What gear does a new Scout need?

Young boys bridging into Boy Scouts (and their parents) are sometimes overwhelmed with what Boy Scouts is all about. One of the major differences from Cubs is the amount of outdoor activities that occur in most Troops. But what do they need to purchase, or more importantly, what DON’T they need to purchase? I know that all Troops are different, but here is some information that we provide to our parents in Troop 945.

Gear Choices and Options

The right gear may mean the difference between a scout enjoying an outing and having a miserable time; and in extreme cases, may prevent a cold and/or wet outing from becoming a safety concern. Although buying camping gear can become very expensive, the idea of spending hundreds of dollars on gear for growing boys does not make a lot of sense. Let’s talk about basic gear options and also we will discuss what is not needed (i.e, what is provided by the troop). Also remember, these discussions are not meant to be requirements, we will not turn away any scout for a camping trip because he doesn’t have something mentioned below. The only time we would have concern with the Scouts equipment, which may result in a scout being turned away, is when we venture out into extreme conditions (hot, cold, wet) and they don’t pack properly (from a safety standpoint). Remember, Scouting is set up to provide the boys a safe place to fail (and therefore learn). Being outside in extreme weather without the right equipment may not be a safe place to fail.

Please remember one phrase: “Cotton is Rotten”. When cotton gets wet, either from the elements or from sweat, it literally sucks the heat from your body.

The first “level” of event that I want to talk about is Camping. These are the events where the troop drives to a location, parks, and then camps (in tents) right where the cars are. I call this CAR CAMPING.

What do the boys need for this type of trip? The big 3 are sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and clothes.

  1. Sleeping Bag – Nothing is worse when camping than not being warm when you are sleeping. I know the boys have sleeping bags that they have been taking to sleepovers for years, but those bags have three major problems in the scouting world. First, they are not warm enough for sleeping outside if the temperature drops below 50 degrees. Second, they are huge. Even rolled up, they are as big as 2 basketballs, and third, they are COTTON. When they get wet (and they will), they will not dry out and will suck the heat out of you. A down or synthetic mummy sleeping bag rated at 20 to 25 oF is a great investment for Scouts. It will come with a stuff sack that will size reduce the bag for transport. The great thing about this item is that they will not outgrow it. Sleeping bags like the ones described here can be purchased for less than $50.00.
  2. Sleeping Pad – No, not an inflatable mattress that needs power to blow up. A camping pad can be closed cell foam, self inflating, or one that needs to be manually blown up. In all cases they are small and light. Why do you need a pad? Good question. Besides comfort, a sleeping pad provides an insulating layer between you and the cold ground. Sleeping directly on the cold ground will pull the heat right out of you and your sleeping bag. Think of sitting directly on the metal bleachers during a football game. Once again, with this item, the boys will not outgrow it. Sleeping pads can cost as little as $15.00.
  3. Clothes – Obviously clothes cover a lot of specific items and are weather and temperature dependent. The purpose of this discussion is to provide a few general rules and options. Let’s start with the most important thing, “COTTON IS ROTTEN”. Does that mean that a cotton T-Shirt is a heath hazard and can never be worn, NO. But let’s talk about simple options that are not cotton t-shits, cotton sweatshirts, jeans, and white sweat socks. Instead, thing about wool and synthetic fabrics.

Bad Choice – Cotton T-Shirt.
Better Choice – Any t-shirt that is made of wool or polyester. Those under armour shirts that they have for soccer are great for camping. Looking for non name brand t-shirts like this will be less expensive.

Bad Choice – Sweatshirts
Better Choice – Fleece pullover. Fleece is 100% polyester, will keep you warm when wet, and will dry faster than cotton. Fleece pullovers or jackets are available for less than $30.

Bad Choice – Jeans
Better Choice – Scout pants. They are polyester, have extra pockets and you already own them.

Bad Choice – Cotton socks
Better Choice – Scout socks are a polyester/wool blend. Look around for socks that are not the white cotton socks.

Other – Gloves, hat, and a raincoat are must haves. For the gloves and hat, think fleece again. A cheap, light rain coat coupled with the fleece pullover will keep them warm under most conditions that we would be out in. Remember, layering is the key to staying warm in all conditions.

Besides the 3 listed above, what else do the boys need? Pocket knife, flashlight, water bottle and a Mess Kit. Make sure the flashlight is simple and durable (LED instead of bulb) and uses AA or AAA batteries (have them bring spares). We like water bottles over camelbak because they are easier to fill and know when they are near empty. Make sure the mess kit has a cup and fork.

Shoes – I know that shoes are expensive, and the idea of buying more shoes for growing boys seems crazy, but shoes are important. When camping or hiking, sneakers are not the best choice. They get wet and their bottoms are not designed for walking in the woods. On the other hand, hiking boots are not really needed either, unless you are carrying a heavy pack and the extra ankle support is nice. In the middle are hiking shoes. These are basically sneaker shaped shoes that have a more aggressive tread on the bottom. The last pair I bought for my Scout was on sale at Kohl’s and cost $9.00. The other nice thing about having this type of shoes is that you don’t have to worry about his school sneakers getting ruined on a scout trip. But remember, they must fit well and be comfortable. Also, a breaking in period may be needed; hiking a long distance is new shoes is not fun.

$9.00 was a rare find, however, with some effort and patience a pair of Gore-Tex™ shoes can be found for about $30.00.

Next let’s talk about what the boys DON’T NEED (i.e., what the troop provides). Cooking equipment and tents are the big items. Stoves are provided by the troop. We don’t want the boys bringing their own because it may result in safety issues. The troop has tents for the boys to use, although some of the older boys do bring their own tents, we would like to encourage the younger boys to use troop tents for two reasons. First, if they need help setting up the tent, the other boys know how to set up the troop tents. Second, we are not sure how your personal tent will perform in the rain. We have been on camping trips when a personal tent did not perform well in the rain and the boy was miserable.

Finally, what to pack all of this stuff in? I use a 20 gallon Rubbermaid container. It is light, waterproof, I can label it with my name, and can everything I need for the weekend in it.

The next “level” of camping I would like to talk about is where the boys are actually carrying their equipment (and the troops) from place to place, i.e., BACKPACKING. All of the discussion above about sleeping bags, pads, and clothes still applies, however a new piece of equipment needs to be added to the list, Backpack. Backpacks come in two main types, internal and external frames. Most today are internal frames. There are many, many backpack manufactures and pricing options and the boys will outgrow packs as they get older. The troop does more car camping then backpacking, so buying a pack may not be needed until the scouts get older. Good quality backpacks can be purchased for as little as $60.

The last “level” I would like to discuss is HIGH ADVENTURE. Backpacking high adventure trips and preparation for these trips involve long repeated hikes where the boys are carrying all of the needed equipment and food on their backs. The pinnacle backpacking trip of this magnitude is the 12 day trek at the Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico. These trips can cover between 50 and 120 miles of hiking where the boys carry all of their own gear. Troop 945 sends scouts (over 14 years old) on this trip every two years. This is where the equipment the boys have is very important. Also, the main difference in equipment for a trip like this is weight. Another general rule of camping equipment is, the less it weighs the more it costs. This type of trip is not required in scouting. Many eagle scouts have never been to Philmont. However, every scout I have talked to that has been to Philmont has loved it.


  1. www.scoutdirect.com – Site for quality entry level camping equipment. Their current sale has a sleeping bag, pad, and backpack for $95.00.
  2. www.campmor.com – General camping online superstore.
  3. www.llbean.com – Lots of clothing and camping options.
  4. www.rei.com – Company that has entry level and high end camping equipment.
  5. www.hudsontrail.com – Similar to REI.
  6. www.cabelas.com – Huge hunting/fishing store. Sells a lot of camping equipment and clothing.
  7. www.dickssportinggoods.com – Local store with camping equipment. Good shoe inventory.
  8. www.kohls.com – Shoes and clothing cheap.
  9. www.walmart.com – Wal-Mart has a great camping section. Great for flashlights, rain coats, shoes, fleece, and smaller stuff. Stay away from sleeping bags.

All of these web sites are great for searching for inexpensive equipment. Go to the camping sites and request catalogs.

One final request about camping gear. Whatever configuration and camping gear the boys end up taking on a trip, PLEASE DO NOT PACK THE GEAR FOR THEM!!! If they didn’t pack the gear before they left, they will not be able to pack it up Sunday morning to come home. Help them pack, encourage (or require) them to pack all of the right things, but let them do it. We want the boys to be independent when they are with us, please help them be independent when packing.


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