What’s Cooking on the PCT

If you’d like to eat better on the trail, you should get this book with the favorite recipes from more than forty PCT hikers. Most trail cookbooks follow a single style, but this one is a wide-ranging trip through different styles of prep (home dehydration, supermarket food, no cook) and eating (big breakfast, vegan, high protein).

What’s Cooking on the PCT 2015 is the first of a planned yearly collection from Pacific Crest Trail thru-hikers.

Whats cooking 2015

Some samples: vegan bean chili stew, vegan hete bliksem (spiced apples and potatoes), big shakes or super oatmeal for big breakfast hikers, a couple of ramen pseudo-Thai meals, a Roman army lentil stew, Leebe bedouin bread baked in coals, loaded mashed potatoes, Thanksgiving in a bowl, and finally quick and dirty peach cobbler (using Louisiana Fish Fry brand cobbler mix.

There is also a recipe for Costco chocolate chip cookies with canned whipped cream and a cherry on top from the “Sonora Pass Café“. Now that sounds like Scout food.

My favorite preparation instruction is for the Leebe bread: “Take it out of the fire and beat the loaf up to break off the burnt crust and shake off the dust.” That is something I need to make on a trip.

All of this for under ten dollars, and half the profits go to the Pacific Crest Trail Association. Hard to lose with that deal.

You can get it from Amazon or the author’s website.

Philmont Pack Weights 2010

I finally found the pack weight notes that I took at Philmont base camp on the morning we started on our trek in 2010.

I’ve estimated base weights by subtracting thirteen pounds. We were carrying four days of Philfood (seven pounds), and most of us were carrying three liters of water (six pounds).

The median pack weight was 42 pounds (29 pounds estimated base weight). The average was 40.1 pounds (27.1 pounds estimated base weight). Total pack weight for the crew was 401 pounds.

Most of the time, a crew will be carrying two days or less food. Subtract three or four pounds from these numbers to get a mid-trek pack weight.

Philmont packs crop

This photo is from the “trail” up the south side of Mount Philips. That was the steepest and highest trail we hiked (11,742 feet), and we were carrying six liters of water each. The summit camp is dry, and we wouldn’t have any water sources until the next evening.

Crew Member Trailhead
Weight
Est. Base
Weight
Notes
Josh 32 19 crew leader
Derek 37 24
Jason 37 24
John 40 27 external frame pack
Michael 42 29
Mike 42 29
Robert 42 29
Walter (me) 42 29 advisor
Oliver 43 30 external frame pack
Larry 44 31 advisor, external frame pack

Next time, I’d plan the crew gear weight and distribution better. Our crew gear was pretty heavy, and I think the advisors took a little more than our share. We planned to bring a lighter tarp, but our crew quartermaster forgot it.

We had spent a fair amount of time with the crew, teaching them lightweight techniques and doing pack checks. We could have spent more. Philmont tells people to prepare for carrying packs that weight from 45 to 55 pounds, so we were much better than the typical crew. Still, we probably could have been lighter by five to eight pounds per person without spending a lot of money.

What was my pack like?

  • 17 pounds base weight, essential personal gear only
  • 23 pounds including big camera, chair, and book
  • 25 pounds with crew gear, mostly first aid
  • 37 pounds estimated with three days food

Philfood is 1.75 pounds (800 grams) per person per day, so carrying four days instead of three makes that 38 pounds. Obviously, I added another four pounds of crew gear, mostly fuel canisters. 42 pounds was a bit heavy for the Six Moon Designs Starlite pack I used, but it was comfortable after we ate the first day or so of meals. We only carried a four day load at one other time.

How important is a comfortable, light pack at Philmont? I think it means you have a much better experience. Towards the end of the trek, our crew was singing on the trail and passing other crews.

Our Ranger said we were the best-prepared crew he’d had that summer.

Every member of the crew became an Eagle Scout.

The Scout with the lightest pack loved Philmont so much that he went back for Rayado the next year, then was a Philmont Ranger for the next two years.

MSR Wins Again

The troop’s MSR WhisperLite stoves just keep going, even though the Scouts lose the windscreens. But we can buy replacements. Now, the stuff sacks are just worn out, but I e-mailed MSR and they are available as parts, though not listed on the website.

MSR stuff sacks

So, for $10 each, our stoves have brand new stuff sacks to keep the soot off the rest of our gear. They don’t say “WhisperLite” like the old ones, but they are pretty obviously MSR stove bags.

The next time I need a backpacking stove, I’ll think about who might have spare parts for me twenty years from now. MSR will be high on the list.

A Gift for your Backpacking Chef

We can all find dehydrated onions, but what about dehydrated carrots or cabbage? Make sure that your backcountry chef has what they need.

The Harmony House Backpacking Kit is a collection of eighteen packages of different kinds of freeze-dried vegetables. Each package is one cup of freeze-dried vegetables in a zip-lock bag. The kit is about $50 from most sources.

Backpacking kit

I got this for Christmas a few years ago and it has been great. Whenever I want to make a backpacking meal, I just dip into the backpacking pantry.

Here is the list of the vegetables in the kit, each item is one cup of freeze-dried veg:

  • Carrots (2)
  • Diced Potatoes (2)
  • Green Peas (2)
  • Tomato Dices
  • Sweet Celery
  • Cut Green Beans
  • Sweet Corn
  • Green Cabbage
  • Mixed Red & Green Peppers
  • Chopped Onions
  • Black Beans
  • Northern Beans
  • Lentils
  • Red Beans
  • Pinto Beans

The perfect companion to this gift is a backpacking cookbook. I recommend Trail Cooking by Sarah Kirkconnell and The Back-Country Kitchen by Teresa Marrone. The first is focused on backpacking meals, the other covers the full spectrum from backpacking to cabin cuisine. Might as well get both, I can’t choose.

The Backpacking Kit from Harmony House.

The Backpacking Kit from REI.

The Backpacking Kit from Amazon.

Radio Scouting: Hike Safely

The Hiker Responsibility Code says “Be prepared..to stay together” on the trail. BSA rules require adequate supervision. But how do we stay together and be safe on a troop hike with thirty or forty Scouts? We can hike in independent groups, each with two adults and a crew first aid kit. Or, we can stay in touch with radio communications.

Crew 27 in our area has a scheme for coordination on a hike. Each independent group has a radio. The last group, “sweep”, has adults and a radio. All groups check in every 15 minutes. If a group cannot communicate with sweep, they halt and wait for the groups behind them to get closer. A hike group can relay messages to and from a forward group.

T 14 at Henry Coe 2006 crop 1

What kind of radio? FRS/GMRS (Family Radio Service, General Mobile Radio Service) radios are affordable and don’t require a license. They work over a fairly short range, maybe a half-mile in the mountains or a forest for FRS channels (0.5 Watt transmit power) or farther for GMRS channels (1 or 2 Watts).

REI has a good guide to outdoor FRS radios.

If a patrol wants to hike with more separation, each group (including sweep) can have someone with an amateur radio license. An amateur radio HT (Handheld Transceiver, often called a “Walkie Talkie”), has more power (5 to 8 Watts) and a range of one or two miles, especially with an improved antenna. Some HT’s only cost a little more than FRS radios. The least expensive models change frequently, but good models tend to cost between $30 and $70. You pay more for ease of use, ruggedness, and a better antenna.

The test for the Technician amateur radio license is not that hard. It is a 35 question test and you need to get 26 correct answers (74%). All the questions are public, so you can practice as much as you want, free. The hamexam.org site is a good place to practice. It isn’t a trivial test—even though I have the highest level of FCC amateur license, I just missed two questions on a practice test.

Try a Technician test and see how close you are. There are study programs and amateurs who are willing to help (“Elmers”). I’m willing to help.

Radio scouting

Radio Scouting: Patrol Camping

Patrols should camp out of earshot from each other and the adult leaders. But how do we provide adequate adult supervision in that situation? With radio communications, of course!

An ideal troop campout has patrols camping separately, probably 100 feet to 100 yards apart from each other. The SPL and ASPL(s) camp separately. The adults should also be at the same distance. But in that configuration, how do the adults provide “qualified supervision” as required in the Sweet Sixteen of BSA Safety? And how does the youth chain of command from Senior Patrol Leader (SPL) to Patrol Leader (PL) work?

This is the supervision requirement from the Sweet Sixteen:

Every BSA activity should be supervised by a conscientious adult who understands and knowingly accepts responsibility for the well-being and safety of the children and youth in his or her care. The supervisor should be sufficiently trained, experienced, and skilled in the activity to be confident of his/her ability to lead and to teach the necessary skills and to respond effectively in the event of an emergency. Field knowledge of all applicable BSA standards and a commitment to implement and follow BSA policies and procedures are essential parts of the supervisor’s qualifications.

The major part of that is training and experience, so the adult needs to be comfortable with their level of oversight while leaving room for a boy-led troop.

With FRS hand-held radios, the Patrol Leaders can communicate with the Senior Patrol Leader, and the adults can monitor the discussion. FRS radios are quite effective at 100 yards, even through trees.

Patrol Leaders can report back to the SPL, or can ask questions. The adult leaders can listen to the traffic. If quick intervention is needed, adults can break in on the discussion. If the SPL needs mentoring, the Scoutmaster can walk over, perhaps with an announcement on-frequency that they are visiting the campsites.

Radio communication should always be backed up with “management by wandering around”, as I learned at Hewlett-Packard. A casual stroll through the campsites with a few questions can uncover a lot of information.

What does this cost? Good quality FRS radios are available in the $20-40 range. A troop with four patrols would need six radios, one for each PL, one for the SPL, and one for the Scoutmaster.

If the youth leadership has amateur radio licenses, they could use hand-held radios with greater range. Amateur hand-helds (HT’s) start around $50.

Radio scouting pin

Bacon Jerky!

Bacon is magic in food but a problem on the trail—refrigeration, skillets, grease, etc. Shelf-stable bacon makes tons of trash with strips wrapped individually. Bacon jerky to the rescue!

IMG 1093 crop

On a recent visit to Walgreens, I spotted bacon jerky and immediately bought it. It does not seem to have a lot of preservatives. It isn’t overly salty (beyond its bacon-ness) or smoky. It should be eaten within three days after opening the package. With Scouts, it would last three minutes, so that is not an issue.

$5.99 for 3 ounces. That is a decent amount of cooked bacon, so a fair deal.

When my dad and I backpacked in the Pecos Wilderness, we took Wilson’s bacon bars to crumble into our morning oatmeal. The bacon bars disappeared decades ago, but we finally have a good replacement.

I have only seen this as a Walgreens brand. It will probably spread, but pop into your local Walgreens and give it a try.