Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Ten Hiking Essentials – For Scouts and all hikers

About the Author: This Post is by Forrest Jones.  Mr. Jones  is an Eagle Scout, he currently serves in the BSA Scouting Program as an Assistant District Commissioner.  He has been a Scoutmaster or Assistant Scoutmaster for over 15 years. 

Scout Outdoor Essentials

Where do you find the gear that you need, at a price that you can afford and is durable enough to last? Don’t try to find it by yourself. Ask for help. If you have to “buy and try” every product yourself, you may run out of money before you find the gear that works for you. The Internet has opened up a whole new world when it comes to product reviews. There are manufacturers’ websites, consumer reports, blogs, review websites, YouTube videos of the gear in action, Wikipedia and Gear Review websites (such as BackpackBaseCamp.com). All of these can be accessed from your home computer and contain a wealth of information.

I have always loved the outdoors, and it is from the perspective of the Scouts, Scoutmasters, parents and Youth Leaders that I would like to share my knowledge. Some of my fondest memories are of the various times that we went fishing, sat around the campfire, went canoeing, took a picture of a wild animal, climbed a mountain or discovered a hidden waterfall. Although we think of these as simple activities, there always was certain gear and clothing that was needed prior to going on the trip. The Boy Scout Handbook lists “The Scout Outdoor Essentials” (page 207 of the Boy Scout Handbook) which are 10 items that generally are needed on hikes and outings. When I was growing up in Scouting, these were called the 10 Essentials. They are: Pocketknife, First aid kit, Extra Clothing, Rain gear, Water bottle, Flashlight, Trail food, Matches and fire starters, Sun Protection and a Map and compass. When you are packing, these are a great place to start, and then add additional items based on the particulars of the location, duration and situation. I don’t doubt that if we all thought for a little while, we could maybe replace something on that list of 10 Essentials, with something that we consider to be more important or useful, but overall, I think that those 10 are a good start.
Allow me to discuss each of those 10 items in brief detail. Each varies in value depending on the situation.

Pocketknife. Although every Scout loves to carry one, the plain, standard pocketknife is a little over rated. I see a lot of Scouts fiddling with their knives, walking with an open knife, and not necessarily behaving in a safe manner. I find it interesting that the same pocketknife that a boy would bring on a campout, could also get him expelled from school (no weapons on school grounds). It is also interesting to note that some of the first aid that is needed on campouts is due to cuts from whittling, or some other type of knife activity. The Scouting program has an achievement award called the, “Totin’Chip” award for learning the safe handling of knives, axes, saws and other sharp outdoor tools. I don’t know that I would recommend for the Scouts to bring knives on typical hikes or outings, but there is a need for a couple of knives when preparing a meal, for fishing and for some other activities. But, rarely do all of the Scouts need to have their own knives. My recommendation is to use a Multi-tool such as a Leatherman (with the needlenose head) or a Swiss Army Knife with about 8 or 10 tools on it. One of my beliefs is that the best knife for whittling and making kindling, is actually just a simple sheet-rock knife that you can buy at the hardware store for less than 5 dollars. It is lightweight, safer, has a retractable blade, a perfectly sized handle, a blade that won’t close on your fingers, and has replaceable blades. It is great for whittling intricate detail for a neckerchief slide or a cane, but somehow it is not as “cool” as an expensive knife, and you generally do not see them in the outdoors.

First Aid Kit. Every scout should have their own small “personal” first aid kit, and the Troop should have a larger one on every outing. Band-Aids, an alcohol towelet, an antibacterial ointment, a 2x2” square of Duct tape and personal medications are all that should be in the personal first aid kits. It should be kept in a small, dry, sterile container that should be about the size of a wallet. The Troop first aid kit should be about 10 times that big and contain many more of items, but still should be light and compact. Always bring a first aid kit on every outing.

Extra Clothing. Since Rain gear is covered in the next paragraph, there are 2 concerns here: blisters and body temperature. Probably the number 1 fear of the Troop is that someone will get 5 miles out on a hike and will get blisters bad enough that he will not be able to continue. For blisters, Band-Aids will not stay in place. Some of the better solutions are to use the Duct tape from the Personal First Aid Kit, to tape up the hot spots before they become blisters. From my experience, the places that blisters form are: the back of the heel, the ball of the foot behind the big toe, and the edge of the big toe and the edge of the pinky toe. Duct tape on the skin is good, because it will stay in place as the shoes continue to rub. Put the tape on both the hot-spot on your foot and also the corresponding place on the shoe. There are several products that have some merit in blister prevention too. The other solution to blisters forming, is to change shoes. This sounds pretty simple, yet rarely do people bring a second lightweight pair of shoes on a long hike. Blisters form from the skin rubbing against a projecting portion of the shoes over time. Do not go on a hike in a new pair of shoes that have not been broken in yet. And build up some calluses on your feet before going on the long hikes. As for the body temperature aspect of Extra Clothing, think in layers that you can put on to warm up, or take off to cool down. The extra clothing will help you regulate your body temperature better.

Rain gear. This is broad item since I would put the waterproof snow gear in this category also. Again, it does not have to be expensive. A waterproof jacket with a hood, a waterproof poncho, a waterproof pair of sweats, and a hat is all that is needed. Nothing takes the fun out of an activity more than getting wet. An activity can still be fun if you have a layer of rain gear that can be put on as determined by the weather. Some cloth shoes, jackets, hats and other articles of clothing can be made more waterproof by applying a clear spray coating of a waterproofing liquid such as 3M’s Scotchgard Heavy Duty Water Repellent, or similar outdoor waterproofing sprays.

Water bottle. A good water bottle should always be handy. My preference is to carry one that is relatively clear, at least a quart, has a flip top, a belt clip and has an opening size to fit on the bottom of the water purifiers. It is nice if it is clear so you can see to clean it easy and to tell how much water is left. Although it is called a “water” bottle, often lemonade powder, punch or other drinks may be put in it. I like to add just a touch of Crystal Light to my water bottle. It takes a little bit more effort to clean a bottle if fluids other that water have been left in them. The Platypus types of water containers are excellent also, since they are light and collapsible. I clearly remember one campout where the Scouts caught a bunch of 4” long newts and carried them around in their water bottles for several hours. I don’t think that they drank out of their water bottles for the rest of that camp, but it was memorable to see a little critter swimming around in their water bottles. Many of the Water filters/purifiers can screw right on to the top of a water bottle.

Flashlight. It is my belief that handheld flashlights have become obsolete now that the LED headlamps are available everywhere. The LEDs are light, long-lasting, cheap and durable. They free up both of your hands and shine in the direction that your head is pointing. You can just put them on your forehead, or over your hat. They are small enough to put in your pocket, or in a sleeping bag pocket. With branches, wild animals, slippery objects and logs, it is actually quite dangerous to be out in the dark woods at night without a light. I consider a headlamp to be absolutely essential for everyone on the overnight campouts. The LEDs usually work on small AAA batteries and seem to last forever.

Trail food. My preference is just a baggie filled with a granola cereal. Some of the Chex or other cereals are good too. Some of the chocolate fiber bars are nice. Don’t get something that tastes too good, or it will be eaten too early. Many of the dehydrated foods are fantastic, but can be a little expensive. We have a food dehydrator, that is very good at making great snacks from foods that may otherwise go to waste. It is perfect for apple slices, dried fruits, etc. I read in a survival book a while ago, “not to eat something dry, unless you have something to drink with it.” This is quite profound since your stomach needs liquids to go with the food into the intestinal area.

Matches and fire starters. What is really needed is a couple of cigarette lighters for the whole Troop. Matches are another item that are rapidly going obsolete. My preference is for the long stem lighters that are used to light a barbeque grill. These should probably be kept in with the cooking supplies, and may not even be needed if going on a hike. Not every Scout needs to bring his own matches or lighter. These should be a Troop item instead of an individual item.

Sun protection. Simple, but important. It can be purchased in small containers that take up very little space. Mosquito repellant should also be listed in with this item, since mosquitoes can take a lot of the enjoyment out of a hike, fishing trip or sleeping under the stars. Many people are sensitive to mosquito bites and should use additional precaution.

Map and compass. May I also add a watch and a copy of the itinerary to this list of orienteering items? Maps, a compass and a watch go together. In addition to keeping everyone on schedule, a watch is important because it lets you know how far you have hiked. If you know that you walk at a rate of 3 miles an hour, then you can measure that distance on the map and get a good approximation of where you would be on the map. Each person should have their copy of the map so that each one knows where they are, instead of just relying on the person that is the guide. GPSs are awesome but may be a little complicated for new users or younger people. The basics of maps and magnetic declination need to be understood by all, and orienteering is an important skill that needs to be learned and practiced regularly. Each person should have a copy of the itinerary that lists the proposed times, routes, destinations, emergency contact numbers, etc. I refer to it as the “flight plan.” It is easier for everyone to understand the outing, and they can respond to emergencies better.

These are the “Scout Outdoor Essentials,” and should be included on most outings. Nothing on this list is expensive, and many of the items can be shared. This brief list reinforces the Boy Scout Motto of “Be Prepared.” Outings should be simple but fun. Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of Scouting from Britain probably said it best, “Scouting is fun with a purpose.”


Other Scouting and hiking articles are at BackpackBasecamp.com

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