Tag Archives: philmont

WG22 – Selecting Your Itinerary (Part 1)


In March each crew’s Lead Advisor will receive an Advisor’s Orientation Package directly from Philmont.  Among other things, the package will include the TREKS Itinerary Guide (one per crew) and Guidebook to Adventure (one for each crew member).  These books will contain detailed descriptions of the programs available and trek itineraries for this summer.  All crew members should carefully read their personal copy of the outstanding and fun Guidebook to Adventure cover to cover – it is jam-packed with information.  In fact, so much that you will gain valuable insights each time you read it.  It is recommended that you re-read it several times in the coming months.

Also, this package (or a separate mailing) will include instructions for the on-line trek selection process, which will be reviewed at the March Briefing.  The youth members of your crew must select their top five itinerary choices (routes and the programs available on them) for their Philmont adventure.  With that information, you should promptly log on to the Philmont Web site when the trek selection process opens and submit their choices.  Approximately 85% of crews receive either their first or second choice.  Since it is easy to select two or three similar itineraries, most crews get exactly what they want.

The other 15%, in many cases, neglect to respond to Philmont with their selections in a timely manner.  So take your time but don’t delay.  Before the package arrives, draw on the knowledge gained studying the trek planning materials presented at the January briefing to help your crew make choices which fit their skill and fitness level, their program interest, and geographic interest.  When it arrives, study the new Philmont material carefully, particularly for changes from last year (Philmont’s new partnership with the Chase Ranch Foundation last year and recent purchase of the adjoining Cimmaroncita Camp will mean changes to 2015 itineraries).  Give your Scouts an opportunity to study the material.  Brief the crew on the available choices.  Then promptly log-on and submit your crew’s choices.  Philmont will respond via e-mail with your assigned itinerary.

In addition to submitting your itinerary choices, Philmont will request information concerning your travel “to and from” Philmont.  This must be filled out and submitted.  The information required will be discussed at the March Briefing.

Important Note:  Advisors, you should coach your crew and provide all the assistance they might need, including your point of view.  But in the end the Scouts make the final selections.


70 Opportunities:  There are 35 different Philmont itineraries.  Each itinerary is designed to accommodate two crews per day, for a total of 70 opportunities each day.  Approximately 30 crews leave Base Camp for the trail each day.  Each of our expeditions will make up four of those crews.  So about 30 crews are selecting from 70 opportunities, and 3 of the other crews competing with yours are sitting in the room at our Watchu briefings.


What a Great View!:  For a 360 degree panorama of Philmont from the Tooth of Time, check out http://www.troop116.org/philmont/phl03_0325p.htm.  It starts out facing west.


Got a Question?  You probably will find the answer in the “Frequently Asked Questions” (FAQs) pages of the Watchu Experience Web site (www.watchu.org).  In fact, it is worth reviewing them even if you don’t have a question at the moment – there may be an answer there to a question you haven’t even thought of yet!  If you have a question for which you can’t find the answer on the Web site, send it to ChiefWatchu@watchu.org for a quick response.  Do appreciate the answer may be in a coming Watchu Gram – the topics of the messages are arranged to provide information just before you need it.  Organizing your crew is the next topic after trek selection.


Phil Fact:  “Chope” Phillips is the son of Waite Phillips and a present member of the Philmont Ranch Committee.  His long history with the ranch includes leading the party to the site of the B-24 Liberator bomber crash on Trail Peak in 1942.


Happy trails – or rather I should say, happy itineraries,

Elliott “Chope” Phillips
Valmora New Mexico

WG21 – It’s Not Just a Hike


Why do Scouts and Scouters develop such a strong bond with Philmont?  Just talk with anyone who has hiked the Philmont trails and you will find Philmont has been a “life-altering experience,” one they take with them for the rest of their lives.  It changes the way we think about ourselves.  What is this bond all about?  Be assured, a Philmont trek is not “just a hike.”

Yes, no matter the trek itinerary you choose, it will be physically difficult.  Certainly that is part of it.  And no matter which itinerary you choose, it will be a visually beautiful experience … never to be forgotten wild life, mountains, valleys, vistas, backcountry streams, and meadows.  Certainly that is part of it.  But the Philmont experience is much more.

What makes the Philmont experience unique is the backcountry program.  It is based on the spirit and environment created by nature and the people who populated the Cimarron country in days long ago.  Scouts have the opportunity to go back in time and experience blacksmithing, gold mining, rock climbing, mountain men rendezvous, western lore, railroading, mountain livin’, black powder shooting, logging operations, Anglo homesteading, Native American life, Hispanic homesteading, fishing, mountain biking, wilderness medicine, historic campfires and much more.  As your crew hikes the backcountry from camp to camp you will find yourself part of another time – northern New Mexico and the Old West in the 1800s.  The experience is spiritual, physical, emotional, and one-of-a-kind.

But there is a rub.  The youth members of your crew will have the opportunity to choose one of some 35 backcountry itineraries.  The more aggressive the itinerary selected, the less opportunity for program.  If the crew selects a trek that requires hiking from sunup to sundown, there will be little time for program.  Besides, your crew will be so physically spent most will have little interest in anything other than a good meal and early bed once they get to camp.

So how does this work?  Philmont will provide a detailed description of the 35 or so possible itineraries in material that will be mailed to each crew’s Lead Advisor in March.  The degree of difficulty, available program, schedule, and hiking plan for each trek itinerary will be clearly specified.

The agenda for the January Briefing includes Selecting a Great Trek,” using information about last year’s itineraries.  This material will give your crew a good idea of what to expect.  Before making final plans, wait for the current version of the material to arrive – every year there are changes made to what is available.  We will have more to say about trek selection in future Watchu Grams and at the March Advisor Briefing.  Don’t worry, we will be there to counsel and coach you and your crew on appropriate choices should you need some extra help.  Remember, in the end, the youth make the choice – not the advisors.  And that “there are no bad treks!”

Begin coaching your crew now using the material in these messages and on the Watchu Experience Web site, www.watchu.org.  Help them understand that Philmont is more than “just a hike.”  It is about team work, physical struggle, nature at its best, fantastic fun, and especially exciting backcountry program.  Stress the need to select an itinerary with a “crew appropriate” balance between “available program” and “degree of difficulty”.  A general rule: first time trekkers should opt for lots of program (low-numbered itineraries).  The most strenuous treks (itineraries with high numbers) are better suited to crews of older Scouts, 16- or 17-years old, especially ones who have previous Philmont experience.


Days to Departure:  Have you noticed the “countdown box” on the Watchu Web site Home page?  There are now well under 200 days to departure for all PPC expeditions!


Philmont Medical Forms – Philmont uses all four parts of the National BSA Annual Health and Medial Record, which was recently completely revised – the new form is in both English and Spanish and so is easily identified as the most current.  The Medical Form is on-line on the Quick Links and other pages of the Watchu Experience Web site.   Also, in the lower right hand corner of the Camping and Operations page of Philmont’s Web site (http://philmontscoutranch.org/Camping.aspx) are links to the forms on the National BSA Web site.  The on-line PDF can be completed and printed, but not saved – make sure you have all the information needed before starting.  Please have at least one advisor from your crew print a copy of the Medical Form Tips (even if it is not updated to the new version) and bring it to the Briefing for reference during the discussion of the form.


Expedition Openings: Philmont has instituted a recognition process for all crews with 12 members.  We expect all our crews to qualify for this recognition.  If you don’t have a full crew of 12, set the entire crew into recruiting mode.  It’s not too late to get your crew up to Philmont size.  Philmont crews of 12 work best – guaranteed.  Even if your crew is full, at present there are expedition openings which can be filled by either youth or adults.  Every unused crew slot costs each contingent member, as many costs are fixed and are divided by the actual number of participants.  And an unfortunate fact is that we know there will be additional openings as the days of departure draw nearer.  Let’s not let these precious allocations go unfilled.  Share the adventure by inviting others to a part of it.


Reminder:  The January Advisor Briefing is the time to return the Watchu Mountain Outfitters Crew Kit (sample products) you received in September.  It also is the deadline to turn in your Order Form to make sure you and your crew members get the gear you want, as well as to qualify for the Hikers Dozen discount (buy 11, get 1 free) on any item.  Note that the crew kit must be returned in order to redeem your validated Wilderness First Aid coupons.


Briefing Tip:  Save a couple minutes by downloading a Watchu Name Plates for Advisors Form and bringing the completed form with you to the January briefing.


New Mexico statehood – January 6, is the anniversary of New Mexico being admitted to the Union as the 47th state in 1912.  With Arizona the following month, the conversion of territories within the continental United States to states was complete.


Phil Fact:  Originally built as a brewery in 1854, in 1875 Henry Schwenk acquired the property across the street from Lambert’s Inn (now the St. James Hotel) in Cimarron and opened a competing establishment.


For life and opportunity!

Henry Schwenk
Schwenk’s Gambling House and Saloon, Cimarron, New Mexico Territory

WG20 – Happy New Year

The old year is fading and the year of your great Rocky Mountain adventure is fast approaching.  Check out our Watchu advance team jumping off a week or so ago from Beaubien (elevation 9,360 feet), high above Base Camp.  Our backcountry explorers are on their way to New Jersey and we expect them to arrive in plenty of time for the January 7th briefing.  For now the entire Watchu Team sends you a big “Howdy!” and an enthusiastic western

Happy New Year!


WG19 – It’s Holiday Time

Now is the time for each crew member to be working on the “Four Expensive Essentials“– boots, rain gear, sleeping bag, and backpack.  These items make outstanding holiday gifts.  Your crew needs to be prepared for the exciting months of camping and backpacking adventures ahead.  Remind your crew member families to check page 17 of their Crew Member Guide, or on-line with the quick link at our Watchu Experience Web site, www.watchu.org.  With a Quick Link you can also access “Personal Gear Tips,” a discussion of features to consider when looking for the gear on the Philmont Personal Gear Equipment List.


Watchu Mountain Outfitters Order Form:  While delivery will not be until after the holidays, it is also time to review the Watchu Mountain Outfitters “Order Form.”  The form provides an opportunity to order high quality expedition and backpacking items.  Return the form no later than the evening of the January Advisor Briefing to qualify for the Hikers’ Dozen discount when ordering 12 of any one item, as well as to guarantee that you get the items and sizes you want – delivery will be at the Briefing in March.

Expedition T-Shirts:  Everyone needs a few extra T-shirts – why not order one or two extra Watchu/Philmont T-shirts?  The Base Camp T-shirts are a material blend and color which works great at Philmont.  They look super and can be worn throughout your stay at the Ranch.  In Base Camp and along the trail your crew will look sharp and be the talk of the ranch.  Or hit the trail with the Watchu Mountain Outfitters’ moisture wicking polyester T-shirts – it is great both for use in the backcountry at Philmont and while whitewater rafting in Colorado.

Watchu Mountain Outfitters Hats:  As discussed in a prior Watchu Gram, everyone needs a hat.  The new lightweight backcountry booney hat is the answer to requests of former crews and is sure to be a big hit – especially with the Watchu Mountain Outfitters “Hikers’ Dozen” special highlighted on the Watchu Trading Post page of the Web site.  If the booney is not for you, maybe the Base Camp baseball cap will do the trick.  Both include special Watchu/Philmont graphics, including the Watchu Mountain Outfitters logo.  After receiving the hats many crews have added special graphics highlighting their crew.  Turn the design into a crew project.

Council Expedition Patch:  A prior Watchu Gram described our historic Watchu/Philmont council shoulder patch.  Most crew members order a few extra for trading and collecting – you can choose either the one for the current year or ones from prior year expeditions.

Return to the Summit of Scouting by Bill Cass:  Bill writes of his three summers on staff, and of his return years later with his son on a trek.  He will further whet your appetite for your adventure next summer.  Copies of this book are in stock at the Council office – contact Debbie Wickham to get your copy.

Click the “Trading PostQuick Link on the Web site (www.watchu.org) to check out the above items and other merchandise available from the Watchu Mountain Outfitters, like the popular headlamp, bandanas, or zipper pull thermometer.  Note the sharp looking Patriots’ Path crew on the Trading Post page celebrating the completion of their Philmont trek at the Cimarron Art Gallery.  That will be you in a few months!


Phil Fact:  From the Philmont Program Handbook, 1952 – “Elk, one of the largest and most magnificent of North American big game animals, were exterminated in the wild state in New Mexico in about the year 1900.  They made their final stand in the Sacramento Mountains near Philmont.  Elk have been reintroduced in the state and are becoming reestablished in several localities, including the Cimarron area.”

Watchu comment:  Elk are now well-established at Philmont.  The 2002 Patriot’s Path Autumn Adventure crew saw a herd of more than fifty in the meadow at Apache Springs.


Purple mountains rise above Ewells Park camp,

Captain Richard Ewell
Rayado Military Post, Maxwell Land Grant, New Mexico Territory
Officer Corps, United States Army Western Expeditionary Group

WG18 – Happy Thanksgiving

Howdy, Pardners!

Hope you can view our holiday greeting from the top of Philmont.  Yes sir, that’s the famous Watchu explorer, Mountain Man Rich, on top of Baldy Mountain.  He took a quick trip down to the Taos Rendezvous in September to trade fur pelts for some jerky and other supplies.  Ya know, gotta get ready for the Watchu Mountain Adventure in May and Philmont a few weeks later.  Thought you might like to see what old Philmont looks like in the fall.


Phil Fact:  Several of photographer Ansel Adams’ most famous pictures were taken at Philmont and around Cimarron.  The October 1962 edition of Boys Life  magazine included a series of his shots from the ranch.


The view from Visto Grande is pretty as a picture!

Ansel Adams
San Francisco, California

WG15 – Stoves and Fuel

By far, the stoves of choice for Philmont crews are the Coleman Exponent Feather and the MSR Whisperlite.  They are inexpensive, reliable, reasonably light, efficient, rugged, safe, and above all SCOUT FRIENDLY.  The Feather 442 is a top choice of many.  Even though it is a dual-fuel stove, most only use it with Coleman fuel (also known as “white gas.”)  It has an attached tank which carries about 11 ounces of fuel.  The MSR Whisperlite has a detached fuel tank with a pump inserted into it.  These two types are demonstrated in the Stoves and Fuel video in the Equipment section on the Training Videos page of the Watchu Experience Web site (www.watchu.org).  You are free to choose whatever stove works best for your crew.  See the Equipment section on the Favorite Links page for retailers that carry a wide range of backpacking stoves.

You will need two stoves, two stove stuff sacks, a funnel with a filter, a repair kit, fuel bottles, and a total of about 65 ounces of fuel capacity if using white gas.  With the Coleman, that would be two 22-ounce fuel bottles in addition to the tanks on the stoves.  For stoves like the Whisperlite, that would be three 22-ounce fuel bottles.  You will purchase the fuel at Philmont.  Since you will have an opportunity to pick up fuel on the trail every three or four days, you will find 65 ounces is plenty, provided you are careful with fuel consumption.  Never let the stoves burn unattended or when not in use, and at each fuel station re-fill your fuel containers.  All Philmont backcountry Trading Posts carry white gas and varieties of isobutane/propane fuel canisters.  However, since the availability of fuels other than white gas can be limited and empty fuel containers must be carried to the end of the trek (note this may be changing, staff camps were accepting empty canisters in the summer of 2014), stoves using fuels other than white gas are not recommended.

The Coleman and MSR stoves are easy to keep in top-notch condition and easy to repair.  Take two of the same type of stove so you only need learn how to maintain one and only need to carry one repair kit.  It is a good idea to select a Scout and an advisor to learn the “ins and outs” of stove maintenance and repair.  In addition, since these stoves are so common at Philmont, there will be plenty of experts, including staff, around to help in the event you have a problem you can’t fix.  Some crews carry an extra stove in case of emergency, but many do not.  In an emergency, while waiting at most a day or two to get help, one stove is adequate.  And such an emergency will be very rare indeed.

If you feel you must carry a backup stove, a good choice is the Coleman Apex ll, the MSR Whisperlite, or a similar one of another brand.  Since these stoves do not have an attached fuel tank, the only extra weight is the light-weight stove itself without a fuel container.


Advisor Question:  Our Venturing Crew’s uniform is not the National recommended green uniform shirt and charcoal pants.  Must we purchase an “official” uniform just for travel with the Patriots’ Path Philmont contingent?

Answer:  No, it is not necessary for a Venturing crew that does not use the green shirt and charcoal pants uniform to purchase an official uniform “just” for travel (or for use during the Watchu Mountain Adventure).  However, your Venturing crew must be uniformed – all crew members wearing identical clothes.  Creating a Philmont uniform for your Venturing crew is an option – for instance a crew-designed golf shirt with Venturing Switchback pants.


Watchu Experience Web site:  Yes, there is a tremendous amount of information posted on the Watchu Experience Web site (www.watchu.org), and we know that it is not always easy to find what you are looking for (even Chief Watchu can’t always remember where things are!).  Quick Links is great for the most frequently accessed items, but check out the Site Map page, especially the Alphabetical section – if you know what you are looking for, you should be able to go directly to it.  Feedback encouraged! – if what you are looking for is not listed, we want to know about it.


Contingent / Crew Number:  Even if your entire crew is from one unit, you should be referring to your crew by your Philmont contingent / crew number – the date of your arrival at Philmont followed by an assigned letter and a number 1 through 4 – not your unit number.  Your crew number is used to identify your crew for all Watchu and Philmont administrative purposes.  For 2015, Patriots’ Path’s contingents are 628R, 630L, 712L, 714U, and 716O (yes, that last character is a confusing “o”, not a zero…).  If you do not know your correct crew number, please contact Debbie Wickham.


Phil Fact:  Henri (later Henry) Lambert, a native of Bordeaux, France, was a chef for both General Ulysses S. Grant and President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War before heading west in 1863.  He moved to Cimarron in 1872 and built the Lambert’s Inn, a saloon that by 1880 evolved into the St. James Hotel.  The establishment had a violent reputation – it is said 26 men were shot and killed inside.  Reportedly it hosts a number of ghosts, including Henry’s second wife, Elizabeth.  The spiritual activity of the hotel has been featured on the popular television shows Unsolved Mysteries and A Current Affair.  In 2009 the St. James underwent an extensive renovation to restore the interior to its historical roots, as well as to add spectacular spaces like the new outdoor patio.


I want to wake up in the morning at Lamberts Mine camp!

Henry Lambert
Lambert’s Inn (now the St. James Hotel), Cimarron, New Mexico Territory

WG14 – Tents

From the Philmont Guidebook to Adventure: “Philmont issues the BSA Philmont Backpacker tent.  If you bring your own tent it must be a 2-person tent.  Philmont will allow a single person tent in the event of an odd numbered crew.  No bivy sacks.”  Take a look at the Philmont Tents video in the Equipment section on the Training Videos page of the Watchu Experience Web site (www.watchu.org) to see what the Philmont-issued tent looks like and how to set it up.  In 2012 Philmont introduced a new free-standing style tent that is being phased in as the former tents that rely on guy-lines are retired.

The Watchu-recommended crew consists of an odd number of youth (9) and an odd number of advisors (3).  In some crews there will be a need for two single person tents since youth and advisors (except for parents and their children) cannot tent together.

Approximately 3 pounds per person is the current “state of the art” target for allocated tent weight.  Keeping this in mind, check out the many single-person tent possibilities at retailers such as those listed in the Equipment section on the Favorite Links page of the Watchu Experience Web site.

A less desirable solution is to use a four-person tent to sleep three.  This is not recommended and only permitted for the odd advisor and/or odd Scout.  This solution results in three adults in one tent and/or three youth members in another.  A four-person tent weighing 9 or 10 pounds hits the weight target and allows adequate room for three crew members.  Again, check the many possibilities at the links cited above.


Breaking news from Philmont:  Friday’s Sangre de Christo Chronicle reported that Philmont will be purchasing the adjoining 2,678 acre Cimarroncita Ranch Retreat and expects to use it for camping operations as soon as next summer.  Click here to read the entire article.


Phil Fact:  George Webster owned the 70,000-acre Urraca Ranch from 1910 until selling it to Waite Phillips in 1922.  He first built a cabin where the Agua Fria Creek joins the Rayado, the spot where Phillips later built his Rayado Lodge and other buildings (today’s Fish Camp).


The eagles do soar high over Webster Lake!

George Webster
Urraca Ranch, Rayado, New Mexico

WG12 – Philmont in the Rain

All crews must be prepared for tough weather in the New Mexico Mountains.  Normally in June or July at Philmont you can expect to be exposed to rain almost every day.  In the lowlands this may come as a mid-afternoon shower lasting a half hour or less.  In the high mountains you can expect at least one explosive lightning, thunder, cold rain, and/or hailstorm event during your trek.  Often more!

If prepared for these possibilities they become an exciting part of the crew’s Philmont experience.  Knowing how to take care of yourself and the crew is very important and a big confidence builder.  Aside from the safety issues, your crew will come to enjoy these welcome breaks from the searing sun.

So what do you need to know?  The most important thing to know is that ponchos will NOT do.  You must have a good, full rain suit, with both a jacket and pants.  These items are your best protection against hypothermia.  Unfortunately, hypothermia is not unusual at Philmont – the high mountain heavy rains accompanied by a fast drop in temperature have caused many a case and it is one of the top reasons crew members are taken off the trail.  So everyone needs a rain suit and to put them on at the first sign of rain.  In the mountains, you can go from lots of sun and no rain to a downpour and lots of cold in a matter of minutes.

If the rain comes hard and long, many crews will take a break and sit it out.  You may see some crews break out their tarp and all gather under it to avoid the rain.  This absolutely is NOT the thing to do if you can hear any thunder.  A surprise flash of lightning is the real danger.  So if you hear thunder, the safest thing and recommended procedure is to separate and wait the rain and thunder out.  The crew MUST reduce its exposure to lightning.  It is very important to get away from mountain peaks, ridgelines, open areas, single trees, bear bag cables, aluminum pack frame, aluminum tent poles, and similar danger zones.  All crew members must separate by at least 5 to 10 yards and “hunker down” with feet together.  This process reduces the likelihood you will become a conductor of electricity.

The “hunker down” position is not comfortable but definitely is the way to go.  Some years ago serious injury occurred when a crew was attempting to hang their bear bags on the bear cable in the rain.  Don’t do it.  Don’t even think about it.  Hunker down and wait for the rain and the danger of lightning to pass.

Check out the Watchu Experience Web site’s Lightning Safety page, including a photo of someone demonstrating the “hunker down” position, and the St. Barnabas Burn Foundation’s “Avoiding a Bolt From the Blue” video.  Both links are on the Training tab of the Crew Development page of the Watchu Experience Web site.  We highly recommend these important resources to all – please take time to review them with the other members of your crew.  In addition, there will be a lightning safety exercise during your hike on the Trail of Discovery at the Watchu Mountain Adventure in May.

So pray for rain on your next crew training campout.  It is much easier to convince a crew to properly prepare if they spend a weekend hiking and camping together in the rain.  But there is not much you can do to make it rain except hope it happens, so rain or shine, you MUST work with the crew to get the “rain and lightning” essentials across.  When you get to Philmont, check with your Ranger for the latest research and information.  Do what your Ranger tells you.  They will know the latest and best approach.


Tip:  Always put your rain suit on at the first sign of rain.  But just as important, take your rain suit off as soon as the rain stops to prevent overheating.


Bonus Tip:  Test your rain suit by putting it on and standing under the running water of your shower or a lawn sprinkler!


Reminder:  A Philmont requirement is that at least one adult who has completed BSA’s Weather Hazard Training must be with the crew at all times in the backcountry.  The Watchu recommendation is that all advisors complete this valuable training, which includes a very good coverage of lightning.


For raiment,

Melaquias Epinosa
Philmont Ranch, Cimarron, New Mexico

WG13 – Backpacks

For a Philmont trek you need a rugged backpack with plenty of capacity for carrying your personal gear as well as food, water and your share of the crew gear. Good packs weighing about 5 pounds or less are available for approximately $100. When selecting a backpack, weight of the backpack itself is very important and often overlooked. Also, you need lots of capacity – about 4,000 cubic inches for external frame packs and 5,000 cubic inches for internal frame packs. The difference takes into account external frame packs have the capability of adding considerable volume by attaching items to the frame, while almost everything will be inside an internal frame pack. Some packs have inside compartments for sorting your gear. Others have none. There might be exterior pockets for stowing water bottles, a map and compass, a first-aid kit, or other items you’ll want in a hurry. Think about how you like to organize the contents of a pack, then choose one which has pockets that match your needs.

The choice of external or internal frame is yours – either is suitable for Philmont. An external frame pack is terrific for most backpacking, especially on open trails. In hot weather, air movement between the pack and your back can help you keep cool. An internal frame pack features a frame structure stitched inside the fabric bag. The pack will ride closer to your back for better balance while cross-country skiing, scrambling on mountains, and traveling over rough ground.

You wouldn’t buy hiking boots without trying them on – that’s also good advice when shopping for packs. Make sure you get a pack that fits you. Hoist the backpacks of other Scouts during troop hikes and campouts, and notice how each pack feels. If you’re borrowing one, get it from someone your size. At the store, put weight in the packs that interest you (clerks might allow you to use rolled up tents for ballast), then swing each onto your shoulders and tighten the hip belt. The right pack should rest easily on your hips. Backpacks maybe should really be called “hippacks”, because that’s where the weight belongs.

Once you’ve selected a backpack, have an experienced backpacker help you adjust the myriad straps and buckles until it feels right. Any backpack you consider should have a padded waist belt. If you’re thin, a more heavily padded hip belt helps, too. When you put the pack on, be sure to shift it up high enough so that all the weight is on your hips, not your back and shoulders. The shoulder straps are to hold the pack tight to your body, not to carry the weight. Each time you put the pack on, you should tighten the straps, in order – hip belt, shoulder straps, hip adjusters (on the hip belt), load levelers (if present, on the shoulder straps), sternum strap. When it comes time to take off the pack, first loosen the straps in the reverse order of tightening them and then remove the pack from your back. The process of adjusting the straps each time you put it on will assure that the pack will be comfortable on your back.

Check out the videos on the Equipment tab of the Training Videos page of the Watchu Experience Web site (www.watchu.org) to see the differences between internal and external frame backpacks, pointers on how to pack either type of backpack, and how to safely get a pack on and off of your back.


Tip: Philmont rents very good external frame packs for about $20. If you don’t have one that is large enough and don’t care to buy another pack, consider borrowing one from a friend for training and then renting one when you get to Philmont.


Phil Fact: Charles Springer owned the Eagle Nest Reservoir west of Philmont until selling it in 2005 to the state of New Mexico.


With my pack sack a creakin’ (from the Philmont Ranger Song)

Charles Springer
CS Cattle Company, Springer, New Mexico

WG11 – Staying Warm in a Sleeping Bag

While the temperature rating of a sleeping bag is important, it is just as important to do the things that will keep you warmer in whatever bag you have.  Mike Conkey, a Northern Tier OKPIK winter camping instructor, suggests the following.

  1. Stay dry – complete dryness. Before you go to bed, change into dry sleeping clothes reserved for use in your tent and bag only.  Air your bag out whenever possible to remove any moisture.  The best policy here is to follow the Philmont “sleeping clothes” requirement.  This requirement will be explained in detail at the Watchu Mountain Adventure.
  1. Make sure you have a stocking cap available in your sleeping bag. The biggest heat loser is your head.  The first thing someone who is “cold” should do is to put their cap on.
  1. Don’t pull your sleeping bag over your head and breathe inside. You can easily exhale a pint of water into your sleeping bag during the night.  This creates dampness and spoils point #1, complete dryness.  A related issue is to make sure your tent is adequately vented.  If your tent is not vented, exhaled water can condense on the tent and drip onto you and your sleeping bag.
  1. Stay hydrated. Your body needs water and fuel (food) to generate heat.  On a cool night, a light snack and long drink of water before bed will help you stay warm.  A long drink of warm or hot water would be even better.  On those cold high mountain nights, fire up the stove; get everyone to have a hot drink before they head to bed.  It will pay dividends on those chilly nights.
  1. Always use a ground pad. The ground is cold and lying directly on it leads to heat being wicked out of your body.  The thickness of the pad is a comfort issue – a half-inch thick closed-cell foam pad will insulate you from the ground.
  1. Know your own physiology. If you chill easily, then plan for that.  If you don’t easily chill, then less preparation is necessary.  Socks, long underwear, or a sleeping bag liner are all ways to “lower” the temperature rating of your bag.

The Watchu recommendation for Philmont is a good synthetic bag with a temperature rating of 25 degrees and weighing less than 3 pounds.  Down bags should only be used by the very experienced backpacker who understands the limitations of down.  Also recognize that temperature ratings are not absolute – they are best used to compare bags from the same maker.  A 30-degree bag from one maker may be warmer than a 20-degree bag from another.

Point is, many factors, of which the bag’s temperature rating is but one, must be considered in choosing the right bag for you.  Google “sleeping bag ratings” for endless insights and opinions.  Check http://www.slackpacker.com/sleepingbag.html for a synopsis.


Phil Fact:  Guadalupe Miranda was a merchant and trader in Santa Fe and Taos, though surprisingly little records exist of his business activities.  He and Canadian Charles (Carlos) Beaubien were granted ownership of the Beaubien-Miranda Mexican Land Grant in 1841.  He returned to his hometown of Juarez after the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the Mexican American War, became alcade (mayor), and eventually sold his interest in the Land Grant to Beaubien’s son-in-law, Lucien Maxwell.

Miranda Camp in Philmont’s North country offers a spectacular view of Baldy Mountain looking up Miranda meadow.  Programs there include Black Powder Rifle, Mountain Man Rendezvous (tomahawk throwing!), a cabin tour, and either picking up or dropping off burros for Burro Packing.


The skies are starlit above the meadow at Miranda camp,

Guadalupe Miranda
Santa Fe, Mexico