Losing Some Weight

It’s not unusual for a Scout backpacker to make several major purchases just before their first major backpacking trip. When confronted with the costs, and without the time to shop around, many neophyte backpackers (or parents) look for the cheapest equipment possible, rationalizing that they can upgrade in the future if necessary. However, with backpacking, lower cost usually means lesser quality and more weight. As a result, many Boy Scouts and Adult backpackers spend their second year trying to lower their pack weight so they can better enjoy the experience.

Since the heaviest items are the most expensive, many Scout backpackers try to lighten their loads by counting ounces on smaller cheaper things in their pack or they try leaving extra clothing, food, and equipment at home. This is a nice idea but you can’t make a big weight difference with small sacrifices. The only way to significantly lower your pack weight is to replace your backpack, tent/shelter, or sleeping system – often called the “Big Three of Backpacking.”

REI Flash 62

REI Flash 62 pack weighs only three pounds

Your backpack is the foundation of your trail experience. They vary greatly in terms of design, support, fabric, color, and especially weight — yet many people spend almost no time in selecting the right pack for the wilderness experience they want to have. While 6-8 pound backpacks were the norm a few years ago, there are many great packs today that weigh far less. For example, Osprey specializes in light packs and offers several models that weigh under four pounds and the basic REI Flash series comes in even lower. There are even Ultralight packs that measure their weight in ounces not pounds. So weigh your backpack and see if this is the first place you can save a few pounds.

If you need a tent, carry a light one. This tent weighs two pounds.

Most boys prefer tents and most units provide them. Typical Scouting tents are big, heavy, and not so good for backpacking, but good backpacking tents are small, frail, expensive, and not so good for teenage boys. Many Troops use tarps or even old fashioned “tube tents” to save weight and simplify the trip. They are great in good weather, especially if the mosquitoes have all died off for the season. A few have adopted “cowboy camping” and just sleep under the stars every night. If you can afford it, get a tent that weighs under three pounds. Big companies like REI, Big Agnes, and Marmot all offer lightweight tents as do specially vendors like Six Moon Designs.

Most hikers carry a sleeping bag and sleeping pad. Goose down bags are the smallest and lightest but many in the Scouting world avoid down bags for fear that they will get wet and lose all their insulating value. Some synthetic bags come close to down bags but they don’t stuff as small and are usually heavier. Any sleeping bag that weighs more than two pounds is probably too heavy for a serious backpacker. It is possible to carry a very lightweight sleeping bag if you also carry thermal layers in which to sleep and have a pad with a reasonable R rating. The yellow Thermarest Neo weighs in at about ten ounces and is very popular!

Adding up the “Big Three” gives you a very good idea about where to start cutting weight. With “Traditional” it’s not unusual for the “Big Three Weight” to be 18 pounds or more (this is wicked heavy). Ultra Light hikers aim for something less than five pounds for the same equipment. Most Scout backpackers want to be somewhere in the middle.

The"Big Three" are the heaviest items in your pack besides food. Set a weight goal and work towards it, even if you have to purchase used equipment.

Decide how much you want to carry and set a goal of getting there as quickly as possible. (Buy used equipment if necessary.)

The “Big Three” accounts for a lot of your pack weight, but not all of it. If you want to minimize your load, here are some additional rules for lowering what you carry:
1. Weigh everything
2. Take less stuff
3. Choose equipment carefully – Emphasize multi-use items
4. Know the difference between wants and needs
5. Continually try new and lighter things – experiment on practice hikes
6. Load lightening is a gradual process of trial & error so set goals every year

For more information about Scout backpacking, visit the 50miler.com Outing Resource Center on Facebook.

“Be Honest and True Boys”

This poem was published in the children’s periodical “Golden Days for Boys and Girls” in 1887, a few decades before the founding of Boys Scouts. It was featured during a flashback episode in the television series “Boardwalk Empire,” which also had several references to the Boys Scout movement.

Boy's Life was modeled after popular magazines like "Golden Days for Boys and Girls"

Boy’s Life was modeled after popular magazines like “Golden Days for Boys and Girls”

Be honest and true, boys!
Whatever you do, boys,
Let this be your motto through life.
Both now and forever,
Be this your endeavor,
When wrong with the right is at strife.

The best and the truest,
Alas! are the fewest;
But be one of these if you can.
In duty ne’er fail; you
Will find ‘twill avail you,
And bring its reward when a man.

Don’t think life plain sailing;
There’s danger of failing,
Though bright seem the future to be;
But honor and labor,
And truth to your neighbor,
Will bear you safe over life’s sea.

Then up and be doing,
Right only pursuing,
And take your fair part in the strife.
Be honest and true, boys,
Whatever you do, boys,
Let this be your motto through life!

— BE HONEST AND TRUE, by George Birdseye.

Lightning Strikes

There are lots of myths and misconceptions about lightning strikes on outings. However, one thing to always remember is that there is no place that is absolutely safe for Scouts during an electrical storm. Scouts and leaders have been hit by lightening (and killed) in shelters as well as open spaces. In fact, during one especially terrible storm at the Griswold Scout Reservation in New Hampshire, 23 Scouts who had taken shelter under a canopy were hospitalized after a lightning strike that hit close to them. The problem is serious enough that BSA has studied it and revamped the lightning safe procedures in the Guide to Safe Scouting, even mandating that leaders complete a Hazardous Weather course before going on outings. The result has been a decline in lightning related injuries and fatalities at Scout activities.

A lightning strike is an electric discharge between the atmosphere and an earth-bound object. According to the NOAA, over the last 20 years, the United States averaged 51 annual lightning strike fatalities per year, placing it just behind floods for weather-related deaths. In addition, lightning strikes hundreds of people every year that survive, and (depending upon the source) up to 80% of survivors sustain long-term injuries. Metal objects in the victim’s pockets (like smart phones) can concentrate the charge and make the injury even worse. Contrary to popular belief, however, a direct hit by a lightning bolt coming down from the sky is actually pretty rare and not a common way that Scouts are injured by lightning during a storm.

Lightening strikes are common - and dangerous

Lightning strikes are common – and dangerous

More than half of all lightning injuries and fatalities occur when lighting hits the ground near where Scouts are standing (or sheltering). The electrical current runs through the ground to nearby objects (like Scouts) that act as conductors to receive the charge. The result is burns on the body, and in extreme cases – death. If there is a nearby strike, touching your feet together at the heels can reduce the pathway of the electrical charge and minimize risk. In other words, if your feet are touching, the electricity will go up one foot and down the other. If your feet are not together, the electrical current will travel up through your body and have no easy exit point.

The second most dangerous lightning strike is called a “side flash.” The lightning hits a tall object (like a tree or tall pioneering project) and arcs sideways to objects of less resistance – like people standing nearby. (The lightning does not follow the tall object to the ground.) This kind of strike represents about a third of injuries and fatalities. A very similar danger is called “Upward Leader strikes” and accounts for about 10% of human injuries. In this case, the lightning is attracted to a taller object and then moves to something nearby. That is one reason why safety procedures stress having everyone crouch to get them into approximately the same height.

Lightning will often strike the tallest object in the area.  Do not stand next to a single tall tree during a thunderstorm.

Lightning will often strike the tallest object in the area. Do not stand next to a single tall tree during a thunderstorm.

The least common causes of lightning injuries or fatalities (5-10%) are direct strikes and coming into contact with an object that is transmitting high voltage like a metal fence or electrical wire. (Philmont call this a “touch-volt” strike.) The best way to protect yourself from both is to move to a safer area – preferably before the storm envelops your crew.

You can estimate the distance to a lightning strike by counting the seconds between the lightning flash and the thunder that follows. (One Mississippi, Two Mississippi, etc.) Divide the number of seconds by five (5) and this will be the approximate distance to the actual lightning strikes. Studies have shown that a second strike can occur 6 to 8 miles away from the first strike. Therefore, when the time between the strike and the thunder is less than 40 seconds you could be in danger if the storm is moving towards you. So, if you can hear thunder you might need need to take action quickly. There is no absolutely safe place outside in a thunderstorm, but here are some reasonable safety procedures.

• Separate and, if possible, find cover under clumps of shrubs or trees of uniform height.
• If there is no cover, crouch down with feet and knees together, chest on knees, and hands covering ears. Keep your feet together and touching.
• Always, spread out 25′ to 30′ from each other, but maintain voice contact.
• Stay off ridges and exposed passes. You are typically better off at lower elevations.
• Stay out of broad open areas like meadows or lakes.
• Caves are not safe.
• Avoid single high trees. (Do not set up your tents near them either!)

If you happen to be in a tent when a storm approaches, sit on your foam pad and pull your knees into your chest to create the smallest contact with the ground. If the lightning strikes are very close, cover your ears and close your eyes to reduce potential injury.

It goes without saying, that Scout leaders should be checking the weather forecast to understand the risk of potential thunderstorms in the area they plan to visit. However, it a thunderstorm does come up, play it safe.