Forester Pass as seen from the south: the highest point on the Pacific Crest Trail in Sequoia National Park.
Photo credit: Doug Prosser
When a boy first joins the Boy Scouts, one of the first questions that comes up for his parents is what backpacking gear to outfit their son with. Naturally, the parents really want to get their kid the “right” gear. But there are differing opinions on what it right. The new Scouts in the troop that I am Assistant Scoutmaster of range in age from 11 to 13 years, in height from 4’0″ to 5’10” and in weight from 65 to 180 pounds. These new Scouts all want to be recognized as being able to hike and carry their share of the gear. They can easily lose their self-esteem if they are given a huge, heavy pack to carry and then they can’t make it up the first hill they encounter. From my observations, what the boys can carry changes once they have seen a few years of testosterone and perhaps played sports; then it doesn’t seem to matter how much weight is in their packs and they usually leave the adults behind on the trail. But when they first become Scouts, it’s a different matter. Leather hiking boots, big backpacks, Scout mess kits, heavy sleeping bags, and heavy tents might seem like the “right” gear, but can quickly become a discouraging liability for the new Scout. What I will show you in this article are inexpensive, lightweight options for new additions to the Troop.
Before I go into the gear in detail, I’d like to give you some suggestions of places to look for inexpensive clothing and gear. For clothing, try your town’s thrift stores first, then department stores, then sports or outdoor stores. To find discount gear and clothing online, look at campmor.com, sierratradingpost.com, rei-outlet.com, rei.com, northernmountain.com, and backcountrygear.com, especially at their sale/clearance items.
The author and son, Mike, on top of Forester Pass, August 2001. Doug, Mike, and Troop 257 were on their way from Onion Valley south on the PCT, then out over Mt. Whitney. Mike was 14 years old, a Scout, and on his fourth Sierra hike. He went on to earn his Eagle Scout rank in 2003; he starts at the US Coast Guard Academy in June 2005. They grow up fast!
The gear on the list below was selected with careful attention paid to low weight and low cost as much as possible. The list was compiled for new Boy Scouts (although it will work equally well for anyone who wants to lighten their load but not their wallet) backpacking in three-season, mild conditions.