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Are You Smarter Than a Boy Scout?

Scoutmasters wrote the book on camping, and built an army of pack-toting teens. But do the troops truly rule when it comes to outdoor skills? We pitted three Scouts against three average readers to find out.

2. Firestarting

Game On
Each team receives a plastic garbage bag filled with assorted sticks ranging from pipe cleaner- to wrist-size, plus a firepan, magnesium firestarter, pocketknife, and a marshmallow. (Dirty trick: We soaked the wood with a hose.) Teams must gather tinder from the immediate vicinity. First team to brown the marshmallow wins.

The Scouts plunk a handful of dry pine needles in the center of their firepan. Adam shaves bits of the magnesium on top. Todd and Michael neatly stack their soaked firewood. The magnesium chips flash white-hot, but they quickly fizzle. The clock is ticking.

Meanwhile, Team BACKPACKER is already tending a flame. Like the Scouts, they used the pine needles as tinder–but with a crucial difference. "We scraped magnesium on the paper packaging the firestarter came in. Then fed the needles," explains David. "Flamed right up." Louis returns from the woods with a stick. At 4 minutes, 39 seconds he produces a perfect marshmallow: crispy on the outside, gooey on the inside.

Winner
Team BACKPACKER is twice as fast, with better results. Almost 10 minutes into the contest, the Scouts raise a flame and produce a charred marshmallow. Readers: 2, Scouts: 0

By the Book
Campfire success depends on tinder–the more flammable, the better. The Handbook advises mounding kindling atop loose tinder, arranging a tepee of small and medium-size fuel on top. Our add: Slice shavings of magnesium into a small pile, beneath loose tinder. When the tinder flames, add kindling.

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