Monday, 7 October 2013

A salute to D of E


A group of Duke of Edinburgh’s Award teenagers on their Silver or Gold Expedition backpacking trip is a heartening sight in the hills. I enjoy passing the time of day, but do wonder why nobody has helped them to organise a rucksack.

Packs are suspended midway down the back, straps dangle capable of lacerating the face in a wind, and the ubiquitous foam bedroll flops about loosely attached. Various other items dangle, and the weight looks badly distributed and formidable

Youngsters may not be able to afford lightweight gear, but I am sure more could be done to inculcate the ethos of non-essentials and balanced  packing. For me, about twenty three pounds (approx. 10kg) is passably comfortable. Beyond that, relative comfort becomes toil -  not a good way to encourage youngsters.

Newcomers to many activities face the false economy of “entry level” gear featuring poor design and more likelihood of early failure just when lack of experience dictates that you need as much help as you can get. Imagine trying to enter a half serious road race with a budget price bike from Argos - Bradley Wiggins may stand a chance, but a novice would be disillusioned.

Don't think that D of E expeditions are so tame that good equipment may not be essential. One group I met at The Heights of Kinlochewe were on their way to camp in the high, remote northern corrie of Ben Tarsuinn in the Fisherfield Forest - an ambitious plan that would demand serious thought from any gnarly, long experienced backpacker.

I wish all those D of Eers  well.



16 comments:

John J said...

Some of the higher profile retailers actively promote low cost gear as being suitable for DoE expeditons. Having picked up some of this stuff I've found a lot of it to be far too heavy.

I don't know if the DoE 'organisers' specify kit as compulsory, but it wouldn't be a difficult job to source reasonably priced and lighter-weight gear suitable for a backpacking trip.

As for DoE rucksack packing....aaaargh! DoE expeditioners really should have SOME guidance / instruction from their 'organisers'.

I wonder what qualifications are needed to run a DoE group? I know some are very experienced - our local scout group's DoEers have the benefit of guidance from a highly experienced (MLC) leader. Not sure about others though.

JJ



Alan Rayner said...

I know one retailer (well known) who will remain nameless was asked to give a talk about gear to a group of Dof E'rs and staff at the school The whole talk was based on Arc'teryx. Now who can afford Arc'teryx? Certainly not the parents of most kids i know.

One of the important points they need to teach kids on these expeds is how to behave in the countryside and just why there is a code. Although some of the staff i have come across are not much better.

The Crow said...

Hmmm...sounds to me as if the three of you could/should start a training program or class for beginning expeditioneers. Who better, than experienced backpackers (hikers?) steeped in the lore, the good citizenship, the realities of such an activity?

I think you'd do a wonderful job of it.

gimmer said...

I don't recall any specific guidance from the Scoutmasters when doing one's First Class Journey, but the rules gave a maximum of 30 lbs for the sack - and Scouting for Boys certainly advised one how to pack one's bag (amongst other timeless and priceless pieces of advice, of course): as it had to be done before one's 15th birthday, I think one now tends to underestimate what one can/could handle at that sort of age - but you are right, there's no reason for them not knowing what to do - it's neither new nor rocket science, and the leaders should know this.
Speak to the boss.

Alan Sloman said...

I bumped into quite a few DofE groups when I was on my LEJOG and I have to say most were quite wonderful.

All those I met were well-mannered, respectful of the countryside and bothy culture.

Most were carrying rucksacs that did look a little heavy, but not majorly so. My only criticism would be that they seemed to be carrying far too many clothes (a specific requirement, apparently).

None are carrying too much food, as most expeditions aren't that long in duration, but the food they are carrying seemed to be on the heavy-side - Wayfarers and the like.

Some of the DofE leaders I met were highly experienced and their groups were the ones who seemed to be in the best shape.

I remember when my own son did his Gold DofE expedition in the western Highlands - his group were very well prepared and their kit choices were exemplary. The only criticism I would have made was that their tents were heavier than I would have liked to have carried.

I thing the DofE is an excellent scheme - remember, it's not just about the outdoors - it includes community service as well - and with the dwindling numbers in the Scout movement it's becoming more important than ever.

Sir Hugh said...

JJ and all. My post related to SOME DofE groups I have encountered and was not intended as a total generalisation, and it was written slightly tongue in cheek. I have the highest regard for the whole concept and operation of the organisation, but there is always room for improvement in any enterprise, and as JJ points out some of the problems are caused by retailers marketing unsuitable equipment labelled as appropriate for the D of E purpose.
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Alan R. - I had not heard of Arc'teryx before, but having Googled I realise they are perhaps the most expensive suppliers out there.
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The Crow - That makes me feel a bit guilty. A big problem in recent times is the emergence of our Health and Safety at Work legislation which makes demands beyond all reason and common sense, and also the increasing possibility of legal liability which has spread here from your side of the Atlantic, (please don't take that personally).
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gimmer - I agree with and relate to your comments. I must re-read the BP book again, "priceless" indeed.
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Alan S. I agree with your comments which are obviously based on more detailed knowledge than mine, and I confirm that on the whole my own observations have been similar to yours, but I have seen sights as I described in the post, and I am sure that there will be variation from groups to groups, even though I understand there is fixed training of leaders and instructors. I do know about the other aspects - my daughter, who is a teacher was quite involved at one time. She only got as far as her Silver award in her youth.


John J said...

The Crow: funny you should make your comment: me and a small group from the Backpackers Club Cheshire Section are trying to put together a facility that will introduce interested newcomers to backpacking without having to make significant financial outlay.

The grand plan is to gather some reasonable gear together and allow The Interested to use it on a couple of trips under the eye / guidance of a more experienced person.

Gear donations will no doubt very welcome when the scheme is nearer fruition.

As to the quality of DoEers, I've found nearly all of them to be pleasant and enthusiastic. I've no problem with them one bit....but I do pity them sometimes, particularly when I see them struggling with their often enormous packs, in crap weather etc. More power to them. I always try to chat to them when I see them and they're invariably very keen to tell me of their expedition. Magic stuff!

Anonymous said...

I do not know where you have got your dwindling Scout Association numbers from. As the membership is at a high with a long waiting list. (Shortage of Leaders).

Sir Hugh said...

JJ - Let me know if you take that plan further. I may have some stuff to pass on.
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Anonymous - Thanks for that. I think my comment about liability and Health and Safety is relevant. I had a rewarding time in the Scouts which gave me the foundations for self reliance and decent behaviour. I'm glad to hear that the organisation is thriving despite the lack of leaders.

Alan Sloman said...

Just a quick reply to 'Anonymous' on the question of Scout Association membership.

If you compare like with like, from the late sixties the membership numbers have plummeted.

Nowadays, the Scout Association includes in their numbers the Beaver Scouts (aged 6-8 @ 116,743) and the "Scout Network" (aged 18-25 @ 2,092) and of course girls - who were not included at all in the numbers of the sixties, and make up a considerable proportion of the present day numbers.

If you read THIS ARTICLE published by the Scout History Association you will see the full picture.

In the last three years there has been a welcome increase in the numbers in the Scout Association, which you can see for yourself HERE

There is a shortage of leaders and there is a waiting list, but let's not kid ourselves. The like for like numbers in the Scout Association are a shadow of those of the past.

Alan Sloman said...

I've just realised I didn't leave the figures for earlier Scout numbers, so none of the above will have made much sense.

In 1980, Scout membership was 641,281. This figure does not include the Beavers or girls. Reference link

More or less like for like figures for 2012 are 147,982 Cub Scouts (including girls) and 121,373 Scouts (including girls) and 38,801 Explorer Scouts (including girls) which makes a total of 308,156.

So there are less than half the numbers of Scouts these days, and this number includes the addition of girls in the movement.

I think you'll agree that this shows that Scouting is far from "thriving"

bowlandclimber said...

You have set off a lively debate there Conrad!
I well remember our camping trips with the scouts, but in those days the concept of lightweight hadn't really arrived.But in our teens it didn't seem to matter. It certainly does now. anything over 20lbs starts to be a burden. I'm often having to carry 3 litres of water on Spanish trips and that hurts.
Even thinking of using luggage transfer services on some LDWs in Britain. Wash my mouth out.
So good luck to the DofEs and lets hope a percentage of them get the hiking bug.
Are you up in Scotland at present?

Sir Hugh said...

Bowland Climber - Hi John. Blogging is strange. You put up posts you think will create interest and get no comments, then the most unlikely ones bring them forth.

I'm not in Scotland at the moment - not sure why you thought I may be? I'm waiting for an appointment for having a fluid sample taken from my knee after my last visit to the surgeon. Yesterday I spent over an hour on the phone and accumulated nine different telephone numbers I had called trying to find out when the appointment would be. I eventually found that the request had been sent to Lancaster instead of Kendal - they should receive it today, so I will follow up tomorrow and try and get some sense from somebody.

bowlandclimber said...

It was the mention of The Heights of Kinlochewe and Ben Tarsuinn, plus the photo.
Hope you get your knee sorted.
Your comment on BC has disappeared into thin air!

Roderick Robinson said...

I detect an attack of incipient paternalism. You worry too much about those poorly kitted kids. Few are discouraged and those that are weren't potential enthusiasts anyway. Part of the recognition that this sport "is for me" (it could be something other than walking - ski-ing immediately comes to mind) is an immediate and often feverish interest in new and better kit. In fact it's an interest - as you yourself must admit - that never goes away. Kit interest is usually triggered by envy - seeing someone with better kit who appears to be managing more comfortably. Nothing like envy in this context - it's a creative force.

Sir Hugh said...

RR - I have come full circle on kit to some extent. When my £20, technical socks disappeared this summer (allegedly taken by the local fox according to the innkeeper where I was staying), I resorted to a pair of ordinary socks from M and S - 3 pairs for £7.50, and have been using them ever since with no noticeable difference whatsoever, other than them being lighter and hat they pack smaller.