Scout Parents Guide to Backpacking Gear
This post is written for Scouts and their parents who are new to Troop 100 or new to backpacking. The target audiences is the parent of a young scout who is new to backpacking.
The main point to note about buying equipment for your Scout is to not rush out and buy a lot of the wrong types of equipment. What I place as important goals in this effort is
- buying the right equipment, so that the parent doesn’t have to turn around and buy another piece of equipment unnecessarily. The goal is to buy the right equipment the first time
2. buying light and compact equipment, in order to keep a young scout’s pack weight down, and so the gear fits in a small pack
3. buying only the necessary equipment, and delay buying the extra stuff
If there is one piece of equipment that a parent should try to get right to first time, that is the scout’s sleeping bag. When your son starts scouting he might be a small guy of 11 years old and may weight less than eighty pounds. It is incredible how these boys grow during the next four of five years. The right sleeping bag will serve his needs throughout his scouting years and into his adult life. The alternative is to buy several bags as he grows. Of course the first method is way cheaper.
To make a long story short, I would recommend that you buy a 15-25° sleeping bag with down insulation, in a mummy shape, in an adult size. It should weigh less than three pounds, or even less than 2.5 pounds. Such a sleeping bag can be found for not much more than $100. As of this writing, a great deal is a Kelty Cosmic +20 F sleeping bag, for about $115. It weighs less than 3 pounds.
Another good buy as of this writing is an REI Mojave, for $146, rated at 15 degrees, and weighing less than 3 lbs. In the photo below, and Mojave has white sides, so it looks more narrow than it is.
Instead of this option, many Scout parents buy a bag rated to a much lower temperature, thinking they are doing the Scout a favor by providing him with extra ability to sleep warm in colder conditions. Actually that is not doing the Scout a favor, because a sleeping bag which is rated for 0°, for instance, can only be used in the winter season, and is much bulkier than a bag rated at 15°-25° . What the Scout needs for three seasons of hiking (in Idaho) is a bag rated at about from 15° - 25° or even 30°. My own down bag is rated at 30°, even though nights in the Idaho mountains often get down to the mid-20s. In those situations I put on other clothing to carry me through the night. A sleeping bag rated at 25° to 30° is advantageous for me as well as for the Scout because this keeps the sleeping bag light and makes it able to be stuffed into a smaller volume.
Other sleeping bags which the scout parent might buy could be slightly cheaper, but the new parent will soon find such bags to be totally inadequate. The bags to avoid will be sleeping bags which weigh more than 3 pounds, bags which use synthetic insulation, bags with a rectangular shape, bags made of flannel, camo colored, military bags, and bags which cannot be stuffed but must be rolled. The bag you buy should be stuffable into a stuff sack as big as a volley ball, or a small watermelon, or 6" x 14".
Types of Bags to Avoid:
Certain sources are good places to get a high-quality sleeping bags, and certain places are just about guaranteed to provide you with a bag you will be unhappy with. Stores such as REI, REI outlet (online), Idaho Mountain Touring, and GoLite are generally places to get good sleeping bags. Brands which are good values in sleeping bag include REI, North Face, Kelty, Mountain Hardware, Sierra Designs, Montbell, and Marmot. Top ranked bags include Western Mountaineering and Feathered Friends, but these are likely out of the price range for scouts, and other brands are almost as good and quite a bit cheaper.
Stores which I guarantee you will sell you a bag you will not be happy with are Cabella’s, Sports Authority, Sportsman’s Warehouse, Walmart, Costco, and Army Navy Surplus. Brands to avoid include brands such as SlumberJack, Coleman, Cabella’s, and Camp Trails.
The best way to pick up good value in sleeping bags is to buy them on sale, buy them at the REI garage sales, or in certain cases used bags through eBay or craigslist.com if you know what you're buying. If in doubt about a bag on ebay or craigslist, email one of the Troop 100 Assistant Scoutmaster who do a lot of backpacking.
The REI garage sales are particularly promising but you still have to know the brands of bags that you want to look at, and you have to check the temperature ratings of the bags that you find. The REI garage sales are for REI members only, and it is worth buying the $15 membership just to go to the garage sales. In the garage sales items which have been returned from customers are resold at 50% or more discount. Often they have been returned because they have a hole in them or some other minor defect. A hole in a down bag is inevitable in the life of the bag, and can easily be fixed with duct tape, or a special tape for rip stop nylon, which is very similar to scotch tape.
Golite has great values and have an online outlet as well as a local store. The online Golite store is at www.golite.com, and a “clearance closet” with especially good deals is at http://www.golite.com/Clearance.aspx.
Another piece of gear to think about getting for your Scout is a backpack. One option to try before you buy your Scout a backpack is to borrow one of the troop’s backpacks. We have several very small external frame backpacks which are a good fit for young Scouts including 11 year olds.
In the world of backpacks, there are internal frame packs and external frame packs. The external frame packs are an older style of pack and they are somewhat out of style, but they are very functional to have advantages over internal frame packs. An advantage of external frame packs is that bulky items can be lashed to the outside of these packs. Therefore if the Scout’s sleeping bag, sleeping pad, or any other piece of equipment are large and bulky or just can’t fit inside the pack, they can be lashed to the outside of an external frame pack. Of course the scouts will see that the older scouts have internal frame packs, and they will want an internal frame pack. I would encourage you to have your Scout go on a few Scout trips with a borrowed external frame pack from the troop until he gets gear which will fit in an internal frame pack.
It’s just about inevitable that your Scout will start with a small size pack, and in a few years he will need a medium-size pack, and then in another year or two he will need an adult size pack. My suggestion is to use a small external frame pack first, and the troop has a few that are available for loan.
Next get a medium sized internal frame pack, and next get an adult size internal frame pack. With packs what is important it that his pack fits his frame.
In sizing a backpack it does not matter how long his legs are. The size of the pack is determined by the distance between his shoulders and his hip bones. When the shoulder straps are tightened to fit on the Scouts shoulders, the waist belt of the pack should rest above his hip bones, so that when the waist belt is tightened he can take some of the weight off his shoulders.
The next major piece of equipment is boots. Unfortunately, the scout years are years when a youth’s feet are growing pretty fast. I would recommend not buying a good pair of above-the-ankle hiking boots during these years. The Scout doesn’t weigh much, and therefore needs less ankle support than a larger person. A lot of running or walking shoes will serve for hiking in these years.
The REI garage sale has lots and lots of lightly used boots and shoes for sale, and it would be worth while to check those out for youth hiking boots.
After boots, the next urgent thing to buy is appropriate clothing, including rain gear. Hiking and backpacking clothing has a common theme, and that is NO COTTON. Wet cotton dries very slowly if at all, and it sucks the heat out of the wearer. Loss of body heat is what people lost in the mountains die of, and cotton clothing is a great contributor to that statistic. The clothing that is needed is listed below.
1. Long pants: Zip off legs preferred, must be nylon. Scout pants are good
2. Long sleeve shirt: Must be nylon, I like button up shirts, Erik likes the REI Sahara when it is on sale. REI, Savers, Sports Authority
3. (2) T shirts: Nylon, troop 100 also has abunch of hiking shirts downstairs for $20. Savers, Sports Authority, soccer shirt, Underarmour
4. (2 pr) underwear: Nylon preferred, REI
5. Sun hat: Baseball type, or some prefer a broad brimmed vented synthetic hat that rests gently on the head
6. Fleece hat for warmth: It gets cold at night, and a fleece hat worn at night extends the comfort range of a sleeping bag
7. Fleece pullover: Or a down sweater. Savers, REI, Idaho Mtn Touring
8. Light fleece gloves
9. (2 pr) wool blend socks: Wool blend, Costco has the best deal on merino wool socks. 4 pair for $11; REI charges that much for just one pair; unfortunately they only carry them Oct- JanREI, IMT, Costco, 6 Point online
10. Rain Coat: This should be unlined, not a ski coat, totally waterproof, have a hood, cover the butt, have pockets, and should stuff into a sack the size of a large coffee cup. This is likely to cost $100. A cheaper alternative is a coated nylon one. It should be loose enough to cover the fleece pullover or down sweater
11. Camp shoes: Crocs, flip flops, Teva, Keens
Surprisingly, that is all the clothes a scout should ever have on a backpack. Anything added to that list is just adding weight to his pack. On a cold night he will be wearing all of that gear. On a longer backpack he can wash a set of socks, underwear and t shirt every day, and hang if off the pack to dry. Washing is by swishing in soap and water in a zip lock bag, but really scouts are rarely interested in changing clothes, much less washing clothes.
This is another absolutely necessary piece of gear, right up there with clothing and sleeping bag. However, the scout doesn’t need an expensive piece for this pad. A $5 blue foam pad from Walmart is sufficient. A scout only weighs 80 pounds, so he doesn’t need the thickness of padding that an adult needs. A foam pad is fine until he does enough backpacking that he knows he will continue it, and can justify the expense of a deluxe pad.
When he is ready for a nicer pad, a Big Agnes Air Core inflatable one is a great one for $80, or the deluxe one right now is the NeoAire by Thermarest. Those cost $150 full price, but can sometimes be found at REI garage sales for less than $40. Those often have holes in them, which can be easily patched.
My, how new scouts love those metal mess kits! What he should have is simple: a plastic cup, a plastic bowl, and a plastic spoon. Mark the cup with indicators for portions of a cup, and make it a measuring cup. For a water container, a bottled water plastic bottle is best, or something like a GatorAid bottle. Nalgene bottles are durable, but heavier than something like a pop bottle.
Don’t get these for your Scout: mess kit, utensil kit, metal cup:
Scouts love big knives, but a smallish lockback is the safest and most versatile. The tiny Swiss Army Classic is also good, because it has scissors. A big survival knife is totally not needed on any backpack. All a scout will use a knife for is to open food containers, or maybe to clean a fish.
The smaller the flashlight, the better. All one needs is enough light to find a piece of gear in the pack or tent, or find your way along a dark trail. An LED flashlight that takes one AAA battery is perfect for the task, and highly recommended. If there is a possibility of hiking at night, an LED headlamp is recommended. I love my Petzl Zipka, shown below, which uses 3 AAA batteries. A photon LED light would also work, as long as the battery is strong. Some of those tiny lights make it difficult to change the battery. An LED hat is a good option for scouts to try.
First Aid Items:
Each scout should have basic first aid gear, especially articles for treating blisters and small scrapes and cuts. The items listed below are from the BSA Handbook, pg 289
Moleskin, 3”x 6”
2 sterile gauze pads, 3”x3”
Small (1/2 motel size) bar of soap
small roll of adhesive tape
small tube antiseptic
pencil and paper
Packs may need to be outside the tent overnight, and might be subjected to rain. They also might be worn while hiking during rain. Being able to cover the packs for rain protection is thus essential. A purpose made sylnylon rain cover is one way to accomplish this, or a large garbage bag also works.
Personal Hygiene Kit
Tooth paste (baking soda preferred because it doesn't have a scent to attract bears)
Wet Wipes Disposable Facecloth, pack of 12
Hand sanitizer, sample size bottle
Toilet paper in zip lock bag
Camp Soap, liquid. in small container, for washing clothes and bathing
Small mirror for signalling
Fire starting steel
Head net for bugs in summer months
A scout who is excited about backpacking might want to get his own tent so that he can feel like he is one of the big boys and has his own gear. The troop provides tents, so buying a scout tent is really not necessary. He does not need a tent until he is going on non-scouting backpacks with his friends. When you do decide to buy the scout a tent, he should buy one which is as lightweight as possible and which fits two people. Having a two-man tent is much more practical than having a one man tent or a bivvy sack. If he buys a two-man tent he should try to get one that weighs less than 3 pounds. In many current designs of tents, lightness of weight is achieved by having a low profile and by using a single wall made of Sylnylon fabric. Look at tents that are available on the tarptent.com website. These single wall tents have floors, zip up mesh walls to keep bugs out, and do fine in rain, wind, and light snow. Generally, these tents are no more expensive than larger and heavier tents.
Good brands of tents to buy include Tarptent, REI, Mountain Hardware, North face, GoLite, and MSR.
This could be one of the last pieces of gear the scout buys, because the troop has stoves that scouts can use. For adults I would recommend a Caldera Cone alcohol stove, but for scouts I would recommend a Giga Power canister stove, or the old standby the MSR Pocket Rocket. If the food plan is to just boil water, the JetBoil is fast and fuel efficient.
The troop supplies water filters, so this is another piece of gear the purchase of which can be delayed. When it is time to buy one, a PUR type filter works fine.
Places to look for deals on backpacking gear include:
Backpackinglight.com gear swap
Sport Chalet (find deals via Google search for Brand and model)
Sierra Trading Post
Dept of Goods
use rebate sites too (mr rebates, etc)
use coupons (retail-me-not, etc)
Golite model yr clearance around Dec-Jan