A guide to getting a head start on outdoor gear for the Cub Scout, soon to be Boy Scout
How to Select the Perfect Outdoor Gear for Your New Scout
by Brown Russell – Venture Crew 323.
Critical Importance of Great Outdoor Gear for Best Boy Scout Experience Possible
One of the most exciting and fun parts of Boy Scouts is the outdoor adventures, and having the right equipment can make all the difference between an fun and exciting adventure, or a miserable experience that deters youth from future activities.
Unlike the Cub Scout Pack Overnighters, where we are often within 15 – 30 minutes of a Starbucks, Walmart or other modern amenities, the Troop activities are often more primitive and there is little or no option to address gear shortcomings while on a trip. Thus gear selection is an important for individual safety, enjoyment, self-esteem; skill development, and group safety.
In this guide we will focus on providing parents with the information you need to make informed decisions about what equipment you need to obtain for your scout.
The Challenge of Gear Selection: The Conflicting Criteria Driving Gear Selection
- Growth (11 to 14 is transformative – as is 11 – 18)
- Commitment to Scouting and the Outdoors (a few years or a lifetime)
- Types of Activities
- Being realistic about youth in the wilderness
Types of Outdoor Activities for a Scout (and potential Crew member)
- Day Trips (short hikes, bike trips or similar activities lasting one day or less)
- Short Car Camps (Generally one or two nights)
- Short Backpacking Trips (generally one or two nights)
- Long Term Stationary Camps (eg Scout Summer Camp like Geronimo)
- Long Term High Adventure (eg 1 -2 week backpack or similar)
Troops 3/323 typically do 9 or more overnighter camps each year. Of those about 50% are backpacking trips. In addition to the overnights we also attend week-long summer camp, a more challenging multi-night end-of-year trip, and go on various day-trips and hikes.
The typical Conditions faced by Scouts in AZ are:
- mostly dry
- mostly above 20 deg
- mostly insect free
Objectives for Gear Selection
- Primary Objective:
Assemble a sub-20 pound backpack (not including group gear/food/water), suitable for “Troop 323” trips, with gear that will withstand all the abuse an 11-14 year old can subject it to over 3-4 years (or longer), that will be safe AND fun to use, that will fit a growing youth over time, and that will not cost an arm and a leg.
- Secondary Objective:
Assemble additional gear needed for Day Hikes and Summer Camp
Group Gear vs. Personal Gear
Regardless of the activity type, there are will be a requirement for personal gear as well a group or shared equipment. This guide breaks down gear into 2 categories:
- Gear that is shared by the larger group, usually a patrol or troop. Also includes gear that is shared between 1 – 3 people (like shelter).
- These are items that you typically do not need to purchase.
- Shelter is the exception. You may need to purchase equipment for shelter, depending on what your scout prefers to use as shelter.
- Individual gear that you isn’t typically shared
- This is the gear that each scout will need to supply for themselves
Why it is Vital to Buy for Backpacking
As mentioned above, approximately 50% of the Troop 323 overnights are backpacking outings…thus if your scout has any interest in participating in these events it is vital to purchase equipment built for backpacking first. Why?
- “Car” Camping Gear is NOT interchangeable with Backpacking Gear
- Equipment that is not designed for backpacking is rarely suitable for use in backpacking, but backpacking equipment is often suitable for other activities.
- Going “light” is vital for: Safety and Enjoyment
- Backpacks that are too heavy, are painful and considerably more work to carry.
- The Navy Seal Formula – The 40% rule
Challenges of choosing Backpacking Gear:
- Seemingly small choices/differences can have a big impact
Where to buy
- Buy used
- Buy in off season or on sale
- Buy last year’s model
General Principles of Packing Lightweight (three key areas)
- Don’t let your mother pack for you
- Travel as a Group – share the load for cooking; hydration; shelter; sanitation; first aid; repair
- Type of Trip (Weather/Terrain/Activity as gear selection factors)
- Take ONLY what is essential (eg bowl and spoon)/What not to take (eg no Scout Handbook)
- Take gear that has multiple uses
- Watch the ounces as well as the pounds
- Reduce the weight and bulk of the big three: Sleeping System; Pack; Clothes (Remember – cooking; hydration; shelter; sanitation; first aid; repair are group functions)
A Systems approach
- Sleeping System (the most important)
- Packing System (the second most important)
- Clothing System
- Eating and Hydration System
- Misc. (Tools and Toys; Personal Sanitation/First Aid)
BUY THE BEST SLEEPING SYSTEM AND PACKING SYSTEM GEAR YOU CAN AFFORD & BUY FOR THE LONG TERM and the rest will take care of itself
Sleeping System (Most important and most expensive)
Importance of and General Considerations
- Sleeping Bags
- Light for backpacking – under 3 lbs
- Insulated to at least 20°F
- stuff size under 8″ x 16″
- Down or Synthetic? Since most of the camping we do is dry, down is the preferred fill.
- Sleeping Pads
- Lightweight – under 16 ounces
- Insulated air mattresses
- self-inflating foam mattresses (my personal favorite)
- closed cell foam
- Ground Sheets
- Under 16 ounces
- Appx 5’ x 7’
- Lightweight tarp from hardware store or discount department store
- Cot (secondary – optional)
- This is optional but I really need one if attending Geronimo.
- Also used by many of the older scouts when car camping.
- Bivy Sack (optional)
- Can be used in conjunction with ground cloth/tarp shelter for personal shelter
- Not necessary if using a tent.
- Common with the Venture Crew (they make their own).
Packing Systems (Second Most Important and Second Most Expensive)
Importance of and General Considerations
- Backpacking Backpack
- Fit and Growth
- Better a little more volume than a little less
- Internal frame vs. External Frame
- Get a rain cover (if the pack doesn’t have one built in).
- Stuff sacks/ditty bags (for clothes, food, group gear, tools and accessories)
- Key Concepts
- Layering – Wear clothes in layers. It will keep you warm while not requiring large bulky clothing items.
- Types of Fibers – Synthetic dry faster and are generally more comfortable on the trail. They are usually lighter too.
- Be Realistic – No matter what we do the clothing these boys wear will not come back in the same condition (if the clothes even come back at all).
- Cost cutting – With the exception of the rain jacket and footwear, this is a great place to cut costs. There is no need to purchase name brands. Walmart, Target, Costco, and Sam’s Club all have low cost clothing is perfect for camping/backpacking.
- Good, comfortable footwear is an essential part of any hike or backpacking trip. If your feet hurt or you get blisters, a trip can turn miserable in a heartbeat.
- Hiking shoes (hiking boots, trail shoes, sneakers – good condition) – this is a matter fit, function, and comfort. Look for sturdy shoes or hiking boots. Depending on preference you can use trail runners instead of hiking boots.
- Socks – Clean synthetic blend socks that fit well. Sock liners are also a great idea as they significantly reduce blisters. Some socks come with build in liners.
- Wind/rain jacket
- A rain (and wind) jacket is another important piece of clothing. This is another area of clothing where it is worth spending more to get good quality.
- Recommended brands are: Marmot, Mammut, Mountain Hardware, The North Face, and REI
- Shorts and/or Long pants (with zip-off legs)
- Underwear (soft wicking material/dark color)
- Undershirt/t-shirt/scout shirt
- Fleece hat/beanie (important)
- Optional (depending on expected conditions):
- Extra Shoes (eg flip flops or similar)
- Fleece jacket
- Long Sleeve Shirt
- Sweat pants/thermal underwear
- Long Underwear Shirt
Hydration and Eating System
- Day packs/hydration systems
- Serve double duty – day hikes & hydration
- These are used on almost every outing that the scouts go on.
- 15 – 30 Liter gear capacity
- Platypus or Camelbak bladder & hose (2-3L)
- Extra water storage (2-6L extra) – No need to but expensive Nalgene bottles (disposable bottles from bottled water work well and are more indestructible than the Nalgene)
- Lemonade/Gatorade mixing bottle (again this could be a disposable water bottle)
- You don’t need a buy a water filter
- Cup + Bowl + Spoon/Spork/Spark (Titanium or Plastic)
- You don’t need mess kit
- You don’t need a stove (the troop has these)
- Small Headlamp (important)
- Sunscreen and chapstick
- Insect repellent
- Trekking Poles (optional)
- Used for hiking but double as poles for tarp shelters
- Camp Chair (recommended)
- Designed to work with an air mattress or sleeping pad.
Group (Shared) Gear
The group gear is equipment that is shared by the larger group. In some cases it will be shared by the entire troop, in the case of backpacking trips it is more likely to be shared by smaller groups (or patrols).
- Importance of a Patrol Gear: weight reduction; development of teamwork and being part of a group; saving on individual expenses
This is equipment that you generally do not need purchase for your scout.
The Patrol Gear System
The System is designed primarily for use with backpacking, but can be adapted for any backcountry situation. The System can be used on simple overnights to 2 week long expeditions. The System does not include consumables: food and fuel
It is organized into subsystems to cover all important areas.
- Cleanup and Sanitation
- Repair (human and otherwise)
The Shelter System is based on 2 – 3 scouts sharing a single shelter and dividing the weight of the shelter among them.
There are several options for shelter, here are a few:
The suggested system by Crew 323, is a simple ultralight tarp system, 2 Scouts to a tarp. If set up properly, it will keep Scouts dry in very wet weather. If set up properly.
Scouts must bring their personal groundsheets. Tarps can be set up a number of ways. Line should remain tied to tarps and packed with them.
An alternative, that is a bit heavier, but provides additional warmth and privacy is an ultralight tent, 2-3 scouts to a tent.
- Packs and gear (other than sleeping system) do not go in tent.
- Under 4-lbs
The Kitchen System is based on a simple one pot system. The main stove is designed for use with a windscreen. The backup stove should never be used with a windscreen. The smaller pieces of the Kitchen System should always be stored in the Stove Bag or the Pot.
- Main Stove w/windscreen
- Lighter( s)
- Plastic Measuring Cup
- Leather Work Gloves
- Backup Stove
- Can Opener
- Small Whisk
The Water System has a main filter, backup water tablets, and two water storage tanks for unpurified water in camp.
- Water Filter
- Water Tablets
- 2 Water Tanks
Cleanup and Sanitation System
A simple system for keeping the kitchen clean, and for a group poop and fire cleanup trowel.
- Dobie Pad
- Small Bottle Soap
- Strainer (for noodles and LNT dishwasher cleanup)
- 3 Sinks (also important for LNT dishwashing)
- Poop pit and fire cleanup trowel
- Trash Bag System
Repair System (human and other)
For fixing dings of all kinds.
- First Aid Kit
- Repair Kit