Christmas Gifts for Scouts

Christmas Gifts for Scouts

Good Scout gear will be used and appreciated for many years to come, especially if your son becomes a true outdoorsman.

For older Scouts and adults, buy real camping gear at Casual Adventure, R.E.I., Cabelas, and similar outfits. For younger Scouts, buy routine and light-duty camping gear at box stores like Dick’s, Target, and Wal-Mart.

For everything and anything: Put your son’s name and 111 on everything!

Headlamps: LED headlamps with an elastic head band offer very convenient hands-free operation, which is quite helpful when camping. Look for one that has a red light function, which preserves night vision. LED headlamps (andlashlights) have also come way down in price. You can find these at Lowe’s or Home Depot reasonably priced. Every Scout can use an LED headlight.

Lanterns: These are very useful in camping to light up the tent interior. Look for small to medium sized battery-powered LED lanterns. They provide good illumination, durability, and battery-life, especially in cold weather. A current model made by Dorcy uses 4 AA batteries and will easily last a week at camp.

Flashlights: Handheld flashlights are less useful but helpful in flashlight tag games. The handhelds also get put down somewhere and lost often. Look for small to moderately sized, brightly colored flashlights using LED bulbs. 300 lumens is more than adequate for personal use. Variable field (wide to a tight beam) is useful. Avoid dark colors (especially all- black models), and avoid large/heavy flashlights. If the flashlight is a dark color, put a couple of strips of white tape around it and have your Scout put his name and “111” on it.

Batteries: “Lithium” batteries are the best but the most expensive: “alkaline” will be OK. In any event, a Scout should bring spares. Save the expensive lithium ones for when your son is backpacking. Finally, batteries will leak given enough time. Your Scout should take them out of the lights when they are stored/not in use.

Sleeping Bags: There are basically two types of sleeping bags, divided by insulation type – down and synthetic. Down is by far the warmer option by weight (that is, a pound of down is much more insulating than a pound of virtually any synthetic fiber); however, it is far more expensive and loses all warmth when wet. We recommended down bags only for older Scouts who are responsible enough for their proper care. Most Scouts can use a synthetic insulation sleeping bag for nearly every Troop event. Unlike down bags, synthetic insulation bags still have some insulating value when wet, and can be machine washed, with care.

There are two key points: A) temperature rating; and B) length. The temperature rating is the lowest outside temperature that the bag can insulate against; for example, a 40 degree bag would be considered adequate for summer camp, a 25 degree bag for most spring and fall events, and a 0 degree bag for outdoor wintertime or very cold fall and spring events. A Scout, however, does not need 3 or 4 sleeping bags, either. It is possible to improve the rating of a higher temperature bag by adding a silk, fleece, or flannel liner to it (any of these usually decreases the temperature rating by about 10 degrees. These liners are also useful for use alone on very hot nights (that is, without a sleeping bag), and are also conveniently removed and washed (which greatly extends the life of the bag). Another option is to place one sleeping bag inside another, larger sleeping bag. This usually lowers the temperature rating by 20 to 30 degrees.

Length – Most sleeping bags come in a standard length, between 6 and 6.5 feet long. A few come in a “child’s size,” which is about 3/4 length. This would be an adequate size for many New Scouts; unfortunately, few quality bags come in this size so consider the liner option above. Most bags come packed in a waterproof or water-resistant nylon stuff bag. These usually are a little smaller than ideal and we recommend buying a somewhat larger stuff sack to make packing easier. Your Scout’s name and 111 should be marked on both the bag and the stuff sack.

Sleeping Pads: There are two types of sleeping pads – closed cell foam pads and inflatable pads. Foam pads consist of closed cell, semi-hard foam which is non-absorbent, and usually corrugated. They come in both roll-up and Z-fold styles – both work equally well. Thicker provides more insulation. They also come in various lengths; a 3/4 length is sufficient for a small Scout using a 3/4 length sleeping bag. Most Scouts and adults should get a full-size (six foot) version. Foam pads are relatively inexpensive and are fine to start your young Scout out.

Inflatable pads are semi-self-inflating air mattresses that contain expandable foam. Therm-a- rest is the original and there are now numerous generic versions of the same type pad. These are typically 3/4 – 1 1/2 inch thick, have a tough, non-skid surface, and like foam pads come in various lengths from 4.5 to 6.5 feet. No need to buy the expensive ultralight pads until your Scout is backpacking regularly. Follow the manufacturer instructions and store them inflated.

Inflatables are significantly more comfortable than foam pads but weigh more than foam pads and are expensive. Consider them for older Scouts who are doing a lot of camping. Your Scout should put his name and 111 on the end of that pad that is visible when rolled up and on the bag.

Pillows: Also for sleeping comfort, you can get a small compressible “backpacker’s pillow.” There are multiple sizes, just avoid all plastic that will slip at night.

Canteens: Scouts need at least one canteen, and up to four for backpacking. 1 liter Nalgene bottles are fine for most trips and summer camp. When your Scout is backpacking a lot, lighter wide mouth water bottles are light but hard to find. You’ll need at least two; four is better for backpacking Scouts.

Next up are camel-baks and their various generic equivalents. We don’t recommend them in large part because it is difficult for the Scout and the adult leaders to tell how much water the Scout has consumed and how much he has left. These are bladders with a tube for continuous access to water while backpacking, hiking, or cycling. Some come with a specially designed mini-day-pack to carry it. In addition, many backpackshave a built-in sleeve to accommodate a camel-bak.

Eating gear: A wide-brim plastic bowl or a plate with a deep rim is fine. Mess kits weigh a lot and take up space. Lexan polycarbonate utensils are most useful and better than metal untensils. These are very lightweight and nearly unbreakable. Avoid “sporks.” We recommend a double-wall polycarbonate cup. They will retain heat in cold weather and are fine year ‘round.

Compass: Get the simplest possible standard model: f lat, transparent plastic base with a rotating liquid filled compass. About $10-$15. A deluxe model would be appropriate for an older Scout who is becoming heavily involved in orienteering.

Knives: Locking blades are mandatory. For younger Scouts, a small folding, lock-blade knife with a blade length of 3 inches or less (less than $15) is the safest model and all he’ll ever need in Scouting. Although popular, avoid Swiss Army knives with multiple blades/tools. They are expensive and heavy.

For an older Scout, we recommend a Buck, Gerber or similar quality folding lock-blade with a 3.5 to 4 inch blade (typically $45 –$90). It can last a lifetime. If possible, get knives with brightly colored handles, and mark your son’s name on it with an indelible pen.

A related item of interest is the popular “Leatherman” tools. Fairly expensive and recommended for older Scouts (15 and above) who are developing into true outdoorsmen.

Winter/ColdWeather Clothing: Layering is the key. A heavy coat is too hot when the Scout is active and useless when it’s off. The base should be a synthetic “wicking” thermal underwear next to the skin, a fleece, wool, or similar long sleeve shirt, then a fleece vest or jacket over all for warmth, followed by a medium weight waterproof/ windproof jacket.

Gloves: Thick gloves and mittens get taken off. In most cases, a thin pair of “modern insulation” gloves (Gore-Tex/Thinsulate) that are waterproof will be fine. In the coldest weather, larger gloves or mittens can go over them.

Thermal Underwear: Avoid any type of cotton or flannel thermal underwear; instead, get silk (the best, but priciest option) or one of the “wicking” style synthetics (polypropylene, Capilene, fleece, etc.) – all more expensive than traditional thermal underwear, but also all much more effective. The synthetics come in light, medium, and heavy weight versions.

Socks: This is another item with a wide, almost bewildering array of options (some of which have outlandish claims as to their capabilities). Properly fitting boots are more important than socks. The “classic” arrangement for cold weather activities is a “wicking” polypropylene sock liner next to the skin and a thicker 50/50 synthetic/wool blend over that for comfort (cushioning) and absorption of sweat. A recent product are Injinji “toe socks,” which fit on a foot the way gloves fit on a hand. These do a remarkable job in preventing blisters, and are an excellent purchase for any Scout who suffers from blisters even though he has properly fitting boots. We recommend Smart-Wool socks, which are both comfortable and warm. Smart-Wool over Injinji socks is an excellent combination for most winter activities.

Another useful item for wintertime sleeping is a pair of loosely fitting, thick rag-wool socks or down-filled “booties.” These are particularly useful for Scouts who “sleep cold.”

Hats and Caps: Go for wool/synthetic blend knit pullovers. We recommend against full face mask head covers. A good woolen or synthetic scarf is a more effective and versatile accessory to your typical winter outerwear (a fleece headband will also work as a neck scarf, though not as effectively). The thin ski “face-mask” is a very popular item, and also works in camping scenarios.

Finally, for really cold campouts or events, especially if a brisk wind is blowing, a pair of ski goggles can be a real life-saver.

Summer/Warm Weather Clothing: Synthetic or synthetic blend hiking shorts, T-Shirts, summer-weight long-sleeve shirts, long pants, wind-suits or rain-gear, hats, sun-visors, summer weight sleeping bags, etc., are all useful.

Backpacks: This is a classic Scout item, but one that should only be purchased when actually needed. Your Scout should ask for some recommendations, which will depend on the Scout’s ambitions and planned use. Make sure the store can measure and fit your Scout. A young Scout will outgrow a small pack that is properly fitted. We recommend holding off on this item until your Scout is ready for backpacking trips. If you are considering buying one now, the following may be helpful.

The primary dividing line is that between external and internal frame packs. External frame packs are the traditional type. High-end versions are currently produced by only a few companies (Kelty and Jansport are the two primary companies in this specialty), but low quality generics still abound. The high-end models are adjustable to fit the Scout, have quality hipbelts and shoulder straps, provide easy options for strapping on sleeping bags, tents, and similar gear to the frame, and typically have multiple compartment bags that offer good options for gear organization. A typical size for an older Scout is 5000 cubic inches.

Internal frame packs are now much more popular (and more expensive), and are offered by many different companies. When properly fitted, they are considered to be much more comfortable, especially when carrying heavy loads. They may have fewer compartments, and can be challenging to keep organized. For these reasons, they may not be right for younger Scouts. An internal frame pack must be properly sized for the Scout’s torso length so fitting is essential. A must-have option for all backpacks is a rain- proof pack cover that is large enough to cover both the full pack and any gear strapped to it.

Boots: It is not necessary to purchase high-end boots for young Scouts. That can wait until the Scout is ready for High Adventures. Proper fit is the most critical aspect of boot purchases. Bring and wear thick hiking socks and liners when boot shopping. Try different brands and stores and you’ll find a good fit. Waterproof (Gore-tex or similar lining) is desirable; decent tread and adequate ankle support are more important.

Hiking Poles: Older Scouts and adults can use a pair of adjustable hiking poles. Options include 18-24 inches of length adjustment, shock absorbing capabilities, carbon-fiber or similar high-tech shafts, indestructible titanium tips, and “hand-friendly” grips. The average Scout doesn’t need more than a standard set, typically running about $50 and then only for backpacking trips.

Books and Magazines: The Scout “Field Guide” (the one with the green cover) is a great complement to the Scout Handbook—Scout Shop, about $15. The Scout Shop also has a good library of additional books which may catch your son’s eye, but you’ll generally do just as well looking in the “outdoors” section of the local camping outlets for practical books like “How to Stay Alive in the Woods,” or “Supermarket Backpacker,” etc. Books on mountain biking, rock climbing/rapelling, caving, skiing, SCUBA-diving, or other Scout-like activities also tend to go over pretty well if your son enjoyed these programs with the Troop. With respect to magazines, there are two decent general magazines that are appropriate for older Scouts – Backpacking and Outside. Of the two, Backpacking is currently the better option.

Merry Christmas!

[2018 Revision of 1997 Original]

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