Ah the packing List…. Where shall I start?
Let’s start with rain shall we? Guess what? It rains at Philmont… a lot…. Philmont issues a 12”x 22” stuff sack that is suppose to hold most of your gear. This stuff sack is “water resistant.” These bags are used all summer and look a little “rode hard” and rough. These bags then get loaded onto a packhorse and a “waterproof “ canvas tarp gets thrown over the top. Naturally, because that is how my whole year had been, it started to rain on the day we did 18 miles. It rained the entire time we were on the trail. When we got into camp, we discovered that our stuff sacks weren’t so “water resistant.” I had soaking wet kids (I’ll get to the Philmont slickers in a minute), wet sleeping bags, wet gear and the evening was fast approaching. I went up to the acting director at Clark’s Fork and told him that our gear was wet. That is when he said, “You should have planned better.” Mind you, it wasn’t my equipment that had failed. It was the Philmont issued equipment that we have to use. To give the young man a break, he thought we were a regular backpacking trek and didn’t realize it was Philmont equipment that had failed. … I still feel bad about imploding….. and I don't mean that in a cheeky way. The staff ended up taking our equipment and sleeping bags into their nice, warm headquarters and drying everything out (but don’t count on your ability to be as charming as I am…..).
So why the long story? My main point is that if we had arrived at Bonita Cow (which is not only unstaffed but at 10,000 foot elevation), in that kind of wet condition, we would have been in trouble. So, take the Acting Director at Clark’s Fork’s advice. Plan and prepare above and beyond what Philmont expects. Your job is to prevent hypothermia. Philmont’s job is to treat it after it has set in (my opinion). Don't be as naive as I was and don't trust the Philmont stuff sack to keep your equipment dry. Although the majority of our participants had wet sleeping bags, my son, daughter and I did not have a problem. I didn’t know it at the time, but REI compression sacks are water resistant and they worked for us. The second time around, I required everyone to spend the $20-$25 dollars and buy a water resistant compression stuff sack for their sleeping bags. I also issued nylon, water resistant bags for clothing etc. Wal-Mart sells a three pack for around $9 (In the Sports and Outdoor section. They are called "Set of 3 Ultimate Dry Sacks"). I wasn’t going to put the safety of the Crew into Ziploc bags. The nylon bags also made organizing the personal stuff sacks much easier. I had three organized nylon bags (In three different colors), a sleeping bag, a Big Agnes sleeping pad and my sneakers. You can imagine how much easier it was to reach in and pull out what I needed. Have the kids put their names on the outside of the nylon bags especially if everyone has the same set of bags. I planned better the second time but that was because I also knew what to expect.
One more word of advice with regards to the Philmont issued stuff sack. There have been several Crews that have brought dry bags to Philmont to use in lieu of the stuff sack. That isn't a bad plan. However, the problem is sometimes these dry bags are a wee bit bigger then the issued stuff sack. You wouldn't think that a few inches would make much of difference, but it does. It is hard enough to cram the issued stuff sacks into the pack bags that the pack horses carry. A few inches more could make it impossible. Also, an entire crew bringing slightly bigger bags sums up to more weight that the pack horses have to carry. Your Horseman could reject your dry bags and definitely will if they are too big.
If your Crew does go to the trouble of buying dry bags, don't assume that you will be able to pack them to capacity. They must compress down to the size of the issued stuff sack. If you can do that, you have a good chance that the Horseman will allow the bags. However, it is still up to the discretion of the Horseman.
This brings me to the Philmont issued slicker. I don’t know why Philmont issues slickers to the Cavalcades. Is it because they do not want to take the chance on kids showing up in ponchos? Flapping plastic and horses don’t always get along. Another theory is that the slickers are longer and will protect your pants (they don’t). Whatever the reason, Philmont issues a thick, durable PVC slicker that will hopefully last the entire summer.
Now, I don’t mean to be ungrateful, but the bottom line is that these slickers don’t have hoods. A hood with the material this type of slicker is made of would be way too thick to fit under a riding helmet. So when it rains, the water runs right down the back of your neck under your Philmont issued slicker. By the time we got into Clark's Fork, our clothes were soaking wet. For the girls, their long hair absorbed plenty of rain and some of them literally had 2 to 3 feet of long, thick wet hair. Remember, it is your job to keep these kids dry.
My second time around, I required everyone to bring lightweight raincoat with hoods. No ponchos for the reason I stated above. I can't emphasize this enough. Make it very clear to both the kids and their parents that they will not be allowed to use a poncho or a thicker, plastic raincoat. It must be a lightweight, backpacking style (silicon coated nylon, Frogg Toggs or similiar). These lightweight raincoats have hoods that will fit just fine under a helmet. You can always double check with a bike helmet before you leave for Philmont.
A good, lightweight nylon raincoat also does not have to be expensive. Use the Philmont issued slicker over your raincoat. It makes a nice windbreak, offers some protection from the elements and it will protect your coat/rain coat from getting torn up by branches/brush. Roll the raincoat and warm jacket into your Philmont issued slicker. Bring some kind of rainproof bag to put your warm jacket in. If you are wearing the raincoats, you may not want to wear your warm jacket but you will want to keep it dry. I kept an extra Wal-Mart nylon bag in the pocket of my warm jacket. When the weather is nice, your lightweight raincoat and warm jacket will be rolled up into your Philmont slicker.
The other option would be to cut out the shoulders and hood of a cheap rain poncho. You can wear the Philmont slicker and use the hood and shoulders of the poncho over the slicker. Hopefully, the shoulders of the poncho would keep the rain from going down your slicker (depending upon the wind). Don’t make it too long, as you don’t want to upset your horse.
Bring rain pants. Wet jeans are uncomfortable and take forever to dry. They also cause problems with chafing. Make sure the rain pants are in your saddlebag where you can access them. When the rain starts, don’t wait too long to put your rain gear on.
There are several items that need to go into the bear bag at night. Philmont calls these your “smellables” and they are items such as chapstick, toothpaste and sunscreen. On the packing list, they are listed with a “BB” which stands for bear bag. If your entire crew has to throw in everyone’s loose chapstick etc, it is going to be a pain trying to sort out whose chapstick is whose when you unload the bear bag in the morning.. Everyone needs a ditty bag that will hold personal bear bag items. For us, we used the smallest of our three “ultimate dry sacks.” Nevertheless, it doesn’t matter what your ditty bag is, as long as you have one. Make sure everyone has his or her name written on the outside of the ditty bag.
I live in Phoenix. None of the kids wear cowboy boots anymore. How do you get families to buy a pair of cowboy boots that the kids may never wear again? In addition, a cheap pair of real cowboy boots (no lace-ups or lug-soles) is at least $100 brand new. I have done four cavalcades. Two cavalcades were at Philmont and two were at Buffalo Trails Scout Ranch in Texas. To my surprise, on all my cavalcades, it was never an issue. Families seemed to get into the idea of going all “cowboy.” One father got a pair of high end cowboy boots for both himself and his two sons off of Craig’s list. I directed several families to a used tack shop in our area. The shop sold used tack equipment, but also had a large selection of used boots in the back. However, by far, the best way to get a pair of boots for the grand total of $0 was by putting a call out to the families of our Troop/Crew. It is amazing how many parents have a pair of cowboy boots stuffed in the back of the closet that they haven’t worn in 20 years. They are delighted to donate the boots and the kids are not picky. Make sure that the donating parent/adult knows that it is a donation and not a loan. Mud and rain can be hard on a pair of boots and the boots may not come back in the same condition as when they left.
I had also worried over the idea of rubbing and sore spots on the kids from wearing a pair of boots. No matter how much I would tell them to “break in” the boots before the trip, I am pretty sure that the majority of them never bothered. For some reason, it hasn’t been an issue. I suppose I have been lucky. You can worry about it but all you can do is bring plenty of mole skin. I guess the fact that we all have a pair of sneakers/camp shoes stuffed into our bags to change into has also helped a lot.
Big Agnes – I love Big Agnes. These or backpacking Therm-a-rest (think ‘small diameter’ when rolled up) are great. You won’t be able to bring the cheap foam pads or the larger camping Therm-a-rest type pads. There is obviously no room. These small pads should easily slip into the Philmont issued stuff sack. Fortunately, there are more and more cheaper options for blow up type pads (just make sure that they are the insulated air sleeping pads). Emphasize to the parents that this isn’t a comfort issue. It is about keeping the kids insulated from the cold ground.
For the adults, invest in something like Big Agnes. Your back will thank you for it and it is worth the money. Don't show up with a three inch thick camping Therm-a-rest. It is going to stay in the car and you are going to be miserable. I know that a good quality Big Agnes type pad can be expensive but you are going to need a good night sleep....trust me.....
Because of Philmont bear procedure, you can't use your jacket or extra clothes as a pillow. Chances are pretty high that you are going to eat with your jacket on. If there is any possibility that there is a "smellable" on your jacket, it can't come into your tent. With the exception of your sleeping bag, pad, and sleep clothes, everything else stays in either your stuff sack under the dining fly or goes up in the bear bag.
If you need a pillow, invest in a small, inflatable pillow. I personally don't find them to be particularly comfortable but they do work. I slept like a rock.
Nylon “fishing shirts” are awesome. They are some times called camp shirts or sun shirts. The first year, we had long sleeve, embroidered cotton, denim cowboy shirts. Yeah, that was a dumb idea. Cotton takes too long to dry. The second time around, the kids voted on the color and I ordered nylon camp shirts off of Amazon for $20 to $30. I didn’t bother to get them embroidered. We didn’t want to pay for it. However, a lot of cavalcades do get them embroidered and it looks pretty cool. Our sister crew showed up in, yep, cotton cowboy shirts. They too, were not happy with their cotton shirts. They were also told that they could only have snaps on their shirts and not buttons. Huh? Buttons are fine.
Most of the kids complained about having a sore rear end especially on the Southern Cavalcade where they spent more time in the saddle. Of course, being kids, it takes them about an hour to heal and then they are good to go.
However, if you are concerned about a sore rear end, my husband swears by cycling shorts. He uses the kind with the chamois pad that pads the "sit bones." In fact, he won't ride without them and wears them under his jeans. He says that the shorts keep the leg hair on the inside of the thigh from causing discomfort. For men, it also keeps "things" snug so you don't land on the wrong side of a trot. He recommends the 'roadie' style and not the 'mountain bike' style.
Cycling shorts could act like your underwear so two pair might be worthwhile. I have never worn them on any of the cavalcades. I can't vouch for them in the backcountry, but it might be something you would want to consider. Let me know if you do give it a try.
50 foot nylon rope
A 50 foot nylon rope is included in the bear bag kit that Philmont provides. I was confused by this because we are suppose to bring a 50 foot nylon rope based on the packing list that Philmont gives out. The dining fly, pack horse bags and the bear bags all require rope. Your rope is a back up to the Philmont issued equipment. It is obviously smart to have a back up plan since this equipment is so important.
No Camelbak hydration packs allowed, but Camelbak bottles are perfect. They are easier to sip water from when you are on a moving animal then a Nalgene bottle. However, if you do bring Nalgene bottles, invest in a splash guard. They cost about $2 - $3 and they are worth the investment. The Philmont trading post was selling them the last time we were there.
Wrap bottles with duct tape since you can always use duct tape and this is an easy way to store it. Plus, it will let you know which bottle is yours.
You won’t usually need to purify water unless you are at an unstaffed camp. When you need to, follow the Philmont prescribed method (using whatever chemical treatment they provide).
2.5 gallon collapsible jug
Convenient but hard to pack. We didn’t use it at all on our Southern Cavalcade but found it convenient on our Northern Cavalcade. Personally, I would only buy one jug. Before leaving on your trek, ask your Horseman whether you really need one for your particular itinerary.
We all used matching baseball style hats. They pack easily. Cowboy hats would have been awesome, but even the crushable style are a bit more money and still hard to stuff into the sack. Cowboy hats will be allowed on the trek if they are the crushable style or they have a string in which you could tie the hat onto the slicker on the back of your horse. However, your Horseman might not like a floppy object on the back of the horse and not allow it. It also sounds like a hassle. For us, none of my kids would have worn them after Philmont and I didn’t want to spend the money. Remember, you are wearing helmets while you are on the horse.
Really great washcloths and great protection for the neck. They also helped with the dust for kids who were bothered by it.
Most of us used Leatherman type tools since they are so versatile. We clipped them to our belts so that they were easily accessible.
Light weight walking shoes are great to wear in camp. However, they need to be sturdy enough for the kids to be able to hike in. This means no water shoes. Of course, the kids often wore Keds or Vans. That kind of shoe would have killed me but the kids seem to do fine in them. One exception is the kids that hiked Mount Baldy. They planned ahead and most of them brought good quality, trail runner type shoes.
Your shoes cannot fit into your saddle bag. They must fit into your stuff sack. You should plan on this when you do a trial run with your stuff sack. All of us didn't have any trouble. Even the trail runner type shoes fit fine.
Having something to pound tent stakes into the ground with, makes life a lot easier. I got white plastic mallets with holes in the handle from REI. I got two and they were $5 each. We were able to tie them to the outside of the pack that the packhorses carried. However, your horseman may make you push them into someone's stuff sack.
Saddles and other personal horse gear
Don’t bother bringing your own saddle. Philmont has good solid equipment and won’t let you use your own equipment
These are important. They make handling a packhorse much easier. They also keep your hands warm in the rain (just like riding a bike in the cold rain without gloves; hands become miserably cold) and they make it easy to handle hot pots when cooking. You will also do service projects at Philmont and you will need gloves. Leather gloves from the hardware store are fine with one exception. For the women and girls, hardware gloves are usually too big. Our local tack shop was the only place I could find smaller leather gloves.
At bare minimum, have at least three to four gloves to share with whoever is handling the pack horses for that day.
Everyone had a tough time adding ground cloths to their personal gear sacks. Everything is already filled to capacity. Quite honestly, we didn't take ours. I don't know how Philmont feels about this but it worked out fine for us. I have read about how another Crew took out the Philmont provided tents when they were given to them. They checked over their tents and then rolled their ground cloths up with their tents. I thought that was brilliant although I have never done it personally.
Why wouldn’t you take a camera? On both my treks, when we were with our sister Crews during Gymkhana, I was the only one with a camera. Both times, that was out of six adults and at least 20 youth. Huh? I love taking pictures. For the cavalcade, since space is limited, I brought two small Olympus Tough waterproof cameras. One of them I bought used off of ebay for about $100 and handed it to my son to keep with him on the trek. On both treks, between the two of us, we took about 2000 photos, 1500 of which I kept. In sport mode, I thought these cameras did a pretty darn good job taking pictures of galloping horses. I think any of these smaller, waterproof cameras can do a comparable job.
Do an equipment check with all participants a week before you leave. No matter how much I emphasize the necessity of proper rain gear etc., parents will try to go cheap.
Make time to check equipment that is Philmont issued.
Everything needs to fit into the stuff sack which leads me to my last, really big piece of advice. This has to do with Philmont’s equipment check. At the beginning of the trek, while the Crew is still at Philmont Headquarters, all of the participants have to pull out their cots and show all their equipment to their Horseman. If everything doesn’t fit into the 12”x 22” Philmont issued stuff stack, the Horseman can pull something out and tell the youth that they can’t take it. Now the Horseman has a ton of responsibilities and doesn’t have the time to babysit a Crew. I have no criticism towards the Horseman. They are doing their job. If someone’s equipment doesn’t fit, the Horseman will pull out the easiest, which for one of my young ladies was her backpacking Thermarest. I know that Philmont lists the Thermarest as optional but to me, a Thermarest isn’t about comfort. It is about insulation from the ground.
At Bonita Cow, we were above 10,000 feet and she was miserably cold. For those of you who might argue that it was her sleeping bag, it wasn't. She had used the same bag a year earlier when we went camping in Flagstaff and it got into the mid 20s. She was fine on that trip. Anyhow, fortunately, we dropped to lower elevations for the rest of the cavalcade, and she felt better. I didn’t know that her Thermarest was taken out. She didn’t tell me until she was complaining about being cold once we were in the backcountry. Naturally, when we had showers, she walked out with a beach towel. Yes, a beach towel. I just about fell over.
For my second cavalcade, I made it clear to all the youth that they were to talk to me if the Horseman pulls something out of their equipment. If the young lady had told me that her Thermarest was taken out, she and I would have carefully gone through her equipment and I would have discovered her beach towel. I totally agree that everything needs to fit into the stuff sack. If I can do it, the youth certainly can. However, I prefer warm kids over clean kids.