The BSA is really good at teaching people how to Be Prepared and Leave No Trace while enjoying the outdoors. It is our responsibility to use that learning to know what to bring, acquire what to bring, and then actually bring it.
For those of you who own some of this stuff, this is a great opportunity to hand stuff down to your kid and get yourself something nicer. These can also make great holiday/birthday gifts. 😉
NOTE: Your kid is a kid. Surrounded by other kids. Sometimes kids are dumb. Stuff is going to get lost. Broken. Modified in ways you never really thought was logical. It happens. Get the cheaper kind, or the good kind at a thrift store, and send NOTHING of sentimental value.
Ten Essentials List
Filled Water Bottle (1L translucent Nalgene-style)
First Aid Kit
Sun Protection (hat + sunscreen)
Light (with fresh batteries) – Flashlight or Headlamp
Signal Devices (cubs bring a whistle; scouts add a signal mirror too)
Navigation/Map and Compass
Pocketknife (Totin’ Chip required)
Fire Starter (Firem’n Chit required)
Rain Gear – supplements dressing in non-cotton layers for the conditions
Details About the Essentials and Where to Get Them
The first six items are the Cub Scout Six Essentials. Scouts carry ten.
For those of you who don’t yet have your essentials or a way to carry them, here is a shopping list. 🙂
Note: Thrift shops are great places to look for a lot of gear; discount stores are great places to get gear that will work and that won’t be a hardship when things get lost/broken/outgrown.
DO NOT buy expensive gear.
A small backpack can carry all of your essential items easily. It does not need to be expensive, but a backpack with comfortable straps (sternum strap and waist strap are particularly helpful) is much easier to carry long distances than a drawstring bag. While a hydration backpack is a great idea, please keep in mind it is easier for leaders on scout trips to monitor whether your scout is drinking enough water if your scout uses a translucent 1L nalgene-style water bottle, rather than the bladder hidden inside the pack.
- Target, Big Five Sports, Scout Shop, bike shops, outdoor stores, etc. all sell small backpacks
Filled translucent hard plastic water bottle, 1L Nalgene-style or similar. You might want to have two of these for particularly long hikes or hot weather.
- Target, Big Five Sports, and most outdoor stores sell Nalgene-style water bottles; Summer Camp nalgenes are great souvenirs.
Trail Food takes many forms. You might consider more energy-dense and protein-dense options if you’re going to exert yourself. A nut-protein bar has more energy and protein than a rice crispy treat. Reusable containers create less trash, and always pack out your wrappers, even orange peels (which take FOREVER to degrade; even organic trash needs to be packed out).
- Most grocery stores & warehouse stores sell granola bars, nuts and dried fruit trail mixes, etc. Frozen grapes are a particularly nice additional snack on a hot day, and can ride along in your water if you like.
First Aid Kits need to cover most typical scenarios (cuts, scrapes, etc). Many first aid kits include medicine.
A parent’s signature on your medical form gives leaders permission to to administer medicine; please ensure a paper copy of your Annual Health and Medical Record (medical form) is turned in to your scoutmaster, to be kept together and brought along on all scout trips. Any necessary medication (epi-pen, inhaler) should be kept in your first aid kit if there is any chance you might need it while on the trip. You might even include a copy of your medical form in your first aid kit if you have any medical sensitivities.
- Amazon, REI, Big Five Sports, Scout Shop, etc. have really good, complete outdoor-oriented, compact first aid kits aimed at hiking. Target has all of the components to update a first aid kit, but the sum of the parts is usually more expensive than just buying a good kit. Plus the outdoor-oriented ones pack down smaller than most.
- Adventure Medical and HART Outdoor are great brands for a comprehensive kit.
Sun Protection is a hat and sunscreen, and sometimes long sleeves. A wide-brimmed hat is more protective than a ballcap; be sure to apply sunscreen on the tops of your ears if your hat doesn’t cover them. Sunscreen should be at least SPF 30 or better and re-applied often. Cloth doesn’t need to be reapplied, so consider long-sleeved shirts or sun sleeves for your arms. Sunscreen sticks are really good for just covering your face, and take up minimal space in your backpack. Those with particular tendency to burn might consider applying layers of both physical and chemical sunscreens.
- ThinkSport cream and Neutrogena Wet Skin Kids stick are two quality brands that provide broad spectrum coverage, apply well, and have good or minimal smell.
- Gardening stores have great sun hats (SunDay Afternoons is a good hat brand) and sun sleeves; outdoor stores have hats and also cooling, sun-protective clothing (Columbia calls their cooling fabric Omni-Freeze Zero, Uniqlo calls theirs Airism).
Lights come in many forms, but headlamps aimed down at the ground leave your hands free. A light with a red lamp option is less likely to blind others around you, and is also better at preserving your eyes’ natural night vision. Fresh batteries are highly recommended.
- Target, Big Five Sports, bike shops, outdoor stores, etc. all sell headlamps and small LED flashlights.
Signal Devices are frequently bundled in with other gear. Paracord bracelet kits sometimes include a compass and whistle option. Many compasses include a signal mirror. I pack signal devices in my first aid kit.
- Try to combine signal devices with some other essential component; whistles are frequently available as little kids’ birthday party favors, too.
Maps are frequently an app on a phone for most hikes. AllTrails has a free version of their app that can give you an idea of where you are, and help establish that you are, indeed, on the right trail. If you are going somewhere without cellular service, you can print off free topographical maps from the United States Geological Survey. For most scouting day hikes, the leader has the map, and your job is to keep the group together. That said, it’s not a bad thing to also have the trail pulled up on your phone and also stick with the group. If your phone battery is old and likely to die, a backup battery bank is a good idea if you just don’t want to deal with printing off a paper map.
- Consider printing off a paper map before you leave home, to supplement your phone.
Compasses are much more useful if you know how to use them. Carrying one can help you stay oriented if you get lost. Learn how to use a compass; Orienteering is a really fun way to do that. The first aid kit is a great place to carry a compass that also has a signal mirror.
- Most outdoor stores are great places to buy a compass.
Pocketknives come in many forms. Scouts must earn their Totin’ Chip to carry one. A fixed-blade knife is a safer knife, but it only has one blade. A multi-tool folds, so you have to be more careful with it, but it has more tools. Be sure to buy a reputable brand that uses good steel that stays sharp; a sharp knife is safer than a dull knife.
- Most outdoor stores, Scout Shop, knife shops, Amazon, etc. are great places to buy a good quality knife after a scout has earned their Totin’ Chip.
Fire Starters come in many forms. Scouts must earn their Firem’n Chit to use them. Matches kept in a waterproof container, flint and steel, a 9v battery and a gum wrapper, magnifying glass are some of the many options you can carry with you.
- Any grocery store carries matches; wrap in a tiny plastic ziplock bag and store in the first aid kit, after a scout has earned their Firem’n Chit.
Rain Gear takes many forms. It should supplement dressing appropriately for the conditions. The basic jacket you have with you is better than the super-nice one you left at home. A basic poncho works, though if the wind blows sideways your lower half won’t stay dry. Red Ledge makes an inexpensive, decent quality, somewhat breathable rain jacket and rain pant that each packs down into its own pocket. Frogg Toggs is another inexpensive option. Monitor your rain gear to make sure that the liner has not dried out, and it is still waterproof. That said, a leaky rain jacket is better than no rain jacket.
Rain Gear also protects against sudden increases in wind and sudden drops in temperature. It can mean the difference between a pleasant hike in bad weather versus a case of hypothermia accompanied by a miserable march back to camp over rough terrain.
- Amazon, Walmart, online outdoor stores sell Red Ledge; a good price per piece is $20-25. The Scout Shop sells Frogg Toggs Driducks, starting at $20.
BONUS ESSENTIAL: Dress appropriately, in layers, for the conditions. NO cotton.
You don’t need hiking boots for most hikes (regular athletic shoes work well), but keep the additional support in mind when you start hauling a pack. And don’t break in a new pair of boots on a long backpacking trek. Synthetic moleskin in your first aid kit and a scissors on your pocketknife are really good foot care. As soon as you feel a hot spot on your foot that could become a blister, get some moleskin on that spot RIGHT AWAY.
Your Head and Feet are a Chimney – wear a hat and wool or heavy synthetic socks
Wicking Layer – synthetic layer that removes moisture from the skin: soccer shirts, athletic shirts, jerseys, track pants, yoga pants, cycling tights, etc.
Insulating Layer – fleece, synthetic fluffy fabrics, puffy layer that has air pockets that trap heat: fleece shirts/jackets, chenille sweater, puffy coat (synthetic is better if it gets wet), etc.
Water/Wind Blocking Layer – rain jackets and rain pants are great for this
Gloves – carry light gloves in your jacket pockets if the weather is expected to be chilly
Sun Protection – see Sun Protection above
Light colors – dark colors absorb heat, light colors reflect heat
Cooling fabrics – see Sun Protection above
Loose, breathable clothing – tight clothing makes it hard to get airflow to help your sweat evaporate
Cover your skin from the sun – see Sun Protection above, plus light, breathable pants, thin, breathable neck gaiter; sunburn makes it harder to regulate your body temperature