Backpacking, Fun for Boys, Fun for Commanders

A class guide prepared for the Royal Rangers Commanders Conference

By John Chicoine
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To Trail Gibberish

A successful backpacking trip is a result of successful planning.
 99% of all issues that arise on the trail originate before you hit the trail.

(1.)       Know your limits / Know your group's limits. Start small.

A successful trip requires a clear understanding the limitations of the weakest link in the hiking party and supporting that link to achieve the group's goals.
(Unfortunately, until the leadership is ready/experienced enough to accommodate a large group off novices and ill prepared boys, a Ranger backpacking trip may not be an “open invitation” event, some restrictions may apply.)

(2.)       Set an achievable goal that every member of the group is likely to reach.

Setting clear goals will give people the ability to measure their progress throughout the day and offers the added reward of lifted spirits at the campsite from all having achieved the task.

(3.)       Make sure your gear is appropriate for the trip.

The process of carrying the supplies needed to enjoy a night on the trail is a balance between having the right equipment to keep the group safe and comfortable, without having packed more than necessary. Never skimp on critical gear: .
(4.)       Learn to function as a group. Challenge the boys to make the group one entity.
Evaluate every item of every member of the group. Eliminate all duplicate/ unnecessary gear. (5.)       No heroes! Avoid the temptation to yield to the ego of members of the group to carry or take on more than is their equal share to support the group.

(6.)        Know your trail. Even if you have never set foot on the trail before, there are always plenty of ways to study the hike and know almost everything about the trail. Start with the official guidebooks. Contact authorities for information on the current conditions if possible. Know the obstacles: river crossings, wet lands, steep inclines, dangerous ledges. Know where the sure water supplies are. Know where the "special/view" spots are.

(7.)       Take advantage of this time to learn and teach trail educate, trail awareness, trail safety, understanding trail markers, and an attitude of unity; We all win, or we all fail.

(8.)       Check everything before you get into the car to drive to your trailhead.
(9.)       Check everything before leaving a break site.
(10.)     Check everything before leaving the campsite.

Extra info: Some pack-weight guidelines for a 2-day trip of 5 to 7 miles each day with 1000-ft. elevation gain/loss each day: Assuming the boys are in good shape and their gear (boots and pack) fits well. (These guidelines are from my real experiences backpacking with my son.)
Ages 10 - 13 Under 18lbs. (Personal snacks, water, clothes, sleeping bag)
Ages 13 - 15 Under 25lbs. (Personal snacks, water, clothes, sleeping bag, some light group gear)
Ages 15 - 17 Under 35lbs. (Personal snacks, water, clothes, sleeping bag, group gear/food, a 2 man tent.)
Ages 18 - 35 Under 50lbs.
Ages 35 - … Under 40lbs.

Be flexible! If possible schedule all backpacking trips with a rain date. (Nobody likes to spend several days walking and backpacking in the rain.)

Pick a trip that has something for the kids to enjoy once they get to the campsite. (lake, view-site, river, lodge).

In 2001 the oldest man (80) ever to hike the AT did so using a canvas rucksack and most of the same gear he used when he hiked it 45 years ago. The oldest lady to hike the AT did it in sneakers, caring a pillowcase, and using a shower curtain for rain gear. I've spent 5 years dedicated to studying and keeping up with the latest technical aspect of every component I carry and invest as much as I can afford. How you choose to approach backpacking is totally up to you.

For novices I highly recommend the book:

Backpacking and Hiking a Complete Guide      by Karen Berger