Scout Backpacking Around the SF Bay Area

I’ve written a series of articles about backpacking trips that work for Scouts ages 10 to 14. Some have a “split hike” possibility where older, stronger Scouts can take a different route to the same campsite.

See you on the trail!

Backpacking sunol 3

Backpacking: Pioneer Outpost at Cutter Scout Reservation

The Hike

Not especially well-marked if you want to make it a loop, but easy to follow on a fire road if you make it an out-and-back. This campsite is a couple of miles from the main part of Cutter, past the COPE course, down into a small valley. When you hit a decent-sized meadow on the downhill side of the road, you’re there.

If you know a Scouter who’s taken the High Adventure Training (HAT) course at Cutter, they have probably hiked the whole loop. GPS tracks are available, if you ask nicely.

Why Go Here?

Who knew there was a backcountry campsite at Cutter? It won’t be booked up by tourists from the midwest, that’s for sure. Give it a try.

There are a couple of small campsite just off of Butano Fire Road, McKie and the ESAR Outpost. I’d choose McKie, which is on top of a ridge and has nice views, but it only has room for a few tents. The Pioneer outpost is a meadow big enough for a few patrols.

Reservations and Planning

The backcountry campsites are $6 per person per night.

The water source is South Fork Butano Creek, a bit up the road towards the main camp area from the campsite. You’ll be carrying water back to the campsite and purifying it.

Cutter Scout Reservation was damaged in the 2020 CZU Complex wildfires. It may be a while before the camp is rebuilt and can reopen.

Links and Resources

Fees and reservation form: Cutter fee schedule

Backpacking: Castle Rock State Park

Backpacking castle rock

The Hike

This is a loop, with the trail camp 2.5 miles from the parking lot. One side of the loop is a dramatic trail along the side of the ridge. with views out to the ocean on good days. Our Scouts call it the Cliff Trail, but its official name is the Saratoga Gap Trail. The other half of the loop goes through a woods along the top of the ridge, the Ridge Trail. The elevation gain/loss for the full loop is about 1200 feet.

Why Go Here?

The hike is lovely. You’ll see lots of day hikers. With 25 camp sites, it rarely fills up. This is also one of the few trail camps where a campfire is allowed, only in rainy season, of course.

You will hear a few loud motorcycles on Skyline Boulevard, and the nearby gun range is active until 4 or 5 PM. Also, watch out for poison oak, it is very common near the trail camp.

Reservations and Planning

Parking is $10 and you need exact change. Bring it, because the ranger kiosk is usually not staffed. The parking lot fills up, so plan to start your hike early.

Campsites are $15 per night with an $8 processing fee. For two sites and a group of 13 or more, there is a flat fee of $25.

Reservations can be made 60 days in advance, online.

15 of the 20 campsites are available by reservation only as part of the Santa Cruz Mountains Backcountry Trail Camp System. Five campsites are available first come, first served. This is a change from before, when all sites were first come, first served. See the reservations page below for details.

Links and Resources

Backpacking: Manzanita Ridge at Henry Coe State Park

Backpacking manzanita ridge

The Hike

Three miles, with elevation gain loss of +/- 500 to 600 feet depending on which group camp you stay at and which route you take.

The first part of the hike has three options. The ranch road follows the crest of the ridge, so it has more views and a bit more climbing. The Springs Trail is on the sunny south side of the ridge, going mostly through meadow. The Forest Trail is on the shady north side of the ridge. The Forest Trail also has a nature booklet and is great for doing some tree and plant identification.

I like to go out on the ridge-top ranch road and return on the Forest Trail.
There are ten group camp sites stretched out along about a half mile of trail. Personally, I like site 10, at the end. It has a big meadow to run around in and some trees for protected camping spaces. it also has a nice view to the west. Site 5 is on top of a knoll and is also a a nice spot. Several of them are nice, really.

Why Go Here?

In all the times I’ve camped here, there has never been anyone in another group camp site. Maybe a group at the horse camp, but I think that was only during the day. The sites have plenty of room, picnic tables, and quiet nights.

The hike along Manzanita Ridge is a guaranteed opportunity for Scouts to do the nature requirements for Second Class and First Class (ten animals and ten plants). I always see a dozen or more wild animals on this loop—wild turkeys, quail (usually by sound), hawks, vultures, owl pellets, meadow dug up by wild pigs, pocket gophers—it’s a long list. Don’t miss the Acorn Woodpecker granary tree where the three trails meet at the south end of the ridge.

The Forest Trail is a nature trail with numbered markers, starting at the south end, but the brochures aren’t always stocked at the start of that trail, so see if the visitor center has a copy.

A split hike option is possible here, with a challenging hike over to Middle Ridge, then down to Poverty Flat and back up to the group camps. This is a great workout for a Philmont shakedown.

Stop by the visitor center at headquarters and ask about water conditions and weather. The water varies from none to not enough, but it is conversation. While you are there, you can buy their nice guides to the plants and animals of the park. You can even buy a patch. We know it is real Scouting when there is a patch.

Reservations and Planning

The Manzanita Point group camps do not have water. Each group can bring one vehicle in to carry water and other things. That vehicle will stay in the campsite. The road is pretty rutted and steep in places. I’ve driven it in a minivan, but some people would not be comfortable doing that.

The have been putting in new vault toilets and some water tanks, so that situation might have improved. Call and ask for details.

The group sites are $75 per night, plus an $8 service fee. Two vehicles are allowed only for transferring equipment to and from the camp site. They cannot park there overnight. If the road is wet, four wheel drive might be a good idea, though I’ve driven it wet in a minivan.

Reservations can be made six months in advance.

Coe is hot and dry in the summer. Winter and spring are the best times to go.

Large areas of Henry Coe State Park were burned in the 2020 SCU Lightning Complex fire, but this portion of the park was not affected.

Links and Resources

Backpacking: Black Mountain Trail Camp at Monte Bello Open Space

Backpacking black mountain

The Hike

About two miles with 600 feet of up and down, just enough up and down to feel like a real hike. The trail goes through open grasslands with nice views along the headwaters of Stevens Creek.

There are a couple of options, taking the trail or the road. They are about the same distance and elevation gain/loss, so let the Scouts choose the route.

Why Go Here?

Lovely hike and a nice, roomy group camp area, what’s not to like? If the fog doesn’t roll in, you’ll see some stars. You can also get a nice view of the Santa Clara Valley. Hike up near the actual summit of Black Mountain (past the radio installation), then take the use trail east, towards the valley. At the edge of the meadow you can stand on some rocks and get a peek at the valley all lit up below. Camping is the only way to get that view, because the park closes at sunset.

There is a split hike option for older, stronger Scouts to take a more difficult route to the same camp site. Drop off the crew at Hidden Villa in Los Altos HIlls. They’ll walk through the farm, then start on the Creek Trail and hike up into Monte Bello Open Space Preserve. This is a 9 mile hike with 2400 feet of climbing, so much more of a challenge.

You can add a second challenging day by continuing from the trail camp up to Skyline Boulevard. Take the Indian Creek Trail down into Stevens Creek Canyon, then the Canyon Trail downstream, then the Grizzly Flat Trail up to Skyline. Arrange to have your ride meet you there. That hike is another 2500 feet of climbing. The two days together are a “half traverse” of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Hike the Skyline to the Sea Trail to complete the traverse.
Backpacking black mountain night

Reservations and Planning

Reserve the group camp with a web request on the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District site. You will need the vehicle descriptions and license plates to register, so plan your rides early. The fee is $2 per camper per night.

For the split hike option, Hidden Villa is closed to the public in July and August. It is probably too hot to do that hike in full summer anyway.

If a storm comes through, the wind seems to be funneled through the group camp meadow. Make sure your tent is staked down.

Links and Resources

Backpacking: Eagle Spring Camp at Mission Peak

Backpacking eagle spring

The Hike

I recommend starting at Sunol Regional Wilderness Preserve and hiking to Mission Peak from the east side. That trail is longer, 5.5 miles, but not as steep. Also, the overnight parking is much safer because the park is closed overnight.

The hike is nearly all on fire roads. That is a harder surface, but our Scouts like it because they can walk side by side and talk the whole way.

About halfway up, there is hairpin turn with a driveway to a house on the north side of the trail. The interior of that turn has a bunch of old building foundations. This is a convenient spot to stop and have lunch or a serious snack.

It will be clear when you get close to camp, because Mission Peak will be right in front of you. When you hit the tee-junction, turn right, and you’ll be at the camp right away.

The trail rises 2000 feet from Sunol to the top of Mission Peak, but Eagle Spring Camp is about 400 feet below the peak, so you only have to carry your backpack up about 1600 feet of elevation.

Why Go Here?

The campsite has awesome views of the valley across to Mt. Diablo. You can watch the traffic jam on I-680 while you sit and relax. I had that view as my screen background for quite a while.

Mission Peak officially closes at sunset, even though you are likely to see dozens of people on the summit at that time. But they have to walk all the way back down in the dark and you only have to walk back to camp.

To get to the peak, take the trail up the south side. The north side approach is the worst trail in the Bay Area, steep and rutted. The south side is a perfectly normal trail.
Backpacking eagle spring night 1

Reservations and Planning

Normally, I’d say the East Bay hills are too hot in the summer, but I’ve camped here in early July and late September and it was fine. Not sure I’d choose August as a first choice, though.

$5 per night per person plus $8 booking fee. Open all year. To make a reservation, call 1-888-EBPARKS or (888) 327-2757 , press option 2.

The trail from Sunol crosses the Olohne Regional Wilderness, so each hiker 12 years or older will need a wilderness permit. Those are $2 each and can be purchased in-person at Sunol or over the phone. Fee for in-person purchase is $2/person/year; by mail/phone/online $4/person/year for first five permits and $3/person/year for each additional permit after five. You need a paper copy of the permit, so buy them seven days in advance if you aren’t getting them in person.

Links and Resources

Backpacking: Boulder Creek Scout Reservation

Backpacking BCSR

The Hike

Loop trail, 3.5 miles total, about 600 feet of uphill to the campsite and returning.
Camp in a spacious redwood grove. I prefer the Upper Redwood campsite to Lower Redwood or Meadow. Meadows are lumpy and cold. Upper Redwood is just a little nicer.

Why Go Here?

It is a nearby, easy trail, and easy to get reservations. It is a year-round trail, though it could be cold and rainy in the winter.
The redwood grove is a lovely spot with tons of room for patrols to spread out. There are other campsites at the lower end of the redwood grove and in the meadow, but I like the Upper Redwood Camp best. Meadows look nice, but they are lumpy to sleep on.

Reservations and Planning

Reserve the site through Pacific Skyline Council. It is best to avoid camporee weekends when the parking will be over 100% full.
It can be wet and cold there in the winter and you can get plenty of fog drip from the redwoods in the summer, but that is part of being there.

Links and Resources

Backpacking: Berry Creek Falls in Big Basin

Backpacking big basin 2

The Hike

From Big Basin State Park Headquarters, hike the Skyline to the Sea Trail to Berry Creek Falls, then hike up the Berry Creek Falls Trail past Silver Falls and the Golden Cascade, then continue on to Sunset trail camp. The closest water is at Berry Creek, so fill up there before hiking to the camp.

This can be turned in to a two-night trip if you start by camping at the Jay Trail Camp in the Big Basin headquarters area.

An alternate route is start at the Rancho del Oso Nature Center near Waddell Beach and walk upstream to Berry Creek Falls and Sunset Trail Camp. This an out-and-back hike, roughly 7 miles each way, with an easy downhill back to the trailhead. You can even run into the Pacific Ocean at the end! But you’ll miss the old growth redwoods, which are all in the narrower upstream canyon that couldn’t be logged.

Why Go Here?

The Berry Creek Falls Loop is the most popular trail in the park, and probably the most popular long trail in the SF Bay Area. You’ll find plenty of reasons to hike it. But backpacking means you can be on the trail when fewer people are there. Maybe you want to hike the loop so that you go to the falls on the morning of the second day, so you’ll be there in the morning before the crowds arrive.
Backpacking big basin 5

Reservations and Planning

Campsites are $15 per night with an $8 processing fee. For two sites and a group of 13 or more, there is a flat fee of $25.

Reservations can be made 60 days in advance, online.

Big Basin State Park was heavily damaged in the 2020 CZU Complex wildfires. It may be a while before the camp is rebuilt and can reopen.

Links and Resources

Backpacking: Black Diamond Mines

The Hike

About three miles from the parking lot with 300 feet of climbing and 150 feet of descent, reversed on the return trip. The destination is the Stewartville Backpack Camp.

Why Go Here?

I haven’t visited this one, but it looks like a nice campsite with a fairly easy hike, plus some interesting historical sites, including a mine tour.

The camp site is a single group site, so you’ll be on your own. Redwood HIkes says:

Stewartville is a single-site trail camp at the edge of a huge, sweeping cow pasture. The vast swath of open, gently sloping grassland, which is a strikingly deep green in spring, is often dotted with cows. It kind of feels like you’re a cowpoke camping on the range.

Reservations and Planning

$5 per night per person plus $8 booking fee. Open all year.
Reserve by calling East Bay Parks at 1-888-327-2757.

Links and Resources

Backpacking: Angel Island State Park

Backpacking angel island 3 adj

The Hike

First, you take the ferry from Tiburon, so there is some driving and coordinating with the ferry schedule. Once you are on the island, your campsite is a mile or so away mostly on paved roads. Hiking all the way around the island is five miles, so you can’t go too far.

You’ll want to hike to the the top of the Island, Mount Livermore, but do that when it isn’t shrouded in fog. I’ve been to the top in the fog and it is amusing, but the views aren’t that great.

Why Go Here?

There is nothing quite like camping on an island. Camping on an island in the middle of San Francisco Bay with a clear view of Oakland, San Francisco, and the Golden Gate is even better. Also check out the light show on the Bay Bridge. It is on the side of the bridge facing Angel Island.

Make some time to visit the immigration station and other historical sites. The Immigration Station is a National Historic Landmark and a great choice of a place to visit for requirement 2a of Citizenship in the Nation merit badge.

Reservations and Planning

Angel Island can be very cold and windy. The best time of year is October, maybe extending into late September and early November. October is the brief break between the cold summer ocean upwelling that brings the fog and the winter storms that bring rain.

Your camp site will either be the West Garrison or North Garrison group sites on the windward side, or the Secret Service Camp in a well-sheltered site on the leeward side. The group camps have better views and the service camp is warmer.

Reserve the service camp (it’s not on the map) by calling the Service Camp Coordinator at the Angel Island Conservancy (Programs « Angel Island Conservancy). Talk to them to arrange a service project and you’ll have the use of the service camp. Don’t try to find it on the map, it isn’t there. I’ve seen the sign for it, but I’m not telling.

Camp sites open up for reservations six months in advance. Be a sniper and reserve them on the morning of the first day they are open.
Do not miss the last ferry! Chartering a boat at the last minute is quite expensive.

Links and Resources

Backpacking: Coast Camp at Point Reyes

Backpacking coast camp 1

The Hike

Two mile easy hike through tall brush. The highest point of the trail is halfway there, about 300 feet higher than the start or end. The last time I was there, I realized I left something in the car, so I just hiked back and got it. That was a year after my knee surgery and I wasn’t in great shape, so yeah, easy hike.

You want to park at the Laguna Trailhead, but that parking lot fills up often. Don’t be surprised if you end up parking a quarter mile away along the road. It is still an easy hike.

You can also start at the Limantour Trailhead, but check the tide tables for your hike in and hike out times, because the beach portion of the trail can be soggy or underwater.

Why Go Here?

The beach! If you make it a two-night campout, there is great day-hiking up and down the coast, plus a challenging hike to the summit of Mount Wittenberg. That summit is part of the Rim of the Bay patch series.

A campfire on the beach is a great way to end the day, but dress warmly because the wind off the Pacific Ocean can be really cold any time of year.

Backpacking coast camp 2

Reservations and Planning

Getting a reservation is the hard part. Plan on being a sniper and making a reservation six months to the day before your planned outing. Log on and make that reservation before your morning coffee is finished brewing. Start checking a few days before to make sure you understand the system and the earliest date.

Based on two visits, campsites 8 and 9 were very windy, and sites 13 and 14 were a bit more sheltered. I would expect sites 1-7 to be less windy. We had Scouts looking for rocks to keep the lid from blowing off of the pot. Of course, they were set up on top of the raccoon box at a convenient height. I set up my stove on the ground in the lee of the raccoon box.

A permit is required for beach fires, get one at the visitor center—Beach Fires Within Point Reyes National Seashore – Point Reyes National Seashore (U.S. National Park Service).

The hardest part of the trip may be driving to Point Reyes on a Friday or Saturday. On Friday, you may need to leave after lunch to avoid the traffic across the Golden Gate Bridge. Plan on having all the cars stop at the visitor center to regroup. You’ll need to pick up your camping, parking, and fire permits there anyway.

Links and Resources

Backpacking: Sunol Regional Wilderness Preserve

Backpacking sunol 1

The Hike

The hike is hard enough that everyone will feel like they’ve accomplished something, and at the end there are nice campsites with a lovely view of the valley.

This can be a “split route” campout, with the older Scouts taking the more challenging McCorkle Trail. Both trails leave from near the same parking lot and both end up a the entrance to the backpack camp area.

The campsites are spread out enough that other campers are out of sight and hearing, unless you meet at the water spigot or latrine.

You will probably be in Eagle’s Eyrie (10 people) or Star’s Rest (30 people). Those sites are at the highest elevation, both with great views.

Trail Details

Most hikers should take the Camp Ohlone Road along Alameda Creek, then the Backpack Road up to the camp area. The Camp Ohlone Road is rolling, slow climb. You’ll see tons of people until you get to the Little Yosemite area, then probably nobody after that.

The backpack camping area is spread up the side of a ridge, with the highest camps (Star’s Rest and Eagle’s Eyrie) 350 feet above the gate to the area. The trail is very steep, with no switchbacks. Expect to take a lot of rest breaks during the last half mile from the gate to your camp.

Everyone will need plenty of energy for this last push to camp. Our glycogen reserves are usually depleted after about two hours of hiking, so you are likely to run out of energy exactly when you need it. Plan a mid-hike stop for everyone to replenish with an energy bar, so Gatorade, or both. This might be at the picnic tables at Little Yosemite or where the trail leaves Alameda Creek to climb out of the canyon. If you haven’t stopped buy then, you might need a 30 minute packs off and snack break at the gate to the camping area.

If the group is feeling good after the hike in, you may want to hike back on the McCorkle Trail. It has about as much climbing as the last stretch to the campsite, but much less steep. This is the easy direction for the McCorkle Trail. It is much harder going to the camp.

Why go here?

At the end of this challenging hike, you’ll be in a campsite away from other people with a great view down the valley. The only time you’ll see another person is going to the water faucet or latrine.

Schedule your campout during a meteor shower and you’ll have a good chance of seeing shooting stars. The camp sites are far enough inland to get less fog and not that close to city lights.

Backpacking sunol 2

Reservations and Planning

$5 per night per person plus $8 booking fee. Open all year.

Check availability at ReserveAmerica Sunol, California – View Available Campsites & Reserve Online | ReserveAmerica, but reserve by calling East Bay Parks at 1-888-327-2757.

Reservations may be made up to four weeks in advance. The latest they can be made is two days before your arrival date.

Links and Resources

Windshield Survey: A COVID-Friendly Emergency Service Project (E. Prep. 7a)

Emergency Preparedness Merit Badge requirement 7a is “Take part in an emergency service project, either a real one or a practice drill, with a Scouting unit or a community agency.” How do you do this while Scouting at home?

A standard part of our city emergency drills could be adapted as an emergency service project. In a disaster, our emergency volunteers quickly collect information about damage with a “windshield survey” or “windshield damage assessment”. That information is collected centrally.

Volunteers make notes of the damage in their neighborhood and report it to our volunteer operations center. The damage could be to houses, water mains, gas lines, roads, or power lines. Information about injuries is also collected. In an actual disaster, this would be forwarded to our city EOC for city-wide situational awareness and to dispatch our professional or volunteer emergency response teams.

As I write this, our next drill is tomorrow evening. I’ll be at our volunteer operations center running a two-way radio net to collect this information from neighborhood volunteers.

Our city Damage Assessment Form collects summary information on the front and has instructions on the back.

Minor damage

*Minor, repairable damage.*

Emergency Service Project

Organize a “windshield survey” or “windshield damage assessment”. This is done by walking or driving an area and making notes of the damage. For our drills, it is earthquake damage, but it could also be from a windstorm or other disaster.

Each drill has a list of fake incidents, so “water main broken at Ferne and Leaf”, “gas leak at 1120 Ferne”, and so on. The lists are distributed to the volunteers in the matching neighborhood. Each local team enters the their incidents on a damage assessment form, then reports the incident summary to the central collection point, “net control”. Net control enters the data on their own copy of the form. At the end of he drill, we check that all the incidents were reported and transmitted properly.

Another approach would be to list things are already in the neighborhood, like “blooming flowers in front”, “porch light on”, “two cars in driveway”, “boat”, and so on. For the drill to work well, those should be present in the neighborhood but not at every address, maybe one each per block. Those reports get rolled up for a block or neighborhood, then called in to net control.

Reports could be sent through phone calls, text messages, emails, or FRS two-way radios. Our volunteers use an internet app if available, but also practice with radios that work without the Internet. The Scout organizing the drill gets to choose thee communication technology.

The Scout should do a dry run, with a couple of checks on nearby streets to see if incident collection works, then report to a helper using the damage assessment form. After that, make the final damage assessment forms, make fake damage data if needed, organize the participants, including teaching them how to use the form, then run the drill.

The entire drill can be run without making in-person contact. Training can be remote. Reporting is not face to face.

Your city emergency response volunteers may already do this. The fire department almost certainly knows how to do this kind of assessment.

Update: From a Facebook comment: You could drive home the seriousness of the service by having each of those examples STAND FOR a serious issue that would have the same rate of incidence – give a translation sheet that says, for example, flowers blooming out front gets marked as “small tree limbs down”, a house with two cars gets marked “vehicle damage”, a home with a flag gets marked as “broken windows” and a home with a full size flag on a flagpole gets marked as “hazardous structural damage”.

Women at Philmont

The Philmont Advisor’s Guide had an excellent chapter for women who are backpacking at Philmont. The guide was retired after the 2019 Philmont season which makes that chapter unavailable. With the kind permission of Mimi Hatch, editor for the Philmont Advisor’s Guide, here is that chapter.

The Philmont Advisor’s Guide was published for over 25 years, written and edited by Wally Feurtado, Mimi Hatch, and Cooper Wright with many contributions from other Philmont trekkers. It was sponsored by the Baltimore Area Council Philmont Committee and National Capital Area Council’s High Adventure Committee.

2013 philmont 439
Photo from Liz Fallin, from Becoming Hikers blog post, used by permission.

Women at Philmont

Every year more and more women come to Philmont, usually as part of a co-ed crew or a Rayado Crew. This trend is reflected in the large number of female Rangers that prepare crews for the backcountry. Even though you may not be a co-ed crew, you could be assigned a female Ranger. Women clearly have established that they are as capable of handling the same strenuous Philmont conditions as their male counterparts.

Sexual harassment or sexually explicit remarks of any type will not be tolerated toward female campers or staff, and can result in the loss of the Arrowhead Award. Advisors should lead by example and also tell crewmembers that they are expected to live by the Scout Oath and Law while on the trail. That means all people, regardless of sex, race or religion should be treated with the same level of respect and dignity, whether in base camp or on the trail.

Co-ed Crews

If you are an advisor to a co-ed crew, you need to be comfortable discussing women’s issues. Some advisors may feel that it is just not their place to discuss topics such as menstruation with both male and female crewmembers. This is simply not the case. Right from the very start, advisors need to be frank and honest with their crewmembers and provide any information that will make the trek more successful. Open communication with the entire crew will help to encourage better understanding and cooperation among its members.

Gary Boyd found it advantageous to have a meeting with the mothers of his female crewmembers. He had a past female advisor present along with the female advisor going out with his crew to discuss women’s issues. In this way the female crewmembers’ mothers could go over the issues with their daughters first. Additionally they knew that they could always approach the female crew advisor or Gary if need be.

The stress of hiking in the backcountry may induce or delay a woman’s menstrual cycle or it may have no effect at all. Therefore it is important to know how to deal with it under wilderness conditions. Each female crewmember, despite the timing of her last period, should carry a supply of sanitary products in a waterproof container inside of her pack. Both tampons and sanitary pads are approved for use at Philmont. A smaller container, such as a Ziploc bag, can be used for daily needs and should be kept handy in a pack’s outside pocket. When the crew arrives at its camp for the night, the daily container can be resupplied and the used products can be removed and stored in the waterproof container. Sanitary products (both used and unused) are considered as “smellables” and must be placed in the bear bag at night. Products needed during the night should be placed in a hiking boot, wrapped in a dirty sock, to mask the smell.

In the NOLS Wilderness Guide, it is recommended that women bring along small Ziploc bags for the storage of used tampons and pads. They have also found that placing several crushed aspirins in the Ziploc bag can help eliminate the problem of odor. Outward Bound recommends storing used sanitary products in a Ziploc bag with dry tea bags to absorb the odor. Used sanitary products and toilet paper used by menstruating women must never be placed in latrines or buried in the backcountry. They should be packed out and discarded – double bagged – at a staffed camp or commissary. Some staffed camps in the backcountry maintain an emergency supply of sanitary products. Women may want to consider discussing temporary oral contraceptive use with their doctor to prevent the start of their menstrual cycle while on the trail. This method is NOT 100% effective and sanitary products still need to be readily available.

Hiking at Philmont is tough but it can be made even more difficult with cramping. Advisors need to be aware that women can experience cramping between menstrual periods. The pain can occur on either side of the abdomen or lower back. Women who regularly experience cramping are familiar with its symptoms and are better able to cope with the associated pain. Cramping usually goes away within 36 hours. Sometimes when cramping occurs on the right side it can be mistaken for appendicitis. However, with appendicitis, other symptoms including low-grade fever, diarrhea, and vomiting are present. Cramping has none of these symptoms.

If a female crewmember experiences severe cramping, it may be necessary to hike at a slower pace or even off load some crew and personal gear. While this situation did not come up with Wally’s five co-ed crews or Coop’s one crew co-ed crew, they both had discussed the situation ahead of time with their entire crews. While the some of the guys were not happy with the idea of increasing their personal loads to assist a female crewmember, they at least understood the reasons why.

Cotton hiking shorts and underwear promote an environment that can cause several unpleasant and debilitating medical conditions for female hikers, such as candidiasis and urinary tract infection (UTI). Because of this, some women may prefer to hike in nylon blend hiking shorts with a built-in nylon brief, as discussed earlier in this guide. Many women, particularly those in co-ed crews, may prefer the comfort and discretion provided by independent briefs. Additionally, independent briefs provide more flexibility for the use of sanitary products during the menstrual cycle. Many female campers also prefer independent briefs so that they can wear disposable panty liners since it’s not possible to wash clothes or underwear each day.

Both Cathie Cummins and Mimi have used CoolMax briefs on previous treks and have been pleased with their durability, moisture wicking and drying attributes, and ease of laundering. REI, ExOfficio, and Patagonia are some of the companies that make trail-worthy synthetic briefs. They come in a variety of color and sizes, and dry almost instantly when laundered on the trail. Others prefer lightweight nylon briefs, with little or no decoration.

The combination of climate, physical exertion, and sanitary conditions at Philmont, provides an increased possibility of candidiasis, or yeast infection, in women. The first-aid kit for co-ed crews should contain a non-prescription anti-fungal medication, such as Monistat 7. Most adult women know whether they need to carry this item for themselves, but teenage girls might be surprised by the infection, so travel prepared. Choose a one time or three time treatment option–it’s more expensive, but it works faster. Like all medications, be sure it’s not expired.

Philmont is known for its wide open spaces and does not afford very much privacy. This was not a big problem when Boy Scouts alone hiked the trails alone. With the influx of women on the trail, there has been a change in the backcountry. Most youth who attend Philmont are mature enough to handle the change. As an advisor to five co-ed crews at Philmont, Wally was particularly impressed by how other crews camping nearby went out of their way to respect of the privacy of the female members of his crew.

Latrines have also had to change at Philmont. Although Philmont is slowly replacing backcountry latrines, and building newer versions with separate, closed-door stalls, there are still many open air latrines at trail campsites. These rustic latrines come in two varieties; the pilot to bombardier (two holer, back to back) and pilot to copilot (two holer, side to side) and are the source of some great campfire skits. In fact, some these latrines are so close to the trails that one can watch a crew walk by while doing his daily constitutional. The good news is, Philmont has replaced all wooden seats with fiberglass toilet seats.

Unless latrines at a camp are enclosed, many female crewmembers may prefer to use nature instead. The crew leader of a co-ed crew should keep privacy needs in mind when selecting a campsite, preferably choosing a site that is unpopulated on at least one side. If such a site is not available, crewmembers of a co-ed crew should be a little more aware of who is using the latrine before just walking up. Crewmembers may want to go to these rustic latrines in pairs, with one as the lookout who stands between the latrine and the campsite.

Washing up can also present a problem for a co-ed crew. Philmont requires hikers to wash up at the sump so that odors can be concentrated. However, the sump is usually out in an open area with absolutely no privacy. Wally’s and Coop’s co-ed crews simply washed in shifts using a large opaque ground sheet that was set up around the sump to provide for some privacy.

Lack of privacy also makes it difficult for women to urinate on the trail. For a male crewmember, it is no big thing. He can relieve himself while leaning nonchalantly against a tree, taking in the great views of the mountains and not even taking off his pack! For female crewmembers, it can be a little more of an effort. As a result, some female crewmembers may not drink enough water, just to keep from urinating on the trail. Insufficient water intake can result in dehydration and increases the risk of urinary tract infection (UTI), which must be treated with antibiotics, and would undoubtedly result in that female crewmember coming off the trail.

There are several small plastic funnel-type devices available such as the “GoGirl,” “Lady J” or the “Freshette” that will allow a woman to urinate while standing, with a minimum of exposure. The GoGirl is made of medical grade silicone, which has an advantage to the hard plastic of the other devices, allowing it to conform to the body. Mimi says that she is seeing a growing legion of female “believers” in the female urination devices (FUD) on the trail.

Since urination for a woman generally involves a state of partial undress, female crewmembers need to be out of sight of the crew. This usually means heading up around the bend in the trail. In Coop’s co-ed crew, during short packs off breaks or called pee breaks, the rule was guys head down the trail and women head up the trail. Female crewmembers usually headed out in groups, providing another set of eyes and ears for other crews that might be approaching on the trail.

You want all of your crewmembers to have urine output that is “clear and copious.” If a crewmember needs to stop, have the remainder of the crew hike ahead while another crewmember stands lookout for any crews coming from behind. Let your crew know that becoming dehydrated can cause severe problems and will slow the crew down even more than stopping to take an occasional leak on the trail.

A quick note on latrine use for both sexes: Urine is basically a sterile product and does not contain the pathogens found in feces. However, it does contain salts that do attract animals. If you are on the trail and need to urinate, the best way is to pee on a rock off the trail. In the old days, we used to tell a camper to just “find a tree.” However, urinating on a tree puts salt on the bark that will attract animals that will ultimately eat the bark and destroy the tree. So find a nice rock that won’t splash back!

If a crewmember needs to defecate on the trail, he or she needs to take the shovel, toilet paper and a small stick, and find a spot at least 200 feet from a water source or the trail. Use the shovel and remove the top cap of soil that contains the microorganisms that will ultimately reduce the feces. Dig the hole approximately 6 inches deep. After defecating and cleaning with the paper, add dirt to the hole and mix it in with the feces using the stick. The crew shovel should never come in contact with feces! To the uninitiated, this might sound like a disgusting task, but adding the soil will immediately eliminate any odors. Mixing the soil, feces and paper together into a “poop soup” will facilitate the decomposition of the feces and the paper. Once you have used up all of the soil, replace the top cap.

NEVER urinate in Philmont’s backcountry latrines. The salt in the urine will act as a preservative, increasing the decomposition time for the feces and the acids will kill the bacteria decomposing the feces. Any urine that gets on the latrine’s wood will attract animals. In many latrines, you can actually see where porcupines and other animals have chewed the seat area.

As we discussed in the Personal Hygiene section of this guide, it is extremely important to wash off the salt and grime that accumulates each day to prevent “hiker’s rash.” Cathie and Mimi recommend that female crewmembers bring bras to Philmont that can be washed and dry quickly. There are an increasing variety of sport bras available. Mimi is a big fan of Patagonia’s Barely Wireless Bra. Regardless of the brand, there are many options which offer choices with the look of a lingerie bra and the features of a sports bra.

Check the fabric content in each style. Look for Lycra for support and CoolMax for breathability, rather than cotton, as both dry quickly. Cathie and Mimi suggest bringing two bras; one as a “hiking” bra and the other as an “in-camp” bra. The hiking bra should be rinsed out each day. Although it may wet first thing in the morning, it will not matter because it will either dry quickly or just get wetter when you begin sweating.

When choosing long pants, female crewmembers may want to consider pants with ankle zippers, which allow the flexibility to change on the trail without removing shorts and boots in areas where privacy is hindered. Convertible pants are popular for the same reason. When in the Philmont campsite, changing is done inside personal tents, and clothing stored inside packs, per the Philmont bear protocols.

Scouting @ Home: Virtual Camping

Is virtual camping a real thing in Scouting? Well…it can be.

Update: On April 13th, BSA national published guidelines for completing rank requirements up through First Class while maintaining social distancing. See the question “Q: What changes have been made to rank advancement/camping requirements given the need to maintain social distancing during this time?” in the BSA COVID-19 FAQ.

Update 2: The FAQ has been updated with this statement: “No, virtual camping will not count toward the 15 nights camping required for membership in the Order of the Arrow.”

Short version:

  • Rank requirements through First Class, maybe, maybe not. [Now “yes”, see above FAQ.]
  • Camping merit badge, possible.
  • Order of the Arrow camping nights, it’s complicated. [Now not allowed, see above.]
  • National Outdoor Award, probably yes.

Do virtual campouts work for rank requirements through First Class? Tenderfoot requirement 1b says a “patrol or troop campout” and the requirements for other ranks specify “troop/patrol activities” and “overnight camping”. If the troop decides that the activity is everyone camping in their back yard, maybe. But the point of patrol and troop activities is to use the patrol method and learn Scouting with your peers. I’d like to see a patrol competition or something like that. Get the patrols to plan and the Patrol Leaders to lead.

Camping merit badge requirement 9A requires camping at “designated Scouting activities or events.” If the troop plans a backyard camping even coordinated over social media, is that a designated Scouting activity? Sure seems like it would be to me. Going to a Jamboree or to Philmont would count, and that isn’t a troop activity.

Do they work for Order of the Arrow camping? Clearly, they would be “Scout camping” and “under the auspices and standards of the Boy Scouts of America”. It does support unit camping. For most OA camping questions, like “Is an Adirondack shelter camping?”, the decision is up to the Scoutmaster. In this case, I would ask the local OA lodge leadership for advice.

How about the National Outdoor Award? Camping and hiking for this award must be for advancement credit or “approved and under the auspices and standards of the Boy Scouts of America”. This standard is very broad. It includes anything done as a part of Scouting. For example, family backpacking is accepted for the Backpacking merit badge. Because that was part of a merit badge, it is considered “under the auspices”. There is a clear explanation in this BSA blog post on interpreting “under the auspices”.

Welcome to the various definitions of camping nights in the BSA. They are a maze of twisty little passages, all different.

Is this as good as physical troop or patrol camping? Not even close. Physical camping requires far more decisions and planning, no running back into the house because you forgot to pack the chili powder.

Does this contribute to a healthy troop? Almost certainly. It is a new challenge, with new leadership obstacles and requiring more explicit planning. It could even improve the planning for future physical campouts.

How would this be planned? Pretty much the same as any well-planned Scouting event.

  • Planned by the PLC.
  • Choose a theme or goal for the event.
  • Review and manage safety risks.
  • Sell it to the troop.
  • Schedule and write down the troop and patrol activities, including duty rosters.
  • Get signups.
  • Do it!
  • Review it.

For an even more detailed list, use The Adventure Plan from the BSA.

And of course, the camping Portion of the Guide to Safe Scouting.

Do we need activity consent forms for this activity? Well, I guess, but mostly to assure that parents or guardians know what is going on. Other than that, I’m not sure they achieve anything for virtual camping.

These are exceptional times, so go ahead and try a virtual campout or two. We’ll all get together in one place as soon as we can.

Resources and Other Opinions

The BSA FAQ on COVID-19 does not mention virtual camping as I write this. Things may change, so check that page when you read this.

There are more ideas on the Scout on through COVID-19 page on ScoutWiki.

Sycamore District near Chicago has a Facebook video invitation to a virtual campout.

The National Capitol Area Council (the council that includes Washington DC) has published guidelines that say virtual camping does not count for advancement. These are for their council only.

Facebook post from Louis McBride (with minor copy-editing):

Hello all, national BSA volunteer with some areas to look at while understanding the importance of virtual camping. This seems to be a hot topic with many of you and need to understand the major points of it.

Virtual camping first of all is pretty down simple by the following points:

Every Scout must pitch a tent in their own backyard. Then they connect by Zoom, social media, or other electronic device to share camp stories or what they cooked for dinner with said unit to make this possible. Please follow what is stated as such in the handbook for any of their advancements. In the morning they can then jointly work one of the many other activities listed here: Camp Gadget, inspection of site, judging the location and how the tent is setup, the any other requirements that need to be completed, even show who is your camping buddy for your event!

Please make sure you follow the sweet 16 while in this, I.e follow the camping rules provided in guide to safe scouting. You can even do bugling merit badge and the like while they are doing this, but keep in mind to follow WHAT the requirements say in the handbook, and not create your own because that is not what this is intended of this.

Keep in note no glamping aka camping indoors, in cabins, in sheds, etc. A council Activity of virtual camping can occur too as a “council activity” and this goes with districts too. Also so all can understand there is no note about backyard is not camping in Guide to Advancement nor in any rank advancement. We are speaking about non-traditional motives.

Also note this too is that make sure this activity is authorized as a unit/district/council outing by making sure its on the unit/district/council calendar and approved if need be as to once its on the calendar that means it is an official program for that unit/district/council. If you have further questions you could just ping me on this, but I am not here to do policies debacles only to make sure the understanding is clear.