Camping Gear & Tips
Welcome to the Camping Tips & Gear page of our website. Looking for a good information on Camping 'stuff'? Our Camping Chair John Brauer features a monthly help that you might find useful. Feel free to contact him with suggestions for more tips, and please let him know if any of these links change or break!
November 2018: Is Camping Relevant?
I recently sat on a Eagle Board of Review, in which this question came up. The candidate had already spoken at length of several ways in which he benefited from scouting in general and camping in particular, but did not seem really to put the concepts together, not really realizing how much the tool of outdoor program was a part of the benefits of scouting.
There are a number of benefits that the outdoor portion has for the youth involved, and I wanted to mention some of them here in four broad categories.
Because camping rarely included access to all fo the comforts of home, when problems and tasks arise, it typically becomes necessary to improvise and to make do with what one has. This fosters an ability to “think outside of the box,” and to find ways of managing with sub-optimal tools in sub-optimal conditions. This contributes to the scouts learning to use skills in the absence of specific items in order to get things done. The focus on such skills in the advancement program is then mixed in with the repeated opportunities to practice the skills on campouts and other outings.
In todays world of more or less immediate gratification and constant comfort (think air-conditioning and central heating wherever one goes), people become so unaccustomed to discomfort, that they lose their understanding of the difference between discomfort and danger. They do not have many opportunities to learn that they can tolerate discomfort, and consequently become significantly more distressed about even minor discomforts. Camping involves discomfort on a regular basis, but in a setting where the enjoyment makes the scout more likely to tolerate the discomfort readily. Broadening one’s range of acceptable conditions in this way makes the scout more likely to tolerate discomforts needed to achieve other goals and to broaden their experience range in other areas of life. Diminishing the fear of discomfort in turn will diminish fear of trying new things and more difficult tasks. Learning that weather is just another activity (as are mosquitoes, forgetting the cobbler ingredients, gear breakdowns, and any of a hundred other unexpected discomforts) contributes to a resilient approach to any of what life throws at one.
Scouts learn in the course of the outdoor program how to manage weather extremes and other emergency conditions. Learning to stay warm and to prepare for weather conditions appropriately makes it less likely that an experienced camper will end up frozen to death when the car breaks down on the roadside, and will make it more likely that the scout will know how to appropriately respond to other situations, such as tornadoes, riptides when swimming, first aid emergencies, and other such unexpected situations in daily life. Even if one does not particularly enjoy such things as winter camping, learning how to manage in such settings contributes to acquiring significant skills for unexpected emergencies.
Awareness of Context
It is easy to lose track of the context in which we live, seeing nothing of the process by which we get food, for instance, and not seeing very directly how we exist in an ecosystem. Being outdoors provides a classroom for seeing this context more clearly, especially with the advancement requirements which place a focus on learning about plant and animal life. This sense of context, along with the sense of community which is emphasized by the patrol method, contribute to a greater awareness of connection and belonging. Studies over the past 100 years have repeatedly shown the positive impact of such a sense of connection in terms of diminished physical and mental illness and overall health longevity.
As we look at the overall outdoor program of scouting, it is clearly evident that these factors are present, but it is also easy to overlook them in their obviousness. In thinking more consciously of them, we become more likely to steer program activities to underscore these factors more clearly and directly, and thereby increase their impact.
December Tip: Lightening the (Trailer) Load...
For all that we use our trailers, there is a tendency to do so without really thinking much about them. One of our district committee members was recently talking about an event at which many troop trailers were examined, and as it turned out, none of the troops involved had any idea how much the trailers weighed. On further investigation, it turned out that many trailers were well over the weight for which the axles and suspension were rated. Many trailers are so clearly overloaded that there is barely clearance between the body of the trailer and the tires. Looking at the ratings for your trailer, and weighing it to see if the total weight and tongue weight are within the rated capacity is an important bit of routine inspection, especially if yours is a troop that tends to store all gear in the trailer at all times. Noe of the biggest culprits for overweight trailers is the shelving. Heavy duty plywood shelves can eat up an enormous amount of the weight that a trailer can hold, and many troops have wooden shelves and cubbies for everything they hold, with no attention to the impact on trailer safety. The way in which the weight is distributed is also important, as it can change the tongue weight as well as the way that the trailer handles on the road. As you begin to look into these issues with your own unit trailer, mark your calendars for the May Roundtable this coming spring… this will be a topic that is covered in depth in that meeting.
November Tip: The Order of the Arrow
The OA is an organization within the BSA which would be of interest to most any scout who learns about it. Sometimes called the “honor society of scouting,” the OA is a service organization, and is the primary workforce for maintaining our council camps during the twice yearly Fellowship weekends. One of the nice things about the OA, is that it allows for scouts to interact with scouts from other units, sharing ideas among troops, as well as giving older scouts a means of experiencing things which are different from the “same old, same old” pattern that sometimes arises over a few years of the same campouts with their home troop. The scouts also become eligible for OA treks at the various high adventure programs around the country, allowing them to go places for lower cost in exchange for service work at the camps. You can learn more about our own OA chapter at their website here.
October Tip: Historic Trails
The BSA has an Historic Trails Award, which is an interesting way to expose scouts to a combination of new outdoor places and a bit of historical interest. The gist of the award is that the unit must find a historical society to work with, and to plan and cooperate with them to perform some sort of historic activity. This is a great way to explore scouts to some of the process they will need to learn for their Eagle projects, as well as possibly obtaining some service hours for the troop. Historical societies exist in most communities, at a local or county level, as well as independent organizations for specific locals or features (such as the Trail of Tears or some of the Lincoln-focused places downstate).
September Tip: Cooking - Butane Stoves
These are increasingly popular, with brands like Jet Boil being very easy to find at REI and other camp stores. The lightweight, non-refillable canisters are easier to pack than the heavier propane bottles, due to the lighter weight, and they burn pretty hot and clean for cooking. They do not burn well when it is very cold out, though there are tricks out there to easy that issue. Not the best choice if you are counting on that cup of coffee on a cold winter morning though. The burner is typically very easy to adjust, and the stoves themselves are generally simple, needing little maintenance.
August Tip: Cooking - Propane Stoves
The classic green canister stoves we all see in troop trailers. These have some great advantages in terms of simplicity, very low temperature range, and ease of replacement. They are not refillable, and are rather bulky and heavy, so they work best for trailer camping, and are rather less useful for backpacking trips. You can find these little green canisters anywhere, which means you don’t have to transport them for trips across country, and if you run out, you can find them at most stores. The large tanks used with grills can also fit these stoves, though the hoses have to be well cared for, and the scouts have to be sure to double check proper fitting to avoid leaks causing fires at the fittings. The typical Coleman stoves we all find so useful on troop trips use these fuels, as do many lanterns, with hot fire, clean burning, and the ability to burn well below 0º F among the chief benefits of these stoves.
July Tip: Cooking - White Gas Stoves
White gas (or kerosene) is a liquid fuel, is readily available almost anywhere, and stoves that use it are easily found. The stoves can be reasonably small, though not to a degree that would satisfy ultralight hikers. The commercial stoves are reasonably durable, and they work well at high altitudes as well as low temperatures, making them versatile enough for most troops. The ratio of heat to weight is excellent, as the fuel burns very hot, and the re-fillable bottles can then also be re-used, making the overall price of fuel cheaper. The fuel burns very fast and hot, so it is easy to cook food quickly using these stoves.
The biggest downside is that this stuff is extremely flammable (yes, fuels differ in this regard), and can be very dangerous. Scouts can easily be tempted to walk around with an open fuel bottle, since it is not pressurized and can be carried like a bottle of water, and this can cause a hazardous situation due to spilling and walking too near open fires elsewhere in camp. This is simply a matter of training, but should be done with the same rigor as knife safety. The spill hazard is even more significant in winter, as the very fast evaporation can lead to an incredibly fast frostbite. If the cold fuel does get on the outside of the stove in the winter, allow a couple of minutes to evaporate before touching the stove. Even without spilling, the fact that the fuel in a canister can get colder than freezing can make touching an uninsulated fuel bottle dangerous in very cold weather.
June Tip: Cooking - Wood fires
Cooking over a fire has a real primitive charm, and it a very useful skill to have. Obviously, being able to start a fire is the first step (and perhaps tips in that regard should be an upcoming topic…).
The biggest difficulty scouts encounter when cooking over fire comes from the fact that they REALLY love fires. So they make them too big to use. Cook fires should be small enough to manage, and rather than a fun bonfire, a cook fire should have some means of controlling the air flow, which is to say that there should be some means of enclosing it. This does not have to be elaborate, moving a couple of logs or rocks can change or restrict airflow, and using those same logs or rocks can provide a stable base on which to set pots. There are numerous resources online and in older editions of the Scout Handbook which offer many suggestions for how to do this, but the bottom line is pretty straightforward;
1) keep the fire small, so that you are cooking mostly with coals.
2) control the fire by using barriers to manage the amount of air getting to the coals
3) arrange some means of hanging or setting the food above the flames.
Be creative with this last one. Scouts can learn to use tripods or other lashed supports to hang food over fires, or even forgo the cookware and learn means of winding or spearing food on sticks and cooking “marshmallow style” with sticks in hand or stuck in the ground. Food can also be wrapped and buried in the coals for an oven roasted effect. The point is, by getting away from the tried and true, the scouts get to experience and learn from new approaches to old tasks, which can keep campouts fresh and changing, instead of a “been there, done that” affair.
May Tip: Cooking - Part I
Camping means cooking, and there are several approaches to this (oh so wonderful) part of the experience. The sort of camping you are doing will largely dictate the manner in which you decide to cook, so this topic will be broken down into a couple of separate articles. Obviously long distance backpacking is unlikely to include dutch ovens, and cooking for a summer camp with a trailer at hand is typically not done on a lightweight backpacking stove. So lets start with the most common approach, which is for trailer camping. I will not spend much time on the Dutch oven, because if you scroll down this page to last April, you will find it already discussed. The more common approach is to use Coleman stoves for trailer camping. The ease of finding fuel (no problem hauling big canisters of propane in a trailer), the low cost of the classic green Coleman two burner stoves, and their durability in the hands of 11 year old cooks make them a hands down favorite for many troops. They can be accessorized with lightweight (by trailer standards) folding tables which make them easy to use even in camps with no picnic tables), and the ease with which the temperatures can be managed make it reasonably easy for even a new scout to have a successful cooking experience.
Unfortunately, there is a tendency to stay at the beginning, and never expand into other approaches to cooking, and there is really no reason to stop here. Next time we will look into wood fire cooking…
April Tip: The Neckerchief
The boy scout neckerchief is one of the most universally recognized symbols in the world (right behind the Coca Cola logo), and it is easy to forget that it can be an enormously useful item. To begin with, the neckerchief was originally (and is still ideally) square. A 32” square, folded diagonally to make the triangle to which we have become accustomed was the original type, colored with the patrol colors (though later troop or district colors became common). The colors help to make the scout identifiable at a distance or in a crowd (been to a Jamboree?), particularly if a combination of colors is used. The small size of most modern neckerchiefs make them difficult to use for much of anything, being too small even for a sling, but the larger traditional size is very helpful to have on hand for first aid uses, as a sling, head bandage, for tying on dressings or splints, of even in extreme cases, as a tourniquet. By the 1932 edition of the scout handbook, there was a page listing more than 30 uses for neckerchiefs, most of which are not possible with the smaller triangular type. the larger squares are definitely worth looking into, and scouts should be encouraged to keep them on hand (e.g. in day packs, or even used as a bundle to carry instead of a day pack), even when not wearing them. They can be worn with a troop t-shirt when the troop is doing activities for which the uniform is not ideal, and still look the part of a scout troop (good for “dirty work” type service projects), and in such settings, other uses for the neckerchief often arise.
March Tip: The Hiking Staff
The staff is a classic bit of scouting paraphernalia, and in the flat land of the midwest, its utility if often overlooked. As we don’t often find a need for it as a hiking aid in such settings as the Prairie Path, we tend to leave them behind, but in the early editions of the scout handbook, they were featured strongly, with dozens of uses listed and illustrated. If you search the internet for “boy scout staff uses,” you will find many pages discussing Lord Baden-Powell’s strong feelings about the importance of this tool, as well as directions for how to make the staff more useful, with markings for measuring lengths and weights, for finding 90º angles in the field, instructions for wrapping with cord, attaching fish hooks and line, and other means of making this tool even more useful. When hiking, a patrol full of staves and cords makes construction of a shelter, stretcher, or other lashed implement easy to make, with no need for cutting saplings.
February Tip: Jamborees
The National Jamboree is this summer, and there are still openings. Although it is a National Jamboree, troops come from all over the world, and the exposure to other units from so many different places is a truly awesome experience. the stadium shows, with tens of thousand of scouts present, the enormous exposure to so many activities not seen in most typical summer camps, the opportunity to feel a part of the truly worldwide experience that scouting is; these all combine to make a Jamboree an outstanding and unforgettable experience. The Jamboree will be held at the BSA’s newest high adventure base, The Summit in West Virginia, in the mountains around the New River Gorge, a truly beautiful property, and the World Jamboree in 2019 will be held there as well. Contact the Three Fires Council office, or visit the links above to find out how to attend either of these fantastic events. Adults, there are staffing needs as well, so if you are not able to attend as a troop leader for the Council contingent, there are other ways to attend.
January Tip: Keeping dry on winter camps
Moisture is the primary enemy in terms of staying warm in the winter. One of the common issues often encountered is when the scouts find that all of their gear has become damp by the end of the weekend, particularly on those mid 30s weekends, where it is not cold enough for the air to be dry. An easy way to manage this is to have the scouts pack their clothing by outfit instead of by type. They often tend to organize by putting all the socks in one bag, all the underwear in another, etc. They use zip locks to keep the damp air out, which works to a point. The problem here, is that once a bag is opened, everything in it is exposed to damp air. The solution… put a days clothing all in a bag together. Squeeze out the air at home before leaving for the campout. When a change of clothing is needed, opening one bag only exposes the one day’s clothing to dampness, leaving he others sealed and dry. This allows for dry clothes throughout the weekend, instead of just until Friday night.
December Tip: Winter tree identification
Often there is difficulty in getting outdoor activities planned for winter months, as scouts often prefer to stay indoors and warm. There is significant value to learning to identify trees in the winter as well as the summer, and being able to learn them by bark and buds, rather than solely leaf shape. The four seasons hike at Cantigny is an easy place to find pre-identified trees, as is the Morton Arboretum, though it is not difficult to make note of trees in places your troop frequents year round, to re-visit the trees at other seasons to get used to recognizing them in leafless times. This article at Art of Manliness suggests 6 trees of particular utility that are worth starting with, and uses for which they might be important to you.
November Tip: Winter Cabin camps
As winter approaches, it is worth looking into available cabins for troop outings in the winter. With younger boys in the troop, it is not a bad idea to ease them into winer camps, by having a cabin nearby, even if they sleep in tents for the night. It allows for them to be exposed to some of the real upsides of camping in the winter, without necessarily having to cope with being cold in the first few attempts in which they do not yet know how to stay warm, or how to tell the difference between discomfort-cold and danger-cold. Most local councils have cabins on their camp properties, including our own council facilities at Camp Big Timber and Camp Freeland Leslie. Typically one can add on ski trips at local slopes or sledding at local toboggan runs or sled hills as a part of the camp, or introducing other winter activities such as cross country skiiing, snowshoeing, ice fishing or tracking, while still allowing for newer scouts to have some warm up time in the cabins to ease the introduction. The winter camping skills are especially important, as they can be a life saving store of knowledge in that future event of being stuck in a winter storm on the side of an interstate.
October 2016 Tip: Old scout handbooks/ troop library
Developing outdoor resources in the troop library can be a very helpful thing, and not very expensive to do. Beyond the usual merit badge library, you might be surprised to find how interesting and informative some of the older scout handbooks and field books can be. The easiest older book to obtain is the reprint of the first Handbook. which his available at the scout store. Later books also have a lot of different information in them, which is different in focus from version to version. The 5th edition from 1948 has a lot of interesting information about stalking and tracking, for example, while the revised edition from 1938 has an exhaustive section on plant and animal identification. Other books cover such items as classic camping skills, trapping and snares, building shelters, as well as the sort of survival skills the special forces need. Having an array of such items in the troop library can help scouts to come up with new ideas for events and activities to liven up their outings, as well as to maintain interest in going o troop outings as they get older and more experienced.
September 2016 Tip: Tracking and stalking
For a lot of scouts, seeing birds and animals is little more than an accident. Teaching them how to look for them, follow signs and stalk them for closer views is interesting, exciting and helps to develop a more interactive sense of being in the environment. Learning how to read tracks is easy to begin, and one can keep learning more for a lifetime. It helps to develop a greater understanding of what the animal are doing, and how to improve one’s odds of seeing or finding them when out in the woods. There are numerous websites and books available for learning and teaching this material, but the best is to get out when signs are likeliest to be easy to find (after a light snow for example), and encouraging the scouts to follow them and try to guess at that the signs mean. For stalking skills, a simple, but entertaining game, is to have one scout ("the deer")stand in an opening in the woods while the other scouts take a minute to scatter. When the “deer” is done counting, he watches without walking from his spot, while the other scouts see who can come closest to him without being spotted. This will help scouts to practice moving quietly, using cover, and watching for chances to move while the “deer” is looking away. It is fun and the scouts learn a lot, while getting up close and personal with the woods in which they are playing.
August 2016 Tip: Focal points for camps and hikes
One of the problems often encountered in keeping activities and camps “fresh” for scouts as the years pass, is the “been there, done that” sense thet scouts get after visiting the same camp a few years in a row. One of the easiest and best ways of combating thins issue is by teaching your scouts to plan a focus for the activities at each camp or hike. As the focal points change, the camp seems different, as it is seen in different ways with each activity. This can easily done by using the Program Features books available at the scout shop. These books help the scouts to plan activities month by month, to tie in particular focus to a month of meetings, hikes and camps, with the easy capacity for changing the focus every month. The different activities dovetail nicely with advancement goals as well as just generally teaching a lot of interesting things about the outdoors and scout skills.
July 2016 Tip of the Month - Order of the Arrow
The Order of the Arrow is known as the Honor Society of Scouting, and is an excellent program for older scouts in your troop. The OA is an elected group of scouts, though it is not difficult to be elected; the scouts from the unit vote each year for eligible scouts, and approve those whom they believe to meet the standards of scouting. The OA allows for exposure to scouts from other units, and to those who most find scouting to exemplify their own values, and as such, it can reinvigorate a scouts who is of an age where he is tiring of the “same -old, same old” activities of a troop. The OA will not “steal you scouts,” as they scouts must be active in their own troops, but can help retain them as they find other ways of doing things and hear of other places to camp, hike and do other scouting activities. The OA has events of its own, including the work weekends each year that provide the bulk of the maintenance our camp properties need every year, regional conclaves and other OA specific camps. OA members can also register for special experiences at the high adventure camps, in which they typically work for a week, then participate in a “design you own” trek for a second week, and can typically go on such high adventure trips for much less cost than a standard trek, while having experiences that other scouts never have. The OA meets monthly, typically at the same time as the District Round Table, and more information can be found about them at the OA Lodge Website. It is an excellent program, and well worth exposing to your scouts.
June 2016 Gear Tip of the Month - Socks
If you get cold feet when camping or hiking, read on. The most common practices when it comes to socks are typically the biggest cause of discomfort. First, the material matters. Cotton socks will guarantee cold, wet feet, and will ruin you weekend more often than most anything else. Cotton absorbed moisture readily, and loses all insertion value when it becomes damp, so that even sweat from your feel will render cotton socks worse than useless. Wool is your best bet, as wool retains it’s insulation value even when wet. To maximize the comfort, add a second pair, worn as a liner inside the wool socks. The liner should be some sort of synthetic, and polypropylene is usually recommended, but really even nylon dress sock will do. The idea is twofold. First, to add a layer of nonabsorbent sock to draw moisture away from your feet. Second, to change the friction pattern. With one pair of socks, the friction (as your foot moves up and down in the boot) is generally between the skin and the sock, leading to hot spots and blisters. When a second layer of sock is added, the friction is not between the two socks. Socks do not get blisters. Simple as that. So, first put on a thin synthetic sock, then a wool sock over that. This is an all season recommendation, as the moisture wicking is helpful in the summer as well. When you buy boots or shoes for hiking, wear these two pairs of socks to the fitting. If you buy for one pair of light socks, and then wear them with two pair, or with thicker socks, the boot will be tighter, which will crush the air (and therefore the insulating value) out of the sock. It will also diminish circulation, making your feet colder still. Carrying some spare socks in your pack is great too, as it allows you to change during or just after the hike, to let your feet dry out again.
May 2016 Gear Tip of the Month: Trekking Poles
Trekking poles (or hiking poles) are an item that I never considered when I was a Scout, and never thought of buying until it was recommended so strongly before my adult return to Philmont. It is also one of the best purchases I have made for backpacking. Growing up in the flatlands of the midwest, they never seemed useful, and were just one more thing to keep track of, maintain and lose. The uses of the hiking pole are many however, and unless you never leave the Prairie Path and never hike outside of summer time, they will become very useful to you. for starters, they are most useful in hilly or slippery terrain. The equivalent of always having a perfectly positioned sapling to grab onto when going up (or down) a hill, crossing a stream, or negotiating icy trails, the pole has saved me from many dunkings in streams and falls down hills. On the downhill side, they save a lot of wear and tear on knees, as they can be lengthened to allow one to distribute weight onto the tops of the poles, instead of knees bearing the strain of slowing each downhill step. The poles also come in handy at camps and rest stops, as they make great poles for tarps and flies, as well as something against which to lean a backpack (with a guarantee that no poison ivy is growing on it). They come in many materials and styles, and it doesn’t matter much what you pick. My own preferences include a telescoping sort, which allows it to be shortened for easy stowing, and the length can be changed to make it the perfect height for going uphill or downhill. I also like a cork handle, as I find it more comfortable in sweaty weather, but others will swear by other materials. Find what you like. They can be very expensive or relatively cheap, (like the ones available at Scoutstuff) and to some degree this will be determined by how often you are likely to use them and how likely you are to lose them. I don’t personally find a need for anything in the $100 plus range, but others who hike more than I might disagree. A wrist strap is great, as it helps to support weight without having to grip tightly (wrap your hand through it like a cross country ski pole), and it makes it easier to attach tarps and such at the camp site. Some come with an array of tips, offering snow tips with baskets (like a ski pole), rubber tips for rocky trails, and metal spike tips for softer soils. This can be very helpful, but is not necessary if you will never be hiking on other than soil or crushed lime trails. Some folks don’t find a need for both poles, and can share a pair, with each person using one. For steeper terrain, I sure do like having both.
April 2016 Gear Tip of the Month: The Dutch Oven
It is hard to be in Scouting for long without running into full-bore Dutch Oven aficionados. The Dutch oven is a classic American icon of camping, and was a major staple of the old west. The design in use today is said to have been invented by Paul Revere, and includes a rim around the lid to hold charcoals, and three legs to hold the oven off the ground, over a bed of charcoals. Anything that can be cooked in your home oven, can be cooked in a dutch oven, and learning the skills is very easy, with quick and easy recipes to start with, and getting as elaborate as you like. Making cobbler is probably the most common use, as it is very easy to come out with very popular Scout food with a couple of ingredients and little knowledge. The District has a dutch oven event at a spring time roundtable every year, which is another great place to learn more (look for the round table called “Cast Iron Chef”). Dutch ovens are made by many companies, but the general consensus is that none are made as well as the Lodge brand, which has the added touch of offering a Boy Scout branded one which has the Fleur de Lis on the lid, and actually costs less than the unadorned version. Typically they are available as tight aluminum or cast iron, with the aluminum being lighter in weight for trail convenience, and the cast iron being a better choice in every other regard. The cast iron does need to be seasoned, which is a rather simple process, and which needs to be repeated periodically, especially if the dutch oven is abused by novice users. Seasoning is done by heating the dutch oven with oil (or lard) to a high enough temperature that the fat polymerizes, turning it into a very smooth, essentially nonstick surface. This can be damaged by abrasives, so be gentle with the seasoned surface, and do not use soap, as the cast iron is porous and if the seasoning is not good, the metal can absorb he marvelous flavor of soap. Aluminum ovens cannot be seasoned, as they are not porous, and the oil does not penetrate into the metal. There are numerous dutch oven cookbooks on the market, any of which is fine. Get one, or look up instructions on line for how to convert oven temperatures to numbers of charcoals, but once you get the hang of this, any recipe can be baked or stewed in a dutch oven.
March 2016 Gear Tip of the Month: The Rainfly
There is certainly no shortage of rainflies on the market, ranging from the ubiquitous Big Blue Tarp to tiny backpacking tarps that weight next to nothing. There is some benefit to making your own, or at least of thinking about features to add to one you purchase, to make the most versatile use of the rainfly. Here is what we have found useful in the past…
For starters, the material should be cloth, waterproof and supple. The big plastic tarps do not fold down very small, and can be unwieldy for smaller scouts to manage, as well as being heavy to carry and bulky to store. A waterproof ripstop nylon will give good protection as well as being easier to carry, store and set up.
Adding webbing loops to the edges make the fly more versatile in terms of setup; five to a side would be great, and one in the center, with on midway on each diagonal between the center and each corner. This allows for the fly to be secured in a wide variety of ways. My favorite is to stretch a line between two trees, then tie the five loops along one edge to that line. This makes a very secure edge from which the fly can be pulled back on an angle with the back to the wind, for a sort of a baker’s tent, facing a fire. It can be his enough to sit or stand under, with protection from the wind behind you. The center loop allows you to tie a line pulling the center of the tarp up, to minimize drooping in the rain. I like to have short (12 inch) cords on each of the loops to make it easier to attach to other ropes. The whole thing will pack fairly small (depending on the thickness of the cloth you use) and is fairly light weight for packing. It is reasonably easy to make one for each patrol and such a fly will be more versatile and easily transported then the typical carport or conduit frameworks often seen on campouts.
February 2016 Tip of the Month: Why Okpik?
Does the thought of winter camping chill your soul? Are you missing a full third of the year, because you don’t think you can handle the winter weather fora campout? Then you REALLY ought to look at Okpik training Winter camping as very fun and involves learning some very worthwhile skills. Camping in the winter allows for activities not otherwise available for scouts, with better chances for tracking (snow holds tracks better than crushed lime trails), learning to build snow shelters, easier opportunities to see birds and animals when the leaves are off the trees, snow shoeing and cross country skiing, and best of all, campgrounds that are not crowded (with people OR mosquitoes!!!). You will learn a lot from Okpik about how to keep warm, fire building, winter games, and other skills which will come in handing if you find yourself unexpectedly stranded in the winter. Even if you think you will NEVER camp in the winter, check it out… you just might surprise yourself!
January Tip of the Month: Other Outdoor Training
The BSA provides many opportunities for learning the outdoor skills you need to be able to keep your scouts safe and to enjoy your camps with the scouts. The training calendar at Three Fires Council’s website includes trainings from all of the districts around us (you don’t have to limit yourself to our own district). The trainings include skills aimed at all sorts of leaders from Cub scout packs to Boy scout troops, including the famed Wood Badge Course, which is the ultimate in scouter training. Learn the things you are teaching your scouts from the folks who have been there, done that, and have learned it from the old-timers who came before them! Even if you are a well seasoned camper and outdoors whiz, it is fun and informative to meet likeminded folks and share notes about tricks of the trade with them.
December Tip of the Month: Philmont Training Center
The Philmont Training Center is possibly the coolest place on the planet for learning about scouting, camping, outdoors experiences and many other scouting related things. There are family programs and conferences, and the programs run throughout the year. It is a great way to se Philmont if you are unable to go on a trek there, and the opportunities for learning are unparalleled. The accommodations are comfortable, in the tent city portion of the camp. Check it out, and see what you think!
November Tip of the Month - National Outdoor Awards
Are your Eagles and older scouts losing interest in troop activities? The BSA National Outdoor Awards offer another awards track alongside the Advancement track which might interest them. This program offered awards in six categories (Hiking, Riding, Camping. Aquatics, Adventure and Conservation), with a basic award for each category and further pins to acknowledge further activity in the segment’s area. The center patch is earned with the first segment, ant the segments for the different tracks fit around the five-sided center segment. As the scouts participate in more activities (trading miles, nights or other increments, depending on the activity), they earn gold and silver pins, which combine to represent further activity.
Step Away From the Trailer… - by John Brauer / Oct 2015
Many troops fall into a pattern of comfort, taking their trailer with them on 12 campouts per year, finding the convenience of the large kitchen the easy access to supplies, repair parts, and other comforts of home away from home to be too irresistible to give up. While I would not try to convince anyone to donate the trailer away, there are some consideration with discussing regarding the ubiquity of the trailer.
The primary issue has to do with the question of why we camp in the first place. We are exposing boys to the outdoors, so that they can continue to enjoy campaign and such throughout their post-scouting adulthoods, right? We are teaching them to be self reliant and get away from the supports of the home, so that they can handle whatever comes their way in the future, right? We are teaching them to Be Prepared for all contingencies, right? How does the trailer relate to this? Well for starters, how many boys will have a camping trailer when they age out of scouts? I haven’t seen one around a college dorm yet, have you? What is the good of only teaching a scout how to camp in a manner which will be unavailable to him after he leaves scouts? While there is certainly no harm in learning to camp with a trailer, how many of pour scouts really learn much about how to camp without one?
Getting away from the comforts of home? Learning to get by with what is on your back is a better teacher in this regard than a trailer full of folding chairs, huge patrol boxes, cast iron dutch ovens, spice cabinets and whatnot. The best leader I remember from my own scouting days was an older leader who always had the smallest pack of anyone, but always had what anyone needed. His secret? “I have everything I need because I don’t have anything that I DON’T need.” The trailer tempts us to be indiscriminate in what we bring, and we lose the opportunity to develop the skill of parsimony.
Be Prepared? How prepared do I need to be if anything I forget to bering is in the trailer? How much does it matter if I have lal my tent states if there is a bagful in the trailer? No mess kit? No problem, there are probably some spare parts in the trailer… cutting the umbilical cord of backup supplies helps to expose the flaws on our planning, so that we can learn to plan better.
So am I advocating retirement of the trailer? No. There is nothing wrong with sometimes using the trailer to allow for some extra comforts or activities which are less than manageable with a backpack, but what about planning a few trips a year where the trailer stays at home? This would encourage the boys to learn how to camp on their own, and how to get better at carrying only what they need to get by with. This would allow them to get into places where the trailer does not fit, and it would certain make the eventual Philmont trek less unnerving and less likely to be avoided out of fear.
So please consider encouraging your scouts to make plans for the occasional backpacking weekend; even if it starts out with a half mile down the trail from the trailer. Their confidence in their ability to camp on their own will make the effort more than worthwhile.
Sleeping Bags – by John Brauer / May 2015
You will use a sleeping bag on virtually every outing you go on as a Scout, so it is important to get a good bag. There is not just one "good kind" of bag, but this article will talk about some of the things that will be important for you.
Backpacks - by John Brauer / May 2015
Backpacks are an essential piece of scouting gear because they allow you to extend your time in the outdoors, and thereby allow you to get to places and see things that would not otherwise be accessible. A backpack is essentially your way to carry your home with you on the trail. The type of backpack that you need will be dictated by what you intend to do. Although there are certainly differences among packs, there is not one pack out there that is "the best," simply because different packs meet different needs for different people. This article looks at some of the options and what they might be good for.
The Lowly Groundcloth - by John Brauer / June 2015
Not a glamour piece of gear, but worth thinking about. For starters, is it needed? Tents did not always have floors; they used to have narrow strips of flooring on the edges, called sod cloth. The groundcloth went inside the tent and laid on top of the sod cloth to keep the camper (and gear) dry. As tents routinely were made with floors, the ground cloths were placed beneath the floor, to protect the floor. Many backpackers question the need for this, if the floor is water proof. For scouts, I would say, yes they are needed. Preteens and young teens do not tend to have learned yet to be gentle with gear, and the tent floor can pay the price. For young scouts, especially for trailer camping, a heavy duty ground cloth can save the troop a lot of money on tents… but only if the groundcloth is INSIDE the tent! More on that later….
If the groundcloth is used, there are a lot of options. The footprints that are sold at outdoor shops tend to be one of the worst options, in that they are very expensive and not terribly water resistant. Most troops seem to use heavy plastics or plastic painting drop cloths, which are inexpensive options and are easy to cut to the needed size when replacements are needed. A similar option is Tyvek, which is also easy to use with the added advantage of breathability. The big blue tarps have the advantage of already being in your garage and having some versatility for other uses, but are heavy and difficult to re-size.
As to the inside or outside question… the tradition tends to side with outside the tent, a little oversized and folded under to make a curled lip which will keep the water from running on top of the groundcloth. This works… if the curl is entirely under the tent, and just barely under, so that gear does not crush the curl down, allowing water on top. The problem is that younger scouts tend to be unable to consistently do this carefully enough to make it work. The alternative is to put the tarp (still slightly oversized) INSIDE the tent. With the slight oversize running up the walls of the tent, the only way for water to get on top is to have an inch high wall of water hit the side of the tent (so don’t camp in a stream). It does not take as much care, so this is easier for newer scouts to manage consistently. The other advantage of this approach is that the tent floor is protected by the groundcloth. When scouts drag backpacks and other gear across the tent floor, or keys and knives are in pockets, the floor tends to take MUCH more abuse from inside the tent than from the stationery ground under the tent. And if a hole does develop, a ground cloth is cheaper to replace than a tent floor.