Monday, January 6, 2014


Please note.  

The comments made in this blog posting do not necessarily represent the views of BSA, National Capital Area Council (NCAC), St. John the Evangelist, Troop 466 or even the troop leadership.  This letter has been put together to provide guidance by the BTOW13 leader. 


Scouts, Parents and Scouters of Troop 466 -
Some updates and additions on the subject ...
Dick's Sporting Goods has individual utensils and plates at a cost that will beat the REI Campware Table Set. They also have the GSI cup at nearly the same price as REI.
Yes, the compass discussion in the emails sent over the summer still applies. All BTOW participants must carry a basic compass. Something like the Suunto A-10 (1 oz, $14.50) is a good model: There are many similar models at prices between 10 and 15 dollars. The Scout Store has them, most sporting goods stores have them. If you want a compass model that has a scale keyed to the maps we'll be using on the BTOW, we will be using Custom Correct Maps on 1:62,500 and 1:24,000 scales. The Suunto A-10 has a 1:24K scale on it. I don't know that you'll find many compasses with a 1:62.5K scale on them.
The averge temperatures in Washington State in July and August are low 50s, high 70s. That, however, is only an average average, meaning it does not take into account elevation and weather effects. Because we'll be moving from sea level to high passes, anticipate air temperatures ranging from 40 to 80. We will see snow and ice, but probably won't have to walk on it unless we chose to do so.
Some wisely pointed out that layers of cold weather clothing would be useful for all-around wear through the winter, not just camping, it might be worth risking the growth spurt between now and the BTOW. So, if someone is in the market for cold-weather clothing, there might be a good opportunity to get fleece and or waterproof shell layers for your Scout, Scouter or camping parent. Herein follows some rambling on clothing layers (and a few other things) ...

Upper Torso Layers.

For torso clothing, BTOW participants will want a short-sleeved base layer of wicking material (polyester wool or silk wicking t-shirt), insulating layers (polyester fleece) and a water proof shell (various synthetics).

For the base layer, most probably already have performance t-shirts. They're everywhere.

For the insulation layers, meaning fleece, shop for a high insulation-value to weight ratio. Polartec is a reliable brand name for the material (not the clothing made from the material). The Polartec website provides information about the different grades (100 through 300, with variations): Notice that there are different types of Polartec, which have significantly different properties. There are other good brands of fleece, but there are also some worthless brands.

When I camp, I usually carry a light pullover fleece top of Polartec Classic 200 and a midweight jacket-type (zip up the front) fleece of Polartec Thermal Pro 200.

Here is an example of the jacket type Thermal Pro 200-weight (not currently on sale): The sleeves are a little longer than you'd wear for a knock-around jacket, there are no weight-adding bells and whistles (no drawstrings, no patches of extra material on the shoulders). This is made from Polartec Thermal Pro, which has more thermal retention than the Polartec Classic. You don't want a hood on the jacket layer. It's important to be able to cover or expose the neck separately from the head to retain or dump body heat, so a fleece cap is preferable to a hooded fleece layer (but you DO want a hood on the outer water-proof shell). This is in a reasonable price range, but with some shopping you can probably find a similar product for less while the sales are in full swing. Unfortunately, a fleece jacket layer is one of those outdoor wear staples that vendors know they will sooner or later sell, so good fleece jacket layers don't go on sale as often as other items. This might be a good item to shop during those after-Christmas sales if it isn't marked down before the holidays. Warning, this can be a hard item to find at a good price once the cold-weather clothing season has passed.

A good example of a 200-weight pullover is the LL Bean Trail Model Fleece Pullover (currently on sale at $34.99, weight not on website but it's very light). Here's a url, but I'm not sure it'll work: ( fleece polartec 100|mens fleece pullover polartec-SR0&page=trail-model-fleece-pullover). If that fails, hit the LL Bean site and search the product by name. Again, no bells and whistles, no drawstrings or extra layers of fabric, 1/4 snap or zip. This pullover is made from Polartec Classic, which is highly breathable (it allows lots of air movement when not covered by a shell). This is great for air travel - the breathability of the Polartec Classic makes it great for airplane temperature swings.

Here's a comparable item on the REI website for illustration purposes only: This item on the REI site is at too high a price, so shop around.

Apart from the boots and socks, the shell is the most important piece of clothing in the outdoors.  

Well, OK, NOT wearing COTTON underwear is also really, really important. Moisture-wicking baselayers everywhere are really, really important. But a good waterproof shell is also really important. A shell should be slightly oversized to accommodate the baselayers and fleece insulating layers and allow for freedom of movement. It is helpful if there are additional vents under the arms, because if it is raining while we're backpacking, you or your Scout or Scouter might need to put on the rain shell, but might generate a lot of heat inside the shell. Armpit vents allow you to dump that heat on the move. Elsewise, you might have a hard time balancing heat loss from rain and heat buildup from exertion.

The REI Rainwall and Marmot Aegis are both reliable waterproof shells that have been around for a good bit. Neither is on sale right now, but other similar models might be. Like the fleece jacket, these are staple outdoor items that sooner or later sell, with or without sales. Because a rain shell is a year-round item, not just cold season, they're less likely than the fleece jacket to be marked down after Christmas. There are other sales, however, and many a month of possible beanstalk-like growth between now and the BTOW, so hold off if there's potential for growth and no present need for a rain shell.
You do NOT want a "breathable" shell made of GoreTex or any similar fabrics. The shell should be water-PROOF, not water-"resistant." Be wary of labels because there are no commercially-approved and monitored definitions of "waterproof." For example, Marmot advertises their Precip line of jackets as "waterproof and breathable." Those two properties are incompatible. A fabric can be waterproof or breathable, but not both. The Precip jackets are made of fabric that IS breathable, and thus less water-"resistant" than you need and not water-proof at all. The Precip jackets will not keep water out, so avoid them for use as a shell. Marmot will also tell you that the Aegis is "breathable." It ain't. It's waterproof. That's why teh armpit zippers are so important. With Marmot, Aegis = good, Precip = bad for our purposes. A sales rep might give you the line that "air molecules are smaller than water, so the air passes through the sub-molecular pores of the fabric, but the big old water molecules don't." Ignore the sales pitch, it's hooey. If you find a jacket you like and want to figure out if it really is waterproof, cover your face with the back of the jacket (or some other part that has no holes or seams) and inhale. If you can move air through it at all, don't buy it.
Rain shells, like backpacks, can easily be outgrown long before they are worn out. Quartermaster, oh Quartermaster, maybe the Troop can arrange a gear-swap covering rain shells, backpacks, and other items?

Colors? Although black is fashionable and goes with everything, it's not a great color for the shell for the outdoors unless you're planning on going Ninja-ing in the Night (which we won't be doing on the BTOW). Other colors are more visible and do a better job of hiding dirt. I wear an orange shell on camping trips. Not because it's flattering, but because it makes me easy to find in bad weather. Any bright color will do the same.

Rain shells and Christmas Tree Sales. Don't do it. We will get pine pitch on our gloves, jackets, pants and all sorts of other places at the tree sale. Pine pitch is hard to remove and damages the kinds of fabrics that are used in rain shells. An old winter coat is best for the tree lot, as are old leather work gloves.

For any who might need to get fleece caps and gloves, wait until the after-Christmas sales. REI in particular sells lots and lots of caps and gloves for gifts and typically has a very large selection available with sharp mark-downs after Christmas.

Lower Torso and Leg Layers.

We aren't kidding about NO COTTON. The worst place on your body to wear cotton on an extended, high-exertion outdoor adventure is around your "personal space." Cotton absorbs and retains water, whether it comes from weather or sweat. Water retained against the skin softens the skin (not in a good way) and causes the skin to break down. Water-soaked cotton swells and becomes abrasive. That combination results in rapid chafing in sensitive areas. Apart from the resulting pain, the degraded skin becomes a channel for infection. That means the adventure is over for that person. That entire Series of Unfortunate Events can be avoided by wearing underwear made of performance fabrics, similar to the fabric used in performance fabric t-shirts. Boxers are preferable to briefs, but the style is not as important as the fabric. You can get these from outdoor stores like REI,, but will find the same sort of item for less at other stores. BTOW participants should plan on bringing a week's worth of underwear changes (5 to 7 pairs). Reminder, we'll be doing laundry halfway through the BTOW.
For the outer layer on the legs, there are many options. Many are comfortable with simple athletic shorts and a lightweight pair of pull-on warm-up type pants. There's a good chance you already have those at home.

If you want to go with pants with pockets - handy but not indispensable for carrying maps, snacks, etc. - the Boy Scout polyester Microfiber Switchbacks are excellent and happen to be on sale ($39.99): The Switchbacks have zip-off legs, so are convertible to shorts. I bring two pairs on the trail, with only one set of legs. It's not as important to keep your lower legs as clean or as dry as your personal space. The switchbacks will likely go on sale again in the spring in advance of the summer camp season. Many manufacturers sell this style of outdoor pants. The pocket size and placement on the Switchbacks is better than other similar pants I've had over the years. Warning, the Ex Oficio brand sold by REI and others does not wear well - the fabric disintegrates quickly.
DO NOT WEAR BLUE JEANS, for the same reasons you should not wear cotton underwear.
Uniform Shirts
All Scouts and Scouters (meaning all BTOW particpants) will need a "Class A" uniform shirt for the trip: BSA policy requires travel in uniform. It also helps us spot the cats that wander from the herd. There are a number of fabric choices. Poplin wears the best and is the least expensive. Microfiber is not necessary. Long sleeves are not needed - just wear a long-sleeved undershirt under the uniform during cold weather. The folks in the Scout Shop in Bethesda can help with all necessary patches.


As with all gear, weight is a critical factor when it comes to water containers. Nalgene and Nalgene-type bottles are popular, but are heavy and take up the same space full or empty. BPAs are bad, but unless you've gone "off-the-grid," good luck eliminating contact with BPAs. So, options? Quart (also known as liter) soda bottles, well washed, are one. There is some risk they will split, because they're not meant to be reused. To reduce that risk, consider using liter Platypus bags (0.8 oz, $16.95), either in combination with other bottles or as your primary water-carrier: The bags go flat when empty. Every BTOW participant must carry 4 liters (quarts) of water-carrying capacity. A Nalgene weighs 8 times as much as the Platypus bag (6.2 oz vice 0.8 oz). Multiplied by 4, you've added a lot of weight and consumed a lot of space in your pack using only Nalgenes. Soda bottles are comparable in weight to the Platypus bags. Whatever you choose, make sure you can carry 4 liters (quarts) of water.

I STRONGLY recommend AGAINST "hydration systems," meaning Camelback- or Platypus-type slurpers. They tend to leak inside the pack, getting things that would otherwise be dry wet; it is very hard for a person using those slurp systems to gauge their fluid intake, a critical health and safety factor in the outdoors; they complicate packing the pack immensely; they are very difficult to keep clean on an extended outing, sometimes becoming a source of sickness; they add unnecessary weight.

Tail Lights.

No, really. If we end up hiking at night, either by choice or through necessity, it is very helpful if a red Nite Ize ZipLit LED Zipper Pull is hanging off your pack (0.3 oz, 2 for $6.00 at REI): Running lights, like those on a car or a boat, are very helpful in keeping a group together and safe in the dark. These are available from many other sellers at similar prices. One goes on the backpack, one on the daypack. Make sure they're red. The white-lite version throws much more light and interferes with night vision. I attach the white-light version to my first aid kit to have a light source to test reactivity of the pupils to light (and for use as a last-ditch light source).

There is no need for most to buy the full set of Custom Correct Maps for the Olympic Peninsula: We will need some full sets for the basecamp, but most won't need all. Until we confirm our site reservations at the beginning of March, we won't know with certainty which maps we'll need. For now, for those who are eager to see the maps, we're 98.723% certain that we will hike and camp Ozette during Week 2, which means you'll want the map of the Ozette Loop: During Week 1, we hope to split between Sol Duc, for which folks going on that split will need only one map, the Seven Lakes Basin,, and Enchanted Valley / Anderson Pass, for which folks on that split will need four maps, Quinault / Colonel Bob,, Enchanted Valley / Skokomish,, The Brothers / Mount Anderson,, and Mount Skokomish / Lake Cushman,
Fire Starters.
We need to light the stoves on the trail. An MSR handheld piezo igniter is less susceptible to moisture than matches. Not something everyone needs, but we'll need to have some means of starting stoves out on the trail. Unlike a match or a lighter, the piezo doesn't produce a flame, just a spark to start a stove.
And another NOLS plug ...
Please read the camping books written by the National Outdoor Leadership School instructor gang. "Lighten Up!: A Complete Handbook for Light and Ultralight Backpacking," by Don Ladigan, ($8.40 on Amazon) is another I might not have mentioned before: The "Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought ..." part of the page lists the other books (same illustrator). They're full of great information. The books - yes, those things made of paper that don't plug into anything or even use batteries - might even make a good gift for a camping-inclined person ...
See you Saturday!


Scouts, Parents and Scouters of Troop 466 -

Happy Thanksgiving! Because some Scouts, Parents and Scouters might plan to take advantage of the Black Friday sales tomorrow and through the weekend, it might be a good time to think about camping gear for the BTOW or other outdoor experiences with the Troop.

BTOW participants will need a fair amount of equipment for the trip. The Troop 466 backcountry camping packing list (attached) can be broken down into a clothing system, a walking system, a packing system, a feeding system (mess kit), a sleeping system and a hygiene and emergency system.

The sleep, feeding and hygiene and emergency systems are things that can be bought without being fitted to the camper. A backpack should be fitted, as should the core of the walking system (boots) and the clothing systems. REI will accept returns at any time, so educated guesswork on sizes for backpacks and clothing is relatively risk-free there. Some Scouts, however, might be headed for a growth spurt between Christmas and the BTOW, so it might be good to hold off on clothing and boots. There have been earlier conversations and emails about backpacks and socks.

Mess Kit (Feeding System)

A larger single-wall metal cup is the core of the mess kit (feeding system). A good basic model is the GSI GSI Outdoors Glacier Stainless Bottle Cup/Pot (4.9 oz, $12.95) ( A cup like this serves as a cup, a bowl, and a cook-pot for heating water. This one is stainless steel and sized to nest with typical hard-walled water bottles. While lighter materials than stainless steel (mostly titanium or titanium alloys) are available, they are much pricier. Aluminum tends to get bent up or broken in a backpack, so is not recommended for individual mess kits.
Because we will be spending a goodly amount of time in basecamps and enjoying a great feast halfway through the BTOW, a plate is also a good piece of equipment to have. Here, the material is not as important because the plate most likely won't be used to heat anything. Dinner-plate sized metal or plastic will do, but pick one with more depth than a typical dinner plate.
For utensils, also known as feedin' tools, avoid the famous spork. A spoon with holes in it is no good for spooning or spearing. Lightweight metal or heavy Lexan fork and spoon and a small folding knife will serve well. Do not rely on "picnic" plastic disposables - they won't stand up to wear. Something like the REI Campware Table Set ( provides a Lexan plate, fork and spoon (plus a plastic cup, knife and bowl that would be deadweight in the backcountry) for $12.50. I prefer an extra-long spoon ( to help keep my hands out of my food when snarfing freezedry or cooking on the stove, but that's a luxury.
A small, good quality folding knife is important. The knives sold at Scout camp are unfortunately for the most part poor quality. Something like the Gerber Fastdraw Mini, despite its somewhat menacing name, is a good choice (1.9 oz, $24.95) ( The Gerber Fastdraw Mini is made from high quality steel, has a blade lock to help prevent the knife from collapsing while in use, has a good grip, and is relatively small and light. It is very important to remember that knives do not go in carry-on bags! Avoid "skeleton" folding knives with an open skeleton grip because they tend to slip in the hand and sometimes do not fully cover the edge of the blade when closed. An adult or larger Scout might want a larger knife so that it fits well in the hand.
The troop will provide stoves, patrol cook-kits and water filters, so no need for an individual to buy those.
Sleep System
The sleep system has two parts, the ground pad and the sleeping bag.
The purpose of the ground pad isn't to make a soft bed, but to insulate the camper from the ground. There are many pricey inflatable air mattresses available with all manner of features. If a camper has back problems, the added weight, expense and work (an extra 5 to 10 minutes of set-up and break-down) associated with the inflatables might be worthwhile. Otherwise, a simple inexpensive lightweight (and short) closed-cell foam pad is likely best. For all but winter, I use a short ThermaRest RidgeRest SoLite short pad (9 oz, $19.95) that doubles as the "frame" of my frameless pack. ( The theory behind the short pad with a taller person is that your legs don't transfer much heat to the ground, so they don't need the insulation underneath them. If insulation is required, you can put your backpack under your legs. That has the added benefit of slightly elevating your legs while you sleep. It also weighs and costs half as much as the big one. Of course, if you're not much taller than 48 inches, the short pad might be all you would need anyway.
For the sleeping bag, many people prefer a system of bags and liners to a "single" bag. First, there is no "single" bag that will cover the range of temperatures experienced during a longer trip. Sleeping bags have a temperature range, so a bag that's good for 50 degrees won't cut it for 30 degrees, while a bag for 30 degrees will roast a camper in 60 degree weather. Buying different bags for different temperatures gets very pricey. A sleeping system made of layers, like a clothing system, allows a camper to adjust for conditions without duplicating equipment. To put together a 3-season sleep system (spring-summer-fall), start with a lightweight bag.
The REI Travel Sack is a lightweight (27 oz) polyester fill bag rated for 55 degrees. The current price is $59.50 ( A lightweight fleece bag liner like the Sea to Summit Reactor Thermolite Mummy Bag Liner (8.1 oz, $54.95) adds 15 degrees of warmth, making a 40 degree system when combined with the Travel Sack ( By wearing a fleece cap and wool or polyester socks from your clothing system, you can add another 5 degrees of insulation value, making it a 35 degree sleep system. Because I sleep cold (my body temperature drops more than most), I often carry a third layer, a Cocoon Coolmax liner ($44.95, 9 oz), that adds another 5 degrees of insulation value ( Most folks won't need that third Coolmax layer.
All of these layers have the added benefit of retaining insulation value when wet and being washable in the washing machine with ordinary laundry soap or detergent.
Hygiene and Emergency System

Every participant on the BTOW must carry his (or her) individual first aid kit to handle simple injuries. If one wanted to buy a pre-made kit, the smallest Adventure Medical Kit is a good choice (3.7 oz, $16.95) ( The troop will have a much larger kit at basecamp, and adults and older Scouts who've completed more advanced training (Wilderness First Aid) will carry larger kits with more supplies and equipment. If one is prone to developing blisters, it might be prudent to add a few more blister supplies to that kit, but that's for down the road. By the way, every Scout is supposed to have a whistle in his day pack on any troop activity.
Every participant on the BTOW must carry an emergency blanket / shelter. I recommend the SOL Survival Blanket (2.9 oz, $6.95) ( The SOL Survival Blanket is significantly larger than the SOL Emergency Blanket, making te Survival Blanket much more useful under the conditions where it would actually be needed. The "space blankets," really small sections of lightweight mylar, are much to light and too small to be useful. The heavy, rip stop "space utility blankets" are too heavy to carry. By the way, every Scout is supposed to have a whistle in his day pack on any troop activity.
Every participant in the BTOW must have a tool to make his own, personal porta-potty, also known as a hole in the ground. Special trowels are made for this purpose ( Plastic breaks, metal is heavy. I've taken to using a large, metal tent stake designed for the snow ( that's cheaper ($1.95), lighter (1 oz) and stronger than the trowels.
Every participant in the BTOW must have an emergency whistle with them. Any loud whistle will do. The SOL Howler 2-pack gets you two stocking stuffers or one to tie to the day pack and one to tie to the backpack( Although they're a bit more expensive than some of the other options ($8.95 for the two), they're unlikely to break apart the way a ball whistle might. By the way, every Scout is supposed to have a whistle in his day pack on any troop activity.
A headlamp is much handier than a flashlight. If it's dark out, you only need a light if you're doing something. If you're doing something, it probably involves using your hands for something other than holding a flashlight. There are many models available. Look for a waterproof, low-power LED that uses a standard battery size (AA or AAA). The Petzl Tikka 2 is a good basic model (2.9 oz, $29.95)( Petzl lamps are well-made and accept lithium ("camera") batteries, which is a plus. Although much more expensive than standard batteries, lithium batteries last far longer and reduce the number of spare batteries a camper needs to carry, reducing overall weight.
Participants will need medium-sized towels with them on the trail, and a larger bath towel in basecamp. There are many camp towels on the market. Beware the smooth towels. After a few uses, they get a slimy, creepy-crawly feeling to them. Look for a textured camp towel or a VERY thin terrycloth towel. A good option might be those worn out hand towels or bath towels that were just about to go to cleaning rag duty.
Do NOT buy bear repellant, fuel, or other items for the BTOW that can't be transported on a plane. We'll pick up those sorts of things out West.
REI is not the only source for this type of equipment, although they do have a very accommodating return policy at their stores. Similar products are available from other vendors. Campmor is a popular mail-order outfit ( Hudson Trail Outfitters is a local vendor. When shopping, keep in mind that weight and bulk are critical factors, since everything will be carried in a pack up hill and down dale.
I hope all enjoy a healthy and happy Thanksgiving. I look forward to catching up on turkey tales at the Tree Shed set-up Saturday morning!

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