It is that time of the year when we share our knowledge of camping with those youngsters that are preparing to cross over into our troops. For many of them, their camping experience has been family camping and not straying to far from the car.
For those scouts that will be entering backpacking style troops, or even those that are looking for gear that will last and work in different camping situations, we offer a bit of advice.
Lately, I have been asked by several Cub Scout Packs to come and pay them a visit to talk about camping gear. I know that for some, this discussion can become overwhelming, especially once we start talking about the cost.
We focus on the Big Three. This is the Shelter, the Sleep system, and the Backpack.
The big 3 is where most of the money is spent and where most of the money should be spent. Going cheap with the big 3 will cost you more in the long run. It is better to buy quality gear than cheap gear that needs to be replaced over and over.
Notice I did not say tent. The shelter could be a Bivy, a tarp, or a tent. Complicated for a new Scout? Not really. They just need to see the differences and pluses and minus’ of the gear.
First, what kind of camping do you do? Are you looking to keep your pack light? Do you live in an area that you need to worry a lot about bugs. Tents do not keep you warm, they keep you out of the elements, that in turn will retain the heat you produce along with your sleep system. So a tarp or bivy may be a great option for you.
When it comes to tents, make sure that you look at three things.
1. The rain fly. It needs to extend beyond the sewn floor seam. Look at the number of tie outs the rain fly has. This will make a huge difference in the winter or extreme weather conditions.
2. The Floor. Look a the floor and make sure you see a seam that extends up the wall of the tent. This is called a bath tub floor. This is an important feature for heavy rains and snow.
3. Vents and Vestibule. You will want a tent that is well ventilated. This will reduce the amount of condensation you have inside you tent. The vestibule is important to storage and space to remove wet or dirty clothing and boots. It is also a place that you can keep your pack and even cook in a pinch.
The Sleep System.
Again, note I did not just say sleeping bag. First rule, if your bag has Ducks or Sponge Bob in it.. it is not a good backpacking sleeping bag.
The sleep system is quiet possibly the most important gear in your pack. Without a good nights sleep you will not have a good camping experience. The sleep system is made up of the sleeping bag and the method of insulation.
There are essentially two types of sleeping bags. Down and Synthetic. Down is lighter and compacts tighter. When down gets wet though, it does not retain its insulation properties. Synthetic on the other, may be a bit heavier, but when wet will retain its insulation and keep you warm. Synthetics dry quickly also.
We recommend synthetic bags for our new Scouts. This way we know that in bad conditions they will remain safe and warm.
The sleeping pad, or insulation, is just as important as the bag itself. There are may options when it comes to pads for insulation.
Closed Cell Form (CCF). This is your most inexpensive option and had great benefits. CCF is great in the winter. While not the most comfortable, CCF pads work well and can be modified to meet the Scouts needs. It can be cut down to reduce weight and size. The extra can be cut to make a nice camp seat.
Air pads. There are different types of air-filled pads. Basically, insulated and no insulated. If you camp in the Northwest like I do, you need to have an insulated pad.
The air pads come in many shapes sizes and “R” values. It is best when shopping for a pad to lay it out and give it a test run in the store. The thicker the pad, the more comfortable, but also the more weight you will carry. Take those considerations into account when buying your pad.
Like sleeping pads, the backpack comes in many shapes, sizes, and styles. Essentially though when looking at a backpack you need to decide what style you are looking for, Internal Frame or External Frame. The difference, basically how the pack rides when packed. For the novice hiker, that has a lack of experience in packing his gear, the external frame pack will ride much better. Internal framed packs need a little more skill in packing, but the learning curve is not that steep. Modern packs are designed to give the hiker the best comfort while tailoring the load to meet the need of the outing.
We typically recommend that a 65 liter pack be the absolute maximum when looking at volume. The average Scout can get away with 55 to 60 liters. Personally, I do not carry anything bigger than 60 liters or 3950 cubic inches.
Keep in mind when buying a pack, what are you doing with it? The bigger the pack, the more you will put in it. Also think about how you load the pack. Lots of outside pockets are not always a great idea, while at times and with experience they can be a great feature on the pack. Simple is good.
Buying a pack should not be an off the shelf event. You need to shop around and do your homework. Try them on, load them up, walk with it. Try before you buy.
So, why the big three? This is the area that you are going to spend the most money on and it is also the three pieces of gear that will cost you the most weight. Try to keep the weight of the big 3 down to 9 pounds total. Think about total weight, you should be looking at 25% of the Scouts body weight. Keeping the big three down to 9 lbs is a good start at getting to that percentage.
When shopping for the big three, don’t rush. Do the research, ask lots of questions, see what others are using and make a sound choice. The big three should be those three pieces of gear that you keep the longest and will help you have the best backpacking or camping experience.
Have a Great Scouting Day!