Month: October 2011

From Pinewood Derby to Eagle Project

Today my oldest son completed his Eagle Project.  It’s all over but the paperwork now… But today was a day of reflection for me.  On our way to my Dads house to put the final touches on the project, John and I went to breakfast at the biscuits Cafe.  We talked about college, the project, and the up coming camp out.
I am sure the discussion was great, but the whole time that I sat there with this young man, I could not help but think about when he joined Cub Scouts.  It was a great adventure, me rediscovering Scouting and everything new and exciting for him.  That Tiger year was all about him and I getting into and back into Scouting.  His Pinewood Derby car that year was super cool.  It was painted orange with tiger stripes and could not have been any slower.  But he had fun chasing the cars down the track.  We learned a lot that year.
The First time John and I went backpacking I took him and his little brother on a little two mile trip up to Memaloose Lake.  John and Josh hit the trail with enthusiasm and bright eyes.  It was chilly that weekend and I suppose I did not do a great job of planning for the elevation gain.  We got up to the camp site and set up our tent.  All three of us fit in the tent, pretty much the last time that happened.  We went on an exploring hike once we got camp set up and I tought them both how to start a fire and how to cook a backpacking meal.  Right after dinner it started to snow… yeah Snow.. It was only September and it was snowing.  We ducked into the tent and told jokes.  Josh showed off his talent for being able to crawl into his sleeping bag head first, turn around, and come out the shoulder end.  We laughed, played cards, and then it was time for dessert.  I carried up Freeze dried Ice cream sandwiches.  They were awful, but we ate them and laughed that we were eating ice cream sandwiches in the snow.
John has become a great backpacker since and him and I have had some memorable times on the trail together.
He was my SPL for the National Jamboree and demonstrated leadership beyond anything that I could ever expect.
Today, as he wrapped up his Eagle Scout service project, I watched as he let out a deep breath.  I could see the accomplishment in his body language.  He turns 18 in about 17 days, and I am proud that he got it finished.
Who ever says the Scoutmasters son gets special treatment has never met John.  He has worked hard and completed more than he ever thought he would in Scouting.
During breakfast this morning, he said he would like to stay on as an Assistant Scoutmaster.  He is exactly what we are looking for and what we need in Scouting.
It seems like so long ago that we worked together on his first Pinewood Derby car.. having him tell me what to do today in finishing up his Eagle Project made me more proud than he will ever know.

Have a Great Scouting Day!

Are You a gram weenie?

The SMMPodcast show #95 is now available for your listening pleasure… well for those of you that still enjoy the sound of my Scouter voice.
In this show I talk about shaving weight and reducing volume in your backpack.  Take a listen to the show and let me know what you think.
As I recorded the show it became very obvious to me that this content would be better communicated in a video.   So I am going to record a video around mid November and get it posted here.
In the video I want to show you some of the tips and tricks that I use to reduce weight and volume in my pack.  It may not be the item itself.. but how it is configured and set up that reduces the weight and volume.
Again, let me know what you think about the show and now would be a great time to get questions in to answered in the video.

Thanks for all your support and listenership!


Have a Great Scouting Day!


Skills are the next important part of planning and preparing for your next outdoor adventure.   What ever that adventure is.  Last night our Troop began preparation for the next camp out, a caving trip up in Washington.  So as is the custom of our PLC, they alway begin with First Aid.  What are the specific first aid skills needed for this event?  They listed them and take a meeting or two to practice.  They determined that the worst thing that could happen is a sprained ankle or falling injury in the cave and so the skill they decided to work on in that regard was “Moving an injured person”.  Last night they built litters and worked on buddy carry’s.
The point is that preparing for your next adventure requires that you build skill sets to meet the adventure head on.
I love in Backpacker Magazine when they introduce a new backpack trip in the pull outs.  They list the skills needed in that area, meal suggestions, and facts about the area.  This is all important.  When we head up to Mt. Hood in January, we will certainly be prepared with winter camping skills, meals that will keep us warm, and we will know weather patterns and other facts about the conditions, place, and time of year we are going.
Simple skills like those that allow a Scout to use a pocket knife, start a fire, and the rest of the list of “Trail to First Class” skills are an important in your Scouts adventures.
We spend much of our time in preparation for events.  How much time we spend on skills development directly affects how the event will go.
When you are talking about those adventure with increased risk the amount of skills development will impact the risk management and reduction of risk.
Skills are important no matter what the adventure, make sure that you dedicate time and energy to quality skills development.  Take no short cuts when it comes to skills.

Have a Great Scouting Day!

Gear junky

A few posts ago (on Sept 30th) I promised that we would continue the discussion on elements of successful backpacking planning and preparing.  I said that some key elements of planning and preparing are; gear, physical conditioning, skills, and attitudes.  I suppose it is no surprise that gear is listed first in the order, after all I am a gear junky.  So in this post we will talk about gear.
Its all about basics.  What is it that you need, want, can carry?  Always start with NEED.
Shelter, Food, Water, Comfort.
What type of shelter so you want?  Tent?  Tarp? Bivy?  There are great choices out there that offer many options for you.  Tents that provide shelter from the elements, tarps that are light weight and easy to set up, and bivy’s for quick shelter with out the hassle of set up.
I personally use a tarp.  Not your off the self at BiMart tarp but a light weight Sylnylon tarp from Hennessy Hammocks.  It weighs in at 18.6 oz.  It can be set up in many configurations and works well in every weather condition.  I have used it in high winds, driving rains, and cold weather, oh not to mention the beautiful days and nights too.
The other piece of my shelter is a hammock.  I have two kinds.  The Hennessy Expedition which is my first hammock.  I like it, but my new hammock is more comfortable and roomy.  It is the Warbonnet Blackbird.  Hammocks are not for everyone, but I will not sleep in a tent again.  Most concerns are that you do not lay flat.. well you actually do lay flat.  I am a belly and slide sleeper and because you lay at an angle across the ridge line of the hammock, you get a nice flat lay.  The Blackbird hammock has a built in footbox that automatically places the body in a position for a flat lay.  The hammock provides a no pressure sleep platform.  The built on bug nets keep the nasty’s off.  Hammocks give you the same exact sleep every time.  You never have to worry about level ground, rocks, roots, or dry ground.  Just a place to hang.  And I have never been out when there was not a place to hang.
The biggest concern with hammocks is staying warm.  There are options for this, but keeping it real simple a closed cell foam pad will do the trick.
So lets talk about sleeping bags.
I use the Big Agnes Encampment.  It is a 15 degree bag that has a big box shape giving me lots of shoulder room and foot space.  The Big Agnes sleep system is unique in that there is no insulation on the bottom side of the bag.  It has a sleeve to insert the insulated pad, but when using the hammock I do not use the Big Agnes pad.  There are basically two types of sleeping bag insulation, Down and Synthetic.  Down is lighter and warm, but once it gets wet.. it is not a good option.  Synthetic on the other hand, is a little heavier but retains it’s insulation wet or dry.  Synthetic is easier to maintain.  I recommend our Scouts have synthetic bags.
So that pretty much takes care of my shelter.  The tarp, the hammock, and sleeping bag.  I should mention that instead of the Big Agnes pad, I use a RadiantDouble bubble Pad .  The hammock has a double layer bottom and the pad slides right between layers.  The Radiant pad reflects about 95% of the body heat back at you.. so you stay real nice and warm in the bag.
Moving on to Food.  I won’t discuss the actual meals we covered some of that in our last post.  What we are going to discuss is how I prepare my food.  I have a few stoves, but the go to take every time stove is the MSR Whisperlite.  I have had this stove for about 15 years and love it.  It is always reliable and works in every condition.  My day hike stove is the Snowpeak Giga Power.  Nice little stove that works real well.
The pot I use is the MSR Duralite.  I don’t use both of the pots that come in the set.  I use the bigger of the pots with the lid.  It does not take many dishes to cook great meal out there.  With my stove I can find a good simmer level when I am not just boiling water, so a single pot does the job.
Using a single pot requires some planning and prep work though.. If its chilly I need to get water boiling before I cook, the mug that I use is the Sea to Summit Delta Insul mug.  This mug keep stuff hot for a long time, so I have a warm beverage when I eat my meal.  The mug hold 2 cups of whatever pleases you and is great for soup also.
I keep a piece of MSR microfiber towel in the pot for cleaning up and providing a buffer for my pot holder.
I use a REI Titanium spork.  Really the only utensil you need.  Not sure you can buy the one I use anymore, but the Snow Peak Spork looks just like it.  Its long enough to stir up food in the pot, wide enough to mix, and practical enough to be the only thing I need.  Couple it with my pocket knife and the kitchen is complete.
Water and comfort will be coming up in a future post.  Water is a big subject and needs some attention on it’s own.
The gear I have listed here is the stuff that is currently in my Backpack.  I have gone through many variations and different types of gear.  What I have shared here is the gear that I am in love with now and plan on using for a while… until something real cool comes out.  That’s what makes me a gear junky.
Have a Great Scouting Day!

Meal options

Ok.. lets talk about food.  I love to try new stuff on camp outs, like I have said in posts before, meals and food occupy a large amount of time on outings.  And since I am a Do as I Do kind of leader, I figure the more creative or at least having a variety out there, the Scouts will see these meal options and eventually try them.
What has happened is that many of the Scouts have taken a liking to expanding their meal options.  Looking into different ways to prepare pastas, rice options with different meats and yes even veggies.
Since we have a “No Ramen Alone” rule,  noodles with extras have increased ways in which our Scouts prepare and eat also.
Prepared meals of the freeze dried or dehydrated variety have also made its way into the packs of our troop, and once again there are many options there also.
I have given many of them a try and some are better than others in my opinion.
Of course every one is familiar with Mountain House and the wide variety it has made available to the backpacking community.  Now since this is a Blog and only my opinion here, Mountain House is my least favorite of the dehydrated options.  they have a nice selection, are easy to prepare and when cooking for small groups (2 or 3) they are a great choice.  I do think that they are a bit spendy at about $8 a meal on average.  Some are cheaper than others, while the Beef stew (4 serving) will cost you around $10.  This can get spendy and if buying Mountain House I would suggest buying it in bulk.  Costco sells it on occasion by the case.
Another option in the dehydrated/freeze dried category is The Backpackers Pantry.  Again, some really nice menu items and again, a bit spendy.  I do like the “Complete Meal Packages” for 4 that they offer.  The price for feeding 4 is pretty good for what you get.  The packaging is good and the preparation is easy.
Alpine Aire Foods is yet another option in prepared meals.  They are in about the same price range, and they have some nice menu options, but I have to be honest, I did not find them the best when it came to taste, and to me.. well, why eat it if it’s not good.  The Beef Rotini was hearty, but I was not crazy about the pasta.
Hungry Hikers is a company that is local to me.  They have some good meals that are very tasty .  Not a huge selection, but enough to give you a variety.  The biggest drawback to Hungry Hikers is the price.  Very spendy for what you get.  When you are providing this as an option for your Scouts, make sure they sell lots of Popcorn to afford these marvelous meals.  The Chicken Pot pie is my favorite.  I like their stuff, I just don’t like the price.
I will not talk about M.R.E.’s.  they are novel to kids and some “Wilderness guru’s” think they are cool, but they are heavy and while you may get them at a surplus store on the cheap.. you get what you pay for.
My favorite dehydrated meals to date are from the Packet Gourmet.  The food is really good tasting, easy to prepare and pack.  Not to spendy and they give Scouts a 15% discount when you sign your unit up for a discount code.   When talking price, I found them to be the most reasonable.  The discount code costs nothing and it is easy to use.  They ship the product real quick and have nice customer service.  I highly recommend the Packet Gourmet.  They even give away meals to get you hooked.  Check them out.  I even tried one of their desserts.. YUMMY!
Finally, there is always the “Do it Yourself” option.  As I write this post I am dehydrating spaghetti with meat and sauce.  It was left over from dinner tonight, so I figured why toss it in the disposal when I can toss in the dehydrator.  I will make about 3 good servings and costs almost nothing to make.  Investing in a Nesco dehydrator (around $75) is a great way to expand your meal options on the trail.
Full meals, snacks, and trail seasonings, and more are easy to make.
I hope this gives you a few more options to discuss with your Scouts.  They can eat real well on the trail without Ramen.

Have a Great Scouting Day!

Krusteaz “One Step” Muffins

Planning and preparing for an awesome time on the trail typically revolves around food in one way or another.  I mean, face it.. we walk till we eat.. then we walk some more till we get to camp… and eat.  We wake up, and eat.  Point is meal planning is important.  We will get into that more later, but I wanted to share with you one of the ways that I plan and prepare meals.  I test them at home first.
I stumbled on this Krusteaz “One Step” muffin mix at our local store.  It’s great because you just add water.
I use silicone cups to do the baking in.  You can pick them up everywhere.  They are easy to clean and reuse.
Enjoy the video.

Bake some of these next time you are out on the trail.. You will not be disappointed.

Have a Great Scouting Day!