Ray Mears


Though he’s not very well-known in the U.S., Ray Mears is a household name in the U.K. (and likely well-known in Canada, too) due to his excellent television series (serieses?) about various outdoor or nature-related topics, including Ray Mears’ Bushcraft, Wild Britain, and Ray Mears’ Survival. He’s also the owner of the U.K.’s longest running (I think) bushcraft school, Woodlore.

Given that Ray has a very calm and very English presentation style, American channels have not imported his shows here like they have Bear Grylls’ over-the-top survival shows. Ray’s shows are far superior and educational. I love the Bushcraft series, especially the birchbark canoe and Canada wilderness river tripping (with guest star Ray Goodwin) episodes. Little known fact: the expert outfitter on the wilderness canoe trip episode was none other than the Happy Camper himself, Kevin Callan, another of my favorite outdoors writers slash tv (or YouTube) personalities.

Ray’s shows are aimed at educating viewers about the wonders of the natural world and how to life in harmony in the outdoors, but not in a hippy-dippy or macho way.

Ray released his autobiography, My Outdoor Life last fall, and it’s a good read.

The 10 Essentials Updated

The point of the Ten Essentials list (developed by The Mountaineers, with origins in the climbing course taught by the Club since the 1930s) has always been to help answer two basic questions: First, can you respond positively to an accident or emergency? Second, can you safely spend a night—or more—out?

There are plenty of other versions of the 10 Essentials, ranging from the Boy Scouts of America (the one I’m most familiar with) to the new, updated “system”-based version put out by The Mountaineers.

Ten Essentials: The Classic List

  1. Map
  2. Compass
  3. Sunglasses and sunscreen
  4. Extra clothing
  5. Headlamp/flashlight
  6. First-aid supplies
  7. Firestarter
  8. Matches
  9. Knife
  10. Extra food

Ten Essential Systems

  1. Navigation (map & compass)
  2. Sun protection (sunglasses & sunscreen)
  3. Insulation (extra clothing)
  4. Illumination (headlamp/flashlight)
  5. First-aid supplies
  6. Fire (waterproof matches/lighter/candle)
  7. Repair kit and tools
  8. Nutrition (extra food)
  9. Hydration (extra water)
  10. Emergency shelter (tent/plastic tube tent/garbage bag)

Several of the items in the classic list are combined in the new system list. Logically, map and compass have been united under “navigation,” as have firestarter and matches. I think it’s interesting that the new list doesn’t explicitly include a knife, something I consider essential when traveling in the outdoors, but if you read the annotation on the article about the 10 essential systems on The Mountaineers’ website, they include a knife under “repair kit and tools.” A knife is – of course – a tool.

I read somewhere I can’t remember about the shift from Boy Scouts carrying a traditional Boy Scout Pocket Knife (with can opener and awl) to carrying a multitool, since it fits contemporary Scouts’ gear better. It was an insightful observation. Still, I carry a dedicated knife (a – gasp! – sheath knife, even!) and usually have a multi-tool on me, a well.

Webelos Crossover resources

The Boy’s Webelos den is in its last few months, and we’ve spent a lot of time over the last month visiting troop meetings and camping out with troops as the Webelos start making their decisions about which troop to join. We have four Boy Scout troops in our area, and we’ve sent boys to all four in the last few years. As Assistant Cubmaster this year, my primary job has been to promote Webelos-Troop relations and encourage Webelos to participate in activities with troops.

I’ve found a number of resources on the web lately that have helped us with that transition program.

Scoutmaster Jerry’s post about finding the adventure on the Scoutmaster Minute blog is mostly “just” inspirational. I admire his efforts to help Webelos find the right troop for them even — especially — when it’s not his troop.

Scout Circle for November 2013 was about Webelos crossover issues. Clarke Green talked about a number of things I found useful (as is usually the case with Clarke!). His new book, The Scouter’s Journey, is available from his site at scoutmastercg.com, which is full of great Scouting ideas.

Frank Maynard’s blog Bobwhite Blather has several excellent posts about the Webelos-to-Boy-Scouts transition here. Frank’s blog is pointed mainly at Troop Committee members, but it’s useful for all Scouters.

Beginning Boy Scouts is a small book available on Amazon that looks like a great resource for new Boy Scout parents.

Woodburning stoves for outdoor cooking (plus: new stove!)

I like tinkering with gear, especially outdoor cooking gear, and especially especially stoves. Lately, I’ve been experimenting with wood-burning camp stoves.

Since starting with Cub Scouts nearly 5 years ago, we have done most of our camping with the Scouts, and that sort of cooking is big group cooking. Sometimes, it’s BIG group cooking. Like 75 to 85 people big. Like two 18 liter stock pots of chili at one time (there’s a reason my big chili recipe is called “Chili for 75”, and I’ll post it up here sometime — but not now) on a giant 3-burner propane camping stove.

campfireBut, on the occasional solo or small trip, I like to do some cooking. I’ve been known to cook over an open fire, and I love doing that with my dutch oven and cast iron skillets, but sometimes I like a small stove or I don’t have room for the big cast iron cookware. I also used to do a lot of backpacking (more than 10 years ago — before The Boy came along).

Back in my backpacking days, I use an MSR Whisperlite (original) and later an MSR Dragonfly (searching for better simmering), both powered by white gas (“Coleman fuel” to you old-timers). They can be messy and finicky (and LOUD), but man can they boil some water quickly! Later, I got lazier and switch to canister fuel stoves (easier to deal with, simmered better most of the time, still boil water like a champ). I also have used some alcohol stoves (and even made a few). Slower to boil, but lighter, quieter, and easier to use.

But, lately, I’ve been interested in wood-burning stoves. Clarke Green over at the Scoutmaster Blog and Podcast has had several great posts about the environmental impact of cannister stoves versus wood-burning stoves, including this one with the nice infographic and excellent discussion in the comments. In addition to not carrying flammable fuel (white gas, cannister propane or isobutane, or alcohol) in your pack or canoe, there are no cannisters to attempt to recycle and no petroleum impact of your fuel (though the same can’t be said of your stove unless you’re cooking over an open fire).

I think wood-burning stoves are cheaper (in the long run, anyway), safer, and more fun. I’m a big fan of campfires and cooking over fire. Even taking Leave No Trace values into consideration, you can still use a wood-burning stove to cook your meals on and provide some cheery comfort. LNT doesn’t say “no fires,” it says, “minimize campfire impact,” which is easy to do with a little practice. Even where you can’t build a campfire, you can often cook in a woodburning stove (check regulations for your area, though). And you can use it as as small campfire, too, which helps maintain the PMA (Positive Mental Attitude) while camping.

Solo StoveMany wood-buring campstoves are double-walled wood gas stoves that incorporate secondary burning to eliminate much of the smoke from a wood fire and also to burn the wood more efficiently, which makes you use less fuel to cook your meals and also leaves you with less waste (usually just a handful of ash). I recently purchased a Solo Stove that is built like that.

I’ve done a couple of test burns in the Solo Stove, and I really like it. Burns very efficiently, is light enough (not UL by any stretch of the imagination at 8.7 ounces), and is fun to cook with. It also nests perfects (in its stuff sack) inside my IMUSA 12CM pot (like Shug’s “Hillbilly Pot”), which is my new favorite camping cookpot (more on that in another post).

Clarke Green’s troop uses the Solo Stove (which I think is where I first read about it) when backpacking, and they use a larger wood burning stove model when car or canoe camping for group cooking. See the post of his I linked above for links to his review of the Solo Stove and other wood-burning stoves.

I’ve also got an original Emberlit, which is a single-walled wood-buring stove. I like the Emberlit, but it’s a bit fussy, and I find I get soot on me while assembling and disassembling it. Maybe it’s my technique. Very cool design, though. I think I prefer the Solo Stove for my purposes.

I think firebuilding is a core Scout and outdoorsman skill that should be learned in lots of different conditions and should be maintained. It’s a great confidence builder for anyone, but especially for Scouts (The Boy is justifiably proud of his firebuilding skills, even at his young age). Building a fire in a wood-burning camping stove like the Solo Stove or the Emberlit reinforces the core firebuilding skills.

Outdoor Cooking: Mushroom Soup Mix and Creamy Mushroom Rice and Chicken

I’ve long been a fan of Sarah Kirkconnell’s trailcooking.com website. Her “Dehydrating 101” is where I learned how to start dehydrating food for fun and profit (true, except for the profit part). She’s published a fabulous book on freezer bag cooking called, Freezer Bag Cooking. I believe she’s working on a new edition now, but the first edition is well worth reading if you’re interested in making your own freezer bag meals (so MUCH better than Mountain House and the like — and cheaper, too!).

She also has a great blog, Trail Cooking and the Outdoors where she often shares great outdoor cooking recipes.

Last weekend, on the Beaver Patrol’s first Webelos den campout, we made chicken with mushroom rice for dinner. It’s stupid easy, but very car-campy:

Mushroom Rice and Chicken

One big box of Minute Rice,
with enough water MINUS 2 cups,
plus 2 big cans of Cream of Mushroom Soup,
plus 5 cans of chicken.

Directions: Boil the water (minus the 2 c.) with the broth drained from the chicken cans plus the two cans of cream of mushroom soup. You basically make a really thin cream of mushroom soup. When it’s boiling, take off the heat, add the rice and chicken, then stir it all together. Cover, let sit for 15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes.

Sarah has a backpacking friendly freezer-bag (or one-pot) version that sounds even better. I really need to make some of that mix and try her recipe.