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The Ten Essentials

Any time a Scout goes on a camping trip or hike, he should always be prepared by carrying the following ten essential items in his pack. These essentials will allow a scout to survive in the outdoors in most emergency situations.  Below is a list of those essentials along with some recommendations based on our experience over the years.

Pocket Knife

NOTE: A pocket knife can only be carried once a Scout has earned his Totin’ Chip.  It is okay to bring a pocket knife to his first campout where he will be working on his Totin' Chip but he may not use it until he has earned the card.


  • Choose a quality knife with a sharp blade.  Nothing is more dangerous than a cheap knife with a dull blade.
  • Avoid knives with serrated edges.  They are for cutting rope and they look "cool" but can make ugly wounds
  • Avoid the temptation to get a knife with TONS of tools.  Scouts only need one blade but will ask for more.
  • Sheath knives are NOT allowed.
  • Avoid knives with blades larger than 3-3.5".
  • BSA is starting to recommend "locking" knives, that is, knives where the blade can be locked into the open position.


First Aid Kit 
You don't need anything fancy here, the troop will have a group first-aid kit.  This personal first-aid kit should include a few supplies to treat blisters, small cuts, and other minor injuries such as:
  • Adhesive bandages (Band-Aids)
  • 2 sterile, 3-by-3-inch gauze pads
  • Small roll of adhesive tape
  • A 3-by-6-inch piece of moleskin (for blisters)
  • A small bar of soap or small bottle of hand sanitizing gel
  • A small tube of triple antibiotic ointment
  • Scissors
  • Disposable non-latex gloves
  • CPR breathing barrier
  • Pencil and paper
REI and Adventure Medical kits (the most basic personal versions) are acceptable but may include medicine which we prefer Scouts not carry.  Purchasing the items highlighted in bold and putting them in a ziploc bag is the simplest way to go.

Source: Boy Scout Handbook, 12th Edition, 2009 Printing

Extra clothing 

Clothing is very important to a successful campout.  It is NO fun to be cold and/or wet and miserable.  We are fortunate that we live in such a moderate climate but it can still get quite cold in the evenings and mornings.  The key concept is layering.  That is, wearing multiple layers and adjusting the number of layers as it gets warmer (shed a layer) or cooler (add a layer).  A discussion on clothing could consume an entire book but the most essential items are:
  • Fleece pullover or jacket
  • Rain gear (see below)
  • Synthetic wool socks
  • Stocking cap
  • Warm gloves


  • Avoid cotton - it dries too slowly and keeps moisture next to skin
  • Bring a hat - to keep warmth from escaping

Rain gear

A rain jacket can protect you from light rain or heavy storms.  It is important to stay dry and warm.  We recommend a rain jacket and not a poncho.  Ponchos tend to be cheap and rip easily and also allow rain in from the sides.  Avoid the super cheap rain jackets like the ones from Coleman but don't bother spending the money on a Gore-Tex jacket as your scout will outgrow this article of clothing several times in his scouting career.  Rain pants are a nice addition but really only needed once you start going on longer outings or backpacking trips.


  • Marmot PreCip
  • REI Ultralight
  • Sierra Designs 
  • North Face Venture
  • Patagonia Torrentshell

Water Bottle

Drinking enough water is important for your health during any outdoor activity.  Scouts should have the ability to carry at least 1 Liter of water at all times.  For spring and summer outings we recommend 2-3L capacity especially at higher elevations like Camp Oljato where the motto is "clear and copious".

Some discussion regarding the choice between a water bottle and a hydration pack are in order.

Hydration Pack

+ Water is always with you on your back
+ Day pack useful for carrying ten essentials, handbook, etc.
+ Water is easily accessible while hiking
- Can leak inside the pack if Scouts pull on tubing
- Tubing can grow mold if not properly cleaned after use
- Bite valve can be pulled off if not treated with care

Water Bottle

+ Easy to refill
+ Easy to drink from
+ Easy to clean after use
- Can be lost when set down
- Cheap water bottles break easily


  • If you buy a water bottle, make it a 1L Nalgene (BPA free)
  • Label your name on the bottle lid with a Sharpie

Flashlight or headlamp

We recommend using an LED headlamp.  This frees up your hands for setup, cooking, and other tasks.  There are many models to choose from with varying light output and features.  We recommend something fairly simple but robust.  Make sure you pack one set of extra AA or AAA batteries just in case.


  • Petzl
  • Black Diamond
  • Princeton Tec

Trail food
Food is provided on all outings and no Scout has ever starved to death on an outing.  That said, it is important that Scouts eat well so they have energy to participate in the activities.  Many Scouts are picky eaters and may not eat well when their parents are not around.  Please encourage your son to eat high-energy foods such as trail mix, protein bars, or nuts.  If you know your son is a picky eater make sure you send along some food that they will eat.

NOTE: Food should never be stored in packs or tents as critters will try to get it.  Store food only in bear boxes or other containers.

Matches/Fire starter

We recommend strike-anywhere matches in a waterproof container or Ziploc bag.  Scouts should NOT carry the magnesium fire starters as they just end up playing around with them and not using them as they were intended.

NOTE: Matches can only be used once a Scout has earned his Firem'n Chit.  It is okay to bring matches to his first campout or summer camp where he will be working on his Firem'n Chit but he may not use them until he has earned the card

Sun protection

Exposure to the sun's rays can be harmful to your skin, especially for people with fair complexions.  Guard your skin by applying a good sunscreen (SPF 15 or greater) and wearing a broad-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and lip balm that contains sunscreen ingredients.

Map and compass

Scouts will learn to use a compass as a part of the Trail to First Class skills.  Land navigation is an essential skill that is needed through Scouting and it is important that Scouts have a basic yet appropriate compass.


  • Get a compass with a clear baseplate - allows scouts to see through to the map underneath
  • Compass should have a straight edge on the baseplate - allows alignment with maps
  • Compass should have the ability to adjust for declination
  • Compass should have the ability to easily rotate the dial 
  • A lanyard is nice