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NCT Hiking Patch
Check out my North Country Trail 100 Miles patch! Any scout can receive this patch and certificate by hiking at least 100 miles on the North Country National Scenic Trail by the end of 2016. So, you've got a month remaining to get out on the trail and rack up some miles.
You can walk the same mile of trail back and forth, or start hiking and keep it up until you've gone at least 100 miles. That's not hard for a lot of scouts in the northern part of the country since the NCT is 4,600 miles long from the New York/Vermont border to the middle of North Dakota. I did my 100 miles on the Superior Hiking Trail, completing 85 miles with a friend on a 5-day backpacking trip and then the other 15 miles on pieces of the trail through Duluth. The Superior Hiking Trail, Border Route Trail, and Kekekabic Trail are all part of the NCT in Minnesota.
Snowshoeing, running, and walking are all legal ways to do your 100 miles. Weekend hikes in December or a longer trip after Christmas will get you through the challenge. You can read more details about the NCT Challenge.
If you've already hiked some miles on the NCT route, push it to finish it! A couple weekends could do it.
Scouts working on the Hiking, Camping, or Backpacking merit badges, or the National Outdoor Badges for Hiking, Camping, or Adventure can get even more out of miles on the NCT.
You might even win some very cool gear for your camping adventures next year.
Posted: 15:36 11-28-2016 1316
Camping Night Light
Everyone I know that camps has been at least a bit scared by something going bump in the night. My scare was one night on the Arizona Trail, all alone, when I heard coyotes howling - not from one direction, but all around me. My tiny little silnylon tent didn't feel like much protection that night.
New campers can feel a lot more comfortable with just a slight bit of illumination to fight back the utter darkness in a forest with no city light pollution in the sky. Whether it's his first year at scout camp or first wilderness backpacking trip, the UV PaqLite can help a scout relax and get some rest out in the wilds.
The PaqLite is a vacuum sealed, flexible package of glow-in-the-dark crystals (strontium aluminate) that absorb light and then slowly release it as a green glow for hours. Shining a flashlight on this and then hanging it in a tent gives off a reassuring light until everyone is asleep, and it will still be glowing if someone wakes in the middle of the night.
The UV PaqLite provides comfort without wasting hours of flashlight batteries. A bright, overpowering light really isn't helpful at night, but a soft glow is perfect. This night light is a very thin 6x7 inches, weighs just about 1 ounce, can be rolled, folded, or crunched into any small spot in your pack, and illuminates a 3 person tent nicely.
Enough glow is thrown out so you can actually read by it for about an hour or so, but it does fade over time. A quick shot from a flashlight under a cover (to not bother tentmates) and hang it back up will give more time.
As you can see in the image, the crystals come in various packaging. The PaqLite is the large rectangular item. You can also get small amounts of crystal embedded in clear, poured epoxy so they are indesctructable, solid, and reusable indefinitely. These are good to hang on pieces of gear you might want to find in the dark. These hard packages come in various sizes and shapes, and you can cut and drill them to make smaller zipper pulls or whatever.
It's a night light for camping without the disposable waste from snap glow sticks - maybe a good little stocking stuffer?
Posted: 12:44 11-27-2016 1315
Looking for a fun winter activity for a Webelos den? The US Forest Service has a Junior Snow Ranger program that you can use in a den meeting. This PDF file is a great activity book with an application form at the end. It covers science, animals, safety, and a lot more.
Scouts can receive a card, badge, and bandanna upon completing the program.
Posted: 11:19 11-23-2016 1314
It's that time of year when all good scouts take on the extra challenge of camping in cold weather. Whether 'cold' to you is 30 degrees or -30 degrees, preparing and educating scouts is a big part of a successful outing. Here's a few ways to help remember important information...
WWWW - Wicking, Warmth, Wind, and Water are the Ws of dressing for cold weather camping. When dressing for cold weather, LAYERS are key to warmth and safety. The goal is to stay warm and dry.
A wicking layer against your skin pulls moisture away so it can evaporate and your body stays dry. This layer is polypropylene long underwear.
A warmth layer is a fluffy insulation around your body to keep the heat you generate trapped. This can be wool, down, fleece, or other light, fluffy jacket or vest.
The wicking and warmth layers need protection from wind and water. Wind can blow the trapped warmth away from you, and water can negate the insulation properties of your jacket. So, the outer layer is a waterproof barrier that also stops wind. This can be a raincoat, poncho, snow jacket and pants, or similar.
COLD - Clean, Overheat, Layers, Dry are four words to remember so you don't get cold when winter camping. Clothes that get dirty insulate less which makes you colder, so keep them clean. Overheating causes you to sweat which leads to getting colder, so minimize exertion and activity. Dressing in layers allows you to adjust your insulation as your exertion varies, adding or removing layers as needed or opening and closing zippers to vent heat. Dry clothes insulate, wet clothes don't. Remember COLD so you don't get cold.
Cotton Kills - The thing about cotton clothing is that it absorbs water and stays wet a long time. This is great sometimes, like wetting a cotton bandanna around your neck to cool off in hot weather, but is dangerous in cold weather. Clothing can get wet from rain, stepping in water, melting snow, or sweat from overexertion. Synthetic fabrics tend to absorb less moisture, retain insulation ability, and dry faster than cotton.
UMBLES - Mumbles, Fumbles, Grumbles, and Stumbles.
The signs of hypothermia can be remembered with the UMBLES. A person experiencing hypothermia will have reduced fine motor skills (fumbles), gross motor skills (stumbles), difficulty speaking (mumbles), and changes in mental aptitude (grumbles).
A quick way to check a scout's state is to ask him to make the scout sign and repeat the scout law. Watching how he accomplishes this simple task gives feedback in the four areas.
See more cold weather camping tips
Posted: 12:01 11-22-2016 1313
1200 Pen Pals
Wow! It's been a busy year with new groups signing up to do pen pal exchanges. Over 400 new groups have signed up this year and there are now over 1200 groups in the database. As far as I know, this is the largest, active scouting pen pal database - please let me know if you are aware of another.
A bunch of Cub Scout and Boy Scout advancement requirements and awards include communicating and Pen Pals are a fun way to accomplish those requirements.
In the USA, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts are separate, but most other countries have them combined. All are accepted in my Pen Pal program. There are lots of Girls Scout groups listed, and many international co-ed groups.
You can set up a relationship with another group and then exchange secure messages, emails, or paper mail - whatever you both decide.
If you don't see a group you'd like to meet, then there's also links to the international pen pal programs for Australia, Canada, Netherlands, and UK.
Scout On, and meet a scout around the world!
Posted: 9:47 11-01-2016 1312
One reason I like taking scouts backpacking up in the mountains above timberline is because I can see forever. Not just the wonderful scenery, but the terrain around me, too. No little animals or snakes rustling in the brush right beside me, no prickly thorns and weeds scratching me, and no roots tripping me while I hike along. Unfortunately, those high mountain hikes are relatively rare since I'm a flatlander and we do most of our hiking through forest, grasslands, and prairies. These are beautiful, but there's a much higher probability of light injury to my lower legs.
A good way to keep lower legs safe, especially for enthusiastic, growing, gangly youth, is to wear a light pair of gaiters. Ankle-high gaiters keep debris out of your shoes as well as a bit of rain, but calf-high gaiters do all that plus provide protection to shins and much more water resistance.
I've owned a pair of gaiters since 1984 - yes, that long! But, I just got a new pair of Tuban Gaiters for free to try and review. They make my old pair (which still work fine) look and feel ancient.
My new gaiters weigh just 2.5 ounces each versus the old 3.5 oz. each so it's easy to forget they are on. They have a strong synthetic instep strap instead of a lace strap so I expect that to withstand abuse from the trail pretty well. A front velcro-type opening replaces my old rear zipper so they are much easier to put on and off. And, the top cinch is a strap and buckle rather than a lace. All in all, a huge improvement in design over a short 30 years. :-)
So, what's the same? Well, they perform their duties just fine. Gaiters are wonderful to keep snow off my pants and out of my boots. Staying dry in cold weather is as important as staying warm. They also help with rain by diverting drips off the shoe instead of letting it soak into the sock and into the shoe. Besides snow and rain, gaiters also stop sand, gravel, twigs, and other trail debris from working its way down to my feet to cause irritation, blisters, and a grumpy mood. Plus, knees down is where most of the trail dirt and grime are accumulated so gaiters help keep scouts and clothes clean on the trail.
Gaiters also provide lower leg protection, specifically against shin scrapes and scratches. While hiking through an old train tunnel doing research for my next book, I hit my leg on a big rock. I was moving my feet slowly and taking my time since I had no flashlight - well, I had one but I was too lazy to get it out for this short tunnel. Oops. No real injury as more than a foot of skin on my shin got peeled off, but it bled and stung for an hour or so and it's just now pretty much healed. A sturdy gaiter would not have prevented me from being stupid about the light, but it would have prevented almost all the damage from that kind of injury.
More common than running into rocks is getting scratched by vegetation. Hiking the 800-mile Arizona Trail, I had my fair share of pokes, scratches, scrapes, and cuts. I was fortunate to not get any cactus injuries, but every plant in the desert is designed to injure whatever comes close to it. One of my water bags even got punctured. Gaiters are perfect protection while hiking in this territory or any place where the trail is narrow or if you have to bushwhack cross country.
The plants and grasses, even those that don't bite, are still irritating in the morning. Hiking the Ice Age Trail, the first couple hours most mornings got my lower legs and shoes soaked just because of the heavy dew and walking through the prairie grass, brush, or whatever was growing along the narrow, less used trail. Gaiters, worn just those first couple hours each day, would have made life much more pleasant.
There are specialty gaiters specifically for snakebite protection and these gaiters are not that kind. Those are heavier, almost like armor. But, even long pants are helpful to prevent snake bites since the snake may hit the fabric instead of your skin. With any gaiter in place, there is a bit more protection.
These gaiters are also a good Leave No Trace piece of gear. The synthetic fabric is so tightly woven that burrs, seeds, and other stickers don't cling to it for transportation. You don't wind up being a vehicle for invasive plants to have their seeds dispersed by hitching a ride on your pants or socks, just to be plucked off and thrown to the side to grow at your next rest stop. Also, with the protection from gaiters, you are more prone to stay on the trail instead of straying to avoid any small nuisance in the path.
If you're interested in checking out my gaiters, hike to Amazon and take a look. If you buy a pair, use this code to save 50% ( 2EX3VL22 ) They come in black (my fav), blue (not so much), or orange (hunting season!)
The largest part of my calf is 17 inches around, and 16 inches around just below the knee where the gaiter top rests. The size Large fits fine, but if your legs are larger, go for the size XL. Measure up 18 inches from the floor when standing to find where the gaiter top will be on your leg.
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Posted: 10:30 10-27-2016 1311
One Good Turn
Sometimes a Daily Good Turn takes some effort, and sometimes an opportunity literally blows up in your face.
You've seen the movies where a briefcase full of cash cracks open, or dollars are thrown from a building, or an explosion blasts money through the air, right? Well, this week it happened to me.
After a nice lunch with my family at a restaurant, we were walking down the sidewalk to where our car was parked. My wife and two eagle scout sons were a bit ahead of me. We were walking into a steady headwind. A car had just parked in a spot along the sidewalk and people were getting out as I passed by. The front passenger stepped onto the sidewalk right beside me and closed the door, just as I glanced over in his direction.
As he stepped away on the sidewalk, going the same way I was headed, a fluttering caught my attention in the gutter. A folded stack of dollar bills, certainly more than an inch thick, was unfolding on the pavement and the wind was just starting to flutter off each of the top bills, one by one, sending them scurrying and tumbling along the gutter.
I hollered, "Hey, dude! Wait a minute!" As he looked at me, I pointed to the money. You should have seen the look on his face. He stopped midstride, turned, and bent to pick up the pile - all while saying, "Oh my gosh! Oh no! Oh!"
In the same instant, I changed direction and went to head off the farthest bills before they escaped. They were all $20 bills and there had to be at least 30 of them, probably more. I made sure to keep my hands out in the open in front of me so he wouldn't think I was trying to keep any. We met at his car bumper. I handed him the handful I had gathered and said there was another one way under his car - hey, there's a limit to my good turn doing! He thanked me and I caught up with my family around the corner at our car.
OK, having written it down, it doesn't sound that exciting now. But, I'm glad I had the chance to help someone. If I hadn't been there, he may very well have lost all of it, and whatever it can buy him.
Good Turns are more often not so exciting, but they all make the world a bit better. Keeping an eye open for ways to help others, being aware of your surroundings, and pointing others before yourself are all ways to make finding those opportunities in the world around you.
Posted: 22:39 10-26-2016 1310
Lions and Tigers and Bears
Oh my, it's fun to have all three of those critters part of the Cub Scouting program now. The kindergarten Lion program seems to have been 'in the works' forever since our council has been piloting it for a few years now. Pretty much every pack has been happy with the new, younger members.
I finally met my first real Lion scout out in the wild! At camp this past weekend, a pride of them were rambling through the forest past our training site and I convinced one to slow down enough for a picture. That's what the Lion t-shirt looks like out in its natural habitat.
With the Lion program being piloted in 200 councils starting right now this fall, it's only got some tweaking left to become finalized for next year. I expect there will be some changes from the feedback I've seen. The stickers for advancement, the 'babyishness' of the program, cartoon look of the rank patch, and no place to wear the patch are all things I've heard. One good thing is the polo shirt for adult partners to wear - maybe a first step towards the same sort of thing for the rest of Scouting?
The polo isn't the 'only' good thing about the program. The Lion Guide guidebook has complete den meeting plans so there's little extra planning work needed for the adult volunteers. And, I like the emphasis on just playing together, teamwork, and having fun. Scouting doesn't need to be strictly organized like team sports, school, or other clubs.
You can read more about the Lion program.
Posted: 9:15 10-20-2016 1309
Outdoor Ethics Training
These scouts are carefully screening food bits out of waste water before disposing of it. Are your scouts well versed in Outdoor Ethics? How would they dispose of this water and the food bits?
I spent my weekend at scout camp on staff presenting a Leave No Trace Trainer course to 14 participants, 9 from one Venture Crew. What a fun time! We covered the seven LNT principles, each participant practicing teaching a topic out in the woods. We practiced the principles around camp, too.
I was responsible for supplying meals for the gang, so of course it included Dutch Oven Cooking. The scouts did a great job of minimizing fire impact, disposing of waste properly, and respecting wildlife, while I think I did good with the plan ahead and prepare bit.
To demonstrate how planning ahead can help minimize impact, I repackaged all the meal ingredients into zip-loc baggies. I also cooked the meat at home. I froze the zip-locs so they all stayed cool in storage until we used them. Making a meal was easy - just grab the right bags, dump the contents into the dutch oven, and heat. The only garbage at camp was one large zip-loc full of all the other bags and the small amount of uneaten food from one meal.
I should have taken a picture of the 28 food cans that I emptied, cleaned, and recycled at home instead of bringing them outdoors.
With a new group this large, it's challenging to know how much to make since some people may be picky eaters, or big eaters. The three dutch ovens of Cowboy Stew for lunch was scraped clean. The Frito Casserole for dinner virtually disappeared. And, it was a good thing I listened to advice and bought more cookies than I thought were needed. I bought a package of every kind of Oreo on the shelf, from Birthday Cake to Mint - I didn't realize just how many versions there are now. There's practically an Oreo Aisle at the store!
The McPancakes for Sunday breakfast could have gone better. They tasted great and were all eaten, but the pancake batter didn't behave very well. Oh well.
Some of the participant presentations were lots of fun. Various props brought as teaching aids included inflatable animals, burned garbage, a Powerpoint presentation, a potato, coloring pages, and pictures of recent non-LNT behavior from the internet.
Everyone got to practice making a mound fire of sorts - on sand, in a pie tin, resting on two branches above a picnic table. The small twiggy fires were enough to roast marshmallows for s'mores so I'd say there were successful.
And, of course, everyone dug catholes, too. That's a given for any LNT training.
Outdoor Ethics is an integral part of Scouting advancement now from Tigers through First Class. The Outdoor Ethics Guide position of responsibility can be very useful to help other scouts learn skills to minimize impact, but the entire pack/troop/crew culture needs to include respecting and caring for the outdoor world.
It isn't more work to minimize impact - it's just the way we do it. Is it how your Scouting unit does it, too?
Posted: 9:34 10-18-2016 1308
Hiking-n-Cycling Safety Vest
Here's something that anyone doing the Hiking or Cycling merit badges might find useful, especially if you're putting in miles on multi-use trails or along roads with traffic.
In the very dark night hours, cars have their headlights on and can see reflective safety gear fairly well. Many hikers, runners, and bicyclists wear neon green or orange reflective vests to be more visible, thinking that's good enough to be safe. But, there's an hour or so around sunrise and sunset when many drivers don't have their lights on and visibility is poor. Just reflective vests don't help at all at those times. That's why lighted safety gear is so much more valuable if you are out getting your exercise, covering miles for a merit badge requirement, walking the dog, or commuting around dusk or dawn and any time it's dark or dreary.
While walking on multi-use paths, as the daylight hours get shorter, I've had bicyclists fly past me with no lights on. It can be unsettling. I don't personally like wearing gaudy fluorescent colored clothes which unfortunately makes me more difficult to see. Fortunately, other options than a neon wardrobe are available.
This ITL led vest provides 360 degree visibility, not just straight ahead or behind like a headlamp or tail light. Reflective vests are only helpful if a car's or bike's light shines directly on it. With this LED vest, you are visible in complete darkness, from every direction, even to bikes not using any headlights.
I got my wife to wear this cool safety gadget while I took the photos and video - I couldn't very well do both. But, I've also worn it on a few early morning and evening walks on the trail. The solid light is easy to see from a couple blocks away. To grab even more attention, turn on the LED strobe mode. The flashing lights can't be missed or ignored. And, if that isn't good enough, there's a fast flash mode for times you want everyone to watch you run past. I found that putting one light in flash mode and one in fast flash mode, it creates an irregular pattern of flashing that is the best attention getter.
The vest is made from an adjustable, elastic chest/waist band with plastic optic-fiber shoulder straps. The band is neon green fabric and a highly reflective strip. The shoulder straps are super lightweight plastic tubes to disperse the orange LED output. It does a terrific job of lighting up and turning heads. It's super easy to toss on, snap in place, and start running. Since it is so light, it is also very comfortable. The band can be adjusted from 26 inches up to 43 inches, fitting many body sizes.
The arm bands are a bonus. The vest itself does a great job, but adding the bands gives more color, more light, and more movement to increase visibility. Each band has 5 LEDs strung under a bright hunter's orange fabric for visibility during light or dark times. The LEDs have the same 3 modes as the vest. The bands slap onto your wrists and stay in place with no snaps or latches. They are long enough to be used on your bicep if you want them up higher. Hey, you could even wear one on your ankle and one on your arm on your right side, closest to traffic, to follow those safe hiking tips.
Turning the lights on, or changing their mode, is super simple. Each band and vest shoulder strap (4 total) has its own press button. Press to turn on, press to flash fast, press to flash normal, press to turn off. It would be nice if the vest buttons were on the front instead of in back, but they're still easy to use.
The vest uses 4 CR2032 batteries and each armband uses 2 CR2016 batteries. Purchasing those coin style batteries at your local store can get expensive, but I've bought them for my hiking headlight in quantities directly off the Internet for less than 25 cents each, and they work great. Replacing batteries in the vest is simple and easy, but the bands can be a bit tedious. You need to slide out the LED strip and battery holder and it tends to snag a bit on the orange fabric - no big deal, but annoying.
The vest weighs 4.8 ounces (136g) and each arm band weighs 1.0 ounce (28g) - and that includes the batteries. Under 7 ounces to stay safe and visible along the road or on the trail, day or night, walking or riding, seems like a very good investment to me.
Carrying this tiny item on my long hikes will help keep me safe when I have to walk the shoulder of roads. It's also useful during hunting season with its bright hunter orange and neon green fabric strips. Halloween also strikes me as another opportunity to ensure vehicles can see you easily.
I received this LED reflective vest for free in exchange for taking the time to try it out and share how well it worked for me.
Techy Junk: OK, I like to see how things work - sorry, it's just me. :-) While testing how to replace the batteries in an armband, I straightened it out and found that by straightening the very end of the band a bit past straight, it 'snaps' and stays flat! Then, the entire LED strip can be pushed out to replace the batteries. Once removed, I now have a very bright, 5-LED, light strip. It produces a lot of light so it's now also my 0.3 ounce, emergency back-up headlamp.
Posted: 11:58 10-17-2016 1307
Yet Another Eagle Project was completed this past weekend in our community. This one was interesting, useful, and fun to help with.
Our elementary school just invested in an outdoor classroom this summer, spending tens of thousands of dollars on landscaping natural seating into a bowl-shaped area of the forest on the school property. This eagle project enhanced the usability of the area by designing, building, and installing four outdoor laboratory tables. The tables will be used by students for experiments about the environment, animal life, climate, and other nature studies topics.
The design is very sturdy and should hold up for many years of changing Minnesota seasons. The tables are set on two 4x4 posts sunk into the ground over 40 inches and rest at the correct height for small children. Each table is a box with hinged lid, creating a protect work area.
I took my orders from the Eagle candidate and spent my time digging holes with a post hole digger until he told me to stop. I think I did a pretty good job!
Another eagle project was done here earlier in the summer, also as part of this new outdoor classroom. It is the 'chalkboard' for the classroom - protected by small roof, locked protective plywood doors, and sturdy support structure.
I'm excited to see the new classroom in use this year. If you know of some Eagle candidates looking for projects, these outdoor classrooms are being set up in lots of schools now - might want to check locally. Or, I have many other ideas for Eagle Scout service projects.
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Posted: 21:48 09-27-2016 1306
Ducttape and Paperclips
Making things from old junk stretches the imagination of a boy and gives him freedom to invent, explore, and learn. I had access to lots of old equipment, building supplies, and junk while growing up on USFS ranger stations. I made some awesome things, from forts to kites to bombs - even electric motors.
I believe my time spent watching MacGyver on TV helped, too. On that show, MacGyver could make anything with some ducttape, a couple paperclips, and no more than 10 minutes of effort. That's why I'm excited to hear a new version of the show is about to launch and BSA is holding a contest about it.
Some scout is going to win a trip to the MacGyver set in Atlanta. Ten others will win some backpack full of swag. But, every scout that enters will get a patch - not just a patch, but a collector's edition patch! OK, maybe you don't need YAP (Yet Another Patch) but, then again, maybe you do.
Anyway, a tip for 13+ year old scouts - when you enter the sweepstakes, choose the 13-17 age range to enter your postal address. If you're just 12, your parents need to get involved. I don't know why it's not open to younger scouts, but it's probably some legal internet child protection stuff.
Good luck, Scouts! Oh yeah, the sweepstakes ends October 30, so don't wait too long to enter.
Now, I just need to find 3 more paperclips and I'll get that hang glider finished!
Posted: 16:26 09-21-2016 1305Previous Posts
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