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Lightweight Scouting

Cedarlands Scout Reservation

I’m about to get a crash course in scouting. I’ve volunteered to teach lightweight backpacking at the Cedarland’s High Adventure Scout Reservation in the High Peaks Region of the Adirondacks. I’m headed up there later in the week to be a guest instructor and to do a little backpacking with a scout troop.

There’s a huge need to help scouts, parents, and scout masters learn about lightweight backpacking techniques. Kids can’t carry heavy gear because of their size. If they end up carrying a ton of unnecessary gear on a backpacking trip, it won’t be an experience that they’ll ever want to repeat.

I was asked by Bill Laymon, the Director of Cedarlands, to come and teach because I let it be known that I’m interested in speaking to youth groups and outdoor organizations about lightweight backpacking. He’s also interested in bringing a lot of new high adventure activities to Cedarlands to expand the skills that visiting troops can acquire there. There are a couple of things I know I want to learn when I’m there, including fly fishing, forestry, and rock climbing.

Lightweight Backpacking Resources for Scouts

If you’re a scout, parent, or scout master and you’re interested in learning more about lightweight backpacking and scouting, here are some good online resources I’ve found that can help you out.

To start, watch the video here which features Scout Master, Steve Green. He’s got a very watchable series of thirty-thee videos about lightweight backpacking on his web site that you should check out, even if you’re not involved in scouting. I like his emphasis on how to outfit your kids or yourself without a lot of expensive gear. We need more of this in the UL community. Lightweight backpacking does not have to be expensive or exclusive.

Doug Prosser, another Scout Master, wrote a great article called Boy Scout Gear List: New Scouts, Three-Season, which is also a great read if you’ve never seen it. Doug is still very active with scouting and has been teaching BSA leaders about lightweight backpacking with Ryan Jordan, who is also involved with scouting.

Then finally, there’s a free PDF book about Lightweight Backpacking for Scouts written by Kevin Hauser which is a bit dated (1999) but still has a lot of excellent information in it.

That should get you started.

If you’re involved in scouting and would like to learn more, or can point out more useful resources, please leave a comment below.


  1. Keep in mind that Scouting uses the patrol method, so a lot of how you backpack won't necessarily apply (at least not directly). They sleep, cook, travel, and treat water in groups.

    I've taught Scout Leaders the past two years with Ryan J. He might be willing to provide some of his curriculum if you ask nicely. :-)


  2. I'm adapting rapidly. I'll be teaching scouts too, not just leaders, so I have to be fun and funny. I expect the scouts to teach me a lot on this trip and I'm grateful to the camp director for bringing me into the scout community.

  3. Back to your patrol comment. I know about this. What amazes me is how a scout can end up with a 40-50 pound pack despite group gear sharing. I don't understand how this is possible on a summer trip, but I guess I will learn.

  4. Just checked in from my summer away from computers, and as always I find a timely and heartening post from you, Phil. I just got back from leading a backpacking trip in the Whites where I tried to make sure my camp kids packed as light as possible (not very light, but more on that much later). The scouts thing is definitely much needed, considering many of the scout groups I've seen. Maybe after (or during) the lightweight talk, they can also learn the importance of small group sizes. Most scout troops know this, I think, but just the other day I was blocked from a campsite by a group of twenty scouts that had not used AMC's group outreach system to warn the caretakers about their trip, thus surprising the caretakers and other hikers (including my group) by flooding the trails and campsites. Made my blood boil a little bit.

    But back to lightweight… Good luck! It will be nice to hear how it goes.

  5. Great to hear from you Ryan! That group size issue is a pet peeve of mine too, but of course not limited to scouts. Like you, part of my shtick is to lead by example. I'm tentatively scheduled to go on a 5 day hiking trip with a troop into the Dack's High Peaks region to show them my routine firsthand. Should be a good time and an opportunity to make new friends. I bet your campers like you too!

  6. Just retrieved my son from 20 days on a "Rayado" trek at Philmont. His pack weight prior to consumables and crew gear was around 8 lbs. He was the envy of the trail and a lot on on trtail conversations with a number of people. Interest is gaining momentum. Our troop has three crews going to Philmont next summer and in preparation there will be a lot of how to pack lighter educational components. Also we should come up with scouting terminology for packing lighter that does not scare parents. Ultralight is one of th ode words we should abandon for scouting.

  7. I am with you 100% on that Alan. I hate using the term "Ultralight," and always opt for "Lightweight." It's much more inclusive and less of an extreme sport. Parents want their kids to be safe. "Ultralight" is too hard to explain, and not really all that safe for kids and younger adults.

  8. Ryan J. has been pioneering lightweight scouting at the national level for years. He's also working on getting a certification approved, unfortunately the wheels turn slowly in that world. IIRC there will be about 10 people with that cert as soon as it does go through. It's sad more people don't know about what he's doing or teaching. Most of our students this year were repeats from last year. http://troop676.net/ is the site for his troop. You can find a lot of info under the resources section including a gear list.

  9. That's the problem with a highly decentralized organization with a central bureaucracy (I've worked with IT standards groups.) The motivation for change needs to come from a groundswell of troop level activists before the central administration will act (so they can stay "in control").

    I think we can all help Ryan at the national level by doing all we can at the local level. If everyone in the UL/Lightweight backpacking community met with their local troop leaders to discuss how to go lightweight, we might help improve things for the kids faster.

    I don't think we should underestimate peer pressure though. While we can focus on scout masters and their parents, making a lightweight pack cool with kids, may be the fastest route to successful transformation.

  10. The other challenge with scouting is the "Be Prepared" motto usually translates into extra gear. In lightweight backpacking, being prepared is about being smart. A good example of being smart is understanding and knowing the multiple uses of your gear. You can be prepared for cold without having to pack a lot of extra gear.

  11. Right on Jeff – One of the things I find so appealing about Scouting is the emphasis on skills. Skills, skills, skills. When you go lightweight, you trade off extra redundant gear for skills. That's one message that needs to be conveyed more clearly, I think.

    I always tell people getting into lightweight backpacking, that gear replacement will only get you so far. Skill development and behavioral changes are required to take you all the way.

  12. I would love to see & hear more about this. Our troop does a lot of backpacking, and I have 2 sons (11 & 13) & my wife to outfit, as well as myself, so budgeting is critical. I do find that we have been lightening up each trip with additional skills (& some gear replacements), but there are still concerns/issues specific to Scout age backpackers that I would love to hear more about.

    Thanks for the info & links!

  13. Tom – where are you located? I'd be happy to come talk to you or others if you're located in New England, but if not, I know a few others who are interested in meeting with scouts across the country that I might be able to hook you up with. I think there's enormous value in a 2-way dialog with scouts, particularly when it comes to expense management.

  14. I'm in northwest Arkansas, and a New England visit is not on the schedule any time soon. For the moment, I'll keep my out on here & similar sites, and try to save up for one of the BPL Scout Leader treks.

  15. Phil, I like your point about the decentralized aspect of the Scouts. When I was working Group Outreach at the GMC, that aspect of the scouts blew my mind, and made my job extremely difficult. I think the AMC group outreach person feels similarly, especially with the even higher use rates in the Whites.

    Tom, you should convince Phil to come down and visit. Maybe get him to hike the Ozark Highlands and Ouchita Trails while he's down there. I've heard they're mighty nice!

    Keep up the good work, Phil. I'm off again and away from the computers for a bit longer. I'll check in once in a while when I can.

  16. I really hope you don't run into any "old guard" or "superscouter" problems. I think you will find almost all of the leaders and scouts are enthusiastic about technique and good outdoor behavior, but there is a cadre of "old timers" (not all old men) who can be difficult.

    Just back from Philmont (a real blast even if tinder dry, our 14 yro's did 100 miles 15000 feet climbing, and the older group 108 miles and probably 25000 feet). It can be very hard to convince "superscouters" about anything new. Even though my (not extremely light) baseweight is 15-17 lbs and I'm the one who is always warm dry and comfortable on trips (I once had the only tent (a luna solo) that survived a minor wind/rain storm intact and awoke to everyone else in a barn and other outbuildings at the farm we were visiting), the small number of these idiot "superscouters" continue to do their best to sabotage my lightweight training down here in ATL (this is at a specific troop problem – the district is different and quite enthusiastic – we're organizing something similar so I'd love to hear how it works and am willing to tell you what we finally do).

    The Philmont crews were a good example. The older crew were about 1/2 of my old cub den and so listened to me and had 20lbs or so packs (with the HEAVY Philmont crew gear and water). The younger and physically smaller crew listened to the "superscouters" and had 30-40lbs packs. While both crews did fine, it would have been a lot easier on the younger scouts had they all paid attention.

    (they end up with a 40-50 lbs pack by taking 5 pair of underwear and socks, three pair of outer clothes changes, an obsolete heavy full-length (for a big adult) thermorest, a jacket for temperatures 10F below record, …., using big brother's or dad's old 6-9 lb pack, and not being aware of multiple use items. It doesn't help that the cheap "sale" items are often on sale because the people who know what they are doing simply shake their heads and walk away – leaving them for mom and dad.

    Fortunately there is a gear triage at the start of Philmont so we caught most of this and I'm really proud that the younger crew washed as they went along and so were continually confused with 3-day out crews even on the bus ride back to base camp! not only did we rock – we didn't stink)

  17. Glad you had such a great time Rob! I'm sure I will run into the old guard and that's ok. I really do respect whatever makes people happy. I'm just putting the information out there – they're free to ignore me.

  18. As an observation only my son and I witnessed about 40% of Philmont Rangers were wearing running or trail running low top shoes. This is up quite a bit from last years trek. Scouts and Scouters on treks accounted for only about 2%. I think the groundswell is beginning. Also, at the Tooth of Time Traders store there were a number of non boot lightweight shoe options.

  19. Also, in support of Chris's comment about the many repeaters at BPL Lightweight Scouting training in Montanna ( I attended and it was awesome!)I think that a one day clinic needs to be developed that begins to introduce the practice in various councils. One would be welcomed here in Austin. Travelling out of town is a big commitment for many but a simple day event of education could really help in this groundswell.

  20. I agree Alan. Taking the message to the Scout masters where they live sounds like it would be more efficient. Not as immersive as what Ryan and Chris do, I'm sure, but still very valuable.

  21. I put a very interesting read on my link click here, check it out.

  22. wrt trail runners.

    I agree many of the Rangers used them (all of the good ones (the ones with small packs too)). Ours did, but warned us – as I think he was required to – about using boots. One of our scouts did with no problems, most had light weight boots and few problems, but the people who wore good ol' big boots generally were limping.

    I ran into a crew advisor who alternated between trail shoes and those "five finger" vibram things on the trail. But he was 33 ;-).

    while i was griping about the sizes of our packs, we were generally smaller than most.

  23. It bothers me to say this but some of the absolute worst outdoorsmen I've ever met on the trail have been scouts and the so called "leaders" with them. These so called "leaders" are nothing more than a Scouts dad who volunteered to take the scouts on a trip. These so called "Scout leaders" should be required to prove they have the knowledge needed for a given Scouting event. In other words, if you're going to take Scouts on a hike in the White Mountains you should know enough to not wear Cotton. I cant tell you how many times I've seen Scouts wearing cotton on the trail. Most recently I met some Scouts on the ridge while ascending Eisenhower. They were laying on the alpine grass and moss. I politely asked them to stay on the trail proper and explained how delicate the vegetation in the Alpine Zone is. They looked at me as though I was crazy. One of the Scouts asked the "leader" if what I said was true and the "leader" gave the kid a dumb look and shrugged his shoulders. I'm sure this is not how all of the Scout "leaders" are. My point is Scout leaders should be REQUIRED to prove they know what they are doing out there before they take kids on these trips.

  24. Meetup and the AMC don't have such high standards. Don't know why scouts should too. Next time maybe pull the leader aside and educate them first so they can save face with the kids. That's not what you want to hear, but it might be the more effective route to their enlightenment.

  25. As I said, these so called "leaders" should be forced to provide proof that they know what they are doing out there. It's nice to volunteer but setting a proper example as well as educating these young people should be the top priority. If the guy "leading" has no idea what he is doing then I want him off of the mountain. If these so called "leaders" want to ascend a high peak wearing cotton and a t-shirt then good for him, but do it alone.

    When you are responsible for the lives of young people you MUST be held to a higher standard. How many of these Scout leaders have wilderness emergency medical training? I'm willing to bet an overwhelming majority of them don't.

    I'll just keep on climbing with my small group of like minded people and when I see Scout groups or otherwise doing things they should not I will continue to be vocal.

    The White Mountains have given me much more than I have given them. It is my responsibility to be sure that my passing over them has as little effect as possible. I want my young son to be able to enjoy these same places some day.

    Don't even get me started on the AMC. I could go on for days about them.

  26. Alan

    The Austin REI Gateway is having a LTWT hiking class on 22AUG11, while just an intro, it might have some good info. Reference Philmont, is an organization with an old bureaucracy (my dad worked there for over a decade) and a rotating summer staff of returning college students. The goal for improvement of the Philmont staff should be twofold, “sell” the concept to the permanent staff and demonstrate the advantages to the summer staff as they arrive each year. Since most scouts and scout leaders do significant internet research prior to going, getting LTWT hiking concepts, gear recommendation, and lessons learned added to not just the Philmont site but others scout resource sites would help to disseminate the philosophy prior to scouts arriving. On a cynical note, a significant amount of money is generated by the store, getting them to add LTWT gear to the inventory would be very profitable.

  27. Funny, I just posted about teaching lightweight backpacking to Scouts:


    Note that some thru-hiker methods might not work. Scouts might need more warm clothes, because they don't go right from hiking to the sleeping bag. They sit around a campfire or play games or learn stuff.

  28. Jeff says, "The other challenge with scouting is the “Be Prepared” motto usually translates into extra gear."

    True, but that is not at all what Baden-Powell meant. He wrote in "Scouting for Boys": The Scout Motto is: BE PREPARED which means you are always in a state of readiness in mind and body to do your DUTY.

  29. wrt untrained leaders.

    If they have the trained strip on their shirt, and have been trained in (at least) the last seven years then they have at least been exposed to proper LNT and wilderness ethics in their training. Whether it was understood is a different question, and the different districts/councils vary a bit in their quality, but the scouts as a group really are trying to be good about this.

    If their training isn't current or they are untrained, the BSA will not let them re-register so they won't be scout leaders much longer.

  30. The following is directly out of the Philmont 2011 Guidebook. I just offer this as an FYI as clearly there is old guard in place but the more we change at the unit level the more they will change upstream.

    Backpacking requires proper equipment just as any outdoor sport. Without suitable equipment you will face unnecessary hardships. Take only what you need. After several overnight camps you should be able to conduct your own shakedown to eliminate items that you didn’t need. Remember, the key to successful backpacking is to go lightly. Check your equipment against the recommended list in the Philmont guide. This is the maximum. All backpackers can reduce this list and still be comfortable, clean and safe.

  31. Kaseri, I know it must be frustrating when you run into badly trained people on the trail regardless of affiliation. I view this as an opportunity to educate. My personal experience in Scouting is the opposite of what you have found. I have found Scouting to be one of the greatest developers of character and leadership in young people through its outdoor experience. Scouting is an adopter of LNT and trains its leaders as best as it can in these principals. Mostly on trail I witness fantastic behavior but when I witness the opposite I embrace this as an opportunity to serve through education.

  32. This is fantastic, Phillip. I really enjoy my time as a Scouter and you will be a fantastic teacher and mentor to those boys. BSA needs lots of adult volunteers and good training is sometimes hard to find, hence many well intentioned Scout Leaders mentioned above. These folks need better mentoring from someone with your experience and resources, so kudos to Bill Laymon for having the vision to recruit you. Plus you'll get to bone up on your knots.

  33. Just got back from Philmont on the 13th and I am catching up on my 1000+ emails – I guess no good vacation goes unpunished….

    Phil – thank you for teaching this class – having been an adult leader for more than 6 years I have learned that with Boy Scouts you have to start locally and work up – not top down. Planting the seed in the next generation of leaders is the only way to make changes.

    Philmont was a tremendous experience and by day 8 all that mattered in the world was whether the bear bags were hung and were my water bottles full. No email, news, or other worthless distractions to take away from the beauty and wonder of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in New Mexico.

    That said sometimes you can’t control the weight issue. With The Valle Vidal closed right before our arrival due to extreme fire hazards we had an itinerary change that eliminated the food resupply in the Valle, this necessitated our crew of 12 to carry 8 days worth of food. The adult leaders shouldered the burden of the load to give the scouts a break – this meant my pack weighed in at 72 pounds – not an idea condition but it wasn’t too bad and we quickly ate the heavy meals leaving the lighter ones for later.

    Our Philmont Ranger did a great job on the shake down and taught us a lot – I probably culled 5 to 8 pounds off of the Philmont ‘required’ gear. Much of this weight was from replicating gear among each scout or adult advisor. Some examples – one tube of toothpaste for 4 people, one cat-hole shovel for the entire group. We ditched the water filters and used the Katadyn Micropur purification tablets they supplied, avoided the heavy Philmont gear where we could, and took one set of cloths for day and one for sleeping.

    Leaders are trained but not all will have Outdoor Leadership School. I have attended this and I have a current Wilderness Medicine and CPR certifications – I owe this to the parents that trust their kids to me for weekend outings. The other leaders in my unit are similarly trained and I frown on the leaders that shrug this requirement.

    Outdoor Leadership School taught us LNT, orientation, weather awareness and precautions, water treatment options, bear country precautions, and other things needed in the backcountry but glossed over gear. This is where we can use volunteers to reach out to the various district councils and share their talents. Another place that would help is something that my district does and that is once a year they have what is called the University of Scouting, a day long program offering dozens of classes held at the local college. They have camping classes and offered a gear class several years ago but the person was more interested in promoting his blog than the gear.

    Going lightweight is great but their also has to be a balance because I can’t hand out a list to parents with a $1000 worth of gear for camping so Phil – I would really be interested to seeing a recap of what you taught them and what type of reception you got from the leaders.

  34. All really good points. I'll do a recap next week when I have better internet access. So far it's been an eye opener for all involved.

  35. How did the training go? Do you have an after-action review of what went well and what didn't?

  36. I'm writing it up now. Should be out today or tomorrow.

  37. Phillip — I'm just a few towns north of you. As a local Scout leader, I'd love to take you up on your offer sometime. However, Budzy1911 points out something interesting — there is a local one-day training event for Scout leaders called the University of Scouting. In particular, there is one run in northeastern MA, covering the Scout councils in that area, including Boston Minuteman Council (Reading MA down to Braintree MA, including Boston and Cambridge).

    I'm hooked into the Scouters that run this event, so if you'd like to present something sometime, you'd probably reach a great man Scout leaders. Someone with your expertise and experience would be greatly appreciated. Please feel free to drop me an email note sometime to discuss it.

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