If you’re enticed by the rugged, mountainous West, Philmont provides the Scouting adventure of a lifetime. In this article, I’ll be filling you in on everything you’ll need to know about this legendary high-adventure base — from the perspective of an Eagle Scout who’s been there and done it! 🙂
Written by Eagle Scout and pro outdoor journalist, Owen Clarke.
Cole here — I asked Owen to share his experience on ScoutSmarts, as he’s a true expert in outdoor adventuring and attended Philmont with his troop in the past! You can learn more about Owen’s work at his website, oclarke.com.
Almost every scout knows thast there’s no Scouting adventure more famous than Philmont Scout Ranch! As an adult, the two questions I am most often asked when people find out I was a Scout are: 1) Did you earn Eagle? and 2) Did you go to Philmont? Luckily, I can answer YES to both!
Philmont Ranch covers 140,177 acres of rugged wilderness in the Sangre de Cristo mountains of northern New Mexico. A whopping 20,000 Scouts visit Philmont every summer! By size, Philmont is one of the largest youth camps in the entire world.
Owen Here: In this article, I’ll give you the lowdown on Philmont, to help you decide if this high-adventure base is right for you. You’ll learn a few insider secrets I discovered during my time there, too! That way, you’ll come to Philmont prepared to have the best adventure imaginable!
Philmont is one of Scouting’s four high-adventure bases (the others are Northern Tier in Minnesota, Florida Sea Base in Florida, and Summit Bechtel Reserve in West Virginia), but it’s by far the most popular. It’s also the oldest high-adventure base in Scouting, in operation since 1938!
In addition to the Ranch, Philmont is home to the National Scouting Museum, the Philmont Training Center, and the Seton Memorial Library. When visiting Philmont, you’ll participate in tons of exciting Scouting activities and learn cool lore, so this article is aimed at helping you to be prepared to make the most of your time!
FUN FACT: The world’s ONLY confirmed Tyrannosaurus rex track was found at Philmont, back in 1983 by American geologist Charles Pillmore. Only Scouts at Philmont can access the remote site where the track was found, via the “T-Rex Trail.”
What Should You Expect at Philmont?
Like Florida Sea Base and the other high-adventure bases in Scouting, Philmont offers a variety of different programs, called “treks.” Traditional treks are backpacking expeditions into the Philmont wilderness.
You and your crew will pack into the rugged Cimarron Mountains, traveling by foot for seven to 12 days as you explore the peaks, canyons, forests, rivers, and deserts of Philmont. You’ll be accompanied by a Philmont Ranger for your first three days, but after that, you’re on your own — that’s right, you’ll need to navigate all by yourself!!
Depending on your itinerary, you’ll participate in a variety of activities in Philmont’s backcountry camps, such as rifle shooting, rock climbing, blacksmithing, fly fishing, and mountain biking. During your trek, you’ll hike anywhere from 50 to 120 miles.
NOTE FROM OWEN: Traditional treks aren’t your only option. There are a total of fifteen alternate adventures at Philmont.
On the “Trail Crew” trek, you’ll work with the Philmont Conservation Department, learning to plan conservation projects. During the “Ranch Hands” trek, you’ll work with Philmont’s horse department, taking care of over 300 horses and burros. On the STEM trek, you’ll practice science, technology, engineering, and math in the backcountry!
In the next sections I’ll be covering tips, packing requirements and FAQ’s about Philmont, but first I’d recommend you watch the amazing documentary (16:54) below. This vlog-style video paints a great picture of what a standard (and amazing!) Philmont trek will look and feel like. 😀
6 Tips for Your Philmont Adventure
1. Be Ready for Elevation
There’s no other way to say it… Philmont is MOUNTAINOUS! Not all treks are the same, but it doesn’t matter where you are in Philmont, you’ll be doing steep hikes and descents. Especially if you’re planning to climb peaks like Mt. Baldy (12,441 feet) and the Tooth of Time (9,003 feet), make sure your mountain legs are ready to roll.
NOTE FROM OWEN: I grew up in Alabama, so when I visited Philmont, I had never been above 2,000 feet before (except for a short trip to Denver). Practice for Philmont by tackling hikes with lots of vertical gain and decline, and you’ll be in great shape to crush it on the trail when you arrive!
2. Bring Cards and Games
Although you’ll spend most of your time on the trail or participating in activities at backcountry camps, you’ll still have free time. I don’t think I’ve ever played as many games of cards in my entire life as I did at Philmont!
Bringing playing cards, mini chess and checkers sets, or other games to play with your crewmates is a great way to keep your mind sharp and entertained during relaxing afternoons at camp. Remember, electronics are discouraged at Philmont, so no video games. 😛
3. Yes, it Rains!
Just because Philmont is in the Southwest doesn’t mean it doesn’t rain. Daily afternoon thunderstorms are common in the Rocky Mountains during the summer. (Luckily, they usually don’t last long.) One of the biggest mistakes you can make at Philmont is forgetting rain gear or expecting it to be dry for most of your trek.
My younger brother visited Philmont last summer, and it rained every single day during his trek! Every. Single. Day. He still had a great time, and most treks don’t get this much rain… but the point is you should be prepared for a bit of wet weather!
NOTE FROM OWEN: When I was at Philmont, my tentmate and I woke up after a rainstorm the evening before and found our tent sitting in a pool of water almost one foot deep! All of our gear was completely soaked. Luckily, it was our last day on the trail…
4. Be Bear Prepared
Philmont is in the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness, and there are lots of black bears. Bears rarely bother Scouts, but if you haven’t camped in bear country before, you should be prepared to follow strict bear-safe protocols.
This means you’ll hang all your smellables in a “bear bag” each night, including toothpaste, deodorant, and even food waste from meals. For campers who aren’t used to bear protocols, this may seem like overkill… but it’s not! Trust me, you don’t want a bear poking around your campsite.
5. Don’t Overpack
I discuss this in the FAQ section below, but make sure not to overpack. For most Scouts (myself included) Philmont is BY FAR the longest backpacking trip you’ll go on. Overpacking on a one-night or two-night backpacking trip is annoying, but not a huge deal. Overpacking on a seven to 12-day trip like Philmont ruins the trip.
You’ll have to carry that heavy pack for more than a week, and the extra pounds take their toll after a few days. Your full pack should weigh NO MORE than 25% to 30% of your body weight. That includes the crew gear Philmont provides when you arrive. Leave extra room!
6. At Philmont… Scouts Take the Lead!
The coolest thing about Philmont is that it truly is a Scout-led adventure. Most Scout trips are supposed to be “Scout-led” but at Philmont, you’re really on your own. You’ll have a Ranger with you for the first three days of your trip, but after that, your crew is out in the wilderness alone, and you have to be able to navigate and survive!
Of course, you’ll have Scoutmasters or other adult advisors with you, but these adults are not familiar with the Philmont terrain either. It’s up to you and your fellow Scouts to chart a course and complete your route. Be prepared to LEAD! 😀
What Should You Bring to Philmont?
Your packing list at Philmont will change depending on the trek your crew chooses, but most treks revolve around a multi-night backpacking trip. Below is a general packing list for Philmont.
Remember, in addition to these personal items, your crew will need to bring communal crew gear, and you’ll also receive equipment at Philmont, like a nylon dining fly, dishwashing and cooking pots, and bear bags.
A Complete Philmont Packing List
Packs & Bags
- Backpack 65-75L (1x)
- Daypack (1x)
- Lashing straps (2x)
- Gallon Ziploc bags (6-12x)
- Waterproof pack cover (1x)
- Small stuff sacks (2-3x)
- 20-degree sleeping bag under 5 lbs w/ compression sack (1x)
- Waterproof stuff sack (1x)
- Sleeping pad (1x)
- Sleeping clothes (1x)
- Wool or fleece hat (1x)
- Pair of gloves or mittens (1x)
- Baseball cap or wide-brim hat (1x)
- Long underwear top (1x)
- Long underwear bottom (1x)
- Fleece pullover (1x)
- Synthetic jacket/outer layer (1x)
- Rain jacket with hood (1x)
- T-shirt (2x)
- Long sleeve shirt (1x)
- Rain paints (1x)
- Lightweight hiking pants (1x)
- Underwear (4x)
- Hiking shorts (2x)
- Bowl (1x)
- Mug/cup (1x)
- Spork (1x)
- Water bottle (4x)
- Pocket knife (1x)
- First Aid Kit (1x)
- Matches or lighter (1x)
- Flashlight or headlamp (1x)
- Spare batteries
- Trekking poles w/rubber tips (2x)
- Philmont Map (1x)
- Compass (1x)
- Bandana or tubular headgear, such as Buffs (2x)
- Cash ($50+)
- Lip balm (1x)
- Biodegradable soap (1x)
- Toothbrush and toothpaste (1x)
- Quick-drying camp towel (1x)
- Personal medication
- Sunglasses (1x)
- Watch (1x)
- Camera (1x)
- Emergency whistle (1x)
- Pre-stamped postcards
- Foot Powder (1x)
- Notepad & pen (1x)
- Boots (1x)
- Socks (4x)
- Liner socks (3x)
- Camp shoes (1x)
Frequently Asked Questions
What do you do at Philmont?
The adventures you can have at Philmont are endless, from archaeology to burro packing to gold mining. Most Philmont treks are backpacking trips that are either seven days, nine days, or 12 days long.
During your trek, you’ll hike 50 to 120 miles and participate in a variety of backcountry activities. You can check out the offered events, learn about the costs, and sign your troop up at Philmont’s official website!
What is the Philmont Grace?
Also known as the “Wilderness Grace,” the Philmont Grace is the prayer you’ll recite at Philmont Scout Ranch before meals and at other gatherings. Written in 1929 by A.J. Fulkerson, the prayer has been used at Philmont since 1943, but it’s also popular at Scout camps around the country.
The Philmont Grace
For food, for raiment,
For life, for opportunity,
For friendship and fellowship,
We thank thee, O Lord. Amen.
Can you go to Philmont Without Being a Scout?
You don’t have to be a Boy Scout to attend Philmont, you just have to be a registered member of the Boy Scouts of America. So Varsity teams, Sea Scout Ships, and Venturing crews can also attend Philmont! Philmont participants just need to be either 14 years old OR 13 years old and a graduate of 8th grade.
NOTE FROM OWEN: Philmont is probably the biggest and most exciting adventure in Scouting! It’s also not cheap, and it’s a lot of time away from home, so most Scouts can only attend once.
I recommend saving Philmont for when you’re an experienced Scout. If possible, you should gain skills on many one and two-night backpacking trips before heading to Philmont.
Who Owned Philmont?
Philmont Scout Ranch was given to the Boy Scouts of America by American oil baron Waite Phillips in 1938. He donated his 127,000-acre ranch, with the only stipulation that it be used “for the benefit of the members of the Boy Scout organization.”
What is the Highest Point at Philmont?
Known for its rounded, “bald” summit, Baldy Mountain (12,441 feet) is the highest point in Philmont Scout Ranch and the highest peak in the entire Cimarron Range! Hiking the top of Mt. Baldy is a favorite memory for many Scouts at Philmont.
NOTE FROM OWEN: For me, climbing Mt. Baldy sparked a lifelong love of mountaineering! Today, I’ve summited nearly 100 mountains higher than 14,000 feet around the world, and I’m an editor-at-large for Climbing magazine.
Despite all my adventures, I’ll always remember Baldy as the first real mountain I ever climbed. Maybe you’ll enjoy hiking Baldy as much as I did!
What is a Good Base Pack Weight for Philmont?
Every participant at Philmont carries their own pack. Your pack should never be more than 25% to 30% of your body weight. So if you weigh 120 lbs, your pack shouldn’t weigh more than 36 lbs.
Remember, you’ll also carry crew gear, like the dining tarp and cook pot, so be sure to leave extra space before you head to Philmont! There are also height and weight requirements. If you’re 60 inches tall, you can’t weigh more than 166 pounds, for example. Before going, review the full health and medical requirements for Philmont.
Do you Earn Merit Badges at Philmont?
Merit badge classes are not offered at Philmont, but you can earn various merit badge requirements during your trek. If you want to count any of your Philmont activities towards your merit badge requirements when you come home, be sure to ask your crew advisor to provide written documentation that you completed the requirements!
What is the Weather Like at Philmont?
Daytime temperatures at Philmont during the summer are around 80°F to 90°F, but the air is dry, with low humidity. At night, temperatures drop significantly, sometimes as low as 40°F at higher elevations. Afternoon thunderstorms are common, but generally short.
NOTE FROM OWEN: While rain is usually brief, my little brother visited Philmont last summer, and it rained every single day! He and his crew were soaked. So, just like I said in Pro-Tip #3, don’t go to Philmont expecting it not to rain.
What Kind of Bears are in Philmont Scout Ranch?
Philmont Scout Ranch is home to black bears, but don’t worry. Black bears are among the more docile species of bear, much less aggressive than grizzlies or polar bears. Bears rarely bother Scouts, but they are common, and you do need to practice proper bear safety while at Philmont.
NOTE FROM OWEN: When I was at Philmont, a bear snuffed around outside our tent one night. In the morning, we found that it had left a massive, steaming pile of doo-doo right outside the tent door! The smell was awful, but luckily, it didn’t come inside…
How Many Scouts Have Been to Philmont?
Over 1 million Scouts, Venturers, and Advisors have visited Philmont since its first season in 1939. Approximately 22,000 Scouts and leaders visit the base each year, and those Scouts walk a TON of miles!
For example, in 2019 Philmont Scouts and leaders hiked over 1,600,000 miles total. That’s over 3 trips to the moon and back!!
Any Scouting trip to Philmont will be absolutely legendary, so if you’re heading there soon, get ready to have a great time! While I’ve shared my own experiences to help you be better prepared, make sure to carefully plan with your troop and do further research to have the best adventure possible. 😀
Also, be sure to check out Cole’s article on the Scouting Camping Essentials along with his Guide To The Camping Merit Badge. In them, you’ll learn some awesome gear and trek tips you might not have thought of to help you have an even better time at Philmont — or any campout for that matter!
Thanks for reading! I hope this article helps you out a ton, and that you have some amazing troop and Philmont adventures ahead.