How I Became A Backpacking Guru

September 4, 2020

It was the best of times, yet it was the worst of times… no, wait — that’s not what I’m trying to say. We had a great time, but there were lessons to be learned.


When my sons were in grade school, they joined the scouts. Being the fun-filled organization it was with lots of energetic adults wanting to help raise and entertain these youth… we were told there would not be a scout program unless some of the parents would be able to step in and serve as leaders… (yeah…).

My vast knowledge of wilderness and survival experience had not been tapped in quite some time, though I am a survival expert and lived through countless expeditions into the vast mountains and open fields of our small family farm while growing up (okay-some would call it a hill and pasture, but let's get on with the story).

The First Campout

My first experience with camping in the scouts consisted of the “Akela-Cub Campout”. This was an introductory program where the local scouting administration had new cub scouts and their parents enjoy a fun-filled afternoon of activities for the tikes, followed by camping in a big open field with the leaders from their local boy scout troops. The kids seemed to enjoy it, but the windstorm that ensued during the waning hours of the afternoon sent many of the tents and canopies sailing into the air like kites! Novice and inexperienced campers alike were confronted with an absence of shelter. It was quite a sight.

The Field of Dreams

Thankfully during my time as a scout leader, I was blessed with plenty of eager parents who were competent and enjoyed camping with their kids. On one gentle fall evening, we set up camp in a remote area of a local doctor’s farm.

After tents were staked and the camp was established, we sang and enjoyed the night and pleasant view of nature around us. We broke into groups where we cooked and ate dinner, cleaning up after ourselves, and keeping everything in order as we prepared for the night. The scouts gathered firewood and the adults prepared the fire area. I pulled my trusty Coleman lantern from its confines and had it ready for darkness and noticed one of the other parents filling their lantern with fuel.

There are several types of lanterns. Candle, propane, kerosene, and gasoline (aka Coleman Fuel) to name a few. This parent, let’s call him Jake, had bought a new kerosene lantern and was filling it… with Coleman Fuel. I walked up to him and asked him what he was into. Jake explained he’d bought him a new lantern he found on sale and was just filling it up with lantern fuel. I told him it was a kerosene lantern and that was not kerosene he was filling it with. He assured me he put it in his lanterns all the time, that he had several Coleman lanterns. In spite of my trying to reason with him, he knew what he was doing — so he said.

The boys were sent to their tents to roll out their sleeping bags so they’d be fluffed and ready to sleep in them by bed-time (I couldn’t think of anything else to tell them), and Jake started to light the lantern. Meanwhile, I removed my army surplus field jacket, taking several steps toward the tents as if I were checking on the boys.

As Jake lit his new lantern, it was quite apparent that yes Coleman fuel does burn really well in a kerosene lantern. The vapors also burn, and little bits of ground where it spilled, the funnel used to fill it, and anywhere there might be fumes. The front tire of his Ford Bronco was burning nicely too, but we managed to extinguish the fire, ground, funnel, and lantern with my jacket. That old coat was probably worth quite a bit by the time we finished. It had definitely helped us survive that battle.

I learned later from his wife that Jake couldn’t read.

Ah yes, I’m the camping guru… compared to some, I know it all. There are many more tales of wisdom and lack thereof. Perhaps I’ll share a few more in the future.