Andrew Skurka’s new Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide includes a packing list for Philmont Scout Ranch! It has far less gear than the official Philmont list.
In Clarke’s interview in podcast 111, Andrew pointed out that over 20,000 Scouts backpack at Philmont every summer and probably 19,000 of them are carrying too much weight. Improving packing at Philmont is a huge opportunity for youth to get started on the light path, have more fun, and become lifetime backpackers.
In 1975, I started with a 50 pound pack with my dad for a five day trek in the Pecos Wilderness, near Philmont. In 2010, as a Philmont advisor, my pack was 15 pounds lighter, at 35 pounds. Both times, I carefully planned my packing list and weighed everything.
Andrew Skurka’s Philmont list is a 21 pound pack with four days of food. That is another 14 pounds lighter than my 2010 pack! Most of my gear is right off his list: pyramid tent, 800 fill down bag, air mattress, 2l Platypus bottles. Did he leave out anything that you really need? What sort of exotic, expensive gear is he using? How the heck did he get rid of an additional 14 pounds?
Let’s go through some items on the list.
The 800 fill down sleeping bag on Skurka’s list is expensive. A good bag is a lifetime investment for someone who has a great time at Philmont and keeps hiking; a down bag can last decades. He lists a 600 down bag or synthetic as alternates. If you shop smart, you can find those weighing 2.5 to 3 pounds instead of the two pound bag he lists.
Skurka has recommended a frameless backpack. Frameless backpacks must be packed carefully to carry comfortably and I’m not sure that all Scouts could learn that skill for Philmont. A number of packs have a minimal frame making them somewhat easier to pack. The Gossamer Gear Mariposa, Granite Gear Crown VC 60, Six Moon Designs Starlite, ULA Circuit, etc. are all about the same weight as the pack Skurka lists, the GoLite Jam 50.
Many people would call a single-wall pyramid tent exotic, but it is a classic design made with modern materials. The BSA sold a “Miner’s Tent” for decades. Nothing strikes faster than a pyramid. You’ll be on the trail in no time.
He includes the Philmont-supplied bear bagging rope but no bags or carabiner. There’s no carabiner on the online Philmont packing list, though it is listed in PDF version and the Guidebook to Adventure. Bear bags weigh about one pound, plus three ounces for a beefy locking carabiner for a total of twenty ounces, two ounces per crew member.
Skurka leaves the trowel behind, assuming you can always get to a latrine. Many crew members have some serious intestinal adjustment to the exercise and food, and we found multiple trowels to be a real time saver, allowing more than one person to go at once. You can make a one ounce, very strong ultralight DIY potty trowel that doubles as a stake for soft ground. Good luck finding soft ground at a Philmont campsite.
Toilet paper. Andrew recommends “natural materials”, but I recommend that each crew member start with a full roll of TP. It’s a fire starter, too, especially when you rub Chapstick into it. Four ounces.
He’s skeptical of the need for separate sleep clothes in the dry mountain west, but includes them. A dry set of sleep clothes are not needed for warmth, but they are part of Philmont’s bear protocol, reducing the chance of food smells in tents. They stay on the list.
Taking two or three 8×10 tarps instead of one 10×12 is an idea worth trying. We planned to do that on our trek, but our crew quartermaster left them at home. Oops.
Skurka’s insulation choices assume you will hike all day, then eat and get in bed while you are still warm. If your itinerary has shorter days or some evening campfires, you may want a bit more insulation. I took a base layer as sleep clothes, making sure to wait until after dinner to put them on. My daytime top was a long-sleeve nylon shirt. I was only chilly once, on one cold morning when the Scouts took forever to break camp.
The zip-off pants are a good choice, because some Philmont activities require long pants.
The food weight is probably slightly underestimated at 1.5 pounds per person per day. Philmont doesn’t publish weights, so I measured our 2009 surplus Philfood and got 1.75 pounds per person per day; or seven pounds of food per person instead of six. Philmont should publish food weights.
Cell phones are not on Skurka’s list. The Philmont PDF packing list says “CELLULAR TELEPHONES AND PERSONAL SATELLITE LOCATORS (SPOT) ARE DISCOURAGED,” however in 2010, Logistics and Security at Philmont asked crew advisors to bring two fully charged cell phones on different carriers and wrote the emergency phone number on our map. Two cell phones at five ounces each make one ounce per person.
You may need trash bags. Philmont food generates a lot of trash and the meal bags don’t make good trash bags. If you rehydrate in the food packaging or turkey bags, you will have a lot of wet food trash and you really want to keep that separate from the rest of your gear.
Skurka has developed a darned good list and a tremendous help for Philmont-bound Scouts. Two items missing from his list are not in Philmont’s own packing list.
I’ve found an additional pound or two, but what about the rest of the weight I was carrying? Item for item, I was quite close to his list, but I added some things, what Skurka might call an “ultimate camper” decision.
- 4.5 pound digital SLR, extra battery, and S-biners to hang from pack,
- 1.5 pound Crazy Creek chair (my back cannot take sitting on logs for a week and a half),
- 2 pound crew first aid kit with Sam Splints,
- 1 pound book, Mountains and Rivers Without End by Gary Snyder (used a poem evening for the meditation),
- 0.75 pound, gaiters (not used),
- 0.5 pound, hydration bladder (heavy but handy),
- heavier crew gear, some crew members were traditional packers,
- heavier compass, heavier socks and a third pair, Tabasco sauce, other small items.
How did I come to these decisions? Shakedown trips. I hiked Skyline to the Sea (32 miles, two and a half days) with a smaller camera and no chair and regretted both decisions. The first aid kit? Responsibility for other people’s kids is a heavy load. The book? Gary Snyder has been my companion on the trail for a long time. He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.
Take Andrew’s list and adapt it to your hiking style. You may end up heavier or lighter, but it is a great starting point. If you are going to Philmont, you need this book.
As it says in the Philmont Guidebook to Adventure, “the key to successful backpacking is to go lightly.”