10 Things You Need to Know Before You Go to Philmont
If you’re gearing up for a trip to Philmont or even just dreaming about a trip out to the High Adventure Base then this blog is perfect for you. Below are ten of my best tips and tricks to make your New Mexico trip successful, safe, and fun. These are tips that I learned the hard way when I was at Philmont in 2014 and I’m sharing them with you so that you know them before you even go. Read on for some great advice and a few poorly thought out jokes.
Drink Lots Of Water- Hydration is key when you’re backpacking, especially at Philmont. The combination of hot, dry air and high elevation makes dehydration a serious concern. Drinking plenty of fluids will help you adapt to the high elevation much better and can ward off the lightheadedness and nausea that accompanies altitude sickness. You’ll be able to enjoy the trip a lot more if you’re well hydrated. Water is usually readily available, but carry plenty with you. Whenever you stop for a food pickup, ask the Philmont staff for some empty juice or water jugs. These work great for hauling extra water if you have a stay at a dry campsite on your itinerary. Also, follow the “camel up” policy. Before you start hiking in the morning and at each water source, be sure everyone in the crew “camels up” and drinks a full bottle of water, that way everyone is hydrated before they even start.
Be Prepared To Get Lost- I can say with near certainty that you will get lost at Philmont. It happens to almost everyone and is just part of the hike. The key is being prepared to handle the situation when you do get lost. Be ready to hike a few extra miles to get back on the trail. The best thing to do is to backtrack to the last spot where you knew you were on the right trail and then reevaluate the map. In most cases, getting lost comes from reading the map wrong. It’s important not to panic if you find yourself on the wrong trail; stay calm and find your way back. Being handy with a map and compass is a must for anyone going to Philmont. They will teach you triangulation while you are out there- pay attention and remember how to use this essential skill.
Participate In All The Activities- This seems like a no-brainer, but when you get to Philmont, take advantage of all the activities it has to offer. Many of the campsites offer some awesome opportunities for rock climbing, shooting, archery, and even tomahawk throwing. I was surprised how many scouts in my crew chose not to participate in activities because they were “too tired.” Being tired is a pretty lame excuse for missing out on an opportunity you’ll probably never have again- sleep is for wimps. My best advice is to suck it up and give every activity a try, even if it doesn’t sound interesting I’m pretty confident you’ll end up having fun.
Food Is Money- Trading food is a Philmont staple. Philmont does a pretty good job of giving you delicious and nutritious meals and there’s a good variety of them, but at some point you just need something other than protein bars. Trading unwanted items in your lunch for something you do want is a necessary skill for survival at Philmont. I’m not kidding. You’ll probably die if you can’t barter for food. I’ll go ahead and give you an advantage now- jerky is like gold and can be traded for almost anything. Another amazing tip- swap boxes are your best friend. Many of the campsites have a “swap box” where hikers leave their unwanted food behind. Usually they’re full of the healthy foods that scouts would never in a million years eat, but every now and then a dessert or other delicious snack can be miraculously found in the swap box. The key is to walk at the front of the crew as you approach a camp so that you get first look through at the swap box.
Don’t Overlook Those “Optional” Items- Your packing list probably has a few items that are listed as optional. To save on weight you’re probably thinking about leaving these behind. I implore you, take them with you. The wide brimmed hat? Yeah, that’s a great idea. It’ll be extremely helpful in keeping the hot sun off you face and neck. Don’t leave behind your Buff, either. Wear that on your neck as a scarf when it’s cold up high or use it to keep the sun off. Oh, and it’s great for keeping all that dust off your face too. And the most essential of those “optional” items? Trekking poles. They will be your best friend. Share a tent with your trekking poles and make your buddy sleep outside. Jokes aside, trekking poles are a must. They’ll help immensely on the uphills and take the pressure off your knees on the downhills. Your poles will keep you well balanced and I honestly find that I hike faster using poles. Trekking poles have literally saved my life a number of times, so they’re definitely a great investment.
Baldy Will Be Cold- Mt. Baldy is the pinnacle of any Philmont itinerary, and it’s a huge accomplishment to make it all the way to the 12,441 ft summit. If you’re lucky enough to have clear weather and great views from the summit, you’ll want to spend a fair amount of time up top, and possibly even take lunch up there. There’s a couple of glorious alpine meadows just below the summit on either side that would make a great spot for a long break. That being said, you need to be prepared to be comfortable at high elevations. Because Baldy is one of the highest peaks in New Mexico, with a summit well above tree line, it will almost certainly be windy on the summit, even on clear days. Afternoon thunderstorms are also to be expected. The high elevation means it will be significantly colder than wherever you camped the previous night, with snow often lingering on or near the summit well into the summer. Be prepared on Baldy with a good windbreaker jacket, lightweight hat and gloves, and a good insulation layer. It is important to layer well, as with any hike: a good base layer to hike in, a fleece or wool mid layer, an insulation layer, and possibly even a hard or soft shell outer layer on top of that.
Your Pack Will Be Heavy- This doesn’t really need said, but I’m going to say it anyways. Your pack will be heavy and there is no way around it. Philmont is not the time to try out minimalist hiking, this is the time to put into practice the scout motto and Be Prepared. You must bring everything on the gear checklist or have some viable substitute for it; the ranger at Philmont will go through every pack upon arrival to be sure you have everything. And leave extra space in your pack to carry troop gear. Food, pots, pans, rope, and other tools will need to be split up and proportioned equally among everyone in your crew. I know your pack is already heavy, but yes you still have to carry your fair share of the weight; everyone else has a heavy pack too. Don’t go into Philmont with the attitude that it will be all easy hiking; Philmont is meant to be challenging, but the rewards are well worth the efforts.
Enjoy Every Day And Celebrate The Accomplishments- Maintaining a positive morale among the whole crew is essential for the crew to be successful. Think about bringing along a small incentive or snack to share with the crew as a reward for the big climbs. My crew shared Twizzlers and Hersheys bars on the summit of Baldy and it was a huge morale booster. Do whatever it takes to keep spirits high. For us, this meant going through our limited repertoire of Queen songs as we hiked or sharing riddles along the way. Find what lifts your spirits and do it. It’s important to enjoy every day. At the end of every day our crew would go in a circle and share our roses, buds, and thorns for the day- the best part of the day, something to look forward to in the next day, and the worst part of the day. This was just a great reminder that there was always a good memory in each day and helped keep spirits up.
Document Your Journey- Believe it or not, the memories of Philmont will eventually fade. Know this going in and take as many pictures as you can. Not just pictures of the rad views but pictures of your dirty, smelly crew of hikers and pictures of the trail or the campsites you stay at. Beyond pictures, write down a few comments at the end of each day in a notebook detailing where you hiked, what you saw, and what made the day great. These journal entries will be cherished in a few years.
You’ll Eat Some Crazy Things- In general, food at Philmont is pretty good. That being said, you’ll wind up eating some interesting and quite possibly disgusting combinations of food in order to add calories or make your meals more exciting. Food combos that sound disgusting right now might end up being your favorite trail snack. I remember one memorable combination for us was eating mashed potatoes out of tortillas- this saved us from doing dishes later and provided a few extra calories. Tortillas will be a great asset. Whenever you stop to pick up your next resupply ask the Philmont staff for a few packets of tortillas to add to your diet. You can also request extra TP or other necessary items you might need.
And here’s one bonus piece of advice that might possibly be my greatest contribution to this blog: Never stand when you can sit, never sit when you can lay, and never lay when you can sleep. This is possibly one of the ten most important rules of backpacking, so definitely heed this advice or you’ll suffer the dire consequences (sore muscles and tired bodies).
UPDATE: How Philmont was Affected by the Ute Wildfires
“My wise words you remember and a good trip you shall have” -Yoda (not really)
*This incredible blog post by Will Babb*