In 2017 our fraternity experience has for the most part been completely overtaken by technology and instant communication. What would have taken prior generations hours to do now takes us a mere second to send a message across campus, making communication with our Brothers easier. Yet, despite these great changes the new reliance on apps and groups comes with its own set of challenges. For one, communicating in an efficient and respectful manner is becoming a rare trait, in that people are now more proficient at communicating and interacting with the brotherhood electronically, but pay the price by diminishing the frequency and significance of in-person communication. In an effort to correct this, I would like to present to you my absolute favorite P4E event, one which I’ve come to realize can be one of the cornerstone moments of the year for the Brothers or new members that participate. The event is a backpacking trip to a wilderness area, national park, or state forest, and if done properly will be one of the most enjoyable events of the semester, and one that people look forward to for years to come.
By getting brothers out of the Lodge, away from campus and this constant influx of electronic communication you are able to break brotherhood down into its simplest constant, the engaged interaction of the group away from superficial aspects of our daily lives. The goal, depending on where you live, should be to take the group somewhere devoid of cell phone reception, as long as proper plans are made. This way, there is nothing to distract the group aside from the occasional large predator that makes a pass of your camp. Though it shouldn’t ever be a life or death situation, having an event like this fosters accountability and reliance on your fellow brothers, because if one participant is complaining or not pulling his weight, the whole group suffers. Below I will demonstrate how to properly plan, prepare for, and implement a camping trip that will keep the brothers engaged, but safe. Bonus points if you can get brothers from large cities to participate (looking at you NYC brothers).
- Location – Most, if not all Alphas, should be within a 3-4 hour drive of some major national park, or state forest. For the Northeast, consider the Adirondacks (NY), Catskills (NY), Poconos (PA), or the White Mountain National Forest if you’re down for a drive (NH). For the Mid-Atlantic, the Appalachian mountains are in your backyard, consider them or some of the other many local forests such as George Washington and Jefferson National Forest (VA), or Pisgah/Nantahala/Uwharrie Forest (NC). For the deep South Alphas, consider Chattahoochee in Georgia, or Apalachicola in Florida. Kentucky has the phenomenal Daniel Boone National Forest, and the brothers from Minnesota and Wisconsin should have no problem finding ample backpacking opportunities in Superior National Forest, Huron National Forest, or one of the numerous forests near the great lakes. Brothers in Colorado, California, Washington or Oregon, I can’t even begin to list the places that are within a four hour drive, you should have no problem finding absolutely stunning areas. Utilize google searches, forums, Alltrails.com and other resources to find a trail nearby that could be completed by everyone interested in going. Also, make sure that wherever you’re going allows for fires at campsites. It might be an old-school mentality, but camping isn’t the same if you don’t have a fire to gather around.
- Duration – Ideally, you want to shoot for at least two days, but no more than three, especially if this is the first trip many of the guys have ever gone on. I’d recommend setting aside a long weekend to do this, so you can take your time traveling and get to the trailhead at a decent time.
- Distance – This is really up to the discretion of whoever is leading. A good mileage to shoot for as a beginner would be 10-15 miles over the course of two days. While it sounds like a lot, it is easy enough to accomplish even with people who are in less than ideal shape, assuming the terrain is forgiving.
- Necessary Items – As the leader of the group, you should assume someone in your party will forget something important. So for this reason, make sure you yourself carry extra supplies such as food, water, and a first-aid kit. I could write an entire blog post on what you should take on this trip, but for the sake of length I will list below the 10 essentials that everyone in your party should take or have access to on the trip.
- Navigation – Do not rely on your phone, you might not have service. Instead, use offline maps if you have to use a phone, but nothing beats a map and compass.
- Sun Protection – This will ultimately depend on the season, but don’t forget you can get burned easily even if there is snow on the ground. I recommend a hat, sunglasses, and long sleeves at a bare minimum. Sun block will also work well of course.
- Insulation – Essentially, this means everyone should bring clothing that can keep them warm at all times during the trip. Synthetic and wool material is great for the day while you’re hiking. Consider bringing thermal underwear and a down jacket even if the weather is warm, the nights aren’t necessarily. Also, always bring extra socks!
- Illumination – Even if you don’t plan on hiking at night, you might. Either way, to make doing tasks around the campsite easy, always bring a form of illumination. Headlamps are worth the weight, having your hands free is a huge plus.
- First-Aid Supplies – Self explanatory, but as the group leader you should expect to bring a large kit for a wide variety of potential injuries. Consider including gauze, adhesive bandages, butterfly bandages, adhesive tape, latex gloves, duct tape, etc.
- Fire – Bring a lighter, and matches or another form of firestarter (flint and steel) and some fuel if you’re worried about conditions being wet or windy.
- Repair Kit and Tools – You as leader should be prepared to make simple fixes to gear if needed. Always bring duct tape, extra shoelace, fishing line, and cable ties if nothing else.
- Nutrition – While this is up to the discretion of the participants, make sure everyone in the group has extra food in the event of an emergency. Stick to high calorie foods and those high in fat.
- Hydration – There should be at least one water filter/system for purifying water for the group. Everyone should bring 1-2 liters of water for themselves assuming there is a method to procure more and available water sources.
- Emergency Shelter – Everyone in the party should have a place to sleep if needed. This could be a tent, hammock, or something simpler like a ground tarp, bivy or emergency blanket.
- Informing the Participants – Consider putting together a brief trip report prior to departure. This way there will be no questions as to what the brothers need to bring, what they should expect, etc. An example of one I just did for the Psi colony can be found below.
- The day of, make sure that you get a good night sleep. Leave plenty of time to arrive to the trailhead so you don’t have to hike in the dark. Remember parking at these places is sometimes tricky, and you likely won’t have GPS to assist you. As stated earlier, consider downloading an offline map to help you find the proper campsite.
- Some general tips to keep you safe and to keep the trip enjoyable:
- Have a positive mindset – Realize at times this adventure might be strenuous. Always push your Brothers, but never push them outside their limits.
- Have a contingency plan – If the weather turns dangerous, or someone sustains an injury, do you have a plan to remove yourselves quickly?
- Let Someone know – Let a Brother, or friend know where the group is going, the size, and when you are expected to be back. That way, someone knows where to tell the authorities where to go looking.
- Heed Park Warnings – Either online or at the trailhead you should see any warnings or alerts the park has currently. This could range from wildfires, nuisance black bears, high frequency of insects, rock slides, etc. Make sure you are prepared with anything you might need because of this (bug nets, bear canisters, etc)
- Have fun – This is the most important part, this trip should be fun. Use this time to get to know everyone a little better, but don’t feel like you need to have an agenda.