Notes from Philmont

This information is from notes taken at the Connecticut Yankee Council Philmont Family Day event in Branford on March 9, 2008. The equipment presentation was given by Matthew Davidson, an Eagle Scout who went to Philmont with his troop as a scout in 2004, and has since returned as a ranger. He is a font of wisdom regarding what to bring on your Philmont expedition, and more importantly, what notto bring.

Matt told us that before each scout starts on the trail at Philmont, his pack is dumped and his gear is gone over by the ranger. The ranger will tell the scout what not to bring, and if there are any glaring deficiencies in his gear, the ranger will insist that proper gear be obtained before the crew sets off. But, if there's something that the ranger has told the scout not to bring, the scout has the option to bring it anyway. One of Matt's regrets on his 2004 trip was listening to the ranger who told him not to bring his sweater; he ended up being cold every day. Our own troop encountered this in 2004 when they were told to leave behind their rain pants, since "it rarely rains at Philmont." Big mistake; it rained every single day.

Anything the gets left behind is stored in a locker in base camp that is assigned to each crew. Your crew should bring a padlock to secure this.

This is not a complete transcription of his presentation, just some nuggets of information.


Backpacks / Sleeping

You will be carrying 35-50 lbs of equipment. Your backpack should fit well and have been tested before the trip.

Internal frame backpacks are compact, but can become unwieldy when overloaded. External frame packs can be loaded up with all kinds of tied/strapped-on gear. Neither is superior in all situations; personal preference should determine which type you use. Matt uses a small internal frame pack, but says that his pack is too small to be useful for the typical Philmont scout.

Your backpack should have a capacity of between 4000 and 5500 cubic inches.

Sleeping bags should be rated between 25 and 35 degrees F. It can get very cold at night in Philmont (down to the low 20's).

Bring compression stuff sacks, and use them to make your sleeping bag and other compressibles as small as possible.

Self-inflating sleeping pads (e.g. Thermarest) are good, but can leak, and if they do, they lose most of their insulating properties. If you bring one, make sure that you have a patch kit as well. Matt prefers the folding foam type of sleeping pad (e.g. the Thermarest Z-Lite) because it maintains its insulating qualities under all circumstances.


Boots. Never bring new boots to Philmont! You will not have a good time. Boots must be well broken-in before Philmont. Matt prefers full leather boots. Any boot must have good ankle support; many rangers will not permit a scout to hike if he doesn't have ankle-high boots. Trail-runner shoes are not acceptable.

Temperatures swing widely throughout the day, from the low 20's to the high 80's. You need to be prepared when a storm front moves in and the temperature suddenly drops to winter conditions. Hypothermia is a common problem at Philmont.

Cotton kills. Do not bring any cotton, except maybe for briefs or boxer-brief type underwear (which Matt recommends -- he discourages the use of boxers at Philmont).

All skin-contact clothing should be polypropylene ("polypro") or polyester, which dries quickly when wet and wicks sweat away. T-shirts should be of this wicking type, and definitely not of cotton. Likewise shorts and long pants. No cotton, no jeans.

Matt avoids nylon. It is cold when wet and the wind is blowing. Use only as a water- or wind-proof outer layer.

Don't carry too many clothes.

You will need a separate set of clothes for sleeping in, because you will get food on your regular clothes, and food attracts bears. Since anything that gets near food is kept strictly away from the sleeping area at each camp, a separate T-shirt and shorts (and whatever else you like to sleep in) must be brought.

Dress in layers:

Layer A:

Wool or merino wool hiking socks.

Synthetic liner socks.

Underwear (boxer briefs, briefs, swimming trunks with liners, wicking-type underwear).

Shorts (2-3 pair, not cotton).

T-shirts (3, should be wicking, not cotton).

A hat with a brim to keep the sun off your face.

Separate sleeping clothes.

Layer B:

Long pants/convertible pants. One pair of convertible pants (legs unzip to make them shorts) counts towards your pairs of shorts -- less to carry. No jeans or cotton.

"Insulated" underwear (not sure what he meant by this, but speaking to him later, he said by all means, bring wicking-type long underwear tops and bottoms).

Sweater or jacket (fleece or wool).

Skull cap/watch cap. Basically something warm that covers the whole top of the head.

Gloves. He never found a need for these, but if you don't mind carrying them, they could be useful on cold mornings.

Layer C:

Rain suit. Goretex or other breathable top, hip-length; pants are useful too. No ponchos.


Bring a deep bowl and a spoon. That's it. The bowl should be hard plastic (like lexan) or metal, and the spoon should durable. Since you will be literally licking the bowl clean before you wash it, it shouldn't be so deep that you can't get your face into it. Don't bring a plate, fork, knife or cup. One of your nalgene bottles will serve as a cup.

For water, bring 2 1-liter hard plastic Nalgene bottles (one for water, one for gatorade). Also bring a 2-liter collapsible container (Platypus is good). You should be able to carry at least 4 liters of water at a time without any crew containers, and you may be asked to carry 6 liters to a dry camp.


Pocket knives. No need for everyone to have one; bring 2 or 3 for the whole crew. 
Flashlight / headlamp.
Compass. Again, bring a few for the whole group.
Maps. Just the navigator and one or two others need to have.
Bandana(s). Very useful.
Money. Don't bring much, if any. You won't need it.
Lip balm with SPF factor. Protect your lips from sun and wind. Don't apply after 5pm, or the bears will smell you out.
Sunscreen. Bring a crew supply, not individual. Again, not to be applied after 5pm, or the scent could attract unwanted bears at the campsite.
Ditty bag: tooth brush, toothpaste (one for whole crew), toilet paper.
 Do not bring! Only serves to attract bears.


Bring your own tents. Do not use the PhilTents (Philmont-supplied tents); they tend not to be in the best shape. 
Bring 2 or 3 man tents, with pegs and footprints or groundcloths.

Crew Communal Gear

Pocket knives. 
Sewing kit.
Tent stakes.
Crew water.
First aid kit.
Stove and fuel. Bring white gas stoves (one primary, one spare); LP and isobutane gas stoves are strongly discouraged.
Duct tape.
Padlock (for storage locker at base camp).
Nylon cord.
Water filters.
Bug spray (you won't need this).
Pot holder / utility tool.
Latrine trowel (orange shovel).
Cell phones (adults only!).

Philmont-Provided Gear

PhilFly. This is a large rain fly with poles for cooking under.
Micropur water purification tablets.
Cooking gear.
Sump gear.
Bear bag lines.
Bear bags.