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Adjusting a Trek and Backpacking Merit Badge

A reader sent in this question:

The Backpacking Merit Badge Requirement 11 states “Write a plan for a backpacking trek of at least five days using at least three different campsites and covering at least 30 miles. ” My son attended a 12-day Trek at Philmont this past summer. He created 3 different backpacking trip plans. Two 3-day and one 5-day. As it happens on his second 3-day trip he fell (over 8 feet) and had a concussion. He was taken on day 6 to the infirmary. Kept under observation on day 7, and returned to the trek first thing in the morning on day 8. He was dropped off near the campsite were the rest of his crew was. He backpacked a short distance to camp. His crew had arrived the day before to the campsite. They spent day 8 there and left the next morning. Philmont actually changed their trek to arrive a day earlier due to my son’s fall and they realizing that the area that they sent them was dangerous. Now his merit badge counselor refuses to approve his 5 days for the backpacking merit badge. He says that they didn’t backpack that day. Mind you they hiked 5 miles that day (8) alone doing activities in the campsite. Plus, from day 9-12, they all backpacked every day. They stayed on 5 different campsites those 5 days (more than is required). In fact, the mileage for those last 5 days alone was over 50 miles, which is more that is required. I understand that the purpose of the backpacking merit badge is to learn backpacking skills, but where does it say that they had to backpack every single day of those 5 days? They were already in Philmont, backpacking and staying in tents. I think the counselor is missing the point of the requirement and adding more to it. They couldn’t pre-approve the change because of poor cell phone reception in the area, and it was more important to make sure every one was safe. Please advise. My son is very frustrated. He worked very hard to earn this merit badge, and it is not like a 5-day trek is so easy to plan (properly staffed to make sure it is safe and adults taking vacation days.)

In cases like this where you feel like the counselor is asking more that is required by a reasonable reading of the requirements I say first go to your district advancement chair. There are usually a lot of details to consider.

A large question in my head is about what it means to “take the trek you had planned”. If something in the plan doesn’t work out – for example there is an obstacle and you have to take a different route – then that would be reasonable to do that. In the case of something being unsafe, you would definitely need to make adjustments to your plan on the spot.

So I’d say talk to the district advancement chair. I don’t usually encourage just switching merit badge counselors to make things easier, but in extreme cases that is also sometimes an option.

Readers, what do you think?


2 responses to “Adjusting a Trek and Backpacking Merit Badge”

  1. John Avatar

    Ended up on this article due to researching how our Philmont 2024 12 day trek can help meet the Backpacking Merit Badge requirements as well.

    First I hope your son is ok and has recovered and that this frustration over the merit badge has not diminished the memories he made at Philmont!

    There is a couple of things that I am taking away from my research and wording in the requirements.

    First a trek is considered a singular trip and trying to break up a larger trip in to multiple treks when a majority of the packing, planning, etc is repetitive isn’t teaching a Scout to plan for different environmental, terrain, and logistical situations that separate treks would.

    If you disagree with the above definition of a trek then another point is using 12 day Philmont Trek for 2 3-day Treks an a 5 day Trek while math seems right is incorrect as a 12 day trek is only 10 days on trail with the first and last day of your 12 is spent in base camp. So you would only be able to count 1 3 day and the 5 day if taking this route.

    So if your MB counselor isn’t willing to approve the 3 treks adjusting to 2 might get approved and doing a three day locally is must more achievable.

    I wish the requirements were more clear as well so we all didn’t have scour the internet trying to see what others have done!

    My .02
    Yours in Scouting

  2. Will Avatar

    I could see counting a Philmont trek toward requirement 10 (one of the 3-day treks), but not requirement 11 (5-day). For requirement 11, you have to plan the menu. Most people just rely on the food provided by Philmont.

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