Prepping for Philmont
If you’ve never been to the Philmont Scout Ranch, you are missing out on truly incredible backpacking experience. It is a 12 day trek through the mountains of Northern New Mexico. You will hike from 7,000 to 12,000 feet. You will make pit stops at multiple locations filled with all kinds of adventure from mountain climbing, shooting, archery, fishing, music, crazy games, Native American lore, survival skills, trail building, etc.
But it is hard. You need to be physically ready. Especially if you are an adult leader.
Both treks I have been on were around 90 miles. And some days were incredibly hard because of the elevation changes, lack of oxygen, 40-50 lb. backpacks, heats, cold, rain, etc. That sounds like a torturous hike, but trust me it’s fun, and those times of pain are interspersed with so much beauty.
The pain can be lessened by being
Here are my recommendations.
1. Go on as many prep hikes as possible.
Learn Your Gear.
The prep hikes not only prepare you physically, but they help you become
comfortable with your gear. Every trip I have gone on, the prep hikes helped me readjust my gear. I ended up ditching certain items and buying others. I learned how to pack properly for better weight adjustment. I knew where all my pouches were on my backpack. That might sound crazy, because you probably thoroughly inspected your bag before buying or lending. You will find until you start using it, you don’t really know it.
Practice Philmont skills.
Getting the bear bag in place. Disposing of food with a sump. Cleaning up. One piece trash. Smellables bags. These are all the things you have to do on the Philmont hike to keep you safe from animals and to keep the reservation pristine. If your first exposure to these skills is Day 1 on the trail, it can be overwhelming. It gives you a lot of confidence when your foot hits the trail
Food & Water.
Water is crucial to the hike, and there are times you won’t have access to instant potable water. In those instances, you have to use chlorine/iodine tabs or a filter. Practicing these are important. If you are using a pump filter, you learn if it works. You understand how water is going to taste if you use the purifying tablets. Every hike I’ve done we’ve done a combination of both. My preference is the filter pump, because of the taste, but both have their advantages. Learn before you get there.
Physical and Mental Endurance.
When you do prep hikes, make sure you do at least one really hard hike. Our group has done a very hard hike as our last prep trip. Outside of altitude (this is hard to simulate on the East Coast), it was harder than anything on Philmont. Both times we did around 19-21 miles in 2 days. There were multiple elevation changes. The trails were old and not switchbacks like Philmont. You’ll learn to be thankful for well-made trails and switchbacks. Everyone was instantly sore and crawled out of their vehicles when they arrived home. It gave everyone an indication of their fittest level and what they needed to do the last couple months prior to the trip.
2. Prepare for altitude.
If you live in an area that is below 5000 feet, you need to do some things to
prep for altitude. This is very hard to do. There are breathing restriction masks you can buy and exercise with. I’ve seen people in my neighborhood running with those, but I have never personally tried them. From things I’ve read, I heard they don’t really prep for altitude. There is more than oxygen restriction that happens at high altitude. Your body changes to adapt and this primarily occurs in your blood. This is hard to simulate. Here are three things that I believe really helped me with altitude.
Make sure your cardiovascular fitness is adequate, but make sure to train occasionally in oxygen-deprived states.
As soon as we landed in Denver, we made our team start drinking more water than usual. If you feel a headache coming on just drink more. This helps the body generate more red bloods which are crucial to thinner air.
On both my trips we arrived in the area at least two days early. We spent a day in Denver/Colorado Springs, and then a day traveling to the Philmont Ranch. Denver is 5000 feet. Cimmaron, NM is around 7000. Being in those conditions a couple days seems to have helped. The big thing we did both trips that shocked our system into adapting was taking a trip to Pikes Peak. Pikes Peak is 14,000 feet. I’ve taken the cog railroad up the mountain twice to its peak. Both times, I felt weak and lightheaded, and a little anxious. Some of the boys even acted intoxicated. The trip is short and you are back to the 5-6000 range pretty quick. But I believe that short exposure made a big difference in our trip. We never had anyone in our trip succumb to any altitude issues.
If Philmont or any large backpacking trip is on your agenda, be prepared. Trips like these create amazing memories, but if could be a miserable one, if you don’t take simple steps to prepare.
If you’ve done Philmont or something similar, how did you prepare (especially physically)?