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Backpacking Lighter to Develop Character and Leadership in Scouts

Keaton and Alan Graham
Keaton and Alan Graham discuss Lightweight Backpacking at Philmont

I participated in a great event about lightweight backpacking for Scouting over the weekend in Austin, Texas, organized and hosted by Wood Badge Candidate Alan Graham of the Capitol Area Council. We had 65 attendees, including scouts, parents, and scoutmasters, who came to learn how to reduce the weight of their backpacking gear, introduce lightweight backpacking techniques to their troops, and prepare for going light at the famous Philmont High Adventure Scout Camp.

The day-long program consisted of talks and demos by scoutmasters and leaders from the Scouting community who have already made the transition to a lightweight backpacking and who recounted their experiences implementing the methodology with scouts and parents in their troops. I participated in a dual role, both as a BSA Venturing Crew member and a Gossamer Gear Trail Ambassador, speaking about about the Philosophy of Lightweight Backpacking and how to reduce the weight of The Big Three (shelter, sleep system, and backpack.)


The other speakers who participated were:
  • Alan Graham
  • Keaton Graham
  • Scoutmaster Sam Francis
  • Assistant Scoutmaster Pat Rabun (Fort Worth)
  • Senior District Executive Michael Hanley
  • Grant Sible, President of Gossamer Gear

If you weren’t able to attend Saturday’s session, all the talks and gear demos were professionally videotaped and segments will be posted on YouTube in about 30 days.

At Alan Graham’s request, I’ve also posted all of the presentations that were given below so you can view them online, or download them, if you’d like to use them as a basis for developing your own introduction to lightweight backpacking for scouts or other hiking groups.

Special thanks to Austin-based Gossamer Gear, Evernew USA, Six Moon Designs, and Mountain Laurel Designs who also co-sponsored this event, and raffled off some very nice gear including backpacks, shelters, and bivy sacks to the seminar attendees.

Gossamer Gear's Grant Sible explains the Contents of his Lightweight Backpack
Gossamer Gear’s Grant Sible demonstrates how to pack a Lightweight Backpack


Sam Francis and Pat Raburn discuss the Scoutmaster's Perspective on Lightweight Backpacking
Sam Francis and Pat Rabun discuss the Scoutmaster’s Perspective on Lightweight Backpacking


Pat and Sam demonstrate how to Pack for Philmont
Pat and Sam demonstrate how to pack light for Philmont


To download any of these Powerpoints, click on the Slideshare icon in the bottom right-hand corner of the presentation viewer.


  1. Glad it went well!

    • It went fabulously well. We’ve been searching for the right ‘format’ and timing to present this information to scouts and doing it as part pf the pre-Philmont planning process proved to be very effective. All of the the attendees really got into it and having Alan, Keaton, Sam, and Pat co-present was really key. Those guys are all top notch advocates for scouting and lightweight backpacking and they’ve gone through the process of doing it with their troops. I learned a ton myself about Philmont, as did the other attendees, making this an even more valuable event for all.

      Grant Sible and Dave Cutherall from Gossamer Gear also did a great pack makeover with one of the participants, lowering her pack weight by 10 pounds from 26, simply by removing unnecessary items. That really got people thinking. She had also be using a 6+ pound pack to carry 20 pounds of gear.

  2. AMCLTHIKER (Mark Warren)

    What is the correlation between pack weight and the development of leadership and character?

    • Great question mark – it’s not that there is a correlation with pack weight, but that it sets up a teaching and mentoring context that scout troops can use to develop additional leadership and character skills.

      Unlike the AMC where trip leaders do all the heavy lifting when it comes to logistics and planning, in scouting, non-adult scouts do most of the heavy lifting themselves, with adult advisors. Going lightweight requires a lot more trip planning and the development of advanced backpacking skills, setting up the opportunity for the older scouts to teach the younger scouts and to use them on trips. As you know, going lightweight is not simply a question about swapping out a few pieces of heavy gear for lighter ones, but requires a lot of skill development, practice, and experience.

  3. Great question Mark. Scouting is all about leadership and character development. Be Prepared! Packing lighter teaches Scouts leadership through skills development. When I see a Scout on the trail packing light I see a leader on the trail. When I see the traditional heavy load Scout on the trail I see a follower. My son who did 300 miles this past summer at Philmont with a base pack weight under 8 lbs he was the envy of the trail. Every day for his 20 days on the trail he was teaching others about the joys of going light. These many teaching moments put him into a leadership role with both Scouts and Scouters. As a leader you have the opportunity to build character traits through both your successes and failures.

    Those Scouts who attended the clinic will take their new found skills back to their respective troops and teach others. They will be leaders. As they grow in leadership their character will develop as well.

    There is much more to this but I hope this snippet gives you the general idea.

    • Hi Alan, ‘Sorry I missed the 2/25 presentation, but was camping with the scouts. What ultralite backpack do you recommend for scouts ages 10 – 14? Thanks.

  4. I participated in this meeting and I wnat to thank you (Alan Graham) for attending and participating.

    Great information and a lot of fun, I learned a lot and being able to be “hands on” with a lot of equipment I have only seen on the internet was wonderful.

    I plan to make use of the materials you have put up here to bring the message to the scouts in my troop that are on the way to Philmont this summer as well as to the all of our Scouts, young and old.

    Again, Thank you!

    Michael Doyle
    ASM Tropp 222 Arlington, TX

  5. I also attended the presentation and picked up a lot of great practical information and tips that will be used in the near future. Thank you to all involved for putting it together and tailoring the information to the scout community.

    Will you have links to the videos in this site, when the editing is done?

    Troop 97

  6. “Develop advanced backcountry skills” — It’s great to see an emphasis on skills (even better to see physical fitness). I think we sometimes tend to focus too much on gear, and less on skills…

    • I completely agree. Skills are the key in my opinion. That’s why so many lightweight backpackers are so skilled in backcountry travel. When there’s less gear, you need to up your safety margins by having much better skills, particularly route planning skills. Not saying that heavy weight backpackers aren’t also skilled, but I haven’t met many good LW backpackers who don’t really know their woodcraft.

  7. Congrats. Looks like a great event.

  8. Looked like a great day of talks. I’m so glad to hear of others pushing the efficient backpacking philosophy to the scouts & their leaders. I have been to Philmont way too many time listening to leaders complain because the hiking & heavy packs are killing them & their crews.

    I just emailed our SM to see if our scouts want to put on a similar day of talks.

    • It really helped that Alan and his son are both into it and their scoutmaster, Sam Francis is a serious UL guy too. I think it helps that Keaton (who did Philmont with an 8 pound pack) showed his peers that it could be done comfortably and safely, and that this was reinforced by Alan and Sam with their adult peers.

      As you can see, a lot of smaller companies were willing to co-sponsor this event and although Gossamer Gear was featured, Grant invited all the other manufacturers to provide gear samples and raffle items, so that attendees could see a more complete picture of whats out there. Personally, I think it’s great to see the level of coopetition that we have with our UL gear manufacturers, putting the customers’ well being and education in front of their own short term monetary gain.

  9. I was able to watch and share these videos now that they are out. My backpacking group had been giving me a hard time for shaving weight but after watching the pack makeover two friends dropped their weight by 12 & 14 pounds with no gear purchases at all! Thanks for sharing this great scouting tool with the rest of us as well!

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