will lead one to doing everything right.  Once the standard has been set, it is something that becomes routine.  Leaders check and recheck and inspect what they expect to see.
They first teach the skill, the task, or the method and then hold those that they are leading accountable.  Doing it over is an option.  Not correcting something that is wrong is not.  That to is perceived as a little thing.
I have heard over and over that “well.. that really doesn’t matter”, “they are just kids”, “give it a break, it’s only a weekend”…  It all matters to leaders.  There are standards for every task and when they are done right, all of the big things are right also.  All of the little things matter to make the big things work.
There is no room for lowering the standard, when that happens it to become habit and that is when things go wrong.
This example works for every task our Scouts are asked to do.
There is a reason we have our Scouts earn their Totin’ Chip before they are allowed to use a Knife, Saw, and Ax.  The Totin’ Chip program introduces the standard.  The consequence for not performing to that standard is the inability to participate using a knife, saw, or ax.
When we allow the little things to slide we set our selves and those we lead up to be unsuccessful.  Mainly because they will tend to do more and more wrong.  Once the idea that everything is expected to be done right is accepted, and the leader makes sure that the little things are constantly being checked, you will see success in the big things.
So how do we make that happen?  Training and accountability.
This last weekend we conducted Junior leader training with all of the older Scouts in the Troop.  Since we have been having some issues with leadership lately, I decided it was time to get back to basics.  The Senior Patrol Leader had the Troop pack up everything on Saturday morning.  The days activities started with the Troop splitting up, the younger guys went to shoot shot guns and the older guys began their training.  We began with a discussion on packing a backpack the right way.  We demonstrated what right looks like and then made sure that every pack looked that way.  It was a lesson on attention to detail and not taking the easy way out.
Then we went on a little hike.  When we reached our first destination, the leaders were given the task to set up camp using leave no trace principles.  They set off to get camp set up.  I instructed the Scouts that when they were finished to come and stand by me.  Once they all were there, we talked about the little things and making sure all of the little things were right leading to the big thing (camp set up) being correct.  Each Scout had to go to a tent that was not his and stand.  Then one by one they instructed the group as to what was wrong with that set up.  Each and every tent had something that needed to be improved.  Corrections were made and then a second walk through happened.  This time everything was right and the Scouts could see the big picture.
After a quick reflection and discussion of the process, they were instructed to pack and move to a second location and do it again.  The same process happened the second time, this time with fewer mistakes.  Again corrections were made, this time including the use of the EDGE ™ method of teaching [Explain, Demonstrate. Guide, and Enable].  And pack it up again.  This time with a pause to inspect the packs to make sure they were packed right.  If it was not correct, do it again.  Reinforcing the idea that there is only one right way to do it and we will not settle for it being done wrong.
When the younger Scouts got back from shooting their Troop guide did this process with the new Scouts.  Packing and unpacking, setting up and taking down.  He made it a game having the Scouts race each other and in the process made it fun.  The new guys picked up on it right away.  I overheard the Troop guide explain to them that doing it right the first time will save them time and energy down the road.  There is only one right way of doing things right.
The focus is on the little stuff and making the little stuff matter.  Little things done right make the big things right.
When it comes to older Scouts and adults, modeling the expected behavior while doing the little things right and making sure that the little things are always done right will set you up to being an effective leader and leading a high performance team.
Have a Great Scouting Day!

Categories: Backpacking, camp skills, Camping, Competition, gear, Ideals, Journey to Excellence, Just fun, Leadership, Leave no trace, Methods, Scouting, Scouts, Skills, teamwork, training, Values | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Going Camping

Merit Badges or Fun?Heading out into the woods this weekend with the Troop.  New Scout Patrol will be stepping off on the Trail to First Class, but not until after a fun morning on the range shooting Shot Guns.  Then the older guys will get to shoot all afternoon, but not until they develop some leadership skills in camp.  Modeling the Expected Behavior will be their theme for the weekend.
Weather calls for sun tomorrow.. we hope for the best.
So, I will let you all know how it goes on Sunday!
What are you up to this weekend?
Please share!
Have a Great Scouting Day!

Categories: camp skills, Camping, gear, Hammock, Just fun, Leadership, Scouting, Scoutmaster minute, Scouts, Skills, training | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

5 Reason’s I Hammock Camp

wbbbThis last weekend I got to hang out with some great Scouters at our Lodge’s Rendezvous.  A few years back a few of the guys became interested in my hammock set up, which I use every camp out.  Slowly the interest became more hammock campers.  This year there were about 5 or 6 hammock set ups that I knew of and it seems that the interest is growing more and more each year.
We got to talking about our hammock set ups and as we discussed this fantastic way of camping there were a few people who had lots of questions.  We all had our tips, tricks, and way we do it, but most of it was common.
Some one asked why?  Why hammock camp, after all, what’s wrong with tents?  So it got me to thinking about why I hammock camp.
Here are the top 5 reason’s I am a hammock camper.
1.  Comfort.  In a hammock I wake up rested and no sore body parts.  When you are laying in the hammock you have no pressure points.  Hips, Shoulders, and Back are all suspended in nylon.  Without the pressure points I find I don’t toss and turn and wake up well rested.
Using the under quilt and top quilt is warm and comfortable and easy to get in and out of.  Nylon and Down wrap around me and I feel snug as a bug when I am sleeping.
2.  Easy set up and take down.  I like how easy it is to set up my system.  The tarp goes up quick and my hammock is just a matter of two straps and buckles.  I can set up in a driving rain and keep everything dry.  The same goes for take down.  I can stand up under the tarp and pack my gear, take down the hammock and keep everything clean and dry.  Because all of the components of my system are in stuff sacks, everything is easy to unpack and pack.
3.  Leave No Trace.  I am a big fan of leave no trace methods and work to practice them no matter when and where I camp.  Hammocks can be set up places where tents cannot comfortably go, as long as there are trees.  Because I am hanging above the ground I am not leaving the impact that a tent does on the ground, nor am I restricted to tent platforms or designated tent sites.  Since I am not on the ground, I do not need to clear the area of rocks twigs and other debris that show I was there.  Tree straps are tree friendly.  They do not damage the trees and the weight is distributed so as not to hurt the trees.  If there is a concern about softer bark, I use the Philmont method of wrapping rope for bear bags in the I insert twigs around the straps to reduce the impact if there would be some.
Because most, not all, but most hammock campers practice light weight backpacking practices, I am reducing my foot print in gear and how I camp and think about LNT all the time.
4.  The Gear.  The nature of hammock gear is light and small.  Everything from the hammock to the tarp fits in small sacks and does not take up a lot of space in my pack.  The quilts are light and compress real small.  I never will be an Ultra light backpacker.  It’s just not something that I am willing to dedicate too much thought and energy to doing, but I am dedicated to being a light weight backpacker and the hammock set up really allows for that.  Along with the hammock, tarp, and quilts, hammock campers typically look at lighter solutions to camping.  Stoves, cook kits, and the other items that fill the pack are looked at carefully for its functionality, purpose, and size and weight.  Becoming a hammock camper got me into tinkering with gear and finding the “perfect solution” for my backpack.  This has been super fun for me.
5.  Hang anywhere.  I have found that I can hang pretty much anywhere.  I have hung my hammock inside of shelters, off of rocks, and of course between tress.  There never seems to be a place that I can not hang my hammock (except at Philmont).   I do not have to be uncomfortable camping in the hammock.  I noticed that as I started getting older that I started having a harder time sleeping on the ground.  Even on a cot at the National Jamboree I tossed and turned.  The weather, the temperatures, and the terrain are no longer obstacles in camping.  I can hang anywhere in my hammock set up.
Well there are 5 reason’s that I love hammock camping.  I am sure that I could list a few more, but it really comes down to comfort and fun.  I always encourage our Scouts to try new things and when they find that they like it, it adds to the adventure of Scouting.
I can say this… once you go to the hammock, it is hard to go back to the ground.  But Hike your Own Hike and do what you like.  I am a hammock guy and love it.
Have any questions feel free to ask, leave a comment.
Have a Great Scouting Day!

Categories: Backpacking, camp skills, Camping, gear, Hammock, High Adventure, Just fun, Scoutmaster minute, Skills | Tags: , , | 5 Comments

Teaching Winter camping Skills- Revisited

DSCN0627As most of the country is still experiencing Winter conditions and here in the Northwest, the Winter Camping season is really in full bloom, as late as it is, there are still Troops and Crews that are venturing into the woods for some good winter camping.  I thought I would revisit our teaching or winter skills, just as a reminder that even though it’s March, we need to stay focused on how we camp in the winter.  Most of these skills transfer well all year round anyway.  I will take a page out of the Safe swim defense and Safety Afloat program.  Supervision and Discipline are a Must.
So here are a few rules that we maintain whenever we are talking about High adventure and Cold weather camping.
Remember anytime you engage in a high risk activity… you increase your preparation, supervision, and discipline.
The first rule is take it serious.  Cold Weather camping can be one of the most enjoyable activities with challenges and memories that your scouts will cherish.  But at the same time Cold weather camping can be Extremely dangerous when not taken seriously.
I use a three strike rule when dealing with the issue.  Three strikes and you are not going on the event.  Period.
A scout that does not want to pay attention or is goofing off too much will not get the information that is being presented.  This can lead to dangerous consequences in the field.
Before we do any Winter camping adventure we have a couple mandatory meetings.
During these meetings we teach Cold Weather first aid.
Understanding and knowing the symptoms of cold weather conditions such as frost bite and hypothermia.  Knowing what to look for on your buddy for those signs and then how to treat them.
We teach techniques for setting camp, preparing meals, setting up gear to best meet the conditions of Cold weather camping.  Simple stuff like zipper pulls and tent anchors.  Issues like meal preparation and how to better prepare meals at home for ease in the camp site.
These meetings we feel are important to set the tone for the High adventure activity.
We do the same thing for Rock climbing activities.  Mandatory meetings get the scout into the mind-set that this is so important that they are “Making” me be there … or I do not go.
Enforcement of the mandatory meeting is just as important.  If you make it a must for one that they get all the information, then make it a must to all.
If need be…have a make up meeting for scouts that absolutely can not make a mandatory meeting… give them opportunities to participate, but ensure they get the skills, training, and information that are needed for a successful outing.
The next rule that is non negotiable is using the buddy system.  Now I know that the buddy system is part of Scouting anyway, but in cold weather environments it is a must.
Buddies need to be established early in the process of planning, training, and preparing for the camp out.
Getting these buddies to learn the first Aid skills together, planning of meals together, and in camp routines will lead to skilled buddy teams that understand the importance of one another in the process.
When they train in first aid, it no longer is a routine activity, they understand, that if I do not check you and you don’t check me.. we can get hurt.  If I am not aware of what creamy colored skin means…then you may be getting frost bite on your nose or fingers.
Enforcing buddy teams is a must and hard fast rule.  In camp use the Patrol leaders to monitor buddy teams and ensure that they are maintaining discipline as a team.
One issue that may or may not come up, it has with in my unit, is when you are tent camping in the snow and most of the Scouts have single person tents maintaining the buddy concept.
The fix here is that they, unlike when camping during the summer, cluster the tents.  Have buddy teams set up their single person tents right next to one another.  This way they can still communicate throughout the night.  One technique that our boys have used is setting up their tents for the doors face each other, and they put them real close. Almost to the point where they can share vestibules.  I have seen them actually tie their vestibules together creating a tarp like set up.  It makes a little cooking area and allows them to sit and talk while in their sleeping bags.  Now this is all dependant on what their tents are like, but the point here is that sometimes they need to think out side of the box to overcome obstacles.  But they need to be aware that the buddy system is extremely important in the cold.  And because it is important, they need to do things that allow them to watch each other, and communicate with each other.
So rule number 2 is the buddy system, do not over look this, it is way to important.
Rule number 3 is TIME AND PLACE.
There is a time and place for everything.  There is a time and place to screw around and have fun, there is a time and place to be serious.  The sooner your Scouts know this.. the better.  Enough said.
I try not to get bogged down with a bunch of rules, after all we have the Scout Oath and law and that is pretty much all we need, but when it comes to high risk activities, it is important to establish importance in the seriousness of Cold Weather camping.
So now we have established it is important… so when teaching these Scouts about cold weather camping what are some things that need to be taught.
I guess if I had to narrow my list down to the top things to teach Scouts about Cold weather camping the list would include.
First.  Cold weather injuries and how to prevent them and treat them.
Second.  Gear.
Third.  In camp routines
Fourth.  Planning a preparation.
And fifth.  Getting around in the snow, including moving and orienteering.
So lets quickly talk a little about these 5 items.
First Aid.  Or better yet understanding the risks of Cold weather injuries and how to prevent them.  The idea is that you do not want to get into treatment.  You won’t have to if they prevent the injury to start with.
Hypothermia, frost bite, Frost nip or chill blains, immersion foot, sun burn and snow blindness are the biggies.
Show pictures of frost bite, that is enough to get the attention of your scouts.  The Scouts need to be able to tell you what they are looking for on their buddy.
Do they recognize the disorientation, nausea, and the fact that their buddy is no longer shivering means that he is probably slipping quickly into Hypothermia.
One of the biggest issues regarding the treatment of some cold weather injuries is getting the Scouts over the idea that they may be put in what they feel is an uncomfortable position.  Getting into a sleeping bag with another Scout is not normal, but it may be that which saves his buddies life.  Again, it’s all about prevention.  How do you prevent getting into that position?
Well that leads me to the next topic…gear.
Clothing and equipment are important in the cold.  First know that when talking about clothing… Cotton kills.
Do not allow your Scouts to wear lots of cotton.  Underwear bottoms are ok, but any clothing on the body that can get moist due to perspiration needs not to be cotton.  I’m talking primarily about T-shirts and socks.
Poly propylene underwear, long johns and sock liners are fantastic items to put against the body.  It reduces the chances of sweat staying on the skin and eventually leads to freezing.
Teach them about layering.  Talk about Base layers, Mid layers that insulate, and a shell layer that protects.  Handing out flyers that discuss the layering system are a great idea so that mom and dad understand what you expect.
When teaching about gear, talk about the difference between gear they use the rest of the year, also show them how they can use their gear all year round, with modifications.
Using a three season tent as a four season tent for example.  Simply by adding guy lines and anchors.  Tents do add warmth to the scout, they protect against the elements.  Snow and wind are the two elements you are concerned about.  Guy lines and tie downs will keep your tent steady in the wind.  Digging into the snow and setting your tent up sheltered by a snow wall will combat against the wind.  The tighter the guy lines, the better also for keeping snow from collecting and damaging your poles.  Reinforcing your poles by wrapping them with duct tape is a way to strengthen them.  The tape can be removed in the spring.  Making sure the Scouts know to constantly keep the tent clear of snow during the day and clearing it off before they turn in for the night will reduce the strain the tent poles feel.
Your Scouts need to understand that cold air settles in low ground.  Digging a trench outside of their tent by the door will move cold air away from their sleeping platform, just like in a snow cave.  It also allows for a place to sit up right when dressing.
Boots, lets talk about boots.
First, make sure that your scouts have good boots suitable for wear in the snow and cold.
Then make sure they keep them dry.  Boots when worn should be protected by wearing gaiters.  This protects the laces and upper portion of the boot.  They also keep snow from entering the boot, keeping them dry.
When boots are not being worn, they need to be INSIDE the tent, use an old stuff sack or even garbage bag to put the boots in.  Put them under or in your sleeping bag to keep them warm.  Boil up some water and fill a water bottle before you get in your tent.  Put the water bottle in your boots.  It will keep them warm and you will have water in the morning that is not frozen.  In the morning if your scouts can boil up some water and fill that bottle up and put it in the boots for about 15 minutes.. they will step into nice cozy boots that will ready them for the day.
Backpacks should be packed with stuff sacks, ditty bags, and need to be kept organized and accessible.
Adding zipper pulls or tabs to zippers will make it easier to get in and out of pockets, this goes for their jackets too.
Gloves and or mittens.  Check the gloves your Scouts bring.  They need to be water-resistant and warm.   Do not allow just any glove.  They need to provide insulation and protection.  I had a Scout show up once with gardening gloves.  Not acceptable in the cold weather environment.  As a leader, take extra gloves with you.  I have found that gloves come up missing or get wet, I carry a stuff sack with a few extra pair of gloves to throw on chilly hands when needed.
Outer wear.  Protective shells that keep the Scout dry and out of the wind.
You will know what right looks like, they do not need to run out and buy North face $300 jackets, although it would go a longer way in protecting them, to stay warm and dry.
Have a shake down of gear the week before the camp out.  This will allow you and your Patrol leaders the opportunity to look at all the gear and a week for the Scout to make corrections.
In camp routines.  These need to be discussed prior to the camp out, but practiced in camp.
Things like setting up camp quickly, getting shelter up, gathering fire wood, cooking and cleaning up, settling down for the night, staying dry, and fun things to do while in camp.
Establishing good in camp routines, just like in the summer is an important part of winter camping.  Gear gets lost in the snow, part of good in camp routines is storing gear and staying organized.
Planning and preparing for the winter camp out is probably the most important thing to getting the most out of your winter camping experience.  This includes training, planning, and readying your gear for the trip.
You need to know where you are going, how long you are going to be there, how you are getting there and how you are getting into the area you are camping in.  And then what you are going to do once you get there.
Preparation is so key to a successful Cold Weather camp out.  The Scouts need to be prepared and properly instructed.  Like I tell the boys, we are not planning to treat cold weather injuries, we are preparing to prevent them.
Taking that approach with you cold weather camping preparation will lead to success.
You as the adult leader, or even for those Junior leaders that listen, need to become experts in the skills needed to camp in the cold.
Preparing the Scouts of your troop starts with some clear goals for the experience.
In your first year of camping in the cold weather, you may want to limit your overnight stays to a single night and progressively move to longer stays.
You may want to start by taking day hikes and excursions into the cold.  Set up camp and work on skills such as shelters, building fires, and staying dry.  Then retire to the comfort of a lodge for the night.
In your planning you need to figure out what your objectives are.  Going into the woods and setting up camp, eating and hitting the rack is not enough to keep scouts interested in camping in the cold.  What are you going to do once you get into camp?  Navigation is a great skill to practice in the snow.  Folks get disoriented easily in a snow filled forest.
How about winter relay’s, snow shoe hikes, igloo building or snow caving, Cross country skiing, or just plain winter skills.  There are many things that you can do that lead up to the cold weather camp out.  Make gear like snow shoes, then test them out when you get to camp.  There is a great Scouting resource available at your Scout Shop.  The book Okpik:   Cold Weather Camping #34040 shows you how to make gear, as well as activities and know how on camping in the winter.
Use other resources too, one of my favorite books on Camping in the cold is Winter Hiking and Camping, by Michael Lanza a book put out by Backpacker Magazine.
In planning and preparing, get you hands on as much material as possible and become familiar, almost to the point that you are an expert.  You need to be, those boys depend on you.
Finally, getting around in the snow.  I alluded to snow shoeing and cross-country skiing earlier.  These are super fun activities that the Scouts really have a great time with.  If you are going to snow shoe or ski, it is a good idea to get out there prior to the camp out and get a feel for it.  If time is an issue, when you get to your drop off point, leave the packs in the car and take a little hike to get used to the snow shoes or skis, it is better to establish balance and some skill before you throw your pack on.
If you get a lot of snow, I would recommend show shoeing for your first time winter campers.  It is a skill that is easy to pick up and provides the most stable mode of on foot movement in the snow.  Trying to walk in deep snow with a pack on can be frustrating as the scouts post hole their way into camp.  Taking along snow shoes provides not only ease of movement, but a fun activity to do once you get camp set up.
Most winter sports outlets rent snow shoes and we have gotten real good Weekend rates when you mention you are taking a group of Boy Scouts out for a snow shoeing adventure.
Let me leave you with this.
The best tool you have in the winter camping environment is your brain.  It will know when things are good and when things get bad.  Listen to it.  Adult leaders need to be upbeat and positive throughout the winter camping process.  A positive attitude is infectious and the boys of the unit must keep a great attitude when camping in the cold.
Seeing an adult with a negative attitude, complaining about the cold, or showing frustration at gear, not being able to accomplish tasks, and generally not having a good time will surely infect the rest of the Troop.  Keep a level head, have a great time, acquire the necessary skills, and have a positive attitude and your winter camping adventure will be a fantastic memorable experience.   Oh and take lots of pictures.
Get out there and camp in the cold.
Have a Great Scouting Day!

Categories: Backpacking, camp skills, Camping, fitness, gear, High Adventure, Just fun, Leadership, Leave no trace, Motto, Scouting, Scoutmaster minute, Skills, training, Winter Camping | Tags: , | 3 Comments

Gear Tip – Wet Fire ™

wetfire_packageOk… all of this talk about being lazy.. and it caught me.  Not really.  I wanted to get a Saturday Quick tip out this week but once again my Scouting life got in the way of the blog.
Saturday, I was at a Staff Development session for the upcoming Wood Badge course.  I am not on the staff this time, but I have been asked to be a Guest presenter during the course.  I will be presenting the Teaching EDGE and more than likely will be doing dishes also… it’s what we Wood Badgers do.
Sunday was dedicated to one of my Scouts.  We held a Court of Honor to present his Eagle Award.  Man, what a great day.  I love Courts of Honor especially when we honor a Scout that has worked so hard and has become an Eagle Scout.
Alright… enough of the excuses.
I was going to shoot a video about a piece of gear that I always keep in my pack.  In fact I keep a few of them in my pack at all times and love them.  They are the Wet Fire ™ Fire starting Tinder.
They are made by a company called the Revere Supply Company and is part of the UST line of products.  Designed for survival kits, these little Fire starters are the best.
Now, we don’t teach survival to our Scouts, rather we teach preparedness and being ready in the event that everything goes South.  Being Prepared is the way to stay out of survival situations.
Having said that, we all like a fire and the Wet Fire ™ Fire starting Tinder is the best way to get a fire going quick and easy.  I don’t know about you.. but I’m not into the whole rubbing sticks together and flint and steel went out of style in the 1800’s.  When I want fire, I want it now.  And I live in Oregon, read… wet.  The Wet Fire ™ fire starting tinder gets that fire going while drying out other tinder and smaller wood so you can have a nice fire in camp.
Each cube is 1” x .75” x .5” (24 x 19 x 13mm) and only weighs .16 oz (44g), they do not take up a bunch of space and for the efficiency you won’t worry about the added grams.
You can read more about it at their website.  The Wet Fire ™ fire starting tinder is available at most stores and are inexpensive.  About $6 for a package of 5.
Here is a little video from the folks that bring you the Wet Fire ™ fire starting tinder.
I carry these in my pack and I highly recommend them for everyone.

Have a Great Scouting Day!

Categories: Backpacking, camp skills, Camping, Cooking, gear, High Adventure, Just fun, Methods, Motto, reviews, Skills, Winter Camping | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

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