Winter Camping

Thoughts on gear

As you are fully aware by now, I like gear.  I have had many discussions with parents of the Scouts in my Troop that my obsession with gear is rubbing off on their sons.  Half jokingly I often reply that it’s a good thing.  I say “Half jokingly” because I think that gear is an important part of the camping experience…  Well no duh right?
A long time ago in a Scouting world far far away I had a Scoutmaster that would talk about having the right gear for the type of camping that we were doing.  He would wax on about taking care of that gear so that when needed it would be there for you.  “If you take care of your gear, it will take care of you” he would say.  And I believe that.
Later in life as I started to get back into camping and backpacking, I began to toy with different types of gear.  Cook kits, stoves, backpacks, sleep systems, tents, hammocks, gizmo’s and gadgets that make camp life fun and easy.
It seems that the more you play with gear, the more you find your likes and dislikes, what works for you and what doesn’t.  In the backpacking community there is a saying online when offering advice, gear reviews, and opinions.  YMMV.  That’s.. Your mileage May Vary.  Meaning, to each his own and what works for me, may not work for you or you may get different results.
So back to our Scouts.  Now, I don’t want to break their bank, but I do want them to start learning what they like and what works for them.  I understand that I do have an influence on these young men and that when I come out with a new piece of gear or start playing with a new camp gadget, they tend to watch and learn.  I do want these guys to develop a habit of exploring what works for them.  I want them to try new things and not just gear that someone says is a must have a piece of equipment.  Developing that habit now will keep them interested in being outdoors and hiking.  It is a way that will test them and keep their minds thinking about different ways to accomplish different tasks.  I assume that my old Scoutmasters wanted me and my Troop mates to develop an appreciation for the outdoors and that is what I wish for my Scouts.  Gear is a big part of that.
When your gear fits, works, and is fun to use, you have a tendency to want to go out and use it.  A backpack that is ill-fitting and squeaks a lot is not something you want to take on the trail.  A comfortable pack will keep you on the trail longer.  If you are cold at night because you got a cheap Walmart sleeping bag rated for slumber parties, you won’t want to be in after your first miserable night.  Spending a little more up front though and getting a good sleeping bag makes for toasty comfortable nights of good sleep and you want to be out in it more.
It seems that I have turned a lot of our Scouts in to gear junkies.  And that may or may not be a good thing for their parents, but it’s a great thing in my opinion for the Scout (YMMV).
With the fast approaching Holidays coming up, I am encouraging our Scouts to get their list together.  Ask for a new pot set or stove.  Maybe that single person tent you have been eye balling or better yet, join the hammock way of a great nights sleep.  How about some new gaiters or winter boots?  New rain gear is aways in vogue here in Oregon.  Maybe it’s just a new spork that tops your Christmas list, either way this is the perfect time to add to your backpacking gear loft.
Thanksgiving a time to be with family and give thanks for all we have.  It’s also a great opportunity to corner Grandma and Grandpa and slip them a copy of your gear needs.  Or you can slip it into the Dinner conversation.  “Grandpa, can you pass the gravy?  You know, there is this pot set that I have been looking at that would be awesome for making biscuits and gravy while on our next camp out.”  You know, be subtile, but get your wish list in where ever you can.
The other side of the gear collection is what you can share.  As I collect new gear I have two bins.  One for the stuff that I really love and can’t part with and the other for the stuff that I have tried, didn’t really fall in love with, but there’s nothing wrong with it, just not my cup o’ tea.  That stuff usually ends up going home with one of the Scouts.  This last camp out and set of rain gear that my boys out grew a set of gaiters, and some odds and ends made their way into the packs of a few of our Scouts.  I don’t mind sharing (giving away) gear that I’m not using.  If it helps with meeting their gear fix needs than I really find it nice to be an enabler. 
So parents, understand that yes, I am trying to turn your son into a backpacking gear junky.  And yes, I am trying to develop in them the habit of discovery.  And yes, they are doing a great job in joining the cult of Backpacking gear guys.  You don’t have to worry about them wearing uniforms.. errr wait.. scratch that..  You won’t have to worry about them hanging out in gangs.. ahhh.. scratch that too… Ok.. yeah, they will be with their partol and they will be in uniform, but you will never have to worry about them wearing foil hats and chanting to the golden pogo stick.  They will be out in the woods having the time of their lives, comfortable, cooking great meals, singing songs, and exploring a world of adventure.  And all that great gear is going to help them in their journey!
Thanks for being patient and understanding.
Now I have to go play with my stove and put new guy lines on my tarp.. you know we have a camp out in January I need to prepare for.
Oh and my list of gear that I need…
A new wind screen for my cook kit.  An underquilt for my hammock.  Griz beak doors for the Tarp.  Oh, I can go on and on.. after all, if it’s gear, I want it.
Whats on your gear list for this Christmas.  Leave a comment and share you gear needs and wants.
Have a Great Scouting Day!

Categories: Backpacking, blog, camp skills, Camping, comments, Cooking, gear, Hammock, Just fun, Leave no trace, Skills, Winter Camping | Leave a comment

Lighten up

As we get into the colder weather of fall and then winter our packs will start to get a bit heavier.  At least that is the norm.  Winter gear is a little heavier and you tend to carry more.  That is unless you have a rich uncle or top of the line winter gear or both.
Well, I have great gear but no rich uncle, but I know some ways that we all can lighten up our packs in the winter.
The first thing that you can do is in the planning and preparing stage of your next trip.  Food and water account for a lot of weight in your pack.  You have to eat well and increase the hot food consumption in the winter, so dumping food is not an option.  What you can do though is look to repackaging your food.  You can shave a pound in getting rid of boxes, can’s and wrappers.  Invest in zip lock bags and repackage your food.  You will shave weight and space by doing this.  While you are thinking food, think dehydration.  Pick up a dehydrator and start making your own light weight, great tasting food.  A nice way to get started is by dehydrating left overs.
One of the benefits of dehydrating is that you need to watch what you cook to dehydrate.  You will automatically reduce the fat content in your food.  Fat will not dehydrate.
So there’s a pound.
The next thing you can do is to make sure that everything in your pack does double duty.  Loose the pillow.  In the winter you should have a nice fleece layer.. Shove that fleece into the hood of your sleeping bag or use the compression bag with your fleece in it as your pillow.
Drop the mess kit.  You really only need a spork and bowl.  You may be able to shed precious ounces here.
Do not take any cotton.. synthetics, poly pro wear better in the winter, allow moisture to wick and as a result you don’t have to change as much and thus carry less.  That’s weight out of your pack.
Water.  Loose the bladder.  Your platypus or camel back will have a tendency to freeze up in the winter.  Now, you can buy an insulation tube, but then you are adding weight.  A Gator Aid bottle works way better than a Nalgene and while it will freeze too, if you drop it in a wool sock and store it upside down, you will be fine.  A 32 oz. capacity bottle weighs 1.6 oz.  A Nalgene typically runs at 6.2 ounces.  If you must use a bladder… don’t fill it all the way and use it as your pillow at night.
Shelter and sleeping.  Your tent really only keeps you out of the elements.. get a tarp and learn how to set it up against the elements.  I switched to a tarp a few years ago.  Incredible weight savings and no loss in comfort and shelter from the elements.  In the snow, the tarp works exceptionally well.
Look at your sleeping bag.  New stuff is best as it is designed to be light and warm.  If you can’t get something new, get something rated a little higher.. The lower the rating the heavier the bag.  Add a sleeping bag liner.  It will add 10 degrees to your bag and there is no real weight in the liner.  You can save the weight of the bag and maintain the comfort.  Fill that gator aid bottle with hot water before you hit the rack and throw it in the bag with you.  You will stay warm, have water in the morning, and shave weight.
Finally, leave stuff at home.
Do you really need to carry your whole wallet, your cell phone, that extra pocket knife?  How about that extra pot that came with your MSR Cook kit?  You only need one pot.. leave the other one at home.  Do you carry a poop trowel?  A stick will do the same thing.
Here is my rule of thumb.  If you have not used a piece of gear in 6 months.. it’s out of the pack for ever.  I have a box that I keep my winter specific gear.  Stuff I only use in the winter.  Each year, I look at it and reevaluate whether I used it last winter.  A critical look at gear will shave lots of weight.  Now I don’t pull out the scale and weigh all my gear, but I know when my pack gets heavier and I know how to reduce the weight when I need to.
The older I get the lighter my pack needs to get.  Which is actually the last thing you can do to shave unwanted pounds.  Get a smaller pack.  You won’t put as much in it and it will force you to look at each and every piece of gear that does go in, on, or hang from it.
Share some of your weight saving techniques.  Leave a comment.  We all learn when we share.
Have a Great Scouting Day!

Categories: Backpacking, camp skills, Camping, gear, Winter Camping | 2 Comments

Devils Half Acre

Here is a short video of our Troops last adventure.  We loaded up and headed to the intersection of the Historic Barlow Trail and the PCT.  From there we packed up the Pulk Sleds and hiked down to Devils Half Acre and set up camp.  Saturday Morning we woke to fresh snow and lots of it.  We strapped on the snow shoes and took a nice day hike out to Grindstone camp ground.  Sunday Morning, we again woke to new fallen snow, ate breakfast, packed and hiked back to the trail head.  Then it was off to Joes Donuts, the last trip for the year to the donut shop.
The audio on the video got a little messed up, so after the music turn it up, then turn it back down when we start hiking out on Sunday..
Hope you enjoy the video.
Have a Great Scouting Day!

Categories: High Adventure, Just fun, Leave no trace, Winter Camping | 2 Comments

Winter Camping Leader Tool box

As we get into serious winter camping again for this season, we reinforce with our Youth leaders  and other adult leaders some of the principles that make for a successful outing.  In developing Youth leaders we put a lot on their shoulders and give them responsibilty.  When they accept that responsibility it is then that we hold them accountable for leading.  In doing this, they practice what they know, they show by their example that they can be trusted as a leader, and they Do the right thing.
Here is an outline of some of the Winter Leader skills training that we do within our Troop.

Winter Camping Leadership Tool box

Winter camping is like no other camping.  It requires skills, smarts, and the right attitude. It also requires strong leadership.  Leaders that accept responsibility and leaders that understand that the group comes before the individual.

Here are some items for a leader to have in his tool box for camping in the winter.

1.  The right attitude.  You must demonstrate a positive attitude in the winter.  The people following you depend on it.  As you go with you attitude, those that follow you will go.

2.  Be an example of right.  The leader must possess the skills and attitudes that make winter camping successful.  The leader must demonstrate those skills and teach others to use them.  The leader can not take short cuts and look the other way.  The leader must set an example by doing the right thing. 

3.  Skills.  There is a list of skills that make up a good winter camper.  Here are some that the leader must use and teach.
Gear- use the right gear and use it properly.  More importantly taking the right gear with you and packing it right.  Every item in the pack or SECURED to the out side and covered with a pack cover.
Staying dry. – Wet kills in the winter.
In camp routines.  Camp set up.
                           Getting in and out the tent without dragging snow in.
                           Storing gear.  Everything stays packed unless needed.
                           Gathering and “Making” water.
                           Gathering fire wood and making the fire.
Setting up camp.  Looking for best placement of tents/shelters.  No widow makers.  Building up snow walls.  Cooking areas.  Designated BIO area.
Anchoring of tents/shelters.
Morning routines.  Get up and cook right away.  Get things cleaned and stored.  Pack un used gear.  Hang anything that is damp to dry.
Cooking.  Have a plan. 
                Store food in bags in order they will be eaten.
                Repackage meals to reduce trash.
                Hot meals always
                3 good hot meals and lots of snacks.
                Hot beverages
                Clean up as you go and never leave dirty dishes laying around.
                Pack it all out.  Do not dump uneaten food in the snow. 
                Just because you can bury it does not mean it is right.
                Monitor water use and stay ahead. 
               Watch fuel consumption. No flame without a pot on it. NO empty pots.
               Don’t be lazy.  Cook and eat well.
Sleeping.  Dry equals warm.  Stay out of wind and wet and you will stay dry and warm.  Open your sleeping bag as soon as your tent is set up.  Get the loft going.  Make sure to have insulation under you.  Closed cell pads work great in the winter.  An extra blanket works too when used with a pad.  If nothing else your jacket should go between you and the pad or under your feet.
Your boots go in the tent and under your sleeping bag (foot end).  Do not wear anything wet to bed.  Change your socks and clothing before you go to bed if you are wet.  ALWAYS change your socks before you get in your sleeping bag.
Avoid condensation in your sleeping bag.  Wear a hat and keep your face out of the bag.  Short guys.  Fold unused portion of sleeping bag under you.
Take a trip to the pee tree before you go to bed.  Relieve yourself and then get comfortable.  You do not want to hold it till morning. You won’t sleep and you won’t stay warm.

4.  Be a Good example.  Yes, we say it twice.  This will get you farther as a leader than anything else in the cold weather.  If you do things right and maintain a positive attitude, those that follow you will to.

IMPORTANT.  Leaders are responsible.  You are the last ones in the sleeping bag after everyone is checked.  You are the last ones to eat or eat before the rest.  This way you can check, assist,and monitor the rest as they prepare and eat.
Leaders.  You are the key to success.  You have been given the responsibility to teach and coach.  Use it.

Build your tool box.  Fill it with those things that make you a great leader and you will be.  Collective knowledge and a willingness to learn, practice, and share is the success of all leaders.

Have a Great Scouting Day!

Categories: camp skills, Camping, High Adventure, Leadership, Winter Camping | 3 Comments

Video: Dead Horse Camp out

Last weekend our Troop went caving up at the Dead Horse Cave.  We had a great time.  Here is a little video of mostly the adult Scouters of the Troop.  Sorry, it was way to dark in the cave to get real good video.
Enjoy!
Have a Great Scouting Day!

Categories: Backpacking, blog, camp skills, Camping, Cooking, gear, High Adventure, Just fun, Winter Camping | 2 Comments

Skill and Gear

This last weekend our Scout Troop headed up to Trout Lake, Washington to venture into the longest Lave Tube cave in North America, called Dead Horse cave.  We tried to get up to the cave last year, but with record snow fall we could not get to the entrance.  So the PLC put it on the calender again for this year and in a month that the snow should not be that bad, if there at all.
The temps have been dropping and with the Dead Horse cave being pretty much at the base of Mt. Adams we kept an eye on the weather and told the PLC to be prepared for cold temps.  The 10 day forecast called for around 21*.  We conducted a shake down on Monday night before the trip and found that some of the guys were carrying too much and in appropriate gear for cold weather.
We pride ourselves on learning from mistakes, but more importantly being a self-proclaimed expert when it comes to cold weather camping.  I have spent a great deal of time teaching both the ASMs and the Scouts about cold weather camping, and so it troubles me when we teach and take great care in instructing the Scouts to be better prepared for their outdoor adventures and they choose not to listen or act on the instruction.  What I will tell you though is that with experience comes knowledge and we all learn from mistakes and our lack of preparedness.
So what I have summed up in our first cold weather experience for this year is simply its all about Skill and Gear.
Camping in the cold and extreme cold requires a different skill set than you typical 3 season adventure.  It requires thinking and constant awareness.  This raises a challenge when we are doing this with younger Scouts.  I am going to make a sweeping generalization, but the young Scouts do not always think before they act.  They take the path of least resistance, they make choices based on what seems to be fun and not what is right based on conditions.  For example, they see snow.  Snow equals snow balls and snow angels.  Fun, yes, but the right thing to do when you need to be able to sustain in the cold for three days, No.  So much of the skill we talk about with our young men is staying dry.  We stay dry with Skill and Gear.  Wearing clothing that will keep us dry and staying out of the snow.  Simple things like using your pack cover to kneel or sit on when setting up your tent or cooking rather than plopping down in the snow.  Or staying on the path rather than breaking trail if you don’t need to.
So we teach them before we head out and then stay on top of them during the trip and hope that it starts to sink in.
<START RANT>
ATTN:  SHOE COMPANIES.  I don’t care about fashion and style!  You have assisted in the creation of a generation that can not and will not tie their shoes.  I BLAME YOU for laziness.
<END RANT>
I can not tell you how many Scouts have trouble tying their shoes and keeping them tied.  This is a major issue in the cold.  This weekend I could not believe how many of the new Scouts would rather allow their boots to fill with snow than tie their boots up.  GEAR.  It is so important to keep your feet dry and warm.  A good pair of boots and a set of Gaiters is extremely important in keeping your feet and lower legs warm and dry.
Ok, so I can go on and on, the point here is that just like when you are building something, the right tools are required to do the job right, and with the right skill set and the right gear camping in the cold is fun and exciting.
It’s all about developing in these Scouts those skills.  There are Scouts today that are more than likely not happy with the way I assisted them this weekend.  I was nice, I am not a yeller, but because of the way that they have been taught to be lazy and have things done for them, they had a little more of me than they wanted.
PLAN OF ACTION.
Saturday night, the ASMs and I sat around the camp fire after the Scouts went to bed.  We talked about the challenges we had and how we were going to fix it.
First.  Gear.  We are putting together a list of recommended gear and must have gear.  We will distribute that list to the parents at a mandatory parent meeting.  It will be made clear that if a parent does not attend the Scout will not camp with us in the winter.  That simple.
At that meeting we are going to show the parents what kind of gear we want to see the Scouts have.  We are offering solutions for the lack of gear that some of the Scouts have.  Between myself and the other Assistant Scoutmasters we have a lot of gear.  We are all willing to loan gear until the Scout can get his own.  We want ever Scout to have this experience, but we can not have a Scouts go unprepared.
Prepared for cold weather camping requires the right Skill and the right Gear.  I can not make exceptions when it comes to the safety of our Scouts.
Second part of the plan is to change the shake down plan.  We currently do them the meeting before the camp out.  We talked with the PLC and we are going to start doing the night of the camp out.  We will not leave the meeting hall till the gear is right.  A parent will have to stick around to either make adjustments or take the Scout home when he does not meet the conditions for the camp out.
The Scout will not go with us if he is not prepared.
And finally.  We will make sure that our older Scouts are prepared and able to assist with the training.  Our troop has become every young in the last year, with as many new Scouts as we have brought in there is a need to go back and retrain everyone and ensure that we all are on the same page when it comes these skills.  In the long run we will have a better trained and ready group on our next winter adventures… which by the way is in January.  So the time line is short and the urgency of matter is there.  We start tonight.
Skills and Gear equal success in the winter.
Have a Great Scouting Day!

Categories: Backpacking, blog, camp skills, Camping, gear, High Adventure, Leadership, planning, Skills, Winter Camping | 1 Comment

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