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Tuesday Talkback: In search of a better patrol box

Tuesday-TalkbackIt sounds like an infomercial you’d see on QVC: “It’s a pantry, a spice rack, a utensils drawer and a portable kitchen. Yes, the Boy Scout patrol box does it all, and it can be yours for three easy payments … ”

But patrol boxes aren’t a gimmick. Patrol-based cooking is an important part of troop campouts, and many troops use patrol boxes to help keep cooking supplies and ingredients organized.

You don’t want Dragon patrol supplies fraternizing with items belonging to the Alligator or Rattlesnake patrols, do you?

Patrol boxes serve two purposes, as far as I see:

  • They teach responsibility. By assigning each patrol its own set of cooking supplies, you’re essentially giving them ownership and (hopefully) teaching them to take good care of what’s theirs. That’s better than everyone using (and abusing) community supplies where there’s no accountability.
  • They promote healthy competition. Many troops allow and encourage their patrols to paint and decorate their patrol boxes. Which patrol box looks the best? Which is the best organized? Bragging rights are on the line.

So we’re agreed that patrol boxes are a great idea. But what makes a great patrol box? That’s what Scoutmaster Bob M. asked last week, explaining that Troop 255’s patrol boxes are getting worn out.

“Our troop built the basic patrol boxes a number of years ago” he writes, “and they are showing their age. I was curious to find out if you’ve done an article or had any information on any lightweight options to the basic box design.”

I’ll share one resource, and then I’d love to hear from readers.

Troop 42’s smart idea

patrol box troop 42

“These are not your everyday patrol boxes,” the intro promises. And that’s no exaggeration.

Troop 42 out of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, has created aluminum patrol boxes that are more durable than wooden ones and come in at half the weight.

Find the complete plans, including what goes inside, at this link. And remember that whenever building patrol boxes requires power tools, that should be an adult project.

Your turn: Share your patrol box tips

What do your troop’s patrol boxes look like? How heavy are they? What’s inside? What’s the rule on decorating the exterior? Leave some thoughts below.


Patrol box photo from St. Louis Case and Cabinet.

51 Comments on Tuesday Talkback: In search of a better patrol box

  1. Bryan, looks like you’re talking about chuck boxes. Patrol boxes may not necessarily be so big and heavy to do the job. Our Troop uses totes like what Scouts used to take to Jamboree and they are lightweight, portable, and easy to keep clean. A separate bag has an aluminum roll top table for use in setting up the patrol’s cooking station.

    • Gary Wilson // March 25, 2014 at 10:30 am // Reply

      Absolutely! A simple plastic tote that fits in the trunk of a passenger car and can be lifted by two 12 year olds is the best solution for a patrol’s weekend camping. Coupled with a folding table, it allows the the troop many more options for camping tun being tied to a trailer.

      BTW, the large heavy Wood folding chuck box was orally designed for the 1953 Camporee at Irvine, CA to simulate the back of a horse drawn chuck wagon. The original BSA design for them stated they were only for long term (greater than one week) camps in the first place!

    • Most people use chuck box and patrol box interchangeably these days it seems first off. Second, to me the advantage of using them over a rubbermaid tote or something like that is that the organization is vertical rather than horizontal. With the design I usually see, you can put your two burner stove or something like that on the bottom, but it can still be the first thing you get too because of the way shelving is built. To me that is a big advantage. I have seen alot that put aluminum sheeting on the door that folds down, and then that becomes a food prep area such as a cutting board (one less item to worry about then) in addition to being able to use that table for eating rather than cooking.

  2. Chuck Lewis // March 25, 2014 at 9:11 am // Reply

    I am really interested in weight. I have an idea in mind that I would like to build but not sure of if the weight. I current Boxes are around 85 pounds.

    • I went to Troop 1597 in Dacula ga . They had a really good plan. I have built 3 of them. One adult and 2 patrol boxs. They have everything a scout needs for cooking a meal other than spices and paper good. They have hard plates and bowls. ,knife,cutting boards stove ,pots and pans. Two scouts can lift them. Cost was 200 per box stocked . Other than stoves and pots.

  3. We dumped our wooden patrol boxes of this size two years ago and went with smaller and lighter equipment. The gear is now stored in one plastic tub. We’re creating even a smaller “mini patrol box”. It will be a 5 gallon bucket that has a 2Q and 4Q pot, a backpacking stove, a small MSR chef kit and a tarp. That will only take a few inches of space in the bucket – but the bucket has a screw on lid with O-ring that can be used for other gear and food when canoeing or rafting. Patrols check out from the quartermaster the patrol box of choice depending on their activity needs.

    • I like the bucket idea. Perfect for float trips.

  4. ours look more like these: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Z0ZEDtIBiw

  5. Amanda Smith // March 25, 2014 at 9:34 am // Reply

    My troop has a split design. We had the “one big box” method right up until we found ourselves with new boys who simply couldn’t carry them…so we split it in half horizontally. The top half of the box is divided in 3 sections for the lantern globe case, the fire buckets, the spice box, emergency silverware, and the trail cook set. The utensils hang on the door and the the cooking oil, dish soap, sanitabs, crisco for the cast iron, and other small items live there too. The bottom half has a shelf for the cast iron skillet, a shelf for the 12 inch dutch oven, the cast iron griddle, the 3 wash basins, the fire gloves, the propane tree, the long tongs and lid lifters, and drink pitchers all while the door makes a counter top to work on. I’m sure I missed something but at events other units ask us for the dimensions to make their own and we gladly share them. This lets our younger boys feel useful by carrying the top half and our older boys carrying the bottom. We have one of these for every patrol.

    I took our boxes with me to my Intro to Outdoor Leader Skills course and we were a completely stocked kitchen ready to make anything you could possibly make with cast iron. Our kids love our boxes!

    • Amanda, do you pictures and/or plans to share?

  6. I like the patrol boxes but what is the cost.

  7. Cooper Wright // March 25, 2014 at 9:44 am // Reply

    Our troop has joined those who have dumped patrol boxes and heavy gear. Now each patrols gear, excluding the 2-man Timberline II tents and 10 x 10 nylon tarp can fit in one plastic tub. It has changed the way we camp. Instead of being tied to trailers and plop camping, our troop backpacks and canoes. High adventure keeps our scouts active and advancing. It is my belief that chuck boxes are an adult driven piece of gear, not the kids.

    • I’ve got to agree with Cooper here. Our boys love our lighter weight plastic boxes over the former wooden chuck boxes. We’re still trying to figure out systems for interior organization – but that doesn’t matter so much to the scouts. If anyone has a solution – please share!

    • It depends on the scouts, I only aged out about 5 years ago, and my unit went hiking 2-4 times a year and did 1-2 float trips a year so we definitely had our share of lightweight gear, though as scouts we also enjoyed dutch oven patrol cooking and “car camping” for a weekend here or there. We always turned weekends like that into a big event and enjoyed having our patrol boxes.

      • Like many here, we do the plastic totes. For organization, we use smaller plastic totes on the inside for serving and cook utensils. We also are organized around backpacking, so kits have smaller pots, stoves, etc.

      • No reason a troop can’t have both patrol boxes and light gear. Seems like these post turn into I’m right/yore wrong. There is a place for both and I would like to explore some alternatives to the heavy wood boxes we use but organization and ease of access is the benefit of our type of box so a tote seems a step backward in that area. I have seen some boxes made by gifted woodworkers. Aluminum looks interesting.

  8. Ours are the traditional ton-and-a-half, break your back boxes so I’m definitely interested in other light-weight ideas. Ideally it would be nice if they were light enough that the quartermaster (APL) for each patrol could actually take the box home and re-inventory & clean everything after each camp out. Our boys put the boxes back in the hut after a camp out and usually don’t open it back up again until it’s time to load the trailer for the next camp out. Sometimes you find some unpleasant stuff in there!

    • We call our patrol boxes cook kitchens and they stay with the grub master of each patrol. The grub master is responsible for cleaning the cook kitchens and inventorying the staples. He makes sure the cast iron is properly cleaned and stored so the demon rust does not appear.

  9. We use large rubbermaid* style containers. They are lighter and can be carried by one or two scouts. We keep the stoves separate from the gear. Though each of our patrols has their own small charcoal grill as well.

  10. We use plastic tubs instead of the big giant wooden chuck boxes. From talking to other units, that is the direction everyone is going. The comments above seem to go that way as well. I am looking at some of those big plastic “job boxes” with wheels that they sell at Home Depot. They have a Husky brand for around $60. With four patrols and adults, that gets really expensive. If anyone figures out how to get Home Depot to donate some, let me know.

    On a separate topic for another day, I’d like to hear more about how other troops check the gear in and out. The idea of checking it out to the PL at the beginning of the six months and checking it back in at the end sounds interesting. It would save a lot of hassle checking things in and out each campout.

    • Talk to home depot store manager. They have a donation program. Early in month is best.

    • Michelle Flynn // June 1, 2014 at 12:28 pm // Reply

      We got some foot lockers from Wal-Mart for under $20. Then the boys can take them home and clean them really well.

      • Randy Carr // June 1, 2014 at 1:30 pm // Reply

        That works, just passed it on to Mom.

  11. The BSA Patrol Box drawings were never updated when the dimensions of lumber changed. I created updated drawings and posted them at:
    http://scouters.us/patrolbox.php

    There are also plans for a patrol table, camp chair, and klondike sled posted at:
    http://scouters.us/projects.php

    A 2×4 weights about 10 pounds. A 4×8 sheet of 3/4 inch plywood weight about 60 pounds. So empty this patrol box weighs about 80 pounds with 3/4 inch plywood, 68 pounds with 5/8 inch plywood, and 60 pounds with 1/2 inch plywood. With 2x3s and 1/2 inch plywood, it would weigh 52 pounds.

    There are 2 types of light weight plywood, poplar plywood and feather-ply. A patrol box made with 1/2 inch poplar plywood or feather-ply and 2x3s would weigh about 40 pounds. In any case always get plywood with water proof glue, outdoor grade.

    • Hey Stephen – I built our first patrol table based on plans from Family Fun magazine. It’s no longer on their website, but can be found on the archive.org website. The reason I like it better than the plan you posted is that it has less waste, creating carrying clips to keep the whole table together for carrying or transport. Each table can be painted a different base color, then the boys can paint what they want on the tables – like checkers or cribbage boards. https://web.archive.org/web/20120131053829/http://familyfun.go.com/assets/cms/pdf/crafts/picnictable.pdf

  12. What we use are the traditional wooden chuck boxes that are a bit on the heavy side. However there are two screw eyes on the left and another pair on the right and four lengths of conduit for legs. The scouts slide a leg on each site which allows 2 or 4 scouts to easily carry the box around. The only tricky part that the young guys need help with is getting the legs in. The older scouts are all over it.

  13. Are patrol boxes are very heavy (2-3 scouts to carry). They are also falling apart (we would like to replace them). Also are patrol boxes aren’t fully equipped stuff that’s not in your patrol box you ask the other patrol or get some from the trailor.

  14. Here’s what our patrols travel with:
    – Tent box. 31G(?) Rubbermaid storage box. Four 7×7′ Coleman Sundome 3 tents (2 Scouts each), 2-burner stove, a couple of bottles of propane, tent brush, stake mallet.
    – Cookware box. 18G Rubbermaid storage box. 2 wash tubs, 6-person cookware set (two pots, coffee pot, frying pan, plates, cups), pitcher, thin plastic cutting boards, and a tub with cooking utensils.
    – Dry goods box. Clear plastic box. Non-refrigerated food.
    – Cooler. Rolling, with dolly-style handle so you can put another box on it. 50Q?
    – 5G drinking water cooler
    – 5G wash water container
    – 5G waste water bucket
    – Folding table (if required)

  15. H. David Pendleton // March 25, 2014 at 12:02 pm // Reply

    Here is a plan I found several months ago. It says that the box can be easily carried by 2 Scouts. Don’t know as we don’t use chuck boxes. We use RubberMaid totes for our “car camping.” When backpacking, the equipment is spread out among the crew. http://www.remarque.org/~rob/t21/

    • H. David Pendleton // March 31, 2014 at 10:55 am // Reply

      I love those that give thumbs down, but don’t elaborate. Is it because they have disagreed with me in the past? Is it because the box CANNOT be easily carried by 2 Scouts. Is it because we don’t use chuck boxes? Is because we use RubberMaid totes and should be using some other brand? Is it because we don’t spread out equipment among our crew and it should all be carried by one Scout?

      Without additional information, how am I suppose to change my position on a certain subject?

  16. Kelly Hastings // March 25, 2014 at 1:15 pm // Reply

    Though this was perfect timing. Also, please tell Coby to add in can opener for the patrol box.

    Thank you, Kelly

  17. Dustin Tarditi // March 25, 2014 at 1:50 pm // Reply

    We have a camp kitchen for our Cub Scout Pack – I used a rolling toolbox for the chuck box. Since we only do front country camping, this works very well and can be loaded easily into the back of a van, truck, or SUV. It has wheels and a retracting handle to make it easy to drag around. http://images.lowes.com/product/converted/071617/071617792954lg.jpg

  18. Our Troop has returned to the “traditional”patrol box after years with plastic totes. Yes,they are heavier, but the totes where impossible to keep organized. Patrol camp sites are much better organized now and gear is better maintained.

  19. I bought a copy of a 1984 Mechanix Illustrated on eBay that has plans for a chuck box. Scanned and uploaded if anyone wants to take a look: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B_YkCdQRuVKMSHNfNXZnT2k5R2s/edit?usp=sharing

  20. Chuck Boxes should be designed to specifically fit the equipment..There is No Perfect Generic Chuck Box. Multiple light weight boxes are great..Expect they take up more space than a single box..Scouts often use them to sit or stand on. They are easily damaged and need replacing often..Once dirty looking they stay that way.They offer no work station..Unlike a well designed Chuck Box with a door that serves as a Table. Animals can easily chew through to Food Items. Scouts have to dig through. inventory of Chuck Boxes when maintained properly can be easily and quickly done.
    Chuck Box Equipment can be quickly inspected prior to leaving and storage to ensure that equipment is cleaned

    • Well said.

  21. Couple questions for everyone:

    Legs, whose boxes have them? Whose doesn’t? How are they stowed? Problems?

    Anybody try see-through walls, like aluminum mesh with plexiglass cover or some other material? It’d be nice to evaluate inventory without opening doors.

    • We have four 1x boards that fit into slots in the box, They are stored on the trailer but used only if no picnic table is at site

  22. Ah, a topic I’ve been digging into the last few years. Plastic would never pass around here, it’s just not as organized and durable as the patrol boxes most units have. Outside of the wood frame, the door has a vinyl cutting surface applied (built in cutting board), wash tubs, dishes, room for a stove and griddle. The ones I’ve liked best do have the legs usable to carry the box litter style. One recent addition I’ve seen had lantern poles set into the top so as to mount them on the back of the box.

    When looking at these there’s ideas both old and new that can be taken from, and it’s good to consider both, here’s a few I turned up:
    Gallery of Patrol/Chuck Boxes
    http://scoutmastercg.com/chuck-boxes-and-camp-kitchens/

    Portable Chuck box (2-4 person box design, SUPER light and convenient)
    http://scoutmastercg.com/portable-chuck-box/

    • To each his own. We camp in a local county park once a year. We take the large group spot that is further back and isolated with a huge field for activities. It’s about a mile back. We used to have kids haul the wooden boxes back there. It was a lot of work. Now that we have a light version – it is not an issue. Plus – I can fit six patrol boxes in the back of my van. When we had the wooden ones, I could fit two. Smaller, lighter, faster, easier.

  23. Rich Ostrowski // March 26, 2014 at 9:27 am // Reply

    Our troop uses wheeled plastic totes that have two organizers in the top section to hold smaller items. One thing we recently did was move away from ‘patrol’ based boxes and moved all boxes to ‘troop’ based. We have 7 patrols, 5 patrol boxes and 62 boys and on any given trip we end up combining natural patrols into event patrols. Thus, the boxes are now interchangeable. While this has eliminated the ability to have accountability at the patrol level, we have taught the boys that some things require troop level accountability.

    As a collector of ‘stuff’ , I have worked to assemble my own kitchen setup which we use for the leader patrol. As we use a large standing two burner stove, our kitchen patrol box did not need to hold the stove. I recently purchased a campchef sherpa camp table & organizer: http://www.campchef.com/sherpa-table-organizer.html. While not as large as I would like, I believe this will make a great kitchen patrol box. I have found that if I leave the top on when carrying it, I can store longer items in the back pouch which normally hold the top, as well as a cutting board and first aid kit below the table top. I am also considering replacing the 4 ‘bags’ with 4 12-quart plastic totes that can double as wash bins. An added benefit of this item is, as it is a glorified duffel bag with a frame, it can be easily disassembled and thrown in the washing machine.

    • There is a bit of false advertising in the Sherpa Table and Organizer demo video.
      I would like to see the video being handled fully loaded with cast-iron and the other required items needed for a campout.

      • Rich Ostrowski // March 26, 2014 at 11:04 am // Reply

        Not sure if I would call it false advertising. But I do agree, it is a bit small for many and it is not meant to hold a 12inch dutch oven. But then again we carry our dutch ovens in separate bags anyway.

        My setup is as follows, and as you will see it is minimal. Bag 1: liquids and cleaning items such as sponges, oil, bleach, soap, anti-bacterial, pot holders, fire gloves, garbage bags. Bag 2: All utensils, spices and fire items. This includes spatulas, forks, spoons, dutch oven lifter, hot spark, tongs and such, lighters, fat wood, stirrers, salt, pepper, garlic & hot sauce. Bag 3: a set a stacking pots/pans (GSI Base Camper set) & a cast iron fry pan. Bag 4: Paper goods, personal mess kit, tea pot. Under the top: 1st aid kit, cutting board, single burner stove top, griddle #2. In the back pouch: Grill brush & a plastic roll to cover the table top.

        So the leader kitchen consists of 1) bag with a large two burner stove that also holds the propane tree and griddle #1. 2) A large propane tank. 3) The Sherpa Box. 4) A separate carry bag with our BSA 6qt dutch oven. 5) Extra large cooking pot that also holds our lantern and charcoal chimney. The only item I want to upgrade right now is the wash bins. We currently have stacking 12 qt wash bins, but we are thinking about switching to round cake containers with a plastic lit. If we can stack 3 inside each other then toss all the cleaning items inside before closing this would free up more space in the sherpa and make for a better overall setup. (I would prefer to keep all the cleaning items away from the cooking items pre-use)

    • I would strongly suggest you rethink the event patrols and interchangeable boxes. Remember, if you aren’t using the Patrol method, you are doing something, but it’s not Scouting. Our Troop was there several years ago and we had no Patrol cohesion and no accountability for equipment.

      We also have a lot of busy kids who can’t always go camping so we increased the size of Patrols so that we could field sufficient Patrols on campouts (minimum of 8, maximum of 12). Patrol cohesion is improving and Patrol Boxes (and tents, etc.) are much better maintained.

      • Rich Ostrowski // March 27, 2014 at 7:11 am // Reply

        I agree that every troop should follow the patrol method and be boy led. That is what we do. We have great patrols and a great PLC led by a strong SPL who has a number of ASPLs capable of replacing him. However, while understand your point, we are accomplishing our goal with our method.
        I’ll explain.
        Our patrols also have 8-10 boys. We have troop meetings 3 weeks out of the month, the fourth being a Patrol Week. During patrol week, the patrols meet on their own with their mentors (2 leaders) and do whatever they decide. So, given the number of troop meetings and patrol meetings, larger patrols just wouldn’t work for us. We have built very strong patrols that have a lot of pride and cohesion. (BTW: Our patrols all have boys of mixed ages)
        So as you said, how do you handle camping when only 2 boys from a patrol attend. In our case, this is not uncommon as we camp almost every month, with multiple events some months.
        That is why we went to the event patrol. So if T-Rex has 2 scouts attending and Black Knights have 6, we combine them to form a single event patrol. We try not to split the natural patrols, but rather combine them. But I can’t say we do this 100% of the time. By the way, the assignment is done by a scout who runs the event with a leader.
        The combined event patrol is assigned a patrol box, which is numbered. They take inventory and if stuff is missing or not clean when they open it, we can easily track back to the last camp out and who used that numbered box. So we still have a level of accountability.
        We also will on occasion assign a box to a patrol to to fix and clean up. We even once had a troop meeting where we emptied every box and rebuilt the boxes with new, different and replacement items based on what the boys said they wanted available.
        It is my belief that this sharing of patrol boxes has actually increased accountability. If a given patrol always uses the same box, they may get use to certain items missing or being used improperly. But, when they share boxes, they are accountable to everyone in the troop. My best analogy would be that as adults we tend to keep conference rooms, rental cars and hotel rooms neater then our own offices, cubicles, cars and homes as we don’t share them.
        With all that said, we continue to reevaluate our patrol boxes and trailer setup. I plan to share this whole thread with our PLC and see what they think. I have seen a number of great ideas here.

        • Michael // June 1, 2014 at 3:37 pm //

          Well, according to the “I’m right, you are wrong, get out of Scouting” Police
          Officer Dunn, your wrong because you don’t do it like him.

          Thanks for approximately Scouting!

  24. My sons Troop have a plastic tote for each Patrol. Inside is a water pump,small skillet,cook pot,two small wash tubs,camp suds,cook stove,spatula and fuel. Yep that’s about all. If it can not fit in a backpack then it does not go in the tote. When going to Summer Camp or Camporee each Patrol takes their tote. The Scouts will split up all of their gear in to backpacks and hike into camp leaving the empty tote in the back of a parked truck. I love the look on adults faces when they see the Scouts backpacking in to camp for a week long stay. Priceless

    After the outing all the Scouts gather around their patrol box and hand the “clean” item to the Patrol Quartermaster to be checked off from the list taped to the top of the box.

  25. I love the aluminum ones from iowa. I wish I.knew some place to make them. We have two wooden ones and while they work, they weigh a ton (I know, I.built one).

    • You can make lighter wooden ones! Divide the size of the box in half – and make two boxes that can stack. You can “clip” or lash them together by using two small blocks of wood on each side that a small rope gets bound around. Instead of solid sides, make a stick frame construction with a dado to put in a much thinner panel. They will cost much less, and won’t be as heavy as the old 1/2″ plywood boxes.

  26. Steven D. Hobbs // June 1, 2014 at 3:03 pm // Reply

    Our troop in Hawai’i, like so many of the comments noted here, uses the “it depends” approach to camping. We are a smaller troop (avg. 30 boys) so when we go camping we may have 8 or 18. We do some car camping, a lot of hike in, and at least one high adventure a year. Thus, like everything in life, it’s flexability. We use plastic bins for patrol boxes when we car it. Hike it, and high adventure, it’s pack it in. Then it’s kitchen bundles. High adventure tends to be older, more experienced boys. They like to go lite. Car camps tend to be everybody, the younger boys like the “luxury” of patrol boxes. It’s rare that enough of any one patrol are camping at same time, so we go with didn’t patrols and assigned (by the boys) event leadership. Almost every event is different from the previous in terms of boys, equipment, location, leadership. Just adapt and flex to the needs of the moment.

  27. We took the plans from here http://sne.tripod.com/ptrlbx1.gif – but added runners on the bottom so the piano hinge wouldn’t damage the surface when sliding them into a pickup truck, and added cleats on the side to adjust the level of the open doors, and rotated the handles to make it easier for the scouts to carry– use 1/2 inch plywood – thinner is not stiff enough

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