Starting to Build a Team

Well, we did it.  Our first practice hike is in the books.  The plan was to get the boys out for a weekend hike and make sure all of their equipment fit, worked and was everything they needed to support them while at Philmont.  We also began to talk about what they don’t need and what percentage of their packs should be dedicated to Crew Gear, food and water.  Showing up with a full pack when it is only your personnel gear doesn’t leave a lot of room for the rest of the Crew’s needs.

I handed each boy a notebook and asked them to write down a list of all of the gear in their packs.  More importantly, I asked them to put a check next to all of the gear that they used during the hiking trip.  We are starting to build a list of the gear we need and use and will hopefully shed the gear that we don’t use.  This process will continue throughout the rest of our practice hikes and will (hopefully) eventually lead to lighter and more efficient packs.  We all realize that there is certain pieces of equipment that we will always have with us that hopefully we never need to use (e.g., first aid kit, rain gear), however, the gear lists will sort out the extra shirts, fleece, and other personnel gear that will not be needed.

Another part of this training was to get the boys used to carrying everything on their backs and being completely responsible for all of their own gear.  During routine weekend scouting camping trip the boys are always responsible for all of their own gear.  The main difference with these hiking trips is that the entire campsite is packed up and moved every day.  Organization, packing and repacking are very important when you need to find and use the cooking or cleaning or sleeping gear in different campsites each day.  Finally, I wanted the boys to begin to understand the amount of time that is needed to set up camp, prepare meals, break down camp, and move to the next campsite, each and every day.  The lesson wasn’t to rush to get to the next place or event, because I want the boys to live by the motto:  “It’s about the journey, not the destination.”  However, at the end of the journey, you need to have time to enjoy the destination (and set up the campsite, eat and clean-up).

All of my preparation for the weekend was focused on the mechanical.  I wanted to make sure the boy’s new gear was working for them.  Was it comfortable?  Did it fit?  Did they know how to use it?  Could they make it through the weekend dry, safe and comfortable?  I know that these seem like very basic expectations for a group of boys that are heading to Philmont this summer, but for some of these boys, this would be there first backpacking trip and most of their gear still had the tags on it.

What my preparation didn’t account for was the progress we made at becoming a Crew.  The boys started the weekend separately but very quickly became a team, a Crew.  It was a completely different dynamic then a normal Troop camping weekend.  The boys interacted differently, worked together better and really seemed to understand that they all needed each other to fully enjoy the experience.  I wasn’t expecting that from the boys, and was very pleasantly surprised.  Let me say that I wasn’t expecting complete anarchy either.  This group of boys are GREAT Scouts, very good leaders, and very responsible.  That being said, the progress they made as a team greatly exceeded my expectations.  I was very proud of them.  Don’t get me wrong, we all have a lot of work to do during the next few months, but their hearts and minds are in the right spot, and I can’t wait to see the progress.

One story sums up the growth that these boys made this weekend.  At one point during our hike we came up to a stream with no way across (without getting wet).  As the boys were discussing what to do next there were many different opinions.  The air (and water) were cold and the water was about 30 feet across and about two feet deep in the middle.  After much debate and discussion, the plan was to cross the stream.  (Just to make it clear, initially I was on the turn around and find another way side of the argument.)  The decision was made to cross and some of the boys were really nervous about crossing.  As a team we discussed the pro’s and con’s and eventually the Crew began crossing.  We went through the safety rules associated with a stream crossing and one by one we crossed.  In the end we all made it across safely and dry.  Even the boys that didn’t initially want to cross (including myself) had a great time crossing the stream.  This minor adversity became the best team building activity we could have hoped for.  We will all tell the story of crossing that stream…..

That’s all for now.  I know we have a lot to learn as a Crew to get ready for our adventure this summer, but we are well on our way after just one time together.

During the weekend, I discovered a few things about my own gear choices.  More of that to come…..


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New Parent Meeting 2011

Do you want to be overwhelmed?  Join a Boy Scout Troop….  But wait, I know, you have been a Cub Scout for five years, you know how this Scouting thing works.  Don’t you? 

Every year we are very lucky at Troop 945, in Damascus.  We get to include several new Scouts into our Troop.  The older boys call them Newbies, only because that is what they were called when they were new.  They arrive with big eyes, mostly excited to “hang out” with all of the older boys.

The issue is that we are a fast-moving bunch.  A lot goes on in a Troop of 60 boys and all of the existing members of the Troop understand the flow and activities that are ongoing.  When my son bridged over, I was in the same boat.  I was a veteran Webelos Leader.  I understood exactly how Scouting worked…….. Wait a minute?  Why is there a 14-year-old boy up in front of the Troop meeting?  Who is the adult in charge?  What do you mean, we are camping next weekend, how and where do we meet for that?  What do you mean mulch day is tomorrow?  13,000 bags to deliver?????  The list of questions goes on and on…..

With all of these questions going on in my head, my son was blissfully unaware.  He was enjoying the Troop meeting, he signed up to go camping, he was ready to deliver mulch.  He was fully integrated into the Troop.  It took five minutes for him.  But who would answer my questions?

Of course, all my questions were eventually answered and here I am four years later, presenting all of that information at this years new parents meeting.  This year I put together the Troop 945 New Parent Meeting Slides to provide the new parents with all of the information I think they will need. 

The meeting is tonight and I hope I can answer all of the parents questions.  As for the Newbies, they helped deliver 15,752 bags of mulch this past weekend and can’t wait to go on their first camping trip.


Filed under #100daysofscouting, logistics, training

Paying Attention To The Details: Have you ever heard of Philmont?

As I begin the preparation for out trek in the mountains of northern New Mexico, I find myself talking a lot about the Philmont Scout Ranch.  To my surprise, most people have heard about it.  Even if they weren’t a scout growing up, somehow this place is familiar to them.  I love to hear all of the stories, and am astonished by the fact that all of the stories are positive.  Great memories, great stories, and great lessons. 

Last week at lunch a co-worker told me about a Philmont story that ran in his college newspaper.  Is was written by a Scout that learned a great lesson during his time at Philmont.  Thirty-three years later, my friend and co-worker found that story and has shared it with me for another generation to enjoy.  I really can’t wait to tell my own stories…… 

Paying Attention To The Details
Feb 21, 1978, Collegiate Times

Commentary By Ken Bevis
In the summer of 1974 I was on a wilderness backpacking trip in New Mexico with the boy scouts. Late one afternoon after setting up camp next to Rayado creek I went back upstream to some fantastic looking trout holes we had passed hiking in.
My senses were right. Fantastic they were and in about an hour I had caught six gorgeous fish. I was so busy fishing that I did not notice the sun going down. Soon I found myself in darkness with a mile between me and the camp. Philmont scout ranch is a wilderness in every sense of the word and walking alone in the dark carrying four tasty looking trout, my imagination put cougars, bears, and wampus cats behind every bush.
After seeming hours of this, I saw ahead the reassuring glow of a fire. I came close and saw a group of scouts gathered there. They greeted me and expressed admiration for the fine trout I had. Quite proud, I was glad to oblige and show them off. I was surprised when one of the boys said, “Let me see them.” As I held them up higher another of the scouts explained that he was blind. I took them over and he “saw” them with his hands.
For some reason his obvious joy in “seeing” those fish touched me deeply. He laughed with delight as he probed every inch of those trout. It seemed that another part of the mountain wilderness came alive to him with these new sensations.
As I moved on towards camp, my fears were gone. My mind kept returning to the blind boy and the fish. I was struck by his joyous reaction, as if his perception of his environment had been greatly enriched.
It made me wonder if I really noticed what all my senses told me. I had been taking for granted the sensations delivered by my ears, hands, nose, and particularly my eyes. His sensitivity to the trout made me more intent to see, feel and basically experience my surroundings. The blind boy had caused me to lower my senses to the more delicate and subtle parts of living nature.
The last few remaining days on our trek I could not leave thoughts of the blind boy. I truly felt closer to the mountains and nature in general. I realized that nature’s true beauty is simply life. Large or small it is always around you and always fascinating. From the largest tree to the smallest wildflower it is all beautiful; and it is life that makes it beautiful.

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What gear does a new Scout need?

Young boys bridging into Boy Scouts (and their parents) are sometimes overwhelmed with what Boy Scouts is all about. One of the major differences from Cubs is the amount of outdoor activities that occur in most Troops. But what do they need to purchase, or more importantly, what DON’T they need to purchase? I know that all Troops are different, but here is some information that we provide to our parents in Troop 945.

Gear Choices and Options

The right gear may mean the difference between a scout enjoying an outing and having a miserable time; and in extreme cases, may prevent a cold and/or wet outing from becoming a safety concern. Although buying camping gear can become very expensive, the idea of spending hundreds of dollars on gear for growing boys does not make a lot of sense. Let’s talk about basic gear options and also we will discuss what is not needed (i.e, what is provided by the troop). Also remember, these discussions are not meant to be requirements, we will not turn away any scout for a camping trip because he doesn’t have something mentioned below. The only time we would have concern with the Scouts equipment, which may result in a scout being turned away, is when we venture out into extreme conditions (hot, cold, wet) and they don’t pack properly (from a safety standpoint). Remember, Scouting is set up to provide the boys a safe place to fail (and therefore learn). Being outside in extreme weather without the right equipment may not be a safe place to fail.

Please remember one phrase: “Cotton is Rotten”. When cotton gets wet, either from the elements or from sweat, it literally sucks the heat from your body.

The first “level” of event that I want to talk about is Camping. These are the events where the troop drives to a location, parks, and then camps (in tents) right where the cars are. I call this CAR CAMPING.

What do the boys need for this type of trip? The big 3 are sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and clothes.

  1. Sleeping Bag – Nothing is worse when camping than not being warm when you are sleeping. I know the boys have sleeping bags that they have been taking to sleepovers for years, but those bags have three major problems in the scouting world. First, they are not warm enough for sleeping outside if the temperature drops below 50 degrees. Second, they are huge. Even rolled up, they are as big as 2 basketballs, and third, they are COTTON. When they get wet (and they will), they will not dry out and will suck the heat out of you. A down or synthetic mummy sleeping bag rated at 20 to 25 oF is a great investment for Scouts. It will come with a stuff sack that will size reduce the bag for transport. The great thing about this item is that they will not outgrow it. Sleeping bags like the ones described here can be purchased for less than $50.00.
  2. Sleeping Pad – No, not an inflatable mattress that needs power to blow up. A camping pad can be closed cell foam, self inflating, or one that needs to be manually blown up. In all cases they are small and light. Why do you need a pad? Good question. Besides comfort, a sleeping pad provides an insulating layer between you and the cold ground. Sleeping directly on the cold ground will pull the heat right out of you and your sleeping bag. Think of sitting directly on the metal bleachers during a football game. Once again, with this item, the boys will not outgrow it. Sleeping pads can cost as little as $15.00.
  3. Clothes – Obviously clothes cover a lot of specific items and are weather and temperature dependent. The purpose of this discussion is to provide a few general rules and options. Let’s start with the most important thing, “COTTON IS ROTTEN”. Does that mean that a cotton T-Shirt is a heath hazard and can never be worn, NO. But let’s talk about simple options that are not cotton t-shits, cotton sweatshirts, jeans, and white sweat socks. Instead, thing about wool and synthetic fabrics.

Bad Choice – Cotton T-Shirt.
Better Choice – Any t-shirt that is made of wool or polyester. Those under armour shirts that they have for soccer are great for camping. Looking for non name brand t-shirts like this will be less expensive.

Bad Choice – Sweatshirts
Better Choice – Fleece pullover. Fleece is 100% polyester, will keep you warm when wet, and will dry faster than cotton. Fleece pullovers or jackets are available for less than $30.

Bad Choice – Jeans
Better Choice – Scout pants. They are polyester, have extra pockets and you already own them.

Bad Choice – Cotton socks
Better Choice – Scout socks are a polyester/wool blend. Look around for socks that are not the white cotton socks.

Other – Gloves, hat, and a raincoat are must haves. For the gloves and hat, think fleece again. A cheap, light rain coat coupled with the fleece pullover will keep them warm under most conditions that we would be out in. Remember, layering is the key to staying warm in all conditions.

Besides the 3 listed above, what else do the boys need? Pocket knife, flashlight, water bottle and a Mess Kit. Make sure the flashlight is simple and durable (LED instead of bulb) and uses AA or AAA batteries (have them bring spares). We like water bottles over camelbak because they are easier to fill and know when they are near empty. Make sure the mess kit has a cup and fork.

Shoes – I know that shoes are expensive, and the idea of buying more shoes for growing boys seems crazy, but shoes are important. When camping or hiking, sneakers are not the best choice. They get wet and their bottoms are not designed for walking in the woods. On the other hand, hiking boots are not really needed either, unless you are carrying a heavy pack and the extra ankle support is nice. In the middle are hiking shoes. These are basically sneaker shaped shoes that have a more aggressive tread on the bottom. The last pair I bought for my Scout was on sale at Kohl’s and cost $9.00. The other nice thing about having this type of shoes is that you don’t have to worry about his school sneakers getting ruined on a scout trip. But remember, they must fit well and be comfortable. Also, a breaking in period may be needed; hiking a long distance is new shoes is not fun.

$9.00 was a rare find, however, with some effort and patience a pair of Gore-Tex™ shoes can be found for about $30.00.

Next let’s talk about what the boys DON’T NEED (i.e., what the troop provides). Cooking equipment and tents are the big items. Stoves are provided by the troop. We don’t want the boys bringing their own because it may result in safety issues. The troop has tents for the boys to use, although some of the older boys do bring their own tents, we would like to encourage the younger boys to use troop tents for two reasons. First, if they need help setting up the tent, the other boys know how to set up the troop tents. Second, we are not sure how your personal tent will perform in the rain. We have been on camping trips when a personal tent did not perform well in the rain and the boy was miserable.

Finally, what to pack all of this stuff in? I use a 20 gallon Rubbermaid container. It is light, waterproof, I can label it with my name, and can everything I need for the weekend in it.

The next “level” of camping I would like to talk about is where the boys are actually carrying their equipment (and the troops) from place to place, i.e., BACKPACKING. All of the discussion above about sleeping bags, pads, and clothes still applies, however a new piece of equipment needs to be added to the list, Backpack. Backpacks come in two main types, internal and external frames. Most today are internal frames. There are many, many backpack manufactures and pricing options and the boys will outgrow packs as they get older. The troop does more car camping then backpacking, so buying a pack may not be needed until the scouts get older. Good quality backpacks can be purchased for as little as $60.

The last “level” I would like to discuss is HIGH ADVENTURE. Backpacking high adventure trips and preparation for these trips involve long repeated hikes where the boys are carrying all of the needed equipment and food on their backs. The pinnacle backpacking trip of this magnitude is the 12 day trek at the Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico. These trips can cover between 50 and 120 miles of hiking where the boys carry all of their own gear. Troop 945 sends scouts (over 14 years old) on this trip every two years. This is where the equipment the boys have is very important. Also, the main difference in equipment for a trip like this is weight. Another general rule of camping equipment is, the less it weighs the more it costs. This type of trip is not required in scouting. Many eagle scouts have never been to Philmont. However, every scout I have talked to that has been to Philmont has loved it.


  1. – Site for quality entry level camping equipment. Their current sale has a sleeping bag, pad, and backpack for $95.00.
  2. – General camping online superstore.
  3. – Lots of clothing and camping options.
  4. – Company that has entry level and high end camping equipment.
  5. – Similar to REI.
  6. – Huge hunting/fishing store. Sells a lot of camping equipment and clothing.
  7. – Local store with camping equipment. Good shoe inventory.
  8. – Shoes and clothing cheap.
  9. – Wal-Mart has a great camping section. Great for flashlights, rain coats, shoes, fleece, and smaller stuff. Stay away from sleeping bags.

All of these web sites are great for searching for inexpensive equipment. Go to the camping sites and request catalogs.

One final request about camping gear. Whatever configuration and camping gear the boys end up taking on a trip, PLEASE DO NOT PACK THE GEAR FOR THEM!!! If they didn’t pack the gear before they left, they will not be able to pack it up Sunday morning to come home. Help them pack, encourage (or require) them to pack all of the right things, but let them do it. We want the boys to be independent when they are with us, please help them be independent when packing.

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I am continuing to bring into focus what will be the tone and meaning of this blog. As I have already mentioned, initially it will be the planning and preparation of the Troop 945 Summer of 2011 Philmont Crew. Gear, training, logistics and excitement that we will pour into that trip will occupy much of the Blog’s activity for the next five months. But after Philmont has come and gone, I want to continue to talk about Scouting in general and Scouting in Troop 945. As I was surfing the web last week looking at Scouting web site, blogs, and Twitter feeds I stumbled on two related themes. The first was the discussions about the 101st birthday of Scouting here in the United States. Although not as big of a milestone as last years birthday, still something worth celebrating. The other theme I discovered was how several Scouters are choosing to celebrate the birthday. One-hundred days of scouting is a pledge. For the next 100 days, I will focus, at least a small part of my day to try and make a difference in a Scouts life. I will teach, I will learn, I will answer questions, I will make myself available and I will tell you all what I have done though my Twitter feed (@scouter945).

“Try to leave this world a little better than you found it and, when your turn comes to die, you can die happy in feeling that at any rate you have not wasted your time but have done your best.” –Lord Baden-Powell, Founder of Scouting

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Connected to Twitter

I have had a personnel Twitter account for several years now.  The account is mostly used by me to “watch” people who are active on Twitter.  Today, I set up a Twitter account that I will only use to socialize this blog and Scouting in general.  I would like others to read and benefit from what I write here and we’ll see if Twitter will help with that plan.  Over the next few weeks I will be following other Scouting and Backpacking websites/blogs/Twitter Accounts to begin to spread the word…..  But for now, follow me on Twitter:

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Great Videos about Basecamp staff, activities and gear.

This is the 2010 Staff promo video.  It is intended to be a PR tool to recruit staff for the Philmont Scout Ranch and it is also a great opportunity to see what goes on at base camp.  More importantly, what we will have to do when we are checking in at base camp.

There are also several videos discussing some basic gear selection information.  This next video discusses layering needs at Philmont:

How about Boots:

Lastly, backpacks:

As you can see, these videos are also meant to show off the trading post at Philmont, Tooth of Time Traders.  If you can get past the commercial, you will see that there is some very good basic information about the gear needed for our Philmont trip.

I will continue to post information here that has helped me prepare, and I hope that it will help you.

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