The Game with a Purpose, which develops character by practice, endeavors to have young mean lead their younger brothers in ‘learning by doing’ exciting things in the outdoors for the sheer joy there is in it. One of the first things Scouting begins to instill in the Tenderfoot scout is how to live up to the brief motto of the Boy Scouts of America: Be Prepared.
What better demonstration of preparedness than the gear that’s in your rucksack for long-term camping, the National Scout Jamboree, summer camp, or any other eventuality that may arise. Not only does preparedness help achieve the fourth aim of Scouting, mental and physical fitness, but it will also go a long way helping scouts in working to achieve the other four aims, namely character development, citizenship training, and leadership.
Outdoor enthusiasts have been working for a century or more on various approaches for discerning what the critical pieces of equipment are that are needed to survive in the backcountry. From common-sense tools like a sleeping bag to the various pieces that should be in a mess kit, learning all the different elements of a full rucksack takes time and practice.
Putting all the tools into use according to the Boy Scout Handbook and other guidelines like the Leave No Trace principles takes even more time and hard work on top of that. Fortunately, there are many scouts that have already been through this process and come up with some very clever methods for identifying what is essential to have in a backpacking backpack, day pack, and case for the Jamboree.
One of the best ways to remember the rules for packing is to experience that breathtaking moment when you arrive at the campsite just to realize you’ve left behind something critical like toothpaste and a toothbrush or a piece of gear essential for earning your next badge, like a swimsuit. Forgetting an element of the scout uniform is equally dire, but the enforcement is dependent on the older leaders of the pack.
The best thing to do is to start early and continue always to work on a personal packing list that you will be able to depend on to include everything you need for the type of camping trip you’re going on. Backpacking on a day trip doesn’t require all the same emergency items as long-term camping. The weather will also have an effect on what you bring.
Read on for the whole story on packing your gear for long-term camping or a shorter trip like an endeavor for the next badge. There’s plenty of good advice out there so we compiled all that we could find; it’s never too early to start working on your personal scout packing list.
What’s always essential for a camping checklist?
There are some variations among the many different lists of critical camping items. Camping equipment like the tent and various accouterments related to it like tent poles and a tarp, a sleeping bag and sleeping pad, toiletries, and cutlery for mealtime are all likely to be needed on any trip.
Even if you aren’t planning to stay out overnight, you should always be prepared with at least a tarp and some kind of sleeping bag just in case you are accidentally thrown off course or otherwise unable to return from the campout as soon as you had hoped to.
Clothing will always be a requirement, although whether you need long johns, long pants, or a sweater or sweatshirt can vary depending on the season and the planned activity. Without a doubt, scouts must have a complete scout uniform with them for long-term camping and jamborees. A poncho or raincoat is always wise to have and can be packed down very tightly generally speaking.
Pajamas, underwear, and good durable hiking boots or other footwear are all absolute requirements. A hat, gloves, and extra socks are likely to be useful and should be added to your camping checklist, especially if you plan to go out in the colder months or when rain is likely.
Outfitting a first aid kit
The first aid kit has to be packed with all the right elements. Medicine that hasn’t gone out of date, bandages that haven’t been wet, and plenty of insect repellent and ointments like sunscreen should be inside to be prepared for all non-emergency occasions. A flashlight, bulb and extra batteries should also be included.
A whistle to call attention in the event of a sudden accident and some safety pins to help affix bandages should be in the first aid kit in high enough numbers not to run out in case you need them.
Unlike certain types of clothing and sleeping gear, what is in the first aid kit should always be in the first aid kit. Replenishing supplies after camping trips is crucial to ensure that the next person who suffers a treatable bite, cut, or scrape isn’t forced to end their trip for lack of first aid supplies.
Anything you can think of that might be useful can always be added to the packing list. It’s better to add than it is to take away when it comes to first aid supplies, but remember that this stuff should be for non-emergencies only. There’s no way you’ll be able to take a whole ambulance with you, but work out what the things are that you wind up using every camping trip and you’ll know what you should be packing.
Packing up the mess kit
After a long day orienteering or working on a project at the campsite, scouts just about always work up a huge appetite. Despite this constant situation, the mess kit is the thing that is most frequently packed incompletely or that has pieces missing by the end of a long-term camping trip. Of course, the blame doesn’t rest singularly with scouts who are newer or beset with the multitudinous distractions of a camping trip.
The mess kit itself has developed since its inception and different brands often include different materials. Just as with all other types of gear, it’s important to get to know what’s in your mess kit and, more importantly, what should be in your mess kit.
The standard-issue military-style mess kit includes a plate, a pan, a cup, a pot, utensils, and a canteen for drinking water. Many of these implements have been replaced with more modern convenient models or integrated into other elements of the mess kit. The utensils, for instance, can be combined in a spork-like implement rather than having to keep track of three separate utensils.
Depending on your personal preference, you might like to get a complete set for your mess kit. The advantage of doing so is that the various pieces should fit together into a single unit that is more easily stowed in a rucksack. Some people cobble a mess kit together from different things that they find handy over a long period, which is also completely fine.
The important thing is to get those essentials covered. Something to eat out of, something to drink from, something to cook in, something to cook with, something to fry in, and something to eat with are all essential elements of the mess kit.
Rain gear for a packing list
One of the best things you can do when thinking about your camping gear is to focus on versatility. There’s no need to carry around lots of tools with only one or two applications. Just as you don’t need to pack a knife, fork, and spoon when a spork will do the trick, there are other multi-purpose things that no pack should be without.
The debate on the humble tarp is still raging, but from our perspective it’s an essential piece of gear for making a rain shelter, transporting firewood or other materials, or making shade from the sun. A tarp can even replace a tent if you set it up the right way, which can end up turning your rucksack into an ultralight collection of gear when you nix the tent poles and various heavy pieces of tent-related equipment. Similarly, an ultralight and packable rain jacket can replace heavier sweaters if it’s a sure thing that the weather will stay warm enough for the duration of the long-term trip.
Extras for a camping checklist
These extras are completely up to the individual scout and the specific aims of the endeavor. Binoculars can always be handy, but perhaps they can be left behind if you’re heading to a heavily-wooded area with no high vantage points from which you could possibly use the binoculars. Sunglasses are essential for some people who are more sensitive to sunlight, while others readily leave sunglasses behind or neglect to buy them in the first place.
Work gloves are another thing that some scouts never leave home without even though other scouts haven’t donned a pair in ages. Fishing gear is useful for a badge attempt but not in the forest. A swimsuit and a camera are both on the same level of being completely up to personal taste. In the end, you’re the one who has to carry the rucksack, to be careful with adding new gear, especially fragile gear like a camera.
Dave Canterbury’s 10Cs
A longtime survivalist, Dave Canterbury is one of many to come up with a packing list to suit just about every situation that could arise at a campsite. He’s also taken the time over many years to perfect that list and corrected it when he found mistakes. It’s a very illuminating collection of essential camping gear, including the following:
- A cutting tool: This means a knife, of course. Thinking about the knife you need is really critical because it’s one of those pieces of gear that’s going to serve tons of different purposes. The length and thickness of the blade and handle are important for torque. It shouldn’t be so large that it can’t be used for detail-oriented jobs, while a blade that’s too small for jobs like firewood and food prep is equally disadvantageous.
- Combustion device: A firestarter can save a lot of anguish if weather conditions are bad. Rain, wind, and snow can turn the simple task of fire-starting into an hours-long ordeal. Having a firestarter with you is a very wise thing indeed, and if you can find one that sparks really easily with that cutting tool we just talked about then you’ll really be on the way to an efficient packing list.
- Cover: As already discussed, cover like clothing can change depending on conditions and the season. Never underestimate the need for a sweater or especially dry clothing. Sweat and creek water can be a trek-ruiner if you’re out in the elements with no way to get dry. Cover also means a tarp and a dependable towel and washcloth. If you want to keep that mess kit clean, remember you’ll need a washcloth that’s clean to clean it.
- Container: This means a water bottle, but so much more than a normal one (and especially a disposable one, remember the LNT guidelines). This container should be able to be used to cook water or drink it, but also seal tightly and be wide enough to clean easily.
- Cordage: As useful as a tarp can be, what you have to secure it with is just as critical. Cordage should be as durable as possible and there should be enough of it to secure lights, structures, and shelter in high winds and heavy precipitation. Consider fireproof and waterproof cordage and always bring a bit more than you think you should.
- Extra material: This one fits in with the first aid kit advice we went over earlier. Extra cloth, whether it’s a bandana, washcloth, or extra bandages, should be able to be used in first aid applications as well as for fire-starting and sun protection. Don’t bring anything you want to keep in good condition for this one. Some folks try to use toilet paper for this one, but it doesn’t really work out. T.P. is better as a firestarter and, of course, for its intended purpose.
- Adhesives: Duct tape, scotch tape, gorilla tape… there’s a lot than can work to fulfill this 7th essential. Great for starting a fire as much as for securing that extra material from point 6, the adhesive you pack is going to make the other items you have much more useful in more situations.
- Compass: Bring one that doesn’t run on batteries. Don’t depend on your phone and it’s network. Learn how to take a bearing and orient yourself with landmarks. An updated map of your area is also crucial for use with the compass. A magnifying glass and a mirror are helpful additions on many compasses if you can find one with them added on.
- Sail needle: A sail needle is a really large needle that you can use to sew tents and tarps up or for more than a few first aid applications. Find somewhere you can stow this needle for when you need it where it won’t jab you in the middle of a trek.
- Light: Even though the assumption is that there will be a campfire in the future sometime, having a strong headlamp is critical to finding your way in the dark, signaling to others, and keeping animals at bay. Never leave home without one of these and some extra batteries. It’s pretty much always going to get dark outside no matter what season it is.
- Always pack food with you: That hunger is going to hit hard, especially if there are any surprising developments. Granola bars and stopgap stomach-fillers like that will help keep up energy but also try to get high-calorie food that will keep well and restore critical nutrients to keep you alive and kicking during a long-term camping trip.
The packing list
Here’s a short summary of the different types of gear you’re going to want to have with you on the next camping trip. Bear in mind that this is not, and probably never will be, exhaustive. It’s up to each scout to make sure that the camping list is constantly updated and, most of all, that all our fellow scouts have what they need to survive in the great outdoors. Here are the basics:
- Day bag with food, snacks, a piece of rain gear, etc.
- Camping supplies for fire-starting, illumination, a hatchet, a saw, a multipurpose tool, etc.
- Clothing, towel, washcloth, winter clothes, sweaters, rain gear
- First aid kit
- Cooking equipment/mess kit
- Sleep gear, campsite gear
- Miscellaneous extra items
If you’re going as a pack and staying out in the wilderness for a while, bring food storage implements like a cooler with ice as well. You can’t survive forever on dehydrated food.
There are some pieces of gear that will always be useful no matter how long the camping trip or day trip. A pocket knife is always going to have some use, as is a compass, firestarter, and the rest of the 10Cs. You always need food and some way to eat it. A washcloth to clean things off and a method to carry water, be it a water bottle or something else, are both must-haves.
Cub scouts begin to learn about what they need and how to use it as a matter of course in BSA. Don’t get overwhelmed when you see a large sample packing list with hundreds of items on it. People who have made it to be eagle scouts and have had many more experiences and camping trips have developed these packing lists after years and years of work and care. The whole purpose is to put them to good use!
You never know when things are going to get wet from weather or river water, so make sure you have everything stored in a plastic bag that you can’t afford to let get wet. This is especially critical for the items in the first aid kit. Every time you go on a campout it’s a new learning experience. Use this guide to make sure you have what you need. Remember: Be Prepared!
Bonus tip: Watch this overview of the Ten Scout Essentials, Ten Cub Essentials, and the Pathfinder School 10Cs for a day hike!