Backpacking and gear advice for new scouts and parents

First, if you are not sure what your new scout needs for general camping and backpacking, please ask one of the troop leaders, including the senior scouts. The following is a list of typical personal gear needed for a camping weekend. Naturally, it is possible to spend a great deal of money to have the very best gear choices, but there are many bargains to be had, and plenty of affordable alternatives for young boys who may outgrow gear and outdoor clothing quickly. Troop equipment can be borrowed for Troop campouts. Please see the Troop Quartermaster or an Adult Leader.

Places to shop for gear (these stores have knowledgeable on-site staff for advice):

Here are the essential starters if you need to buy gear:

An internal frame pack is the most practical. The fit is very important, and you should take the time to bring your son to the store and try some on with experienced help. Remember, the most expensive gear is usually NOT the best suited for a beginner. Your scout will likely outgrow his pack in a few years as he gets taller and stronger. Consider donating his old pack to the troop if he has no siblings.
Sleeping Bag
It is important to remember that some of our trips will not require carrying gear in the pack for any distance, but many will. A modern mummy shaped bag with synthetic fill that is easily compressed into a stuff sack will fill the bill. The thermal rating should be in the area of +10 to +25 degrees. The higher cost fills are softer and more compressible (e.g. Polargard 3D). You want to be sure that the stuffed bag will easily fit INSIDE the backpack, leaving room for other clothes and gear. Not a bad idea to buy them together. Your bag should also be fit to your son's size and he may outgrow it sooner than you wish—but an oversized bag is cold and unwieldy. Remember that a +25 bag can be used in colder conditions with the addition of a fleece blanket or bag liner, or lots of warm, dry clothes worn inside.
Sleeping Pad/Mattress
Again, think about a light & compact roll. A cheap and practical roll for beginners is a full-length closed-cell foam pad of 3/8 or 1/2 inch thickness. The new generation of semi-inflatable pads (e.g. Therma-Rest) are expensive and somewhat heavier—avoid these for now. Also, don't buy an air mattress. They make great beach toys, but don't use them backpacking. (Try Natick Outdoors)
Hiking Boots
Go for good fit, even though he will outgrow them too soon. Spend the least amount to get a sturdy, ankle-high boot with lug soles. Suede or leather is OK and can be waterproof treated, but synthetics are more durable, drier and cheaper. Try them on with two pairs of socks— a thin liner sock, and a thick hiker sock—both should be synthetic or wool blend (no cotton if possible). Please wear them at home to break them in BEFORE you need them on a hike. (Bob's Store has great choices & values)
The cheaper headlamps available are a better choice than a flashlight because they leave the hands free to do chores like setting up tents in the dark. There are many choices, but stay on the cheaper end to start. Pick up a spare bulb or two. Avoid the exotic ones with high price and expensive replacement bulbs.
A new scout will do very well with a standard vinyl or urethane coated nylon poncho. If he already has a good Goretex or similar rain jacket, that is OK too, but he likely will get it very dirty. Go for value and remember he is growing. Also, he would not be the first scout or the last one to resort to a large garbage bag when all else fails.
Your scout needs a canteen—but a plastic one-quart bottle (e.g. Nalgene) is a good choice. They are cheap & durable—write his name on it. As he gets older, he will need two of these. For eating, he needs utensils and bowl/cup—consider unbreakable plastic for these instead of metal. Again, write his name with a permanent marking pen. A standard "mess kit" is OK to start, but these are very limited for cooking especially in a small group (patrol) format. One medium plastic bowl, a plastic cup or thermal mug, plastic spoon & fork—these are the essentials. One medium backpack pot with a lid completes the list. Stainless steel is more expensive, but more durable and easier to clean. Look for bargains—they're out there at places like Natick Outdoors.
Personal Items
Get him a packable toothbrush and small toothpaste. Too many kids either bring their home brush or get away without one. Small investment with big return. A Scout is Clean. A small fleece washcloth or pack towel goes a long way at camp. He should get used to bio-degradable trail soap—use it for everything.
New scouts with little or no backwoods experience usually have few choices at home in outdoor clothing. Again, a growing boy will not get many years of use, so avoid expensive choices. However, always be aware that synthetic clothing beats cotton. There are plenty of affordable nylon or polyester cargo pants and polyester fleece shirts/sweaters. Look for poly or blended tee shirts or long-sleeve "base-layer" garments. Cotton absorbs water from rain or sweat and dries very slowly—making it impractical outdoors except in very hot weather. (Think Bob's Store for value)
Tents, Stoves, etc.
The troop has plenty of tents and cooking stoves, so there is no need to invest in these items until your scout has acquired some experience and expresses some preferences for them.
Knife, Compass
Scout camps forbid one-piece knives, so look for a small folding sheath knife, preferably with a lockback for safety. Smaller is better. A multi-tool knife is OK (e.g. Swiss Army) but look for a cheap generic one. A compass is invaluable and inexpensive. Look for one with a lanyard hole or a carry case. The Scout Shop has good choices, but they are also available in many outdoor stores.

-Rich Horan 11/04