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How to Start a Backpacking Program. Feb 7, 2008 (Waupaca) Feb 19, 2008 (Oshkosh). Prepared by Kent Kordsmeier Assistant Scoutmaster, Troop 641, Oshkosh Twin Lakes District, Bay Lakes Council. Presenters, Contact Information. Troop 641 program leaders: Tom Stark Kent Kordsmeier

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how to start a backpacking program

How to Start a Backpacking Program

Feb 7, 2008 (Waupaca)

Feb 19, 2008 (Oshkosh)

Prepared by Kent Kordsmeier

Assistant Scoutmaster, Troop 641, Oshkosh

Twin Lakes District, Bay Lakes Council

presenters contact information
Presenters, Contact Information

Troop 641 program leaders:

Tom Stark Kent Kordsmeier

920-233-1781 (Oshkosh) 920-722-3770 (Neenah)

Troop website:

how to start a backpacking program1
How to Start a Backpacking Program
  • Welcome, Opening Comments
  • Why backpacking?
    • Allows Scouts to experience the integration of many of their outdoor skills: Hiking, map & compass, cooking, camping, first aid, physical fitness, leave-no-trace….”Scouting at Its Best”
    • Keep older Scouts active in troop
    • Set participants up for a lifetime of adventure trips
    • It’s a “cool” activity……to incredible locations:

“…the great outdoor experiences my son has so enjoyed..”

  • What's required for the merit badge:
    • A longer term focus
    • Three 15-mile weekends, one 5-day trip (30 miles)
our qualifications
Our Qualifications?

Tom and Kent have organized and led 12 backpacking trips for Troop 641 since June '03, including:

  • Six week-end locations in Wisconsin
  • Three week-long high adventure trips:
    • The Porkies (MI)
    • Isle Royale (MI)
    • The Rockies (Absoraka-Beartooth Wilderness, MT)
  • Distance total of 277 miles
  • 3,850 person-miles ( 10.2 million steps! )
  • 645 person-days (1.8 years, 1,500 meals)
  • Average group size: 10 Scouts, 4 leaders

Our approach is not the only way, it’s one way

key elements of a successful backpacking program
Key Elements of a Successful Backpacking Program
  • A leader with interest and who knows how to camp
    • Backpacking builds on basic camping skills
    • Ideal: A champion, someone passionate about backpacking
  • A few interested Scouts
    • The rest will come
  • “Hike and Carry” capability
    • Sneak in a 5-mile hike on every weekend campout (some may want to carry a backpack with gear), build map & compass skills
    • Get past mental part of carrying gear, to the enjoyment phase (or at least the “I’m not constantly thinking about my pack” phase)
  • Not necessary: Expensive gear
route options
Route Options
  • Variety of types: one-way, “U”, circle/loop, figure-8, “out-and-back”, combinations
  • Factors: Where you can camp, where you can find water, vehicle shuttles, level of “Safety Net” needed
  • How to finalize? Talk it over with other leader(s) and the Scouts going for ideas, then decide. Older Scouts will have good ideas.
  • Hiking pace to expect:
    • Plan for 1.5 to 2.0 mph including breaks
      • 2.5 to 3.0 mph while moving on good trails
      • 15-20 minutes per hour stopped (water, get back on course, food breaks, bio-breaks)
    • Obviously affected by trail condition, altitude, fitness of slower members of the group (don’t “drop” hikers!)
      • Our “worst ever” pace: 6 hours to cover 3 miles!
the safety net
The “Safety Net”
  • “What if…..”
    • Someone can’t physically make it?
    • Someone gets hurt or sick during the hike?
    • Someone gets lost?
  • Where possible, keep hiking group together
    • If there’s a slow group, make sure one of the leaders is in it with a radio
  • Safety Net options to consider
    • Working cell phones, with an adult on-call
    • An adult or two “base camping” nearby
    • Stage a vehicle along the hiking route
    • Route – Figure 8
    • Try to always have a bail-out option available
  • Safety Net is for emergencies (and not always widely communicated), not Scout options
  • Location(s) and condition of reliable water along route
  • Treatment choices if necessary:
    • Tablets: Quick, cheap, ultralight
    • Filters: Clean taste, but heavier and expensive to buy
    • UV: Light, quick, but not as effective in cloudy water
    • Boil: Requires extra fuel and time
  • Amount per day:
    • Carry 1 or 2 liters while hiking
    • Another liter or two per person per day for cooking and clean-up
  • Always know where you can find water – call site before you leave to confirm locations and status of water
locations to backpack
Locations to Backpack

Some key questions to consider:

  • Are trails available? Marked? What condition are they in?
  • Camp anywhere or only in specified locations? Are camping reservations necessary? Cost?
  • Size of hiking group allowed?
  • Capabilities of group? Start “small”, build confidence
  • How far away is it from home?

Some good places in WI: Kettle Moraine, Black River State Forest, Newport State Park, Hartmann Creek State Park (Ice Age Trail), Ma-Ka-Ja-Wan (fall or spring), Maywood

(Troop 641 has backpacked at the underlined locations)

locations cont
Locations (cont.)

Other states:

  • MI: Porkies, Isle Royale (in Lake Superior)
  • MN: Superior Trail
  • SD: Black Hills
  • CO: Many choices (but watch elevations)
  • MT: Glacier NP, Bob Marshall, Absaroka-Beartooth, many more
  • WY: Wind River, Big Horns, Yellowstone, many more
safety first aid
Safety/First Aid
  • Prepare for trip before it starts - fitness, feet, back, shoulders and hips, make sure pack “works”
    • Follow a training log for high adventure trips (in attachment C)
  • Always use buddy system during trip
  • Storms – lightning, wind, trees falling, hail, snow
  • Cuts/falls/injuries/blisters during trip
  • Health - water, food, hygiene, altitude
    • Make sure everyone drinks enough water while hiking
  • Group safety gear - Weather radio, 2-way radios, GPS (with map), cell phones, bear bells, pepper spray, ACE bandage (1 or 2 per group), map & compass for each person

“With any luck, you’ll only be dealing with blisters!”

planning the trip the who what when where and how stuff
Planning the trip: The "who, what, when, where, and how" stuff
  • Up-to-date handout at weekly meetings to generate interest, manage the details before the trip (real example provided in attachment B)
  • Open to everyone?
    • Weekend trips usually are
    • Week-long trips have been “high adventure”:
      • First Class and 13
      • Successfully completed at least one weekend backpacking trip, and “train”
  • Build participants’ capabilities over time
  • Tour permit, permission slip
  • Gear reviews at a meeting before the trip
    • Especially for groups new to backpacking
    • Hold a weigh-in, have fun with it
  • Cost: Transportation, permits, camping fees
    • Troop 641 uses an economical approach (free locations, personal vehicles): An 11-day trip to the Rockies was $280
    • Food provided by each person going, not included in total
  • Build in realistic time durations: Driving, check-in, set up camp, hiking, free time
  • Always call location a few days before trip starts for updates: Water, trails, parking, forest fire activity
the trip
“The Trip"
  • Map & compass – where are we? Rotate Scouts in front, always discuss current location with everyone during breaks
  • Pace – Assess actual versus plan, discuss with other leaders
  • Try to stay together –
    • Why? Safety in numbers
    • How? Slowest person in front, stop every 15 or 30 minutes (group may “drift apart” between stops)
  • Breaks – once an hour: check feet, pack fit, sweating rate, fluid intake rate
  • Lunch – no-cook if possible (much quicker)
  • Rule for everyone: Stop at all trail intersections, any place where a trail or direction decision is made
  • Radios? One at front, one at back, check in every 30 minutes
  • Miles-per-day factors: fitness level, trail condition, group size, past experiences
  • Your goal is building confidence and capabilities, not just “pushing” every person to the mileage target
personal gear
Personal Gear
  • Hand out a checklist (examples in attachment C), always highlight any unusual items to specifically bring or not bring
  • 10 essential items (Backpacking Merit Badge book) versus optional items
  • Backpacks - borrow for younger Scouts, older Scouts can eventually purchase an inexpensive, full-sized pack ($80-$120)
  • Hiking footwear – “broken in” works, “broken” or “new” doesn't
  • Clothes – avoid cotton where possible, too hard to dry
  • In the beginning, check everyone’s gear at a meeting before the trip (Scouts AND adults)
  • Heaviest items: Pack, tent, sleeping bag, food bag, water
  • For smaller packs, it’s difficult to physically get everything in or on the pack
group gear
Group Gear
  • Tents:
    • The lighter the better, small 2-person tents are popular
    • Try not to “break apart” during hiking, reduce chance of losing parts
  • Stoves:
    • Canister stoves: very light, good at altitude, work well until temp drops to about 10 degF, then they can be “iffy”
    • Liquid fuel stoves: Heavier and less safe, but cheap to operate and they work at any temp
    • Alcohol stoves: 1oz! but watch the wind..
    • Propane stoves: Fuel tanks are too heavy for backpacking
  • Water treatment:
    • No more than 4 people per pump, bring tablets as a back-up
  • Approaches:
    • As a group: not recommended, except during drive to and from backpacking location
    • As individuals: OK for breakfasts, lunches
    • As buddies (especially for dinners) - Recommended
  • Types?
    • Dehydrated for dinners, easy stuff for breakfast and lunch
    • Example list provided (Attachment C)
    • “Add hot water” type is easiest to clean up
    • Try it at home if you’re not sure
  • How much? And cost?
    • About 6 ounces of food per 100 lbs body weight per meal
    • Everyone pays for their own food before the trip
  • Carry in a stuff bag for hanging at night
pack weights
Pack Weights
  • Less is better… duh! You are not car camping!
  • Judge pack weight as a percent of body weight:
    • Scout weighs 100 lbs, pack weighs 25 lbs, Scout’s pack is at 25%
    • Some books talk about “base weight”: without food or water
  • Person of average fitness should aim for no more than 25 to 30%
  • Older Scouts who are in shape: up to 1/3 of their body weight is fine
    • Reminder: If younger Scouts discover on trail they can’t carry all their gear, older Scouts usually take it
  • “Weigh-In” at final meeting before the trip (Chart for recording weights is in attachment C)
  • If you really get into this, you will weigh everything
  • Watch-outs:
    • Too much stuff (especially clothes), sometimes by parents “just in case”
    • Confusion between required gear and optional gear
    • Ultralight craze – have fun, but be prepared
  • Boy Scout Handbook, Fieldbook - checklists for gear, treatment for blisters, map & compass
  • Backpacking merit badge book
  • Backpacker magazine, many books
  • Internet – use Google to find information, places to backpack, trail maps, trail reviews, gear info and deals:
  • Google Earth (free download) – “See” the area you're going to backpack. You can zoom/tilt/rotate the view. Especially helpful if you're headed out west.
  • Older/former Scouts - borrow backpacks from them
  • Last but not least: Other Scout leaders
be prepared
Be Prepared….

“A chain is only as strong as its weakest link…”

At the risk of stating the obvious, good planning and preparation by the Scouts, parents, and trip leaders will all contribute to the satisfaction of those attending and improve the probability of having a successful troop outing. This includes training hikes.

Little or no preparation by one or two attendees can lead to a difficult time not only for those individuals, but the entire group as well. There’s nowhere to “hide” when backpacking! (applies to Scouts AND adults)

Note: Most backpacking books reference the Boy Scout “Be Prepared” motto!

closing comments
Closing Comments
  • Your leaders will also enjoy these outings, ours do!
  • As older Scouts want to upgrade their gear to “ultralight”, have them focus on tent, pack, sleeping bag, and stove first. These are the heaviest items. Don’t compromise safety for a lighter pack.
  • It’s not just about the miles. What’s more important: Build confidence and capabilities. Work your way up to the “big trips”.
  • Don't underestimate how tough Scouts can be, even 11-year olds! Peer pressure can be a wonderful thing.
  • Three phases.. 1: Orientation, 2: Develop skills/competencies/ confidence, 3: Week-long adventures

All of this info, including handouts, is available electronically upon request to ‘’


B. Example planning document/meeting handout

  • Generate interest at weekly meetings
  • Document who’s signed up and details for those going (and parents)

C. Overview for parents of new Scouts and trip leaders new to backpacking

  • Backpacking Food and Menu Ideas
  • Gear Checklists (one includes weights)