Teaching Lightwight Backpacking to Scouts, Scouters, and Parents

How is lightweight relevant to Scouting? First, it’s about safety. Tired campers do risky things. Second, it’s about preparation and responsibility, rather than about throwing forty pounds of gear in a bag on Friday afternoon. Being a prepared, safe member of your patrol builds character and citizenship (Scouting aims #1 and #2) and mental fitness (part of aim #3). And lighter packs mean more fun, which matters because Scouting is a game (with a purpose).

Don Ladigan’s Lighten Up! is amazingly good for getting lighter. I steal teaching ideas from that all the time, and I learn something new every time I read it. I just requested that our local public library add that, and they also got the new Mike Clelland book book on ultralight backpacking.

We had a “fifteen pound challenge” for a weekend campout. Shoot for a base weight of 15 pounds, carry the ten essentials and a safe set of equipment (trash bags for shelter doesn’t count). We did this for fun, but there could be incentives, maybe the lightest pack gets a set of titanium tent pegs. Perhaps the heaviest pack should get a copy of Lighten Up!.

The Scouts should be teaching the Scouts. Get a couple of the boys converted, then stand back. One trip with a really light pack, and they’ll be your best evangelists.

The Black Diamond Betamid is a good way to get guys started on light shelters. Bombproof, durable, easy to set up, less than half the weight of a dome tent (2.25 pounds), and $99 ($79 on sale). Add a Gossamer Gear polycryo groundsheet for $8 and you are set. My son loves his.

I give a one hour presentation on lightweight backpacking at our University of Scouting. Feel free to use or steal any part of these PowerPoint slides. Don’t get too wrapped up in the slides, the presentation is about half slides and about half showing sample gear.

For parents, excess weight usually comes from fear. More worries, more gear. So you need to make it really, really clear that Scouting is a safe place for boys to make mistakes. That’s when the learning happens, for the Scout and for the patrol. The boy leaders and adults are there as the safety net.

Scoutmasters also carry extra gear because of fear. If your troop risk management needs an upgrade, do that first. More planning, less weight. Hint: you really, really should have two WFA-trained people on each outing and they don’t have to be adults. Get your leaders 14 and up trained.

Finally, pack weight equals gear plus skills. Skills don’t weigh anything. Teach skills that make safer, lighter campers.


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