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Backpacking Merit Badge

Backpacking Merit Badge Guide

Backpacking Merit Badge – Imagine yourself and a few Scout friends hiking a rugged trail through mountains, along rivers, and deep into forests. Your packs hold all the gear and food you will need for your stay in the backcountry.

With map and compass you study the terrain ahead and choose a good place to spend the night. You know from the look of the clouds that an evening storm might be coming, so you waste no time making camp.

After cooking a tasty supper over your backpacking stove, you hang your food from a tree to protect it from animals and then crawl into your tent. The sound of distant thunder lets you know a storm is rolling in.

The first drops of rain lull you to sleep. Later, you look out and see the midnight sky blazing with stars. In the morning you move on, leaving behind no sign of your camp. Adventures fill your days.

Your legs become strong and your eyes sharp. You draw on your skills as a hiker, camper, cook, pathfinder, leader, and expert in Leave No Trace principles.

Earning the Backpacking merit badge will be demanding but rewarding. You will learn what equipment to carry on your back and what knowledge to have in your head. You will discover how to protect the environment by traveling and camping without leaving a trace.

Master backpacking’s basics and you will develop an even deeper respect for the outdoors, for those who travel with you, and for yourself.

Backpacking Merit Badge Requirements

backpacking with friends
  1. Discuss the prevention of and treatment for the health concerns that could occur while backpacking, including hypothermia, heat reactions, frostbite, dehydration, insect stings, tick bites, snakebite, and blisters.
  2. Do the following:
    • List 10 items that are essential to be carried on any backpacking trek and explain why each item is necessary.
    • Describe 10 ways you can limit the weight and bulk to be carried in your pack without jeopardizing your health or safety.
  3. Do the following:
    • Define limits on the number of backpackers appropriate for a trek crew.
    • Describe how a trek crew should be organized.
    • Tell how you would minimize risk on a backpacking trek.
    • Explain the purpose of an emergency response plan.
  4. Do the following:
    • Describe the importance of using Leave No Trace principles while backpacking, and at least five ways you can lessen the crew’s impact on the environment.
    • Describe proper methods of handling human and other wastes while on a backpacking trek. Describe the importance of and means to assure personal cleanliness while on a backpacking trek.
    • Tell what factors are important in choosing a campsite.
  5. Do the following:
    • Demonstrate two ways to treat water and tell why water treatment is essential.
    • Explain to your counselor the importance of staying well hydrated during a trek.
  6. Do the following:
    • Demonstrate that you can read topographic maps.
    • While on a trek, use a map and compass to establish your position on the ground at three different locations OR use a GPS receiver to establish your position on a topographic map and on the ground at three different locations.
    • Explain how to stay found, and what to do if you get lost.
  7. Tell how to properly prepare for and deal with inclement weather.
  8. Do the following:
    • Explain the advantages and disadvantages of the different types of backpacking stoves using at least three different types of fuel.
    • Demonstrate that you know how to operate a backpacking stove safely and to handle fuel safely.
    • Prepare at least three meals using a stove and fuel you can carry in a backpack.
    • Demonstrate that you know how to keep cooking and eating gear clean and sanitary and that you practice proper methods for food storage while on a backpacking trek.
  9. Do the following:
    • Write a plan that includes a schedule for a patrol/crew backpacking hike of at least 2 miles.
    • Conduct a pre-hike inspection of the patrol and its equipment.
    • Show that you know how to properly pack your personal gear and your share of the crew’s gear and food.
    • Show you can properly shoulder your pack and adjust it for proper wear.
    • While using the plan you developed for requirement 9a, carry your fully loaded pack to complete a hike of at least 2 miles.
  10. Using Leave No Trace principles, participate in at least three backpacking treks of at least three days each and at least 15 miles each, and using at least two different campsites on each trek. Carry everything you will need throughout the trek.
  11. Do the following:
    • Write a plan for a backpacking trek of at least five days using at least three different campsites and covering at least 30 miles. Your plan must include a description of and route to the trek area, a schedule (including a daily schedule), a list of food and equipment needs, a safety and emergency plan, and a budget.
    • Using Leave No Trace principles, take the trek you have planned and, while on the trek, complete at least one service project approved by your merit badge counselor.
    • Keep a daily journal during the trek that includes a day-by-day description of your activities, including notes about what worked well and thoughts about improvements that could be made for the next trek.

Planning and Preparation

A backpacking adventure requires planning. Anticipating trail conditions, travel distances, weather conditions, the availability of water, and campsite locations will help you and your crew put together a plan that is just right for the circumstances.

Your goal is to make good estimates of what to expect in the backcountry and then to prepare well enough so that you are ready for whatever comes your way. The most useful planning tools for backpackers are a notebook and a sharp pencil.

Putting ideas on paper encourages you to think them through. Checklists will help you make sure you don’t forget anything. After a trek you can review your notes to see what worked well and what can you can improve the next time around.

1. Choosing Your Destination

planning and preparation backpacking

Almost every part of our nation has parks, forests, and other open spaces that Scouts can explore. In choosing a place to go, you first need to collect good information.

Plan your adventure with your group members in mind. Take into account their experience and knowledge, interests, and physical abilities. Check out backpacking guidebooks at your local library. 

Contact an office of the Forest Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, or state or local conservation and recreation agencies.

The BSA local council office serving the area where you will be backpacking might also have valuable information.

Once you have decided on a general area to visit, get topographic maps of the region and plot some possible routes. Find out where you can camp and consider the elevation gains on the trails.

Check if you will need permission to cross any private land or if you will need to obtain permits from public agencies.

For some popular locations especially national parks you may need to reserve a spot as early as six months in advance. So, start planning early for a big summer hike.

2. Pacing Yourselves

Plan the distances of your first backpacking treks conservatively. It is better to have too much time to reach a destination than too little. When planning, consider the weather, terrain, physical conditioning, and weight of gear.

As a group, do you walk with a quick stride or at a leisurely pace with frequent pauses to appreciate the scenery, watch wildlife, and take photographs?

Allow enough time to enjoy yourself, stay safe, and have time for activities other than traveling and setting up camp.

Even the best-prepared crew should plan for unexpected events. Give yourselves extra time for traveling each day in case the weather turns bad, the terrain is more rugged than anticipated, or there is much to see and do.

A layover day during a longer trek will allow everyone to rest, set off on side trips, or take the time to prepare a special meal.

3. Getting There

public transportation for backpackers

Public transportation is sometimes a good way to reach the trailhead to begin a backpacking trip, although traveling by private motor vehicle is often more convenient and practical.

If you decide to drive to the trailhead, arrange carpools so that you don’t take more vehicles than necessary. Parking is often limited at trailheads and, to help protect the environment, wilderness areas do not allow motorized vehicles.

Plus, you will save money on gas. Another option might be to arrange to have your group dropped off at one trailhead and picked up at another so that you can complete a route without backtracking.

4. The Trip Plan

When your crew has agreed on an itinerary for a trek, write down your plans. Include who will be going, a detailed description of the intended route, a day by day schedule, a list of food and equipment needs, an emergency response plan, and a budget. Leave copies with several responsible adults.

5. Emergency Response Plan

An important part of planning any backpacking journey is anticipating what could go wrong. For example, someone in your crew might sustain a serious injury.

Developing an emergency response plan in advance gives you and your crew important information to use if you encounter backcountry difficulties.

Along with copies of your trip plan, provide copies of your emergency response plan to people in the front country who can assist your group should you need help.

Backpacking Clothing

Clothing keeps you warm in the winter, cool in the summer, dry in storms, and protected from insects, sun, and wind. To help decide what you need for your trek, familiarize yourself with the fabrics from which clothing is made.

1. Fabric Choices

Backpacking Clothing

Wool was the fabric of choice for generations of backcountry travelers. Wool is still a good choice for many cold-weather adventures.

It is durable and can help you keep warm even when wet. Wool is also an excellent choice for shirts, jackets, long pants, hiking socks, hats, and mittens.

Cotton clothing is cool and comfortable, making it very good for hot-weather shirts, and shorts are worn in dry climates.

If cotton becomes wet, however, it loses its ability to insulate, and it may be slow to dry.

Wet clothing can be a danger on cool days, especially when mist, rain, and wind increase the threat of hypothermia, so avoid wearing cotton in these weather conditions.

Outdoor clothing made of synthetics fleece, polypropylene, and other manufactured fabrics can be sturdy and comfortable. Synthetics will maintain warmth even when wet.

Look for synthetic underwear, shirts, sweaters, jackets, pants, mittens, and hats. Lightweight, breathable synthetic shorts and T-shirts work well for hot weather and have the added benefit of drying quickly when wet.

Many parkas, rain jackets, and the shells of mittens and gloves are made of waterproof, breathable synthetic fabrics.

2. Clothing for Warm Weather Backpacking

Summer is a popular time with backpackers. Alpine meadows are ablaze with wildflowers, nights are comfortably chilly, and lakes and streams are warm enough for a refreshing afternoon swim.

The list below offers some clothing suggestions that will help you stay comfortable in summer and in climates where it is warm year-round.

Basic warm weather clothing list:

  • T-shirt
  • Hiking shorts
  • Underwear
  • Socks (synthetic blend)
  • Hiking shoes or boots
  • Long-sleeved shirt (lightweight)
  • Long pants (lightweight)
  • Sweater or warm jacket
  • Brimmed hat
  • Bandannas
  • Rain gear

3. Clothing for Cold Weather Backpacking

As the temperature drops and snow covers the backcountry, there is no reason to stay at home. In fact, winter can be a great time to be in the wild.

Trails usually are not crowded, and mountains and forests have a beauty very different from their summer appearance. Camping on a frosty January evening with moonlight glistening on the snow can be one of your most memorable backpacking experiences.

A winter trek in cold climates, however, demands special preparation. Your primary concerns are staying warm and dry. The list below provides some clothing suggestions that will help keep you warm and comfortable during a cold-weather adventure.

Basic cold weather clothing list:

  • Long-sleeved shirt
  • Long pants (fleece or wool)
  • Sweater (fleece or wool)
  • Underwear
  • Long underwear (synthetic blend)
  • Socks (wool or synthetic blend)
  • Hiking Shoes or boots
  • Warm hooded parka or jacket (fleece, synthetic, or down)
  • Stocking hat (fleece or wool)
  • Mittens or gloves (fleece or wool) with water-resistant shells.

4. Rain Gear

Prepare for wet weather by carrying rain pants and a hooded rain jacket. Choose rain gear that lets you move freely and allows perspiration to vent through the neck, cuffs, and waist.

You may want to select rain wear made of a breathable fabric that allows perspiration to escape but prevents wetness from seeping in.

5. Boots

Footwear manufacturers make a wide variety of hiking shoes and boots, ranging from ultralight trail shoes to rugged mountaineering boots.

For short to moderate backpacking trips, lightweight nylon and leather hiking boots or leather hiking boots should provide the support you need without being too heavy.

The following information to answer the second requirement of backpacking merit badge.

Backpacking Gear

Best Backpacking Gear

Manufacturers of outdoor travel gear are always looking for ways to make equipment lighter, tougher, and more versatile. That is good news for backpackers, but all that choice can make gearing up a little overwhelming, not to mention expensive.

However, backpacking equipment doesn’t need to be expensive, new, or stylish. Secondhand gear is often just fine. Your troop might have a pack, a tent, and other items you can borrow until you are able to get equipment of your own.

1. The Outdoor Essentials

The following items should go on every backpacking trek, just as they do on any Scouting adventure.

Pocketknife. Your pocketknife is an all-purpose tool. Use it to cut a cord, slice some cheese, whittle a tent stake, or tighten a screw. Choose a quality knife that includes a cutting blade or two, a can opener, and a screwdriver. Keep it sharp and clean.
First-aid kit. Carrying a few first-aid items in a resealable plastic bag will allow you to treat scratches, blisters, and other minor injuries and to provide initial care should a more serious emergency arise.
Rain gear. Weather conditions can sometimes change with surprising quickness. Rain gear will keep you dry during a sudden downpour or a steady drizzle.
Extra clothing. Temperatures can soar during the day and plummet at night. Have the clothing you need to deal with temperature extremes.
Water Bottle. The amount of water you need to carry depends on the activities of the day and the sources of water you will encounter. Drink plenty of fluids at least one liter per day even in cold weather.

Use a lightweight, unbreakable container with a secure lid. A widemouthed water bottle is easiest to refill and clean. A one-gallon collapsible water jug will come in handy if you must carry water a long distance in camp.
Flashlight. A lightweight flashlight will serve all of your backcountry needs. A headlamp leaves your hands free and works great for emergencies in the dark. Modern high-intensity headlamps weigh only a few ounces.

A rugged penlight for the backcountry casts a narrow, bright beam and does not weigh much. It can come in handy for use in camp. Carry spare batteries.
Trail Food. Backpacking burns a lot of calories. An emergency supply of trail food will keep you going and can be especially important if a backpacking trip lasts longer than expected. Make your own trail mix with nuts, raisins, and other dried fruits. Bring along a small bag of granola. Pack a couple of energy bars.
Matches and Fire Starters. Store matches and butane lighters in resealable plastic bags or an empty plastic aspirin bottle with a secure lid. Plan your trip so that you won’t need an open fire, but be prepared to build one in an emergency.
Sun protection. Sunburn is a common injury among people who enjoy being outdoors. Use plenty of sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15. Protect your lips from sun and wind with a tube of SPF 15 (or higher)
Lip balm. Reapply sunscreen and lip balm after swimming or if you are perspiring. A broad-brimmed hat, long-sleeved shirt, and long pants provide even more protection. Sunglasses will help keep you comfortable and safe, too.
Map and compass. A baseplate compass and topographic map of the area where you intend to travel will help you identify landmarks and find your way. Don’t forget hone your route-finding skills before you go on your trip.
The Outdoor Essentials

2. Backpacks

Out on the trail, a backpack will be your storeroom, attic, garage, and basement. Good packs fit well and are roomy and comfortable to carry. Most have outside storage pockets and padded shoulder straps.

A hip belt lets you support most of a pack’s weight on the hips rather than the shoulders. Packs have either an internal or external frame.

backpack internal frame packs

internal-Frame packs. Stiff metal or plastic stays positioned inside a pack act as its frame, providing structural rigidity for transferring the weight of the pack load to the hip belt.

With their compact shapes and snug fit, internal-frame packs are ideal for travel through heavy brush, in steep terrain, and while snowshoeing or cross-country skiing.

They also are comfortable on open trails. Some are outfitted with removable top flaps or rear compartments that can be converted into day packs for hikes from a base camp.

External-Frame packs. The weight distribution principles of an external-frame pack are essentially the same as for a pack with an internal frame.

Because the frame is on the outside of the bag, it can be larger and more rigid than an internal-frame pack and can efficiently transfer the weight from the shoulder straps to the hip belt.

Most external frames also provide room for lashing on a sleeping bag or tent.

3. Sleeping Systems

Put together a sleeping system based on the temperatures and weather conditions you expect in the backcountry.

sleeping system

A. Sleeping Bags

The shells of most sleeping bags are made of nylon. Fill material inside the shell may consist of down or synthetic fibers.

Down fill is composed of the fluffy feathers geese grow next to their skins. Goose down provides a lot of warmth without a lot of weight.

However, down is expensive. In addition, if it gets wet, it loses its “loft,” which means it loses the ability to keep you warm. If you choose a down sleeping bag, be sure to shield it from the elements with a good tent or another shelter.

Synthetic fill is made of polyester fibers that create warmth-trapping loft even when wet. Synthetic-filled bags are often less expensive than down bags, but they are heavier and bulkier.

During your trip, protect your sleeping bag from moisture by stowing it in a stuff sack lined with a plastic trash bag.

Air out your sleeping bag at the end of a trip, and store it in a large cotton laundry sack or a pillow cover and hang it in a dry, out-of-the-way spot until your next adventure.

B. Sleeping Pads

What you have beneath you at night is as important in keeping you warm as what is on top. A sleeping pad will prevent the cold ground from drawing away body heat and can give you a comfortable surface on which to sleep.

Your best choices are foam pads and self-inflating pads.

4. Shelter

Having the right kind of shelter means you can always camp comfortably and in such a way that the land will not be harmed by your presence. Here are some types of shelter: 

  • Tarps
  • Snow Shelters
  • Tents
    • A-Frame tent
    • Dome tent
    • Hybrid tent

You can read more information about the shelter on the pamphlet that I have shared.

5. Cooking Gear

What you need for cooking, eating, and drinking depends upon what you intend to cook, eat, and drink. Usually, you will need a stove or two, pots and pans, and an eating kit.

One or two lightweight cooking pots will form the foundation of your kitchen. Add another pot or frying pan for more complicated meal preparations. Don’t forget the lids.

Match your meals to your cooking gear and carry only what you need. To answer the number 8 requirement of the backpacking merit badge, you can read the following information about stove

A. Backpacking Stove

Of the many backpacking stoves on the market, those burning the following fuels are most useful in the backcountry. Always read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for carrying, fueling, using, and storing stoves.

White-gas Stoves. White gas is a highly distilled fuel used in many North American backpacking stoves. White gas is extremely volatile and must be carried, stored, and used with the utmost caution.

Some white-gas stoves must be preheated, often by squeezing a dab of flammable paste into a depression at the base of the burner stem.

Preheating increases the pressure inside the fuel tank, forcing vaporized fuel up the stem and into a burner where it can be lit.

A roaring burner will keep the fuel tank hot enough to maintain a steady supply of aporized fuel. More advanced white-gas stoves come with pumps to pressurize their fuel tanks.

This can be a real advantage in cold weather, but it requires extra work to get the stove going. All fuel tanks must be packed out for proper disposal or recycling.

Canister Stoves. Simplicity, safety, and convenience are features of canister stoves. A canister is a metal container of pressurized butane or propane gas.

To use a canister stove, attach a canister, turn the control knob, and light the burner.

Canister stoves operate well in warm weather and at high altitudes but can lose efficiency as the temperature drops. Empty canisters must be packed out for disposal or recycling.

Alcohol Stoves. Their transportability and ease of use make alcohol stoves a practical choice for a short term trek in fair weather. These lightweight stoves are very safe and reliable.

Because they do not produce the heat typical of other types of camp stoves, alcohol stoves are best for small meals. Be sure to use a windscreen with this stove.

Also Read: Cooking Merit Badge Guides

B. Eating Kit

A large plastic cereal bowl or kitchen storage bowl is good for most meals, and you can dig your way through most backcountry meals with nothing more than a spoon.

An insulated plastic mug that won’t burn your lips is just the thing for soup and any drink.

6. Other Gear

Depending on what you will be doing during a backpacking trip, you may want to carry a few of the following items:

  • Nylon cord
  • Insect repellent (Those containing the chemical DEET can be very effective.)
  • Notebook and a pen
  • Repair kit (duct tape, needle, thread)
  • A hiking stick or trekking poles
  • Whistle
  • Camera
  • Binoculars
  • Fishing gear
  • Field guides

Leave No Trace Principles Backpacking

Caring for the environment is an important responsibility of every backpacker. The principles of Leave No Trace can help you live up to that responsibility and enjoy the outdoors fully by knowing that you are respecting the environment.

As you and your group plan your adventure, ask yourselves how you can follow each of the Leave No Trace guidelines.

leave no trace backpacking

1. Plan Ahead and Prepare

Contact the management personnel of the area you intend to visit or the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics (see the resources section for contact information).

Explain the trek you have in mind and ask how you can best implement Leave No Trace. Here are some general guidelines.

  • Know the regulations and special concerns for the area you will visit.
  • Prepare for extreme weather, hazards, and emergencies.
  • Schedule your trip to avoid times of high use.
  • Whenever possible, visit the backcountry in small groups.

2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

Stay on existing pathways and in designated campsites to help protect the surrounding landscape from being trampled, eroded, and compacted.

  • In popular areas, seek durable surfaces (established trails and campsites, rock, gravel, dry grasses, snow).
  • Protect shoreline vegetation; camp at least 200 feet (about 70 adult paces) from lakes and streams.
  • Walk single file in the middle of the trail, even if it is wet or muddy.
  • Keep campsites small and conduct activities in areas where vegetation is absent.

3. Dispose of Waste Properly

Remember this solid guideline: Pack it in, pack it out. Make it easier on yourself by limiting the amount of potential trash you take. Refine your food lists so that
most of your provisions will be consumed.

Before you leave a campsite or rest area, make a thorough inspection for litter and spilled foods.

It is obvious that packing out litter helps keep the backcountry pristine, but you also need to be conscious of other sources of waste such as the water you use to wash your face, your clothes, or the dishes.

Select a wash site at least 200 feet from any streams, lakes, or other sources of water.

Using a strainer or sieve, strain any food particles out of dishwater and put the particles in a plastic bag along with other bits of leftover food. Pack the bag out. Dispose of the water by disbursing it over a wide area.

4. Leave What You Find

A cluster of flowers beside an alpine trail. Bricks from a historic homestead. A bird’s nest on a low bush. Every backpacking trip will bring with it a new discovery to see and enjoy.

Here are some reasons why you should leave what you find.

  • Future backcountry visitors will have the excitement of discovering for themselves what you have found.
  • Plant and wildlife environments will not be harmed. Leave rocks and other natural objects as you find them. Avoid introducing or transporting nonnative species.
  • Archaeological, cultural, and historic structures and artifacts preserve a record of America’s past, some are sacred to Native Americans. Observe, but do not touch or take.

5. Minimize Campfire Impacts

Today’s backpackers have many options for cooking without an open fire and for staying warm. They also have a good understanding of when a campfire can be kindled and when a fire could scar the land.

In many areas, fires are discouraged or prohibited, or are allowed by permit only. If you must make a campfire, observe these guidelines.

  • Use established fire rings, fire pans, or mound fires.
  • Keep fires small. Use only sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand.
  • Burn all wood and coals to ash, make sure the ashes are cold out, then scatter the cool ashes.

6. Respect Wildlife

Sharing the outdoors with wildlife is one of the great pleasures of backpacking. Respect wildlife by always traveling quietly (except in grizzly bear habitat) and observing animals from a distance.

You are too close if an animal changes its activities because of your actions. Always avoid wildlife when they are mating, nesting, or raising young, and during other sensitive times.

Never feed animals. Doing so damages their health, alters natural behaviors, and exposes them to predators and other dangers. Store all your food and trash securely.

7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors

Extending courtesy to other outdoor visitors is a natural habit of backpackers. Speak softly and avoid unnecessary noise.

Leave radios and electronic devices at home. If you carry a mobile telephone for emergency communication, turn it off and stow it in your pack until you need it.

Appreciate the company of those you meet on the trail and at campsites near yours, but respect their desire for quiet and solitude.

Observe proper trail etiquette. If you encounter horseback riders or pack animals, stop and ask the lead rider what you should do.

The lead rider will probably ask you to step a few paces downhill from the trail and stand quietly while the animals pass.

If you encounter other hikers or backpackers going uphill when you are going downhill, give them the rightof-way. Step aside on a rock or a log to minimize your impact.

I'm a Mechanical Engineer and lifelong Eagle Scout. My passion for scouting guides my writing, aiming to inspire fellow Scouts on their path. Thanks for reading, and best wishes on your journey to Eagle!