I was the adult advisor for the 2009 Philmont expedition number 628-T1. We took Trek 8 at Philmont Scout ranch in Cimmeron New Mexico. In preparing for this two week backpacking adventure, I designed tested, and built a number of new techniques. These ideas reduce impact on Philmont resources and improve crew safety. I also include some ideas about cloths washing and camp towels that I have pieced together from other sources. By describing them in more detail in the documents below, the next person will not have to reinvent the wheel. (click on any picture to see a larger version)Last modified July 27, 2011 by Al Geist (email@example.com)
All these innovations were run past our Ranger, the head Ranger, and Philmont upper management. Everything was approved for our use except the new bear bag system. Philmont liked the idea, but they wanted to try out the idea themselves during the off-season before allowing crews to use it. They did allow our use of the lightweight Amsteel Blue ropes. One 150' piece for the main bear bags and a second 150' piece for the oops bags. We had trained the boys in the standard "Philmont Way" for bear bags and used that. We did come up with a couple innovations when using the Amsteel ropes the Philmont Way. These are described in the article below our Bear bag system article.
- A super efficient meal preparation technique - Going beyond turkey bagging, which involves eating from (and cleaning) bowls, this new method uses the Philmont food packages themselves as the cooking bags and the bowls. The technique minimizes clean up and gray water produced (none), it also minimizes the amount of trash produced, the amount of fuel used (we used two 8oz canisters per week with some left over), and the amount of water needed (important in dry camps of which we had a couple). Our entire cook kit weighed only 24 oz, which is the weight of a single Philmont 8 quart pot.
- A bear rope system to minimize impact on the trees at Philmont - Philmont has cables strung 20 feet high, but requires each crew to throw and pull up their own food bags (often weighing 75-100 pounds). This system uses an innovative hook I invented that will hook and unhook from the cable with no moving parts.
Several folks have asked about a source for the pulleys. I got the whole block and tackle from Amazon.com at http://www.amazon.com/Rope-Pulley-Block-Tackle-Hoist/dp/B001Z0WELC/ref=pd_cp_hi_1. Only $24! I took apart this 8 pulley system, took off the hooks and rope, and put it back together with just 4 pulleys. The pulleys fit the Amsteel rope very well. (Plus, you have enough pulleys left over to make a second 4 pulley system if you want, but you have to make a couple extra side plates)
- Using Amsteel Blue Rope at Philmont - Bear Bagging the Philmont Way we came up with a few clever ideas to make it easier for our boys to throw, tie, and handle the Amsteel Blue bear ropes.
- "Chair-e-it" backpack I created a lightweight backpack that converts to five different modes: backpack (seen above), camp chair, lounge chair (seen left), cot, and fanny pack. Yet only weighs 1 lb 15 oz. The article has pictures of all the modes and notes about its actual use during our Philmont trek. If you like to have something to sit on in camp other than the hard ground or wet rock, or a place to lay back and take an afternoon snooze, but don't want to carry the weight of a chair, check out this innovative backpack design.
If you would like to build your own Chair-e-it backpack, I have written up a set of instructions
describing how I did it – Part 1, Part 2, Part 3. If you do build one, send me a picture.
- An 18 oz two man tent - Philmont encourages sharing tents to reduce impact to the ranch and take up less space in the camps. I came up with some non-traditional construction techniques to create a really lightweight tent using silvered polyethylene material, which is quiet, tough, easy to fold, totally waterproof, and adds thermal insulation to the tent. Not only is the tent lightweight, but it also allows a lighter sleeping bag to be used, saving even more weight.
It has a 45 sq ft footprint yet only weighs 18 oz. Here is the tent set up at Lower Bonita Camp.
- Compact backpacking solar charger I built a compact solar charger after I was unable to find any commercial charger that could charge two 2500mah AA bateries in a single day. I took my GPS to Philmont and wanted to avoid carrying 14 days worth of batteries in my pack. Not to mention the impact to the landfills to throw all those dead batteries in the trash.
- Backpacking washing machine - This idea has been used at Philmont before, it is not my idea, but it is a good idea. I couldn't find it described anywhere so I wrote up a description for others to learn from and improve upon.
- Some thoughts on Bandanas and Wipes - This short article relays some ideas I saw kicked around on the multi-use gear forum at Backpackinglight.com. I tried these during our trek and found that they worked quite well.
I'll post more pictures when I get our crew pictures from Philmont. I have notes on how I built all these innovative Philmont gear list items, if you are interested in building your own send me email.
If you get a chance drop me an email and let me know what you think of these ideas.
July 2010. Bob Powledge of Crew 627-B-13 reports:
Just returned from Philmont this past weekend, and used your Bear Bag Rope system, or a variation of it, during the whole trek. On the whole, yours is a great system. We replaced the inexpensive "Harbor Freight" pulleys with smaller and higher-quality sailboat tackle, but used your hook design and am-steel rope exactly as shown. We did a couple of things to ease our Ranger's acceptance of the system and to cover our bases:
- We took an additional am-steel line and carabiner so that we could do the Philmont method if required to do so
- We took a copy of your .pdf file on the system and showed it to the Ranger early (before declining the Phil ropes at gear checkout)
- We made sure that our guys were well-practiced so that our initial performance with the system was a good one
Like your crew, we found the mechanical advantage of the four pulleys allowed us do away with the "Oops Bag" entirely, as the largest loads (even on food pick-up days) could be easily hoisted by two youth crew members
We did have minor problems in two areas:
All-in-all, it is a great system. The trade-off in weight, and particularly in ease of raising heavy loads, was well worth the effort. I would definitely use the system again!
- Low Bear Bag Cables: Several Philmont bear bag cables are too low to allow for the required drop when using the string spool toggle as the jam mechanism. On cables minimally only 15'-16' above the ground, the bottoms of our lowest bear bags would hang 12'-13' above the ground when fully raised, but then drop to an unacceptable 8'-9' as the toggle rose and the bags descended (at a 4:1 ratio).
Solution: In these instances, we merely placed our release spool and twine into our rope bag, and tied off the rope and bag to a single tree using the standard Philmont wrap method. This kept our bottom pulley and the bear bags fully against the low bear bag cable.
- Hook Release Twine Issues:
Occasionally, other crews would entangle our hook release string, rendering it unusable. In these situations, we found that the hook could still be easily and reliably released as long as there was any other bear bag still hanging on the cable. All that was required was to drop our bags, and while holding our bottom pulley at ground level, walk the hook and upper pulley along the bear bag cable until it contacted another crew's tie-off line. At that point, the hook would readily rotate off the cable and onto that line, and slide down the other crew's line to the level where it was tied off.
Occasionally, tugging on the release twine failed to release the hook. In these cases, simply throwing the twine spool back over the bear cable (in the reverse of the direction from which it originally came) allowed dropping the hook with a simple tug.
On July 2011 Larry Welling reports on his use of the ideas at Philmont
Just a followup on Philmont. Aside from a bad knee on the descent, we had a great trip. Itinerary 11.
Of all your tricks and tips, the one that worked the best was the "tin foil tent", probably the best tent we had. We used only one Phil tent, the others were a random assortment of backpacking tents. Built it from the stretchable space blankets rather than mylar. Had a few punctures but easily fixed with the duct tape on the treking poles. While there was indeed condensation in the tent, it dried out much faster than the fabric tents.
On the bear bagging system, I found that drilling the "eyelet hole" 45deg from perpendicular, and angling the hole with small files allowed the hook to go over the cable easiest. Made from 1/2in aluminum rod. I also ran a 12 in length of amsteel thru the eyelet to avoid wear problems on the cable, and attached that with a double sheet bend to the throw twine. Our ranger, a 1st year, insisted we bring the Phil ropes as a backup. Our first chance to demonstrate the system was on a steep slope at Zastrow, which was difficult at best. We used a braided twine as a throw rope, which kinked horribly. The scouts had difficulty pulling the amsteel rope under full load, even with a stick. We decided we needed an ascender or a locking top pulley. The other major problem was twisting of the load under the pulleys, and tangling of the pulley ropes with the throw twine, which made it next to impossible to use. My scouts got so frustrated with the tangling twisting problems, and rope burn, that they opted for the Phil system. I was able to use the pulley system successfully, by myself, but it did take patience. If you have any suggestions for the twisting problem, that would help.
I built a Chair-e-it. Other than a broken shoulder strap, it worked "OK". I played with some ways to bring the shoulder strap (from a thrift store kids backpack) attachment point a little closer together, for comfort. I ran a small strap and buckle from the upper end of the shoulder straps across the front of the back rest, and just released the buckle when deploying the chair. I used a 3 L camelback, and attached a commercial camelback cover to my commercial tactical belt using ALICE type clips. The camelback fit in the space between the chair seat and the frame in the small of my back. The belt attached to the bottom frame with 3 velcro strips. My sleeping bag compression sack was strapped to the bottom of the chair, making the whole thing a little wobbly in the pack line. On shakedown hikes I put my big agnes bag in a "space bag" vacuum bag, folded flat against my back in the large dry sack, which was very comfortable and light. But the way the V brace held the bag on the frame, I knew there would not be enough room in the dry sack for the food plus the sleeping bag. I clipped a silnylon daypack (for raingear, etc) to the top frame, clipped the shoulder straps of that to the upper corners of the frame with small carabiners, and tied the bottom straps of the daypack to the V brace. It fit all my gear, and with a full load of food, water, tin foil tent, first aid kit, noah tarp, and assorted crew gear was 45lbs. The comfort factor was tolerable, no blisters, but I will get better straps next time. Biggest problem was the time and effort to pack ,unpack, and deploy the chair and repack. The chair was handy to have, but we seemed to be so busy I didn't spend as much time in it as I had hoped for. Will have to tweak that a little.
Our crew practiced the bag cooking system several times, but when we got to Phil, the bags were not suitable for boiling water. Our ranger made us take the 8qt pot, a 2qt pot for dishwater, and we left all the foam cozies in base camp. I suppose we could have reconstituted individual servings in our tupperware, but by then the kids got used to the pot and it all worked out fine.
I also built a solar charger for my droid using the "mighty minty boost" on instructables.com. We used the droid for GPS, camera, and scriptures. I really appreciated the articles you wrote, and shared them with my crew chiefs and advisors. I've spent most of my free time the last 6 months building and tweaking stuff for Philmont. Now that it's over, my wife thinks I'll need a 2nd job or a new hobby to keep busy. Thanks again for helping out a bunch of newbies.