Adventure Skills


Maps & Map Reading

A map is a two-dimensional representation of the three-dimensional world.

All maps will have some basic features in common and map reading is all about learning to understand their particular “language.” You’ll end up using a variety of maps to plan and run your trip but perhaps the most useful map is a topographic map. A topographic map uses markings such as contour lines to simulate the three-dimensional topography of the land on a two-dimensional map. In the U.S. these maps are usually U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) maps. Other maps that you’ll find helpful are local trail maps which often have more accurate and up-to-date information on specific trails than USGS maps do. Here’s a brief overview of the basic language of maps.

Latitude and Longitude

Maps are drawn based on latitude and longitude lines. Latitude lines run east and west and measure the distance in degrees north or south from the equator (0° latitude). Longitude lines run north and south intersecting at the geographic poles. Longitude lines measure the distance in degrees east and west from the prime meridian that runs through Greenwich, England. The grid created by latitude and longitude lines allows us to calculate an exact point using these lines as X axis and Y axis coordinates.

Both latitude and longitude are measured in degrees (°).

1° = 60 minutes
1 minute = 60 seconds


7 ½ minutes = 1/8 of 60 minutes = 1/8 of a degree
15 minutes = ¼ of 60 minutes = ¼ of a degree


All maps will list their scales in the margin or legend. A scale of 1:250,000 (be it inches, feet, or meters) means that 1 unit on the map is the equivalent of 250,000 units in the real world. So 1 inch measured on the map would be the equivalent of 250,000 inches in the real world. Most USGS maps are either 1:24,000, also known as 7 ½ minute maps, or 1:62,500, known as 15-minute maps (the USGS is no longer issuing 15 minute maps although the maps will remain in print for some time).

Standard topographic maps are usually published in 7.5-minute quadrangles. The map location is given by the latitude and longitude of the southeast (lower right) corner of the quadrangle. The date of the map is shown in the column following the map name; a second date indicates the latest revision. Photo-revised maps have not been field checked.

Map Symbols and Colors:

USGS topographic maps use the following symbols and colors to designate different features

  • Black – man-made features such as roads, buildings, etc.
  • Blue – water, lakes, rivers, streams, etc.
  • Brown – contour lines
  • Green – areas with substantial vegetation (could be forest, scrub, etc.)
  • White – areas with little or no vegetation; white is also used to depict permanent snowfields and glaciers
  • Red – major highways; boundaries of public land areas
  • Purple – features added to the map since the original survey. These features are based on aerial photographs but have not been checked on land.

Map Legend


The map legend contains a number of important details. The figures below display a standard USGS map legend. In addition, a USGS map includes latitude and longitude as well as the names of the adjacent maps (depicted on the top, bottom, left side, right side and the four corners of the map). The major features on the map legend are show below.

  1. Map Name
  2. Year of Production and Revision
  3. General Location in State
  4. Next Adjacent Quadrangle Map
  5. Map Scale
  6. Distance Scale
  7. Contour Interval
  8. Magnetic Declination
  9. Latitude and Longitude

Contour Lines

Contour lines are a method of depicting the 3-dimensional character of the terrain on a 2-dimensional map. Just like isobars in the atmosphere depict lines of equal atmospheric pressure, contour lines drawn on the map represent equal points of height above sea level.

Look at the three-dimensional drawing of the mountain below. Imagine that it is an island at low tide. Draw a line all around the island at the low tide level. Three hours later, as the tide has risen, draw another line at the water level and again three hours later. You will have created three contour lines each with a different height above sea level. As you see below, the three-dimensional shape of the mountain is mapped by calculating lines of equal elevation and then transferring the lines onto the map.

On multi-colored maps, contour lines are generally represented in brown. The map legend will indicate the contour interval-the distance in feet (meters, etc.) between each contour line. There will be heavier contour lines every 4th or 5th contour line that are labeled with the height above sea level. The images below illustrate how a variety of surface features can be identified from contour lines.


  • Steep slopes – contours are closely spaced
  • Gentle slopes – contours are less closely spaced
  • Valleys – contours form a V-shape pointing up the hill – these V’s are always an indication of a drainage path which could also be a stream or river.
  • Ridges – contours form a V-shape pointing down the hill
  • Summits – contours forming circles
  • Depressions – are indicated by circular contour with lines radiating to the center

Measuring Distances

There are a number of ways to measure distance accurately on a map. One is to use a piece of string or flexible wire to trace the intended route. After tracing out your route, pull the string straight and measure it against the scale line in the map legend. Another method is to use a compass (the mathematical kind) set to a narrow distance on the map scale like ½ mile and then “walk off” your route. It is a good idea to be conservative and add 5-10% of the total distance to take into account things like switchbacks that don’t appear on the map. It’s better to anticipate a longer route than a shorter one.

Using the Compass

The compass consists of a magnetized metal needle that floats on a pivot point. The needle orients to the magnetic field lines of the earth. The basic orienteering compass is composed of the following parts:

  • Base plate
  • Straight edge and ruler
  • Direction of travel arrow
  • Compass housing with 360° markings
  • North label
  • Index line
  • Orienting arrow
  • Magnetic needle (north end is red)

What is North?

No, this is not a silly question; there are two types of north.

True North: (also known as Geographic North or Map North – marked as H on a topographic map) is the geographic North Pole where all longitude lines meet. All maps are laid out with true north directly at the top. Unfortunately for the wilderness traveler, true north is not at the same point on the earth as the magnetic north Pole which is where your compass points.

Magnetic North: Think of the earth as a giant magnet (it is actually). The shape of the earth’s magnetic field is roughly the same shape as the field of a bar magnet. However, the earth’s magnetic field is inclined at about 11° from the axis of rotation of the earth, so this means that the earth’s magnetic pole doesn’t correspond to the Geographic North Pole and because the earth’s core is molten, the magnetic field is always shifting slightly. The red end of your compass needle is magnetized and wherever you are, the earth’s magnetic field causes the needle to rotate until it lies in the same direction as the earth’s magnetic field. This is magnetic north (marked as MN on a topographic map). If you locate yourself at any point in the U.S., your compass will orient itself parallel to the lines of magnetic force in that area.



You can see that location makes a great deal of difference in where the compass points. The angular difference between true north and magnetic north is known as the declination and is marked in degrees on your map. Depending on where you are, the angle between true north and magnetic north is different. In the U.S., the angle of declination varies from about 20° west in Maine to about 21° east in Washington. The magnetic field lines of the earth are constantly changing, moving slowly westward (½ to 1° every five years). This is why it is important to have a recent map. An old map will show a declination that is no longer accurate, and all your calculations using that declination angle will be incorrect. As you will see, understanding this distinction becomes important when navigating with a map and a compass.

Buy Your Compass for the Right Area:

As well as the magnetic deviation east or west, compasses also show a vertical “dip” up and down. This dip varies in different parts of the world and compasses are specially calibrated for that dip. So you can’t take a compass made for North America and use it in South America and get accurate readings.

Which North to Use

So we have two types of north to contend with. When you look at your map, it is drawn in relation to true north; when you look at your compass, it points to magnetic north. To make the map and compass work together you must decide on one North as your point of reference and base all your calculations on that. As you can see the following chart, failure to take declination into account can put you way off target.

Using Map and Compass

Even after years of using a map and compass I could never remember how to correct for declination. Do I add declination or subtract it? What if I’m out west versus in the east? While navigating through dense fog on a sea kayaking trip, I finally came up with an easy way to remember. As long as you remember the basic principles, you can easily work it out in your head.

What’s your Map Declination?

The first thing you need to know is where you are in relation to magnetic north. You can find this information by looking on your map legend. If you look at the map of North America in below you will see the line roughly marking 0° declination. If you are on the line where the declination is 0°, then you don’t have to worry about any of this, since magnetic north and map north are equivalent. (Wouldn’t it be nice if all your trips were on the 0° of declination line?) If you are to the right of that line, your compass will point toward the line (to the left) and hence the declination is to the west. If you are to the left of the line, your compass will point toward the line (to the right) and hence the declination is to the east.


The compass is used primarily to take bearings. A bearing is a horizontal angle measured clockwise from north (either magnetic north or true north) to some point (either a point on a map or a point in the real world). Bearings are used to accurately travel to a destination or to locate your position. If you are working from your map, it is called a map bearing and the angle you are measuring is the angle measured clockwise from true north on your map to this other point on the map. If you are taking a bearing off a real point on the landscape with a compass, you are using your compass to measure the angle clockwise from magnetic north to this point on the landscape. This is called a magnetic bearing. Remember that the bearing is measured clockwise. If you think of true north as 12 o’clock then a bearing to the right of that (1 o’clock) is greater than true north and a bearing to the left of True north (11 o’clock) is less than true north.

Map Bearings & Magnetic Bearings:

If, you think about your map as an artist’s rendition of the world. It displays true north, but it doesn’t include magnetic fields as the real world does, so you need to make accommodations when going from your map to the real world. The real world doesn’t have a true north-it’s merely a construct of the map-so you have to make accommodations when going from the real world to your map.. The basic principle is this: to correct for declination, you want the map bearing and the magnetic bearing to be equivalent. If you are lucky enough to be on the line where the declination is 0°, both are already equivalent, or if you orient your map with your compass then you have made the two equivalent. Otherwise, you will need to make your own bearing corrections by adding or subtracting the declination amount. That gives us 4 possible permutations to work with:

  1. West Declination – Going from a Map Bearing to a Magnetic Bearing
  2. West Declination – Going from a Magnetic Bearing to a Map Bearing
  3. East Declination – Going from a Map Bearing to a Magnetic Bearing
  4. East Declination – Going from a Magnetic Bearing to a Map Bearing

West Declination:

If your declination is west, then magnetic north is less than true north and the map bearing is less than (<) the magnetic bearing. You need to make the two bearings equivalent by adding or subtracting the declination.

Map Bearing to Magnetic Bearing: If you are taking a bearing from one point on your map to another point on the map with respect to true north, then you are working with the map bearing. Now you want to figure out where your position is in the magnetic bearing. In order to transfer this information back to your magnetic bearing you need to add the declination to your map bearing to create the proper magnetic bearing. Map bearing + Declination = Magnetic Bearing.

Magnetic Bearing to Map Bearing: If you use your compass to take a bearing from your current position to a point on the landscape, then you are working with the magnetic bearing. Now you want to figure out where your position is on the map. In order to transfer this information back to your map you need to subtract the declination from your magnetic bearing compass bearing to create the proper map bearing. Magnetic Bearing – Declination = Map Bearing

East Declination:

If your declination is east then magnetic north is greater than true north the map bearing is greater than the magnetic bearing. You need to make the two worlds equivalent by adding or subtracting the declination.

Map Bearing to Magnetic Bearing: If you are taking a bearing from one point on your map to another point on the map with respect to true north, then you are working with the map bearing. Now you want to figure out where your position is in the magnetic bearing. In order to transfer this information back to your magnetic bearing you need to subtract the declination from your map bearing compass bearing to create the proper magnetic bearing. Map bearing – Declination = Magnetic Bearing.

Magnetic Bearing to Map Bearing: If you use your compass to take a bearing from your current position to a point on the landscape, then you are working with the magnetic bearing. Now you want to figure out where your position is on the map. In order to transfer this information back to your map you need to add the declination from your magnetic bearing compass bearing to create the proper map bearing. Magnetic bearing + Declination = Map Bearing.


Using Map & Compass Together
Adjusting Your Compass for the Local Declination:

Another way to deal with declination is to adjust your compass. Some compasses have an outer degree ring that can be unlocked either with a setscrew or a latch. This allows you to reset the compass to account for declination. For example, if the declination were 14° East, you could rotate the degree dial to the right so that the magnetic needle was pointing to 14° instead of 360°. Once you do this, you will no longer have to add or subtract for declination because your compass is aligned to true north. Now when the compass needle is inside the orienting needle, the compass bearing that you read off your compass will be in relation to true north instead of magnetic north. If you have a fixed-ring compass, you can mark the declination angle on the compass ring with a piece of tape.

Check Your Position Regularly

Make it a habit of keeping your map and compass handy and refer to them every hour or so to locate your position (more often in low visibility). Keep track of your starting time, rest breaks and lunch stops, and general hiking pace. This will also give you an idea of how far you have traveled and whether your Time Control Plan is accurate.

Orienting the Map:

It is easiest to read a map if the map is oriented to the surrounding landscape. If you see a valley on your left, then the valley shows on the left on the map. You can do this by eye or with your compass.

Using Land Features: Lay the map on the ground or hold it horizontally. Rotate the map until recognized features on the ground roughly align with those on the map.

Using a Compass:

  1. Identify your declination from your map. If your declination is West of true north, subtract the declination from 360°. If your declination is East of true north.
  2. Set the compass at the correct declination bearing so that you compensate for declination.
  3. Place your compass on the map so that the edge of the base plate lies is parallel to the east or west edge of the map with the direction of travel arrow toward the north edge of the map.
  4. Holding the compass on the map, rotate the map with the compass until the north end of the magnetic needle points to the N on the compass housing (i.e. the red north end of the magnetic needle and the orienting arrow align). This is often referred to as “boxing the needle” since the magnetic needle is inside the “box” formed by the orienting arrow. The map is now oriented with respect to magnetic north. This means that the compass needle direction north is the same as true north on the map. You can also place the compass on the map so that the edge of the base plate lies along the magnetic north indicator line on the map legend at the bottom and rotate the map as described above. This may give you a more accurate orientation for your map.

Identify Terrain Features:

With the map oriented, look around for prominent features landscape features such as mountains, valleys, lakes, rivers, etc. Make a mental note of the geographical features you will be traveling along and seeing during the day. If you keep the terrain in your mind, you will usually have a general idea of where you are just by looking around.

Tricks of the Trail

Orient Your Map: You can eliminate the need to correct for declination if you use your compass to orient the map each time. As long as the map is oriented with respect to magnetic north, any bearings you take from map to compass or compass to map will be the same. For this reason, it’s a good idea to always take the time to orient your map. It will make your life much easier. It also means that each time you use your map, your will need to re-orient it with your compass.

Real Life Scenarios:
Using Your Map and Compass to Navigate.

Scenario #1 – Lost in the Fog: Okay, you hike in along the trail and then bushwhack off trail to a nearby alpine lake to camp. When you wake up the next morning, you are fogged in. You know where you are on the map, but you can’t see to find your way out. What you need to do is take a bearing on your map from your known campsite back to a known point on the trail that you can identify on the map. Then follow your bearing through the fog. Here’s your procedure:

Taking a Bearing From the Map
(Map Not Oriented):

  1. Lay the long edge of the compass base plate on the map, making a line from the starting point to the destination (from point X to point Y). Since the base plate is parallel to the direction of travel arrow, the base plate can be used to set the direction to the destination.
  2. Holding the base plate steady, rotate the compass housing until the compass orienting lines and orienting arrow are pointing to true north. Here you see the orienting lines and arrow are parallel to the line from A to B as well as to the map gridlines. 3. Read the bearing (in degrees) from the degree dial at the point on the compass base plate marked “Read bearing here.” In this case the bearing is 346°.

Taking a Bearing from the Map
(Map Oriented to Magnetic North):

  1. Orient the map with the compass.
  2. Lay the long edge of the compass base plate on the map, making a line from the starting point to the destination (from X to Y). Since the base plate is parallel to the direction of travel arrow, the base plate can be used to set the direction to the destination.
  3. Holding the base plate steady, rotate the compass housing until the orienting arrow coincides with the North end of the magnetic needle (known as “boxing the arrow”).
  4. Read the bearing (in degrees) from the degree dial at the point on the compass base plate marked “Read bearing here.” In this case the bearing is 338°.

Scenario #2 – Heading to the Summit: You have been hiking along the trail and found a good campsite that is marked on the map. You see a summit ridge above tree line that looks like a great place for photographs, but there’s a valley thick with Douglas fir between you and the summit. What you need to do is take a bearing from your current position to the summit and use that to travel through the forest. Here’s your procedure:

Taking a Bearing from the Land:

  1. Point the compass direction of travel arrow to the destination on the land.
  2. Rotate the compass housing until the north orienting arrow of the compass housing lines up with the red magnetic needle. This is referred to as “boxing the needle,” since you want the needle to be inside the box defined by the orienting arrow. The north-orienting arrow must be pointing in the same direction as the red (north) magnetic needle. Your compass will look like the figure above with the needle boxed.
  3. Read the bearing (in degrees) from the degree dial at the point on the compass base plate “Read bearing here.”

Walking a Bearing Taken from the Land:

  1. After taking the bearing, as described above, hold the compass level and in front of you, so that the direction of travel arrow points to the destination.
  2. Rotate your whole body until the magnetic needle lies directly over the orienting arrow. Make sure the north end of the magnetic needle points to N on the compass housing. The direction of travel arrow points to the destination.
  3. Site a prominent feature to which your direction of travel arrow points. Walk to that feature.
  4. Continue to sight on other features along the bearing and walk to them, until you reach your destination.

Walking a Bearing Taken from the Map:

To walk a bearing taken from the map, you may need to correct for declination if you did not orient the map to magnetic north before you took your bearing. Once you have corrected for declination, follow the same procedure as indicated above for walking a bearing taken from the land.

Techniques for Walking a Bearing:

Sometimes the terrain isn’t always so cooperative to let you just follow your bearing in a straight line so there are a number of techniques to use when traveling on a bearing.

Line of Sight – Walk to an obvious landmark-a tree or boulder that is directly on the bearing. Then take another bearing on the next obvious landmark and walk to that. Keep it up until you reach your destination. By going to intermediate landmarks, you minimize the chances of veering off your bearing.

Scenario #3 – Retracing Your Steps to Camp: You got to the summit and got some great photos, even one of a baby mountain goat. Now it’s time to get back to your campsite. You could just follow your back bearing (see below) back to your location, but there is bound to be some error, when you hit the trail where will you be in relation to your campsite? The best bet is to intentionally aim off. Here’s your procedure:

Back Bearings: To check your position while walking a bearing, you can take a back bearing. Before you start to walk on your bearing, turn around take a bearing 180° off of the bearing you are going to walk. For example, if you are going to walk a bearing of 45°, shoot a bearing directly opposite your course of 225°. Locate some landmark along this bearing. Once you have moved a short distance along your bearing, turn around and shoot a bearing back to that landmark. If you are on course, that bearing will still read 180° off your bearing of travel (in this case 225°). If it doesn’t, it means that you are off course. Sailors and sea kayakers use back bearings all the time to check for lateral drift from wind or currents. Back bearings are also useful if you are heading out to someplace and then returning along the same line of travel. There are two basic formulas for calculating a back bearing.


Backpacking: What to Pack and Where to Pack It

This checklist is offered as a near minimum for a safe and comfortable backpack outing. Using an adequate pack and sleeping bag the weight should be less than 20 lbs. You will need to add 1 1/2 to 2 lbs. per man per day for dehydrated food and 2 lbs. per quart of water. You should be able to pack in for a week carrying less than 30 lbs.

When buying ANYTHING for camping or backpacking, wait until you can afford quality equipment, buying something “for now” will only cost you allot more in the long run. Don’t buy just for camping if you ever plan on backpacking, camping equipment is no good on a backpack trip, but backpacking equipment is perfectly fine for a camp out.

The lighter the equipment and the less room it takes up, the more it will cost. However, the quality usually is much, much better and you can have it a lifetime if taken care of properly.

NOTE: This list is not to be considered the best or only way to pack a bag. As you gain experience you can shift around to suit your own idea.

For easy access to your gear, pack all your gear in small stuff bags then pack the backpack. Plastic zip lock bags make excellent small and medium stuff bags especially to keep items dry. Large zip lock bags can be used to pack clothing.

Compass, pocketknife, Medic Alert bracelet or pendant (if used), waterproof matches.

Zone Method of Packing a Backpack

The Zone Method of packing a backpack can make the difference between drudgery and enjoyment during the time spent on the trail.

A few simple principles that are often overlooked can make a difference. Technically speaking the body has a center of gravity located directly over the ankles. When standing normally there is very little forward of the body. However, when a pack is placed on the back, the body leans forward to bring the pack’s center of gravity directly over the ankles. Consequently, it is advantageous to keep the pack’s center of gravity as close to your back as possible to prevent unnecessary forward lean. As a result the following method is recommended to load a backpack.

ZONE A: This area is the closest to the back and should carry equipment of the greatest density like stoves, tent hardware, water, etc

ZONE B: This middle area should be packed with medium density objects.

ZONE C: The area farthest away from the body’s center of gravity should be filled with the lightest equipment.

Heavy Higher and Light Lower

There is also a benefit in placing the densest weight high in the pack, as it will be more directly over the center of gravity. A tent should be either distributed in Zone A of the pack or strapped on top. The sleeping bag can be stuffed in the bottom toward Zone C or strapped to the bottom of the pack.


What to Pack



Wilderness Backpacking Suggestions


Do not be hasty in buying equipment. Talk to experienced backpackers. Try out several packs. Before buying equipment ask yourself:

  • Is it light weight and low in bulk?
  • Will it be durable?
  • Will I use it?

Do not make low cost your only criterion. There is no compromise for quality. There are no stores in the wilderness!


Carry a small survival kit. It could save your life. Leave a trip schedule, preferably in writing with a responsible person, giving the following information:

  • Who is going where
  • When you expect to return
  • The type of vehicle you will use
  • Location of the trail head and route to be taken
  • If you’re going deep into the back country, out to sea or on any remote trip consider taking a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB)

Above all, do not decide to stay an extra day. Search parties cost money and time.

Water purification: As a minimum boil water or add 1 iodine tablet per instructions on tablet bottle. Let stand for 30 minutes or as directed on the bottle. For cloudy water, double the purifier.

Really you should carry a water purifier like a those offered from Katadyn

Be aware of the safety water-drinking guide that filters are rated on.


Ecology (Low Impact Camping)

Be aware of the safety water drinking guide that filter are rated on.


By using dehydrated foods you add less than two pounds per man per day. Water weighs two pounds per quart. Wherever possible carry your own stove and fuel. Leave vegetation for the next party to enjoy. Camp away from the only source of water. The animals will not be able to drink as long as you are camped there.

Getting Into A Heavy Load Most backpackers develop a method of putting on a pack. However, the following are a few recommendations that have proven to be easy and safe for both pack and packer. Before following the suggestions outlined, start with a realistic weight, by loading the pack as if you were going on a hike.

  1. Stand by the frame with the load side turned away. If you are right handed, point your right foot toward the frame.
  2. Stepping backward with the left foot and crouching slightly to slant the right thigh, drag or lift the frame to rest on the thigh.
  3. Steadying the frame with the left hand, and holding the upper part of the right shoulder strap, put the right arm under the shoulder strap. Reach downward with the right hand to grasp the lower right corner of the frame. Twist the upper body to the right and pull the right shoulder strap in place. Lifting the frame with your right hand, swing your elbow back to slide the frame around on your back. While the frame is held high and far to the left, put the left arm through the shoulder strap and pull the strap into place.
  4. Buckle the hip belt in place and adjust the shoulder straps to hold the frame high on your back. Tighten the hip belt to relieve the pressure on the shoulder straps.
  5. To remove the pack, reverse the procedure described and shown in the animated diagram. Just remember never let the loaded frame drop on one leg as damage may occur. With practice a loaded frame can be put on or taken off with ease and without injury or damage to the packer or the frame.

The Importance of a Properly Fitted Backpack

A properly fitted, well-made backpack is extremely important. For new Scouts, an external frame pack that is sized to fit your son is recommended. Important elements to look for in a good external pack are:

  1. A good pack frame will have welded construction Well padded hip belt that will tighten snugly just above his hips. The belt should be tight enough to support the pack on the belt when loaded with 25 to 30 lbs.
  2. The hip belt supports the weight, not the shoulder straps. Well padded shoulder pads.
  3. The shoulder straps should be attached to the frame high enough above the shoulder that the straps come down from the frame to the front of the shoulder. The straps should not be resting on the top of the shoulder. The straps are designed to hold the pack against the back, not carry the load.
  4. Good quality sleeping bag and tent straps should also be bought to securely fasten the bag and tent to the pack. Straps should be a minimum of 1″ wide with a sturdy buckle system.
  5. Bungee or elastic cords should not be used to fasten items to the exterior of the pack because these allow the load to shift and bounce around.
  6. NOTE: When a backpack is fully loaded with all necessary gear and equipment it should not weigh more than 20% to 25% of the total body weight of the person who is carrying the pack.
  7. An overloaded, too heavy pack will lead to quick fatigue, possible physical injury, and for certain an unpleasant backpacking experience.
  8. Recommended brands for new smaller scouts include:
    1. CAMP TRAILS – ADJUSTABLE II MED. for larger new scouts
    2. CAMP TRAILS – SKIPPER for small scouts
    3. CAMP TRAILS – SMALL OR MED. for most new scouts
    4. PEAK I PLASTIC FRAME PACK several models to choose from
    5. KELTY YUKON YOUTH PACK – belt adjusts down to 22″
    6. SUGGESTION: Buy a pack that fits now and sell it to a smaller scout when your son outgrows it. Packs will not loose their value if cared for properly.


Other Suggestions For Backpacking Equipment


A good sleeping bag is a great investment that will last for many years. A mummy style bag is recommended since it is lighter weight and the warmest. The insulation in the bag should be synthetic Hollofil or Quallofil. Down is warmer and lighter, however, it looses all of its effectiveness when it gets wet. This is not the case with the synthetic insulation. Down filled sleeping bags loose up to 90% of their thermal properties were a Synthetic filled sleeping bag retains up to 85% of its thermal properties.

A good bag will be made with offset or slant layer construction which will not be sewn all the way through the inner and outer covering. Recommended bag weight for backpacking is 1 to 2.5 lbs. maximum and the bag should be rated for 20 to 40 degrees for this region of the country. You can always make it more effective by adding a fleece or other type liner.

The best bag I’ve found for warmer weather is the Marmot Pounder™. It’s a 40° bag that weights about 15 oz and packs out to 4 X 5 Inches (yes inches).

For larger scouts and adults with a little extra girth, the Big Angus Lost Dog™ is about 6″ wider than the average bag, the 50° version Packs out at 6″ X 4″ and weighs a scant 1 lb 4 oz.

These types of Bags a very expensive but last forever, be careful choosing the weight, size packed, and fill of the bag. Also the rated degrees is VERY important, you can supplement bags with extra blankets on camp outs or double up the bags when it gets real cold. I own a 40° and a 0° bag.


A closed cell, foam sleeping pad is a must for winter camping, since it insulates you from the cold earth. Also the sleeping pad provides some padding against the hard ground. Pads come in ¾ length and full length, 3/8″ and ½” thickness. Pads come in smooth and ridge constructions.

Also available are self-inflating sleeping pads of various styles and depths. These pads weigh more than foam pads and are not recommended for new scouts who need to conserve weight.

The best I’ve found is a Therm-a-Rest ProLite 4 Sleeping Pad™. It is a 4 season sleeping pad that weighs only 1 Lb. 6 Oz. and packs up to a compressed size of 4.8 X 11 Inches. It is a self-inflating pad that is 1.5 inches and has an insulting factor (R-Factor) of 3.2. The ProLite 3 is 1 inch and has an R-Factor of 2.5 but only weighs a couple of oz’s. less.


The tent you select should be a backpacking style weighing approximately 4 lbs. or less. It should be fitted with a rain fly that comes almost to the ground; otherwise rain can blow under the fly. Freestanding tents work best for the new scouts since they can be easily moved after set up and they can be cleaned by lifting up and shaking them out. Tents without a lot of guy ropes to trip over are preferred.

I personally don’t use a tent when I backpack, I use a bivy. There are many kinds of Bivies and I would suggest getting a bivy that has headroom. I use a LightSabre Bivy by Black Diamond™ This is my tent, it gives me the benefit of sleeping under the stars, removes the claustrophobia associated with most bivys, is really breathable on hot nights and when the seams are sealed it’s water proof. It weighs 1.4 lbs and packs very small (Look Left). My Tent, Sleeping Bag and Sleeping Pad weigh less than 4 lbs together, which is what a normal backpacking tent weights by itself.

You could take it even one step further. If you know for sure you’ll be in the woods while sleeping…and it’s warm…Skip the sleeping pad, tent, and sleeping bag. Use a hammock! I use a Hennessy Hammock™ Scout Model, Costs about $75 and only weighs 2 lbs 8 oz., holds 200+ lbs, has a rain fly and has a 1 oz. 20D polyester NoSeeUm netting. Inexpensive, Light, Waterproof, Bug proof, what more could you ask !

I do however, use a REI Marino Wool™ liner, it’s really small, light and I hate sleeping on nylon.


Good rain gear is important. The weather can change in a matter of minutes. Being wet is most uncomfortable. Do not cut corners. Ponchos provide quick access to rain gear. A coated nylon style, properly sized for the wearer to maximize protection without dragging the ground will last for many years. Rain suits are more expensive, provide better protection but cannot be worn as many years.

  • I use two Outdoor Products™ Regular Multi-Use Backpacking Ponchos
  • Lightweight and durable
  • Rustproof snaps
  • Full cut hood & drawstring closure
  • Water-resistant urethane coated nylon taffeta
  • Resealable polybag package

The reason I have two ponchos is when backpacking I use my backpack as a “Bear Bag” and cover it with the second poncho for extra waterproofing. The first poncho I use normally as a poncho so I can get out of my Bivy or hammock dry. In addition, I could use the second poncho to build a survival shelter if needed.


Boots and socks that are made for hiking are important. Boots should be ankle height to give support to the ankle. They can be made of leather or a combination of leather and heavy cordura cloth. Leather boots treated with a sealant like “Snow Seal” will be somewhat waterproof; yet allow the boot to breathe. The cordura boots are lighter in weight but are not waterproof unless you choose a pair with Gor-Tex, which greatly increases the price.

Hiking boots should always be worn with sock liners (polypropylene or silk) and wool hiking socks. The liner socks will stick to the heel and foot. The wool sock will stick to the boot. The friction of the foot moving inside the boot will occur between the two pair of socks not between layers of the skin, which causes blisters.

Make sure that you wear hiking sock liners and wool hiking socks when you go to try boots on in the store. Before wearing boots on a hike the boots should be worn around the house for several days to break them in properly.


This page describes two ways of using ropes and equipment to climb safely. It also describes how to descend after climbing. Details about hand placement, foot placement, balance, and other technical climbing techniques are not described here.

Top Belaying | Lead Climbing | Rappelling | Shoes | Rope
Carabiners | Webbing | Belay Devices | Protection

Top-Roping and Belaying

In top-roping, a rope from the top of the climb always holds the climber, making most slips off the climb harmless. As shown above, the climber is attached to one end of the rope, the middle is passed through an anchor at the top of the climb, and the belayer holds the other end.

The anchor at the top of the climb is assembled from loops of webbing connected to carabiners attached securely to the rock. The rope is passed through some of the carabiners, and the others are attached to either pieces of protection, wedged into a convenient crack, or bolts, which other climbers have drilled into the rock.

The anchor’s carabiners with the rope passing through are suspended below the top of the climb to prevent the rope from rubbing. When bolts or protection are far from the top of the climb, substantial lengths of webbing are needed to place the carabiners correctly.

Not all climbs can be top-roped because of the following requirements:

  1. There must be a safe way to the top to set the anchor before the climber starts. Most popular top-roped climbs have an easy way to hike to the top.
  2. The climb may be no longer than half the length of the rope; when the climber starts, the rope must cross the full length of the climb twice.
  3. The belayer stops the rope with a belay device attached to his harness if the climber slips. The belay device makes it easy to apply enough friction to stop a falling climber. If there is some danger of the belayer being lifted into the air, he can be anchored down.
  4. The belayer must keep the slack in the rope to a minimum since when a climber slips, any slack must be taken up before the rope can stop the fall. To take up this slack, the belayer pulls the rope downward as the climber climbs. While doing this, the belayer must never release the rope fully to ensure the climber could never fall far.



Lead Climbing

In lead climbing, two people, a leader and a follower, ascend the climb in pitches: sections of the climb shorter than the length of the rope.

First the leader climbs the pitch, wedging pieces of protection into the rock and attaching the rope to them with carabiners.

Once the leader makes it to the top, she anchors herself to the rock and belays the follower, who climbs the pitch, removing the protection. Finally, both the leader and follower are at the top of the pitch with all their gear, ready to climb the next pitch.







The leader’s job is dangerous. Unlike top-roping, where slipping off the rock usually doesn’t result in a long fall, a leader can fall twice the distance from the last piece of protection before the rope can help. The figure below depicts a fairly pleasant lead fall–the leader has fallen and is dangling in midair. More often, the leader will hit the rock on the way down–a common cause of climbing injuries.






A “quickdraw” — two carabiners attached with a loop of webbing–is used to fasten the rope to a piece of protection. One carabiner is attached to the loop on the piece of protection; the rope is passed through the other. This provides some separation of protection a rope, allowing the rope to twist without dislodging the protection, pass more smoothly past the protection, and go more directly up the climb.

Ideally, so the rope is not forced to go around friction-increasing corners, the protection should be along in a straight line between belay stations. This is not always possible, so longer pieces of webbing in the quickdraw are used to make the path of the rope straighter.

Lead climbing places fewer restrictions on what can be climbed than top-roping. The two requirements are:

  1. There must be places for a belayer to be secured to the rock (“belay stations”) spaced no farther than the length of the rope. Most popular lead climbs satisfy this.
  2. There must be places to attach the rope to the rock. In rock with many cracks, protection, especially SLCDs, can easily be used. Occasionally on smooth rock, other climbers have drilled permanent bolts into the rock that can be used with a quickdraw to attach the rope to the rock. Getting Down There are three common ways to get down from a climb: walking, Rappelling, and lowering. Walking Often, climbers get down from the tops of climbs by walking. It is especially common to do this with top-roped climbs, since most have a way to hike to the top to set the anchor. Most multi-pitch lead climbs do not have a way to walk down from every belay station, but there is often a way to walk down from the top.








Rappelling is a scheme for lowering yourself with the rope. As shown above, the center of the rope is passed through an anchor at the top of the climb. The person descending wears a harness and attaches himself to the rope with a belay device, which he uses to control his descent.

Unlike climbing, it is best to be nearly horizontal while Rappelling. In this position, the body is pointing more directly at the rock, giving the feet better friction and leading to more control.

Starting a rappel is the most difficult part. It is very disconcerting to switch from standing to being supported completely by the rope. Moreover, it is necessary to get below the anchor before the rope can help. If the anchor is below the top of the climb, climbing down is necessary.

Once everybody has descended, the rope is recovered by pulling it through the anchor. The anchor cannot be recovered, but this is not usually a problem. In many cases, other climbers have placed a permanent anchor at the top, often a pair of bolts drilled into the rock connected to a ring with some chains. Another possibility is to use the base of a tree as an anchor. Since the rope is under little tension when it is pulled through the anchor, this abrades the rope and tree only slightly, and can be done occasionally.

A single rope can only be used to descend half a rope-length, but two ropes can be tied together to rappel a full rope-length. This is useful, for example, when descending a multi-pitch lead climb via the same route used for the ascent. The belay stations, usually spaced a full rope-length, can be used as rappel anchors. Three or more ropes cannot be used to rappel in this manner, since doing so would require Rappelling past a knot and pulling a knot through the anchor, which are generally impossible.

Lowering In a top-roped climb, the belayer can lower the climber. The climber places her weight on the rope, and the belayer slowly lets out the rope, using the belay device to control her rate of descent, much like Rappelling.

This is the most convenient way to descend after completing a top-roped climb. Although there is usually a way to walk down, it can be inconvenient to finish a top-roped climb because you must climb above the anchor, which is often suspended below the top of the climb.



Although it is possible to climb rock without equipment, it is difficult to do so safely. All of the equipment discussed in this section is exclusively for safety, except for shoes. Climbing shoes enhance climbing ability much like running shoes enhance running ability.

The following sections discuss climbing shoes, rope, general-purpose devices for connecting things, nylon cord, harnesses for connecting climbers to things, devices for applying friction to the rope, and devices for wedging into the rock.






The most useful piece of climbing equipment is a pair of climbing shoes. Improvements in shoe design alone have allowed climbers to climb many things previously un-climbable. The modern climbing shoe has a stiff, smooth rubber sole that protects the foot from sharp, rough rock, and provides more friction than a bare foot. A pair costs between $100 and $150.

Climbing shoes fit tightly to prevent the foot from sliding around within. This makes them uncomfortable, but the improved friction and control they afford far outweigh the discomfort.










A modern climbing rope, a key piece of safety equipment, is of kernmantle construction, consisting of continuous braided nylon fibers, the kern, surrounded by a continuous braided nylon outer sheath, the mantle. Such construction is superior to the more traditional laid rope (three large strands twisted together) because the outer sheath protects the inner core, where most of the strength lies, from the elements.

Climbing rope is dynamic: able to stretch a bit under tension. This is because the rope must stop falling climbers. If the rope did not stretch, a falling climber would be jerked suddenly as the rope stops him. Instead, the rope slows his fall more gently. Climbing ropes are usually ten to eleven millimeters in diameter and fifty meters (about 165 feet) long. Such ropes cost between $100 and $180.




Carabiners, used constantly in climbing, are rings of solid aluminum with a spring-loaded gate that allows them to be opened. Normally, the spring holds the gate closed, but the gate can be opened to admit a rope.

Carabiners are inexpensive (between $5 and $20), strong (most are rated to hold at least 20 kN, about 2.2 tons), and versatile. Virtually every climbing technique uses carabiners.


“D” Carabiner

Oval Carabiner

There are many variations on the basic carabiner design. The carabiner shown above is a “D” because the ends have an asymmetric shape that tends to push the rope against the solid side, away from the weaker gate side. An older variant, the oval, has no such asymmetry, and is not as strong. Another variant, the bent-gate, has a curved gate that makes inserting a rope easier. However, the bent gate also makes it easier for the gate to work itself open, making it less safe than other varieties.


Bent Gate Carabiner

A carabiner is safe until its gate opens. To increase security, two carabiners can be used in tandem with their gates reversed (i.e., opening in opposite directions). It is less likely that something would cause both gates to open at once.


Locking Carabiner

An alternative to a pair of carabiners, the locking carabiner (shown above) has an additional mechanism that makes it harder for the gate to open accidentally: a sheath that covers the gate and the outer C-shaped portion of the carabiner. This sheath either screws into place, or uses a spring to hold it in place.

Each variety is well-suited to certain applications. The “D” is the most versatile, although it must sometimes be used in pairs for added security. The oval is used where its symmetry is desirable, typically on longer routes. The bent-gate is excellent for rapidly securing the rope, although it is slightly less safe. Locking carabiners are best when taking the extra time to attach them is not a problem.










Tubular nylon webbing is used frequently in climbing. It is made of nylon woven into a flat tube an inch across. It is very strong (its tensile strength is about 18 kN, about 2 tons) and inexpensive—about $0.25 a foot.

Unlike climbing rope, it does not stretch under tension. If not expected to stop a long fall (and it is never used in a situation where it is), this is preferable.

Nylon webbing is most often used tied into a loop. Climbing stores sell it by the foot, and it can be easily cut to any desired length. The ends are cauterized with heat to prevent fraying. Also popular is pre-sewn webbing—loops of webbing sewn (as opposed to tied) together at the factory.

Pre-sewn webbing is more expensive, more convenient (since there is no knot), and may be safer, but custom-tied loops are cheaper and adjustable.







To attach herself to a rope, a climber uses a sewn harness. A typical one has a wide nylon belt for the waist and a pair of leg loops for the thighs. When such a harness supports a climber, most of her weight is placed on her legs, rather than her waist, making it fairly comfortable to hang in.

Many variations are available. More expensive harnesses have more padding. Adjustable-diameter leg loops are another option. Sewn harnesses cost between $30 and $80. A climber “ties in” to the rope by putting a loop of rope through the loops on his harness, as shown above. The traditional knot for this is the Figure Eight Follow-through. C. Leubben’s Knots for Climbers (Chockstone Press, Evergreen, Colorado, 1993) describes this knot along with many others used in climbing.



Belay Devices

A belayer’s job is to hold the rope to stop a falling climber, which is difficult without the aid of a belay device—an object capable of stopping the rope or passing it through smoothly. There are many such belay devices, and are all easy to use, making them very safe.




One common belay device is the figure eight: two metal rings about an inch in diameter joined in the shape of an 8. A loop of rope is passed through one of the rings, then around and under the other. The ring without the rope is clipped to the belayer’s harness with a locking carabiner. When pulled tight, the rope is bent into four ninety-degree angles in the space of a few inches, making it very difficult to move. A figure eight costs between $15 and $20.

A disadvantage of the figure eight is its tendency to twist the rope as it passes through. Another style of belay device, typified by the ATC (Air Traffic Controller) depicted at left, avoids this problem by twisting the rope less. These devices typically have two holes just large enough to pass a loop of rope through. The loop of rope is attached to a carabiner such that when one end of the rope is pulled, the belay device approaches the carabiner and pinches the rope. This provides highly variable rope friction, ranging from very little to enough to support a falling climber.



Protection (Monolithic Protection and SLCDs)

There are two common types of monolithic protection: tapered wedges and hexes. Both are made specifically for climbing from lightweight aluminum. In use, both are wedged into cracks in the rock so that they are difficult to remove in one direction (usually down) and easy to remove in another (usually up).

A tapered wedge, shown above, is a trapezoidal piece of aluminum (one to three centimeters across) attached to a loop of steel cable.

A hex is a hexagonal tube of aluminum with a diameter roughly equal to its length, between one and six centimeters. A strong piece of cord is threaded through two pairs of little holes on opposite sides of the hex and tied into a loop.

A spring-loaded camming device (SLCD) consists of a stem with an axle at one end holding four spiral-shaped spring-loaded cams. When placing an SLCD, the climber pulls a mechanism to retract the cams places it in a crack with the stem pointing down, and releases the mechanism, allowing the cams to spring back against the rock. When the SLCD is pulled downward (say, because of a fall), the spiral-shaped cams are forced harder against the rock, making it more secure.

SLCDs are much easier to use than monolithic protection. They can adapt to the rock and hold themselves in place, making them usable in more situations. They have allowed climbers to climb many routes that were too dangerous to climb using other types of protection.

The main disadvantage to SLCDs is cost: $50 to $100 each is typical. However, since each SLCD can adapt to a wider range of crack sizes than their monolithic counterparts, so only four or five sizes are needed.

SLCDs also have the dangerous ability to “walk.” If not under tension, a SLCD can easily move in one direction, usually farther into a crack. This can make it difficult to remove, or more dangerously, move it to where it no longer holds. Monolithic protection usually doesn’t do this, since it is usually firmly wedged into the rock.



Equipment | Trip Prep | On The Water | Strokes

Canoeing Checklist


History of Canoeing

The canoe is one of the oldest forms of transportation, probably second only to the raft. Dugout canoes were being manufactured at least 8,000 years ago. But lighter, more maneuverable canoes were developed much more recently in North America by covering a frame with animal skins, fabric, or bark.

The birch bark canoe used by Native Americans was adopted by French explorers and fur traders during the 17th century. Despite its frail appearance, it’s a very strong, durable craft. Its shallow draft will carry through white-water rapids that would demolish most boats, and it can be easily portaged around totally impassable rapids or across stretches of land from one body of water to another.

The Eskimo kayak, which has a partly enclosed deck with openings for the paddlers’ seats, was discovered by Europeans somewhat later. While the canoeist uses a single-bladed paddle that’s similar to the oar used in rowing, the kayak paddle has a blade on each end and is gripped in the middle.

A Scottish lawyer, John MacGregor, was chiefly responsible for establishing canoeing as a recreational sport. In 1845, he designed a type of canoe, the Rob Roy, which had a deck and was equipped with a mast and sail as well as paddles. MacGregor went on a whole series of cruises in Europe and the Holy Land beginning in 1849, and he wrote books and delivered many lectures about his trips.

In 1866 MacGregor and other enthusiasts founded the Canoe Club. In 1873 the club became known as the Royal Canoe Club. Competitive canoeing began at the club’s first regatta in 1867.

The New York Canoe Club was founded in 1871 and was quickly followed by many similar organizations on the East Coast. They organized the American Canoe Association (ACA) in 1880. The Canadian Canoe Association was founded in 1900.

During the early part of the century, canoeing became quite popular in northern and central Europe. Largely through the efforts of Waldemar Van B. Claussen of the ACA, representatives of 19 national clubs met in Copenhagen in 1924 to establish the Internationale Representationschaft des Kanusport (IRK).

Also in 1924, canoeing was a demonstration sport at the Paris Olympics. The United States swept the kayak events, while Canada won all four canoeing events. The IRK’s attempt to make canoeing a full-fledged Olympic sport didn’t succeed, however, until 1936.

There were eight events on the 1936 program: Single and pairs canoes at 1,000 meters; single and pairs kayaks at 1,000 and 10,000 meters; and single and pairs folding canoes at 1,000 meters.

That was the last Olympics before World War II, in which the IRK headquarters in Munich was destroyed by Allied bombs.

However, the IRK was re-organized as the International Canoe Federation in 1946 and, when the Olympics resumed in 1948, canoeing was again on the program.

The folding canoe events were dropped and the first women’s event, the 500-meter singles kayak, was added.

After the war, white-water canoeing rapidly gained popularity in Central Europe.

Originally run through a short stretch of natural rapids, white-water races now take place on artificial rapids. As in Alpine skiing, racers compete in individual time trials.

In white-water slalom races, the canoe must pass through a series of gates, including some reverse gates that have to be passed while paddling backward. Penalty time is assessed for hitting one pole, both poles, or for missing a gate entirely. This penalty time is then added to the canoeist’s actual time to determine the order of finish.

White-water racing was on the Olympic program in 1972. It was dropped after those games, but was restored to the program in 1992.

Olympic races are referred to by a simple code in which the initial letter is K for kayak or C for Canadian canoe and the number refers to the number of paddlers. For example, C-1 means canoe singles and K-2 means kayak pairs.

In flat-water events, men compete in C-1, C-2, K-1 and K-2 races at 500 and 1,000 meters and in K-4 races at 1,000 meters only. Women compete only in K-1, K-2, and K4, all at the 500-meter distance.

The Olympic white-water slalom events are for the men’s C-1, C-2, and K-1 and the women’s K-1. There’s no standard distance for white-water races, since each course is laid out differently.

In addition to the Olympic events, there are several major long-distance canoe races. Among the best known are the Sella Descent in northern Spain, a 16-5 kilometer (about 10-mile) race established in 1931; the Liffey Descent, a 28.2-kilometer (17.5-mile) race conducted in Ireland since 1959; and International White-Water race, established in 1948 and conducted on a 23-mile down river course at Salida, Colorado.

The U. S. Canoe Association was founded in 1968 to govern and sanction marathon racing. The U. S. Canoe-Kayak Team governs Olympic competition. The American Canoe Association now operates primarily as an organization of clubs involved in recreational canoeing, which was always its primary interest.

Competition in sailing canoes was popular in the late 19th century. While some sailing races are still conducted by canoe clubs, most such races are now run under the auspices of yachting clubs. One of the first important international yachting trophies, the Seawanhaka International Challenge Cup, was established in 1895 for sailing canoes.



Equipment and Clothing

If you plan to utilize the services of a paddling school, an outfitter/guide, or a rental operation, they will provide you with the basic equipment for your outing – including a boat, a paddle, a life jacket, and a spray skirt (if you’re using a decked kayak). Otherwise, you will need to borrow or purchase that equipment. Regardless, you will need to take care of all the extras that will improve your comfort and safety throughout the paddling experience.

Here’s a simple head-to-toe guide for the fully outfitted paddler. As an outdoors enthusiast, you may already own many of these items, so don’t be scared off by the huge laundry list. You’ll be able to add pieces of gear over months or years as you develop your skill and scope as a paddler.

Canoe, Kayak or Raft:

Which type of boat you use will depend largely on your paddling objectives. Objectives such as, the type of waterway you want to explore, the number of people you want in the same boat, and the length of your trip all factor into the choice of vessel. For more information on buying a canoe or kayak visit the following pages: Kayak Buying Tips, Canoe Buying Tips, ACA Beginners Guide (PDF), and Paddler Magazine (view the most recent Buyers Guide issue).


A good paddle can make a huge difference in your efficiency on the water. Paddles come is single blade (canoe) versions and double blade (kayak) versions. Beyond that, paddles come in a variety of lengths, materials, blade angles, and blade shapes.

Personal Flotation Device (PFD) A.K.A. “Life Jacket”:

While US Coast Guard regulations only require that each boater have a wearable PFD (Class III or V in flotation rating) on board, the American Canoe Association (ACA) strongly advises that anyone in a canoe or kayak wear a PFD at all times. In fact, ACA requires that PFD’s be worn during all ACA instruction courses or sanctioned paddling events. PFD’s are available in many styles. Most experienced paddlers prefer to wear a Type III PFD that has enough adjustments to ensure a snug fit. A PFD that is too loose will not keep your head above water.

Note: 83% of all canoeing fatalities were not wearing a PFD at the time of the accident.

Synthetic Tee Shirt and Shorts:

Even on a relatively warm day it is important to wear clothes that dry quickly. This prevents both chilling and chafing. Bathing suits will also serve this purpose.

Proper Footwear:

Nearly 90% of all paddling injuries occur from walking around with bare feet. Protect your toes with strong river sandals, old sneakers or neoprene booties. Some folks also wear fleece or wool socks for extra warmth. Flip-flops are a bad idea.


Being on the water often means 100% sun exposure. Using a waterproof sunscreen with a high SPF is essential.

Water Bottle with Water:

A hydrated paddler is a happy paddler. Bring some snacks too, such as trail mix, candy bars, fruit and energy bars.

Brimmed Hat or Visor:

Although rain is a paddler’s friend (since rain fills our lakes and rivers), you will probably most enjoy venturing out on a clear, sunny day. Therefore you’ll want to protect your head and face from the sun’s harmful rays. And don’t forget the Sunscreen. UV rays are just as severe reflecting up from the water.


Keep these handy for the same reason as your sun visor. They can also score big points in the coolness category. Don’t forget the retainer strap.


Or other audible signaling device, often attached to your PFD for easy access. A whistle is very useful for getting attention during an emergency and warning other watercraft of your presence. Also required by the Coast Guard on large bodies of water and navigation channels.

Dry Bags:

If you were just wondering what they are, these rubberized gear bags have sealed openings for keeping your stuff inside and water outside. Use a dry bag for storing extra clothes, snacks, or camping equipment inside your boat. They come in a variety of sizes. It is good practice to secure them to the boat so they stay in the boat in the event of a capsize. The combinations of which items you choose to take on your paddling trips will vary greatly. For each excursion you’ll need to take into consideration a multitude of factors: air temperature, water temperature, cloud cover, precipitation, destination remoteness, etc. One rule to follow: always expect to get wet and dress and pack accordingly.

First Aid Kit and Duct Tape:

Take along a well-stocked repair kit for your body and boat whenever exploring the nation’s waterways. There are several varieties of ready-equipped first aid kits for various degrees of need (from a placid day-trip, to whitewater or extended wilderness trips), some of which come with their own dry bags.


Since you will usually get wet, having a dry towel available at the end of the trip can increase your comfort and protect your car seats from wet rear ends.

Synthetic Fleece Sweater and/or Long Underwear:

Popular for their wicking qualities (drawing water away from your skin) synthetic fibers dry quickly and help keep your body warm in when it’s cold out. Cotton is generally frowned upon because it has the opposite effect of conducting body heat when it gets wet. Even in the summer, cold water, wind and wet cotton can be a deadly combination. Use Synthetic Pants or Lycra Tights for your lower half too.

Paddling Jacket:

Water and wind repellant, these jackets are made of a coated nylon and/or Gortex and typically have neoprene cuffs and collars. A paddling jacket will prevent splashing water and wind from chilling your skin. They can also keep you semi-dry should you do an Eskimo roll. Those designed for canoe or kayak touring usually have hoods, while those designed for whitewater do not. Paddling Pants are also available.

Wet Suit:

Worn right next to your skin, wet suits can be a lifesaver when a person is exposed to cold water. The neoprene material holds in a thin layer of water as a thermal barrier against the outside cold water. Highly recommended for winter or early spring paddles.

Gloves or Pogies:

Helpful for keeping your hands warm and nimble on cool or windy days, pogies are large mittens that attach around the shaft/handle of your paddle. Some folks also like to wear lightweight gloves even when it is warm to improve their grip and to prevent blisters.

Spray Skirt:

Worn around the waist of kayakers (touring and whitewater), this device attaches around the cockpit of the kayak to keep the water from filling the boat. The skirt has a quick release strap that allows the boater to exit kayak quickly and easily.


A solid paddling helmet is essential for whitewater paddling or surf kayaking. Can you picture a public service announcement about, “This is your brain on the rocks?”

Nose Plugs or Clips:

Designed specially for paddlers who plan to roll upside-down frequently, but can’t seem to stop themselves from inhaling.

Throw Bag:

This is a specially designed rescue bag attached to and full of rope. For those trained to use it, it is an effective tool for rescuing a person swimming in rough water.

Dry Suit:

Although relatively expensive, the dry suit is the ultimate piece of clothing for winter paddling. It is similar to the paddling jacket, except the cuffs and collar are sealed with flexible rubber gaskets. The gaskets form a snug seal around the neck, wrists, and ankles to keep you completely dry (even when submerged). Made as a single piece suit or as separate tops and pants.



Trip Preparation

Once you are properly geared, being prepared goes beyond equipment and clothing. Virtually any paddling trip should be regarded as a serious (and fun) outdoor pursuit. The paddler must be adequately prepared for the type of paddling trip he or she is taking. Knowledge of the waterway, length of the trip, weather, water conditions, and a realistic assessment of the skill level of everyone on the trip are key to a safe and enjoyable outing. Whitewater, wilderness waterways, open ocean, and cold weather paddling all require special preparation and skills. Also, keep in mind that a day or afternoon of paddling can demand strenuous physical exertion. Start with shorter (time and distance) outings to build up your strength and stamina. As you refine your paddling skills you will also gain greater stroke efficiency.

It’s a good idea to consult with outdoor guidebooks or other experienced paddlers to research your destinations ahead of time. You’ll want to know what hazards to expect and which emergency facilities are close by. Remember that guidebooks cannot replace the need for good judgment, skills, and safety precautions.

If you need to transport your boat and gear to the start of your paddling trip, be sure to get appropriate roof-top racks and instructions for loading boats on your vehicle. If you need help with effective tie-down knots, the ACA has a handy guide entitled, “Knots for Paddlers”($4.95; call 703-451-0141).

Keep in mind that exploring rivers with significant current will require you to place a car at the take-out (final destination) before driving to the put-in (starting point). Always take care to protect the car keys. Many paddlers have made mistakes such as leaving the keys for the car positioned at the take-out in the car at the put-in, or even worse, losing car key while on the water.

Once you arrive at the put-in, take care while unloading. Remember to lift with your legs so as not to strain your back. Since you should always paddle with a buddy, you can help each other with unloading and carrying.

While you’re at the put-in, remember to also show respect for others around you. Other sportsmen and neighboring property owners are likely seeking the solitude and purity of undisturbed nature. Don’t hinder their experience by littering, playing loud music, changing clothes in public, or other potentially offensive actions. Plus always get permission in advance if you want to cross private property in order to access a particular waterway.

The next step is actually getting in the boat and beginning your journey. When launching from a steep bank or dock, place your boat in the water along side and parallel to the shoreline, and hold on to it. Squat down next to your boat and carefully shift your weight over the centerline while holding the top sides of your boat. For kayaks, it’s best to sit on the stern deck and then slide into the cockpit with legs straight.

For canoes, you want to step on the centerline and quickly kneel down. Canoeists and kayakers alike can add stability by holding their paddle perpendicular across the top of the boat and leaning on the blade resting on the shore or dock. Tandem paddlers should board one at a time and stabilize the boat for each other. When launching on the shore or shallow shoreline, you can wade into ankle deep water and continue the process as above.



On The Water

Once you are on the water, it is time to control this beast of a boat that seems to have a mind of its own. In theory, paddling is really rather simple. There are only three types of strokes: propelling, turning and bracing. But these three stroke types can seem somewhat daunting when one considers the multitude of variations and stroke combinations. With the proper level of skill, just a simple flex of the wrist can alter the direction of travel and the angle of the boat.

Check first to make sure you’re holding your paddle correctly. For canoeists: Choose the side of the canoe on which you want to paddle. This side becomes your on-side. Your hand on this side is the shaft hand (i.e., the hand that holds the shaft of the paddle). Your other hand is the grip hand, which rests on top of the paddle’s grip and controls the angle of the blade. Your hands should be spaced comfortably about shoulder width apart, and your arms should remain mostly straight. If you plan to tandem paddle with one partner often, remember that you need have opposite on-sides.

For kayakers: Hold the paddle horizontal above and resting on your head. Slide your hands apart such that your elbows are bent at right angles. Lower the paddle in front of you and make sure that your hands are an equal distance from each blade.

There are a few basic principles for achieving maximum efficiency from a paddle stroke. First for maximum power transfer, angle the blade perpendicular to the force of resistance. In other words, when you want to move the canoe or kayak forward, hold the paddle vertically such that the face of the blade points flat towards the rear. Also, as you apply power through the stroke, ensure that the blade remains vertical to the water’s surface. Any alterations to the lateral and vertical angles of the blade will either affect a turning motion or create lift of the water (wasted energy if you’re just trying to go straight).

When you execute a paddling stroke be sure to not be a “lily-dipper.” In other words, make sure that the blade of the paddle is fully submerged in the water at the mid-point of your stroke.

You should power the stroke from your major muscle groups. You’ll find that you have much more strength and endurance in your back and shoulders than in just your arms. Therefore, by rotating your torso and unwinding through the stroke, you’ll go further than from just pulling on the paddle with your arms. Also by rotating your torso such that your chest always faces your paddles, you’ll protect yourself from possible shoulder injuries. When you first start out, this principle is easily applied by watching the blade throughout each stroke. As you gain experience, you’ll be able to rotate your body effectively while looking in any direction; usually the direction you want to go.

The basic strokes are really pretty simple. If you want to turn to the left, take a wide-reaching sweep stroke on the right. If you want to use a forward stroke keep your paddle close in and parallel to the centerline. If you want to move sideways, place the paddle out to the side and draw yourself to it. Try each of these strokes on both sides and in reverse too.

Yet one more thing to keep in mind as you experiment and practice, is that eventually you may capsize (“swim”, “flip”). If you’re in a canoe, no problem, just fall out. Since you will be wearing your PFD (life jacket), you should have no problem staying afloat. Do your best to hold on to your boat and paddle. If you’re on moving water (a flowing river), float on your back with your feet on the surface of the water. Even in shallow water, with a current, a river can be a death trap if your feet become entrapped under a rock. While holding your boat and paddle in one hand, you can use the other hand to do a sidestroke towards the nearest shore or eddy. Fight that instinct to stand up and wait to do so only when you are out of the current.

If you are in a kayak and you capsize, you need a little more patience. Unless you already know how to execute an Eskimo roll, you will also need to exit your boat. Gravity will still do the work to get you out, but you need to relax and keep your legs straight. As soon as you flip over tuck forward and pull on the spray deck grab loop (which should be right in front of you). Slide your hands on the deck behind you and carefully push out while doing an upside-down somersault. Wait until your feet are completely out of the kayak before you come to the surface. The whole process only takes a few seconds, but it’s worth practicing a couple of times to reduce any anxiety about being upside-down under water. Again, try to grab your boat and paddle before they float away. If you’re on calm, flat water, your partner may be able to help you drain and re-enter your boat without swimming to shore.

As with most things, you’ll get out of it what you put into it. A few simple lessons from a qualified instructor will speed up your learning process dramatically and help you explore new paddling adventures.

Finally, if you’d like to read more about paddling techniques, contact the American Canoe Association at (703) 451-0141. They offer a wide selection of instruction manuals and videos on canoeing, river/whitewater kayaking, coastal/sea kayaking and river rescue, to help you fully understand the fascinating world of paddling.

Happy Paddling!



Canoe Strokes

Some of the basic strokes in paddling are the forward stroke, the J-Stroke, and various forms of cross strokes, including cross forward, cross draw and cross back.




Checklists | General Information


Sample Checklists & Guidelines




General Information

These ideas about buying Boy Scout Camping gear were compiled using the resources and experiences of over a dozen parents, Scout leaders, and camping experts. It represents over 100 years of combined camping experience, and exhaustive research into the camping arts in an effort to help you, the parent of a Boy Scout, to resist the “I’ve just got to have one too” syndrome and still provide your son with adequate, safe, and affordable camping gear. It is not the end-all be-all of gear purchasing, but is intended to be a guide that you can use to help avoid emptying the college fund.

Let’s face it, just look through any equipment catalog, or visit a local camping equipment supplier, you will no doubt experience sticker shock in a way you never thought possible. The array of things that people buy for camping is bewildering, and even if your family camps together often, making the purchases necessary for a Scout to go out on his own can be difficult. Hopefully, these few paragraphs will help.


A Few General Notes

  • It is not necessary to start out with a complete set of gear. Scouts can share, borrow (check with older Scouts who have upgraded their gear to find good used equipment), or make their own as they learn what they need and like.
  • There is always a tradeoff between cost and quality. Top of the line expedition equipment is not needed to “keep up with the other boys” in the troop. Famous brand names often cost much more than the equivalent gear purchased from a dealer who has his equipment made for him. Just because it says “North FaceTM” and costs $250, does not mean that the gear is any better than “SlumberjackTM” priced at $125 (and I’m not picking on NF specifically, they make superb quality equipment). However, poorly made gear will not stand up to rugged use, and it can be uncomfortable, unusable, or even dangerous. Good equipment does not have to cost an arm and a leg, and hopefully, this list will help avoid a major financial crisis in your household.
  • Beware of “stylish” or “trendy” gear. Some things that are popular around school are very specialized, such as short ski jackets, etc. Camping gear needs to be versatile, and a pair of boots designed for mucking about in a ski chalet after a tough day on the slopes will be useless mucking about on a mountaintop in a hail storm.
  • A boy should learn how to use his gear before he gets out into the woods. For example, he should have a new pack adjusted properly, know how to pitch his tent, and light and cook on a backpacking stove (see the specific section on stoves for more info). The troop will help with this training wherever possible, but because of limited time, we can’t learn everything about every conceivable brand of equipment that a boy can show up with. It is very discouraging for a boy to go camping with a new item and have it fail to work as he expected it to because no one took the time to help him learn how to use it before it became something he needed to live. This problem is compounded if none of the trip leaders have ever seen it either.
  • Remember, if you buy a decent piece of equipment and little Johnny decides that camping is just not for him and he drops out of Scouting, it can be sold for just about what you put into it. If down the road a few years, he needs to upgrade a pack, or stove, good used gear will be snapped up by parents in the position you’re in now.
  • A list of local dealers and mail order outlets is attached. There are many more places to buy equipment, and no one dealer has all the lowest prices. Shop around. Compare. Also be aware that Official Boy Scout equipment, with the exception of uniforms, is not always a good value for the money. They must compromise between price, profits, safety, convenience, and usability. In many instances, other equipment is available that is a much better buy than what the Boy Scouts of America calls “Official”. Some local suppliers offer Scout discounts upon presentation of a current BSA registration card. Ask about it, and if the clerk doesn’t know, ask the manager.
  • Uniforms must be “Official Boy Scout” and are available at the retailers listed. A complete uniform is relatively expensive, at around $75, it represents a major investment, but it is needed. A boy feels a part of the group, and the troop requires uniforms for meetings, traveling to and from camping trips, and some other functions. Consider buying it a little big to get maximum wear out of it, and check with parents of older Scout to see if they have old, outgrown uniforms parts for sale. The Troop maintains a “Uniform Exchange”. Check with the Scoutmaster for more info. The only place to obtain an Official Boy Scout Uniform is the Scout Shop at the Scout Service Center or online at (but you can’t try it on if you buy it online – and believe me, you want to have him try it on before you buy!).
  • Mark all of your son’s gear!!! Use indelible ink on all clothes including underwear, socks and T-shirts. Engrave all metal items. It makes the stuff easier to keep up with (“That’s my fork! No, it’s not!”), and allows easy tracing of the owner after it is left behind on camping trips. Every effort is made to return found gear, but a boy that persists in leaving things behind will have his lost stuff presented at a Court of Honor. If you think something is lost, call the trip leader to see if he has it before you panic. Many times, lost items wind up in the troop shed. A search there could be very rewarding!
  • Our troop outings include caving, rappelling, shooting and many aquatic activities. The equipment needed for these types of activities is highly specialized, and will be provided unless specifically noted otherwise. Please, please, please do not buy your son rappelling, caving, shooting or other activity-specific equipment without consulting with the people that actually run these activities. Used without proper training, these types of equipment, including but not limited to, carabiners, webbing, seat harnesses, helmets, ropes, guns, etc., are DANGEROUS and should not be given to boys without extensive training.



Back Packs

External frame-type, with a padded, wrap-around hipbelt. Do not purchase an internal frame pack, they are designed for climbers and skiers (and are very hot in the summer). A pack needs to fit properly. The hipbelt should allow the weight of the pack to be carried on the hips, not the shoulders, so the hipbelt should not be too large. Also, look for a buckle on the belt that will not “pull-out”. FastexTM buckles are the best, but be sure one side is sewn on, and the other has a second “pull-out” protector. Adjustable size frames are also available.

The Camp TrailsTM “Adjustable II” is a good choice (about $60-70 from Campmor), but there are many others that are very good quality for less money. Some of the “Official” BSA packs are made by Camp Trails and are very nice. Your son will use his pack a lot, try not to skimp here. If you can find a used pack without a hipbelt, belts are available separately to retrofit most packs for about $20. Take the pack with you when you buy the belt, all frame widths are not the same. Also consider purchasing a small spare parts kit with a few extra pins and split rings, the cost: maybe $3.

Sleeping Bags

There really is only one way to go on sleeping bag materials: Synthetic (Primaloft, Hollofil II, Quallofil, or Polarguard) fill, with a nylon shell and liner. Synthetics are necessary to keep warm if they get wet (and sleeping bags do that regularly). Nylon bags are also tough, and while somewhat heavier than down, they have excellent weight to warmth ratios (don’t buy a down bag, if it gets wet, it’s useless, dry it wrong, it’s ruined; they’re also 3 to 7 times more expensive than synthetic).

Sleeping bags come with a temperature “rating”, a somewhat arbitrary number that can be used to compare one bag to another as far as warmth goes, but doesn’t mean much in real life. If your son is warm in a 60° bedroom with a sheet on him, he’ll be more comfortable in a bag with a higher temperature rating than a boy who sleeps with 5 blankets in the summer when the air conditioning is off. You can make a sleeping bag warmer by wrapping up in a sheet or blanket, but you can’t make them cooler, so a Mount Everest-class bag (rated below zero) is not recommended, despite what some crazy Scoutmasters buy (one of mine is rated at -35°).

A bag rated around 20° or so will be plenty adequate, don’t go much warmer because the bag will be warm in the summer as it is (sleeping on the bag and putting a sheet over you is a good way to sleep in the summer). If the bag doesn’t come with a stuff sack, buy one to go with it. Rolled bags come unrolled quite easily on the trail. Plan on placing a garbage bag inside the stuff sack before stuffing the bag in.

So-called “waterproof” stuff sacks seldom are. If the bag is larger than 12 or 14 inches in diameter when stuffed, consider a compression stuff sack to cut the bulk of the bag. Accessory, or sleeping bag straps can be purchased to attach the bag to the bottom of the pack frame. They are convenient, but tying the bag on securely works well, too. Bungie cords tend not to hold too well, the constant motion bounces things out from under them. A good bag will run between $80 – $125.


A Nalgene bottle is an excellent choice, and fits into a pack pocket. Another good choice is one that clips onto the belt. The best would be one that does both. A one and one-half quart seamless aluminum canteen works well but is not as durable. A plastic soda bottle works well, as do surplus military canteens. About $5-15.

I use a Bota Bag, since it’s easier to carry when I don’t have my pack on. Stay away from Leather Bota bags and straps that are made of rope or cord, you’ll pay for it if you don’t. The best one I’ve ever used is a Bota of Boulder Cordura Bota Bag, Runs around $11 at REI or online.

Mess Kits

Official BSA and surplus military messkits are not too hot. They have a shallow plate, no bowl, nor any pots or pans. A better alternative would be a “microwave” or aluminum plate, a one to one and one half quart pot with lid for heating water and cooking (the advantage to this size is that a stove and utensils will often fit inside it; it also holds enough water for individual cleanup), and a small fry pan. You can assemble these out of kitchen extras or buy good ready made messkits for $10-35. A plastic “hot” cup is convenient for measuring, pouring, and drinking. It should be unbreakable. Metal cups burn lips and fingers, and cause food and drinks to cool faster. Before buying a messkit, see “STOVES”, below.

The picture is a Coleman Peak One Messkit. Very Light weight, pots and skillets fit most backpacking stoves


“Vitt-l Kits”: A knife, fork and spoon that fit together. Or, old flatware from home. $3-6 covers it (but it’s free is you scrounge through the silverware drawer).

I personally use Titanium utensils that I bought at REI for about $12. I tend to buy everything as if I had to backpack it, light and strong. I’ve seen to many people spend too much money buying the wrong things 3-4 times to try and save a couple of $$ and they end up spending more in the long run. If you buy the best and buy it for backpacking, then you can’t go wrong.

Rain Gear

A coated nylon poncho (the best is a urethane-coated nylon taffeta), long enough to cover a boy and his pack are available for $10-25. A less expensive vinyl one will do, but will tear and wear out much more quickly. Watch out for “super-fabrics” such as Gore-Tex, or Ultrex. They are certainly great items to own, but they are expensive, and hard to take care of. When a boy is older, they may be more suitable.

I own a Outdoor Products Packframe Poncho from REI. The great backpacker’s standby–easy to pull out of your pack and throw on for quick weather protection for you and your backpack.

  • Back panel snaps up out of the way for comfort when you’re not wearing a backpack
  • Constructed with durable urethane-coated nylon taffeta and rustproof snaps
  • No seams across the shoulders ensure you stay dry
  • Full-cut integral hood adjusts with drawcord
  • Polyester ripstop zip carrying case


Somewhat water-resistant, compact, lightweight. A 5 “D” cell light is plenty bright, but requires an ox to carry it. They are o.k. for car camping and summer camp. All that many people use is a 2 “AA” cell Mini-Mag™ or equivalent. These cost $14 or more, but are frequently on sale for less. Headlights, such as those made by Petzl, Princeton Tek, REI™, UKELite™, and others leave the hands free at night.

For car camping, I carry an $10 four LED flashlight from Wal-Mart, the flashlight is waterproof, and the 2 “D” batteries keep it going for 200 hours, and I’ll never have to change the bulb and it can’t break.

For Backpacking, I carry a 3 LED flashlight that takes two AA batteries. It’s about 3 Inches long, and weighs about 4 oz.



A small Swiss army style knife (Victorinox™ or Wenger™) is totally adequate for scouting purposes. A small folding knife such as the “Scout-Lite” by Buck™ is also very nice. Invest a few dollars in good sharpening stone soon after he gets the knife. A dull knife is dangerous. In any case, ask to see his Tote-N-Chip card before he gets a knife. This is the Scout’s certification that he has passed a simple course in knife and ax handling. The troop teaches it any time it’s needed.

Troop 172 Rules

  • Single Locking Blade
  • Non-Serrated
  • No Longer than 3.25 inches
  • Totin’ Chip Required
  • Stay away from those 52 blade knives or LeatherMan type tools, they are not safe for young boys.

Not something each boy needs to buy. A bowsaw is the most useful of the three, an ax only useful for splitting what the bowsaw cuts, and a hatchet, well, for driving in tent pegs (Not for boys) or cutting stakes and staves.



If you do buy a bow saw, keep the backpacking rules in mind, I own 2 Swen Saws (Pictured). Light, Sharp, Strong and easy to backpack.



Needed for advancement and some hiking trips, a compass is a common Scout tool. The easiest to use are the official Scout compasses. They have clear plastic, rectangular bases, with a direction of travel arrow. The compass sits at one end of the base. Some unofficial models add scales or rulers, small magnifying glasses, sighting glasses or mirrors, and other niceties to the base.

A basic Scout compass is around $10. More elaborate versions cost more. Avoid military style lensatic compasses, or more complex transit compasses, they are either not suitable, or too hard to use. Suunto, and Silva are two common brand names.

I perfer a Silva compass, especially a map compass that has a mirror. Great for getting line of site and measurements.


Tents are a MAJOR investment. So if you’re going to spend the money on a good tent that will last a scouters career, make sure you buy a backpacking tent. Single to Double lightweight (1-3.5 lbs). Don’t go waste money on a family tent for your scouter, it’ll be limited to car camping and you’ll end up having to buy another one for backpacking. Owning a backpacking tent can be used for ALL types of camping.

Lightweight (less than 4 pounds for a one-man mountain tent) such as pup, dome, or mountain styles are relatively inexpensive and easy to set up. Nylon tents require a rain fly to keep them dry in the rain, try to spend a little more initially and get a tent with a matching fly. No matter what anyone tells you, buy 1 or 2 tubes of seam sealer (K-Kote) and treat every seam on the tent before it goes out of the house! Sewing puts tiny holes in the tent material that will let in water. The newest tents state that all seams are “factory taped” or “factory sealed”. Double check to be sure the taping got down into the corners, and ALL seams are sealed, not just those in the floor.

A footprint or ground cloth of either 4 or 6 mil polyethylene sheeting is also good to have. It should be the same shape as the bottom of the tent, and one to two inches larger on each side. In dry weather, it goes between the tent and the ground to prevent condensation from soaking the bottom of the tent (the extra around the edges is turned under). In wet weather, it can go inside the tent on the floor and gear and people go on top of it. The extra is pushed up the sides to help keep water off of everything. A lot of money can be spent on a tent, $75-250 is not unusual, but a boy should tent with someone else anyway, to cut weight each has to carry (half a tent is less than a whole), and to reduce the amount of gear we carry overall. Besides, it’s more fun to tent with a friend than alone. Also, Scout rules state that adults sleep with other adults and the Scouts tent together, so if you buy a tent for one, the other might not get to use it much!

Foot Ware

This troop will have a lot of “carry it in” camping trips, ranging from a short hike from the car to a site a hundred yards in the woods, to full blown 7 to 10 mile days on backpacking trips. The footwear a boy brings along can make or break a camping trip. Cold, wet, sore feet will dampen enthusiasm faster than almost anything. A growing boy does not need a $130 pair of mountaineering boots, but his feet do need good sturdy protection. Fit is very important. Yes, you can buy them a little bit large, but be sure the difference can be made up with extra socks until he grows into them. A rubbing boot gives only one thing reliably: BLISTERS! Take the socks he will be wearing under the boots with you when you buy them. (See the paragraph on socks below).

Lightweight, nylon and suede Hi-Tec boots are very good, and not on the high end of the price scale. High-top leather basketball shoes or decent quality running shoes are good until a boy hits the 135 pound weight class. The heavier he gets, the more he’ll be carrying, therefore heavier-duty footwear will be needed. Leather workboots, or mid-weight hiking boots are good at this stage. By this time, however, a boy will probably know what he needs, shoes or boots.

All-suede “hiking” boots styled after the heavy, full grain leather mountain hiking boots are usually more style than function. They are heavy and lack even the most basic construction techniques used in real boots. Both Hi-Tec™ and Nike™ make nice hiking boots for a reasonable sum of money, $35-65 (consider that the next time he wants Air-Jordans). The top of the line rings in at over $150! Although new construction techniques have allowed Gore-Tex™ to be implemented into boots, thus rendering them NEARLY waterproof, it is still nigh onto impossible to completely weatherproof a boot. So, for comfort reasons, two pairs of socks should be worn. This applies whether he is in shoes of some sort or boots. The inner sock can be nylon, polypropylene, Thermax™, or silk. Cotton tube socks are o.k. only in mild, dry weather because once they get wet, they stay wet, and do a fine job of conducting heat away from the toes. The outer socks should be wool or polypropoline/wool blends. Wool insulates when wet, and provides padding and a surface for the inner sock and foot to rub against, helping to avoid blisters. Official Scout socks seem to work all right for outers in mild weather. A boy will need one extra pair of socks (1 or 2 pair of outer, 2 or 3 pair of inner) for a two to three day trip. This assumes reasonably good weather. If there is a chance of cold or wet weather, send more socks. Better he have too many, than get one or two sets wet hiking, and not have anything dry to change into at camp.


Charcoal stoves are recommended for young, new Scouts. They can be made from 3 pound coffee cans. The only time they can’t be used is in an area that prohibits fires. The troop can show a boy how to make one. In areas where fires are prohibited, a boy can use a Sterno™ or Heat-Tab™ stove. These are inexpensive, easy to use, and good for a variety of cooking. They are not adequate in extreme conditions (much below freezing, or in high winds or heavy rains). They don’t generate enough heat to overcome these problems. Boys should use these simple stoves and watch and learn from older boys before purchasing a gas or liquid fuel stove.

Butane (good except in below freezing temps) are fairly safe and relatively easy to use. Many butane or propane stoves are flimsy however, so to get a good one, pay a little more (a really good one will cost almost as much as a liquid fuel model). A liquid fuel stove is the cadillac. If you decide to buy one, watch for safety features (such as detached fuel tanks like the MSR Whisperlite™), ease of use (such as the Optimus 8R), and ability to be used at high altitudes, and in cold temperatures. T

he Whisperlite is highly recommended (about $45-55). The Svea™ 123R is also a good choice. It’s a good idea (for the 123R it’s necessary) to purchase a cookkit to go with the stove (another $35-45) because this adds an uncounted amount of safety and convenience to the stove’s use. It allows the stove to be nested for carrying, and one kit will generally feed two to three people which is the usual size of cooking groups on backpacking trips. BSA’s recommended stove, the Coleman™ Peak 1, is not the best choice. It is o.k., but has some safety limitations (as far as I am concerned, any stove that regularly throws up a 2 foot flame is a safety concern).

A boy must be absolutely sure of his stove’s operating instructions and safety rules before using it. Please make sure he practices with it under an adult’s supervision at home until he is proficient to safely operate the stove in all kinds of conditions, including, but not limited to: cold weather, wind, rain, and uneven terrain. Use it with the cookkit he’ll be using in the woods to cook food. Some boys have chosen not to eat or to eat cold food because they were unsure of how to use them when they went camping. 2 or 3 leaders cannot help 20 boys light 20 different stoves and fix their own meals, too. We cannot be experts on all types of stoves, although the ones mentioned above are used regularly by various members of the troop. We’ll certainly help if they’re having too much difficulty or trying to blow themselves up, but nothing prevents problems better than thorough lessons on stove use at home.

If you’re unsure or don’t feel confident to help him, ask one of the leaders, we’ll make time to help him learn before he gets into trouble. The troop also requires a Scout to be “certified” on any stove he uses by demonstrating his ability to set it up, light it, cook on it, refuel it safely, and put it away. He must also show that he knows what to do in an emergency involving the stove he is using. A Scout must have this certification before he is allowed to use any stoves on trips.

One though about canister stoves, you have to pack them ion and pack them out even though they are not reuseable. They are horrible in really cold weather (All butane, propane, etc are). They are really hot and tend to cook hotter than normal fuel.

Pictured is my stove, an MSR’s XGK Expedition stove has been the world’s most reliable extreme-condition stove, trusted by mountaineers everywhere. The new XGK EX builds on that legacy. Like its predecessor, the EX boasts unrivaled performance, dependably burning a greater variety of liquid fuels than any stove on the market. It also features a new flexible fuel line that allows it to pack smaller than ever, as well as retractable legs and pot supports for superior stability—no matter where your next expedition takes you.

  • Other Features:
  • Material: Stainless Steel
  • Boil Time: 2.0 Min
  • Burn Time: Depends on alitude
  • What Fuel: Pretty much anything
  • Field Maintainable: Yes, Shaker Jet cleans fuel jet with a simple shake
  • Fuel Bottle: Bottle
  • Simmer: Yes
  • Weight: 13.2 oz
  • Warranty: Lifetime
  • Use: Mountaineering, camping, backpacking, hiking