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

Is ARRL Field Day a contest?

Despite Betteridge’s Law, the answer is “yes and no”. ARRL Field Day is designed to offer different things to participants and the public. It’s a floor wax and a dessert topping!

PAARA Field Day 2017

It’s not a contest!

For PR and marketing purposes, “no, it is not a contest”. The public face of Field Day is exactly what the ARRL says it is, “to demonstrate ham radio’s science, skill and service to our communities and our nation. It combines public service, emergency preparedness, community outreach, and technical skills all in a single event.” The emphasis on press releases and social media is to get maximum publicity for the event. There is an official PR strategy for participants to get the word out including a sample press release with the messaging “Skill, Service, Science”. There are 700 bonus points just for publicity.

It’s a contest!

For the “yes, it is a contest” answer, there is clearly a contest as part of the event, complete with scoring and winners. But it is worth noting that a participant can score 1250 points without making a single contact. That 1250 points would put the station in the top half of the 2A division scores. Don’t believe it? Scroll to the bottom for the scoring details.

Field day 2018

Max No-QSO Score

How do you get so many points with out a QSO? Set up a two-transmitter station, plus GOTA (Get On The Air) station, then start counting. A twenty-transmitter station could score 3050 points with no QSOs, but that isn’t realistic. A couple of single-band antennas is pretty straightforward. Switch one of them to the GOTA station as needed. This calculation is from the ARRL Field Day 2020 Rules.

200 for two 100% emergency power stations
100 for GOTA station
100 for media publicity
100 for public location
100 for public information table
100 for copying ARRL Field Day bulletin
100 for educational activity
100 for visit by elected official
100 for visit by agency official
100 for social media publicity
100 for safety officer
50 for web submission of scores

With five or more contacts, the score could be substantially higher, with bonuses for alternate power, GOTA contacts, message passing, and youth participation.

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.

Spinach Madeline with Fresh Ingredients

Home cooking has changed a bit in the six decades since River Roads Recipes was published in 1959, so it is worth revisiting and updating this classic. I grew up in Baton Rouge eating from that cookbook, but I’ve been cooking this updated version for a few years. It is time to actually write it down.

First, use good cheese. Cheese is the backbone of this dish, so upgrading from Velveeta to Tillamook is the biggest improvement.

Next, use fresh aromatics instead of celery salt and garlic salt. Use fresh jalapeño to replace the heat in the jalapeño Velveeta. I increase the amounts of the onion and celery and also add in the celery leaves because I like celery (a lot). I probably use more than the amounts given here, so do what feels right. These fresh vegetables will release a bit of liquid while cooking, so you might not need the spinach cooking liquor.

Buttered breadcrumbs are an optional, tasty upgrade. This already has enough butter that it is hard to argue against another tablespoon.

The last change is to reduce the salt from 1 1/2 teaspoons to 1/2 teaspoon because the original is a bit salty for current tastes. This makes the salt a flavor enhancer instead of an up-front flavor on its own.

You can compare this to the original recipe.

Finally, this is a family recipe, so make it a tradition and make it your own. Serve it at Thanksgiving or Christmas or both. Birthdays, too. Too spicy or not spicy enough? Change it. Prefer Monterey Jack cheese? Do it. Want to add some smoked paprika or harissa? Fine with me. Like chard better than spinach? I do too.

Updated, customized, or original, enjoy!

Spinach madeline


45-60 minutes total
30 minutes prep
15-30 minutes in the oven


  • 2 (10 ounce) packages frozen chopped spinach
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 cup yellow onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup celery, chopped, with leaves
  • 1 jalapeño, minced (see directions)
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1/2 cup evaporated milk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable liquor (the liquid reserved from cooking the spinach)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 6 oz good medium cheddar, like Tillamook, shredded
  • 1/2 cup buttered breadcrumbs, for topping (optional)


  1. Turn on the oven, set to 350º.
  2. Chop the onion and celery. Prep the garlic. They all go in together, so you do not need to keep them separated.
  3. Taste a small slice of the jalapeño to see how hot it is; there can be a big range of heat. If it is pretty hot, use the whole pepper. If you are immediately reaching for a glass of milk, use half or quarter of it. The dish needs to have some zing, so don’t back off too much.
  4. Cook spinach as directed on package (usually 8-10 minutes); reserve 1/2 cup liquid (spinach pot liquor); drain well.
  5. Melt butter in saucepan over low heat.
  6. Whisk in flour until smooth.
  7. Add the onion, celery, jalapeño, and garlic, increase heat to medium low, and cook until soft but not brown, 5-7 minutes.
  8. Add the evaporated milk and stir constantly until smooth and thickened. Add some spinach liquor if the sauce is too thick.
  9. Stir in salt, pepper, Worcestershire, and cheese; continue stirring until sauce is smooth.
  10. Combine with spinach.
  11. Pour into a 1 1/2-quart casserole and top with breadcrumbs.
  12. Bake at 350ºF until heated through and bubbly, about 15-20 minutes (original timing). Mine seems to always take 30 minutes to get bubbly, plus that browns the breadcrumbs just a bit.

Koss SB-45 vs Yamaha CM500

My Yamaha CM500 headset finally died last year, so I tried the cheaper Koss SB-45. I hated the Koss. Sent it back and bought a new Yamaha CM500 headset.

The Yamaha headset sits around my ears, the Koss on top of them. The Yamaha grabs my (big) head fairly lightly, but the Koss was a head clamp. The Koss headset was immediately uncomfortable, then I gave it another try and it was still uncomfortable. It smashed my ears painfully against my head.

Here is a photo of the ear cups on the two headsets, face to face (ear to ear?), with the Yamaha on the right. You can see that the Yamaha is clearly bigger.

Yamaha vs koss 1

Here are the two ear cups side by side, with the Yamaha again on the right.

Yamaha vs koss 2

If you have a small head or don’t mind returning items, you can try the Koss ($31) instead of the Yamaha ($60). Your head is different than mine, but I recommend just getting the Yamaha CM500.

Also, my CM500 would have lasted longer than seven years, but I tried to replace the ear pads and broke a wire inside the ear cup. I tried to fix that, but I soldered it three times and broke it four times, then there wasn’t enough wire left to solder.

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.

Backpacking Meal Planning: Sources for Ingredients and Meals

Tired of the same old mylar packet of freeze-dried stuff? Here are some sources for tasty prepackaged meals and for dehydrated ingredients so you can make your own. As I write this, a lot of the dehydrated ingredients are out of stock, likely due to new converts to emergency preparedness. I’m sure they’ll be back in stock by the time we are ready to go backpacking again.

PackIt Gourmet

PackIt Gourmet makes appetizing prepackaged meals, some of them unusual, like the Many Bean Salad. That takes a hour to rehydrate (cold water), but it is really tasty. They also sell ingredients and kits of ingredients. The black beans can be combined with minute rice, sun-dried tomatoes, dried onion, and some seasonings to make a homemade dehydrated trail meal. Add a can of chicken if you’d like some meat.

Pack-It Gourmet offers freeze-dried meat, which can be hard to find. With that and some grocery store items, you can package your own backpacking meals.

Outdoor Herbivore

Good source for vegetarian and vegan backpacking meals. As a bonus, they’ll show you how to grow sprouts on the trail. And their name rhymes.

Harmony House

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 $70 from most sources. This is a great way to get started with home-assembled dehydrated meals if you don’t have a dehydrator. Harmony House sells lots of different kinds and quantities of dehydrated and freeze-dried ingredients.

Harmony House also stocks a wide variety of textured vegetable protein (TVP), a vegan option for backpacking.

True Lime, True Lemon

Crystallized lime or lemon juice with no sugar. Add this to beans or Mexican food when it is finished cooking and the flavor will really pop out. It’s good with tea, too, if you are into that sort of thing.


Dehydrated lentils, dehydrated garbanzo beans, coconut milk powder, all sorts of things are available on Amazon.

Your Supermarket

There are a surprising number of dehydrated ingredients in regular grocery stores. You’ll find instant rice, potato flakes, couscous, soup mixes, and more. Plus, you can use small cans of cooked chicken to provide protein. Check the international section for other dried foods. Look into freezer bag cooking to get idea and recipes.

Backpacking Meal Planning: Nutrition, Recipes, and Techniques

These are my favorite trail cooking references and cookbooks, with some explanations of why they are so good.

Trail cooking books

Nutrition and Ration Planning

The Backpacker’s Field Manual, Rick Curtis. ISBN: 1400053099

This is the best source for information on nutrition and hydration. It is the only book I’ve found that is specific about how much water to carry (page 71). The section is short, like all the sections. This is really a college text for outdoor programs and is was written for an outdoor leader training course at Princeton. It is not thrilling to read, but it sure does have the data.

Want to know how to make complete protein combinations in your meals? Check out the nutrition “N” diagram on page 68. Organize the categories in alphabetical order and choose any two neighbors. Yes, this will be on the test.

Nutrition N

NOLS Cookery 7th Edition, Claudia Pearson, editor. ISBN: 0811719812

The best reference on ration planning. You’ll learn about “ppppd”, pounds per person per day, and how to get healthy food that doesn’t weigh too much. This is the best resource on cooking fires and bear protocol (though Philmont bear protocol is different).

Most recipes use the NOLS style of cooking from scratch (with a few mixes) on the trail. Carry bulk ingredients, then combine them for meals. If you want to make bread in the backcountry, NOLS Cookery will tell you how. It is worth trying this style, if only to make Meal-in-a-Mug (page 111). Recent editions (6th and later) include some ultralight-style recipes that are made at home and rehydrated on the trail.

The Hungry Spork and The Hungry Spork Trail Recipes, Inge Aksamit. ISBN: 0997061812 and ISBN: 0997061839

The Hungry Spork: A Long Distance Hiker’s Guide to Meal Planning is the best reference for pre-planning meals for treks of a week or more, including a week-by-week schedule before the trip. The recipes are high-calorie thru-hiker food, suitable for hiking the entire Pacific Crest Trail or feeding hungry teenagers. Includes excellent information on sports nutrition for hiking; which foods to eat when so you keep your energy up on the trail.

The Hungry Spork Trail Recipes: Quick Gourmet Meals for the Backcountry is a collection of 30 recipes with detailed nutrition information, options for vegetarian, vegan, or allergy-friendly meals, and helpful reviews from meal testers. It is a bit like reading a very, very good blog on trail cooking.

Recipes and Techniques

NOLS Cookery

See above, this is the top references for the “NOLS” style of cooking sort-of from scratch. Carry things like biscuit mix, potato buds, cheese, and so on.

Freezer Bag Cooking, Sarah Kirkconnell.

Freezer Bag Cooking: Trail Food Made Simple is the first of a series of books by Sarah Kirkconnell on backpacking meals made with (mostly) supermarket ingredients. Many of them are designed to be packaged and rehydrated in a quart ziplock freezer bag, thus the name of the technique. For larger groups, these can be simmered in a pot.

This is a great approach for Scouts because it is much less expensive than prepackaged freeze-dried meals, and can be adjusted for preferences in ingredients and seasonings. Measuring and prep is done in a home kitchen, with simple rehydration on the trail.

I blogged one of her recipes with her kind permission, Veggie Exotic Couscous.

You can find all of her books at the Trail Cooking store.

Recipes for Adventure, Glenn Mcallister. ISBN: 1484861345

How to dehydrate ingredients and mixes at home, then rehydrate them on the trail. More useful if you have a dehydrator, but smaller quantities can be dried in an oven. This book is especially useful if you need to carefully control ingredients because of food allergies, religious requirements, or other reasons. Also, the food tastes really good. Also go to Glen’s website Backpacking Chef.

Lipsmackin’ Backpackin’, Christine Connors and Tim Connors. ISBN: 0762781327

Most of these recipes are entirely cooked at home, dehydrated, then rehydrated on the trail. If you want to use that style, start with this book. You will probably need a dehydrator and plenty of home prep time.

The Back-Country Kitchen, Teresa Marrone. ISBN: 0965153509

My personal favorite backcountry cookbook, because it has a wide variety of techniques and it’s all delicious. It covers everything from bread on a stick to venison with cherry sauce.

I’ve blogged about two recipes from this book, Italian Stick Bread and Lentil-Bulgur Chili (with her permission, since it includes the recipe).

What’s Cooking on the PCT?, Martin “Rainman” Leghart, Jr.

This has one recipe each from 48 different people, so it is a wild ride through cooking styles. It includes 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). On top of that, half the profits go to the Pacific Crest Trail Association. Not bad for $10.

Dirty Gourmet: Food for Your Outdoor Adventures by Aimee Trudeau, Emily Nielson, and Mai-Yan Kwan.

I have not (yet) cooked from this book. Every time I look at it, I start planning a trip where I can cook from it. Take a look at the Dirty Gourmet website to see some recipes and get a feel for their approach.

Scouting @ Home: Cooking Merit Badge

You cannot complete Cooking merit badge at home, but you can make a solid start on it. Plus, your parents will be thankful for you taking care of several meals.


Cooking is a core life skill. Our younger son was in Scouts before this merit badge was required for Eagle, but he learned to cook in our kitchen and on campouts. Later, he taught it to younger Scouts in his patrol. When he moved off campus in college, he was cooking for the seven people in his house, and teaching one of them to cook instead of serving expensive take-out.

Trail cooking hoover crop

The central requirements of Cooking merit badge are to plan and cook several meals in each of three categories. Two of these categories can be completed at home. The third can be planned at home for trail cooking.

  • Cooking at home: Plan three full days of meals (three breakfasts, three lunches, and three dinners) plus one dessert, prepare and serve one breakfast, one lunch, one dinner, and one dessert.
  • Camp cooking: These meals must be prepared and served “in the outdoors”. This can be a back yard or park, but no running back into the kitchen to get stuff that you forgot. Plan five meals and prepare three of them.
  • Trail and backpacking meals: These meals must be prepared and served “while on a trail hike or backpacking trip”. A Scouting trip is not required, so these technically could be done on a family trail hike. California’s current public health order only allows hikes for exercise or well-being, so I believe cooking on a hike is beyond the allowed activities.

For camp cooking, one of the meals must be cooked “using either a Dutch oven OR a foil pack OR kabobs”. These methods pretty much need a wood or charcoal fire. The other methods require a fire or a light-weight stove. If you don’t have a backpacking stove, you might be able to use a patrol stove or borrow one from another Scout or an adult leader.

When using a stove, follow the BSA chemical fuels safety policy from the Guide to Safe Scouting.

Trail cooking big basin crop

To learn the basic techniques of cooking, I highly recommend How to Cook Everything: The Basics by Mark Bittman. This very detailed Amazon review explains why this book is so good.

The Cooking merit badge pamphlet recommends The Scout’s Backpacking Cookbook. I don’t agree with that and my review explains why.

The 2014 edition of the Cooking merit badge pamphlet recommended ground poultry and canned food for backpacking and trail meals. Those are both terrible ideas. I don’t know if that advice has been fixed, but I’d get backpacking meal ideas from the Backpacking merit badge pamphlet instead.

For both home and trail cooking, take a look at the Cooking chapter in your Scout handbook. The BSA one pot stew in that chapter is a tasty, easy recipe.

Finally, I’ve posted quite a few food and cooking resources on my blog.

Enough warnings and caveats and suggestions. Get cooking, and bon appétit!

You can find the requirements on the BSA site (PDF) or at the US Scouting Service Project (with a worksheet).

The Cooking merit badge pamphlet is available online from the BSA.

For more posts like this, check out the Scouting at Home category on this blog.

Scouting @ Home: Weather Merit Badge

As we move from winter to spring, this is a great time to step outside the house and learn about the weather. All the requirements for the Weather merit badge can be done at home.

Just two days ago, I saw puffy cumulus clouds over the Santa Cruz Mountains and long, higher altocumulus over our valley. After this merit badge, you’ll know what that means.


There is a great page at the National Weather Service with NWS resources for the Weather merit badge. It has maps, charts, and even a document listing careers in weather.

The San Francisco Bay Region has really interesting weather. If you want to dig into it, I highly recommend Weather of the San Francisco Bay Region by Harold Gilliam. You’ll learn about waterfall fog and why some Berkeley is often colder than Oakland. Check your library for a copy.

You can find the requirements on the BSA site (PDF) or at the US Scouting Service Project (with a worksheet).

The Weather merit badge pamphlet is available online from the BSA.

For more posts like this, check out the Scouting at Home category on this blog.

Scouting @ Home: Entrepreneurship and Salesmanship Merit Badges

Ready to run an internet-based business? Entrepreneurship merit badge will walk you through the business plan and Salesmanship will track your success.

In our neighborhood, a girl is selling bake-at-home bread dough. Weekdays alternate French bread and naan, with cinnamon rolls on the weekend.

We came across this sign on our daily walk and ordered as soon as we got home. The first weekend delivery of cinnamon rolls was already sold out, so we signed up for the Saturday evening delivery (for Sunday morning). Leave a pan on your porch, pay with cash or PayPal.

Bread dough sign

I had a cinnamon roll this morning. It was tasty.

Bread dough cinnamon rolls

Have an idea for a business? Start with these two merit badges.


You can find the requirements on the BSA site (PDF) or at the US Scouting Service Project (with a worksheet).

The Entrepreneurship merit badge pamphlet is available online from the BSA.


You can find the requirements on the BSA site (PDF) or at the US Scouting Service Project (with a worksheet).

The Salesmanship merit badge pamphlet is available online from the BSA.

For more posts like this, check out the Scouting at Home category on this blog.

Scouting @ Home: Hiking Merit Badge

Hiking is probably not the first thing that you associate with “shelter in place”, but our California order does allow walking and hiking for exercise and well-being. These hikes must be with the people you live with. Hikes for this merit badge do not have to be Scout hikes.


Hiking merit badge requires:

  • One 5 mile hike
  • Three 10 mile hikes
  • One 15 mile hike
  • One 20 mile hike

For each of these hikes, you need to make a plan before the hike and write up a reflection after the hike.

During this period, we have additional safety concerns. Hike where you can maintain a six foot social distance. Your hiking companions must be people you live with. Do not hike in remote areas. If anything goes wrong, the search and rescue team volunteers will need to break their social distance and may need to self-quarantine afterwards.

Here are some hiking guidelines from the Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST).

  • Stay at home if you or others in your household are sick.
  • Explore nature nearby and try to choose less-frequented parks and trails.
  • Before visiting parks or preserves, check their websites for updated closure information. If a parking lot is full, crowded, or closed, do not go to the preserve.
  • Go alone or with members of your household only. Do not hold social gatherings. Stay six feet away from people you don’t live with.
  • Restrooms and other public facilities are closed; plan ahead before leaving home. Pack out all your trash.
  • Don’t stay too long — give others the opportunity to have a safe experience as parking will be limited.

Of course, we always use the buddy system, so no solo hiking.

Would a hike into the backcountry of Henry Coe State Park be a good idea? Absolutely not. That is lovely country and spring is the right season to hike it, but it is rugged and remote. Instead, plan a hike along the SF Bay Trail, which is nearly all close to towns and roads. The Bay Trail is 500 miles long, so you won’t run out of trail any time soon. The SF Bay Ridge Trail is another possibilities, but only segments that parallel roads, like along Skyline Road in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

If you have any doubts, choose a different hike. If the trailhead is crowded, turn around and choose a different hike.

Hiking merit badge requires a lot of hikes, so even if you cannot (safely) finish it during this shelter in place order, you can get a start.

You can find the requirements on the BSA site (PDF) or at the US Scouting Service Project (with a worksheet).

The Hiking merit badge pamphlet is available online from the BSA.

For more posts like this, check out the Scouting at Home category on this blog.

Scouting @ Home: Family Life Merit Badge

It is hard to imagine a merit badge better suited for “shelter in place” than Family Life. Let’s take a look at some of the requirements.

Family life

As you might guess, all of the requirements are done with your family or are discussions with your merit badge counselor. There are two requirements for projects that benefit your family, one individual project and one whole family project. Some ideas:

  • Plant a vegetable garden so you can make fewer trips to the store. Garden stores are closed, but hardware stores with garden departments are open, like our local Ace Hardware in Mountain View.
  • Plan and cook freeze-ahead meals for a week. You make the meals on Sunday, freeze them, then thaw and finish them each night from Monday through Friday.
  • Plan a week or more of meals that can be made from pantry items. Make the shopping list for these. For example, pasta puttanesca is made with pasta, canned tomato paste and crushed tomatoes, canned anchovies, jarred olives and capers. The Simply Recipes site has some resources for shelter in place shopping and cooking.
  • Organize your pantry to work better for long-term food storage.
  • Clean out and organize a garage, closet, games, whatever.
  • Bicycle maintenance day, adjusting brakes and shifters, oiling chains, whatever is needed.
  • Organizing school supplies for remote learning.
  • Update your family’s first aid kit and emergency supplies. Replace any out of date medications.
  • Clean out your fridge and freezer. Toss any expired food. Plan recipes to use the oldest items that are still good.

I’m sure there are other things you can think of that are important for your family.

In addition to the projects, you’ll make a list of household chores and track when you do them for 90 days.

You’ll also organize a family meeting to talk about several important topics. See the merit badge requirements for details.

You can find the requirements on the BSA site (PDF) or at the US Scouting Service Project (with a worksheet).

The Family Life merit badge pamphlet is available online from the BSA.

For more posts like this, check out the Scouting at Home category on this blog.

Shack Upgrade

For years, my “ham shack” has been equipment crowded on top of a crate surrounded by other crates and boxes. It was neither attractive or effective.

Can you find the radios? The VHF/UHF rig on the floor would be stacked on the dresser for the weekly Monday night ARES/RACES net.

Ham shack before

There isn’t a lot of space in the corner, so I spent quite a while looking for the right table or desk. I settled on a 24 x 36 inch hardwood table that looks like it belongs in a classroom. A deeper table would work better for radio gear, but this one fit the space, was reasonably attractive, and affordable ($172).

On Saturday, my new table arrived and the cleanup and reorganization commenced. The old crate is now a bookshelf next to the desk.

Ham shack after

With California’s “shelter in place” coronavirus order, the shack is doing double duty as a home office. The big monitor and keyboard are from work.

Ham shack desk

The power supply (adjusted to 15 V) and 100 W RF amp are under the monitor stand. Stereo speakers for the receiver (not the computer) are on top of the stand. I wrote about the speakers and audio amp in an earlier blog post. The dummy load (see this post) is behind the monitor. Farther to the right are the Elecraft KX3 and PX3 on an over/under stand from the North Georgia QRP Club. At the far right is a Yaesu FT-8900R VHF/UHF rig mounted in a Tac-Comm case. That can be quickly disconnected from power (PowerPoles) and the antenna (BNC) to be taken mobile or portable.

The monitor stand is a “Thank You” gift from when I worked at HP. I’d helped out some folks in another division, so they sent me one of the monitor stands they made in their sheet metal shop. It is a beauty, thick aluminum, with stiffening ridges along the front and back edges, and nicely painted in official HP instrument dove grey.

Time to quit rearranging stuff and get on the air!