I was a Scout in the UK in, oh, 1974. That is where I learned to love hiking, camping out and the freedom of being self-sufficient. It was through Scouts that I learned what to pack, what to carry, and what to wear. I found myself still teaching this to young people in 2008.
I’ve written elsewhere about lightweight kit, and what I now take on an adventure race. Which is why I find myself scratching my head when I look at the kit list I am recommending to young people. I’ve put the whole list below. At a guess, even if bought shrewdly, it is about 12kg of kit. For a beginner. The only good news is that it is mostly cheap. Probably under £1,000 if bought from scratch, less if you find second hand or end of line stuff. Yep; the cost of a DoE kit list is over £1,000. No wonder there is a preponderance of middle class kids doing DoE with private schools on the hills of England while painting their nails and straightening their hair. 😉
So, over this summer, I am going to try to work out a replacement that is both light, and cheap. I’m not even sure it is possible, but it is worth trying. I think we owe it to young people to encourage them to get out and live in the greenery without harming their backs or their wallets.
But First, The Heavy List
This list is to provide a guide to the personal kit required for a 2-day hike or offsite camp at DoE Bronze Level. It is a subset of the kit required for Summer Camp.
We encourage Explorers to pack and maintain their own equipment, as this is the only way that they will be able to find it in the dark, or in a hurry. Please practise using your expedition kit at home, with friends, in the garden or walking about until you are confident in using it and can use it without having to read the instructions
Shared Kit (per 2/3 people)
Tent + Groundsheet
Your own good tent is one of those things that you will never grow out of. They represent a substantial investment, but can receive an awful lot of use over the four-year career of an Explorer Scout, as well as having family and social value. Knowing how to pitch and store your own tent can save vital time on expeditions. The weather at summer camp is notoriously variable, with cold nights, hot days, and the risk of summer storms. A lightweight (sub. 3.1kg) two or three person tent is a pleasure to use. Good brands include Vaude, North Face, MSR, Terra Nova, Wild Country, Mountain Hardware, Vango, Coleman and Blacks. Don’t bring ‘music festival tents’ as they simply aren’t up to the job. You can, of course, share with a friend to spread the cost
Food and snacks
As agreed by the team – sufficient for all meals (lunch – dinner – breakfast – lunch) and hot drinks over 48 hours. Lightness, but with an eye on digestibility, interest, taste and ease of preparation are important here. Dehydrated meals may mean having to carry or find more water. Think carefully!
Camp Stove and Fuel
If Explorers have kit they know, it is good to bring it. One stove between two people, with enough fuel for 7 meals (6 planned and one emergency) is the right balance. We like Trangias (especially the ‘mini’ size), but modern gas fuelled micro-stoves and pans are now very affordable.
Pots and Pans
Small, light, stacking and easy to clean are the watchwords, and Teflon is your friend here. Use them to store and protect fragile items (like matches, alarms, etc) while walking.
Washing up kit
Pans can be their own washing up bowls, but you need to bring half a ‘non-scratch’ pan scourer, some soap, and a cloth to clean everything with. (We put washing up liquid in an old hotel shampoo miniature bottle!)
Please bring one, and do not expect it to return home alive.
We all like to see good pictures from DoE expeditions. We are happy for people to bring small cameras, bearing in mind hike conditions can be hostile to electronics and optical equipment. A soft cloth bag, inside a plastic bag, is the minimum protective equipment for a digital camera. Smaller and lighter is better. Optional for DoE ‘expedition objectives’!
Optional – many people have found it helpful to pack a bit of duct-tape, some twine and some simple glue (like Bostic). All sorts of things break, and being able to repair a hole in tent, fix a broken rucksack strap, or jury-rig a drying line may come in very handy.
Personal Kit – Sleeping
Sleeping Mat (Roll Mat, Self-Inflating, etc)
Lack of sleep can seriously spoil your enjoyment of hikes. A good light weight sleeping mat is an essential part of equipment. We recommend something weighing under 700g like a ‘Therm-a-Rest’, or cheaper and lighter ‘closed cell’ Karri-mats (They can last 25 years).
Sleeping Bag (3 or 4 Seasons)
A good sleeping bag lasts 10 or more years, and most Explorers should buy one in an adult size. We recommend that you look for something under 2 kg in weight, and preferably down-filled. A 3-4 season bag is a good idea. Look for ratings around -10C to +10C. If cold, then, rather than buy an expensive (and possibly too hot) 4 season bag, we recommend buying a silk or cotton sleeping bag liner as well. Brands like Vango, Coleman, Technicals, North Face, Marmot, Mountain Equipment and Vaude are all reliable.
Most Explorers learn to roll pillow up using a T-shirt and a towel. However a small inflatable pillow or a collapsible travel pillow is a fine luxury for a comfortable night.
Bed socks and hat
Soft, warm, socks and a soft warm hat really transform the experience if the evening temperatures drop.
Personal Kit – Clothing
Please wear your neckerchief, or scarf, whenever you are offsite or mixing with other Units.
Walking Boots + Suitable socks
Good socks and boots are vital to camping and walking. Trainers simply do not provide enough protection from heavy objects, axes, tent pegs, or rocky ground. Unfortunately young Explorers’ feet grow very fast, and they may only get one or two seasons of use from a pair of boots. We therefore encourage you to swap boots down to younger Explorers when you buy new ones! We recommend buying a modest pair of boots at first. Choose them carefully, spending at least 10 minutes in the store wearing them while walking up and down the stairs. Always take advice from a quality outdoor shop. Once your feet stop growing, then it is the time to invest in some serious boots.
Two pairs of socks – a thinner wicking pair on the inside, heavier woollen or technical fabric socks on the outside – are the key to a blister free life. Talc or foot powder is a sensible thing to have when the weather is warm. Spare laces are very highly recommended.
Hiking / Activity Trousers
Avoid cotton. Go for polyester or other robust and fast drying technical fabrics. Explorer activity trousers are great, as are any of the many combat style trousers that copy the classic designs of Rohan. They are perfect for camping, in that they dry quickly, can be hand washed, and are robust. Remember to bring a belt… (‘Craghopper’ brand is currently very good value). If you can find trousers that zip off into shorts, even better in the summer. Be very sure to test them by wearing them all day to ensure they do not chaff!
Thin cotton or linen shirts for day wear, long sleeves please. Sunburn and rucksack strap burn are both pretty likely! ‘Expedition’ shirts in wicking fabric now come with built in mosquito repellent and sun factor 30 if you are feeling keen. We recommend taking a lightweight fleeces to wear in the evenings (Woollens are fine, 300 rating fleeces better)
Daily Change of Underwear
Granny was right. Always dress in layers. We are huge fans of modern technical wicking fabrics in underwear, and inner layers to go underneath fleeces. Merino wool icebreakers have to be tried to be believed… Modern under layers are light, dry quickly, can be hand washed, and do not build up body odour. They can be worn in water, and provide some screening from the sun. T-Shirts have their uses elsewhere, but cotton is a damp, heavy, and difficult to clean fabric so best avoided in expeditions. It should go without saying that you either need to bring sufficient changes of underwear, or be prepared to wash the ones you have by hand. It is quite possible to get through more than one pair of socks or pants / knickers per day when hiking so an extra spare pair is a good idea.
Waterproof Jacket and Trousers
It is difficult to buy good waterproof jackets and trousers for Explorers as they tend to grow out of them rather quickly. We recommend sale-shopping for a jacket and trousers one size (at least) too big and, wherever possible, to buy a vented and breathable jacket made in a modern waterproof fabric (such as Triple Point, Gore-Tex, or e-Vent). Basic Pertex waterproof trousers are usually adequate.
Hat and Gloves
It may seem odd to recommend bringing a hat and gloves to a summer hike, but there are reasons for this. The UK can always become be cold, and wet windy weather can make hands very cold indeed. A water-shedding baseball cap, ranger hat, or beanie, plus some thin windproof gloves might make all the difference should the weather change. If not, a baseball cap or something with a brim can help prevent sunburn.
Personal Kit – Objects
Required by DoE rules. You need to ensure the team has one each, and that you gave two to the examiners before you set out. (They will put one at base, and carry one on the road).
Required. Silva type are best, we can lend them. Learn to use them, and USE THEM.
25,000:1 scale or better is preferred. Even if you have GPS, you still need to use maps. We would rather you learned to map read first (as maps have no batteries to run out and work even when dropped off a cliff).
Matches or lighter
Stoves and fires always need to be lit. Carrying a way to make fire in a waterproof container (film canister, zip-lock bag, etc) is a good way of ensuring you get fed, watered and warmed.
Your mug soon becomes your very best friend. Buy a nice light one that holds at least 400ml. For the really keen, marking 50ml steps inside the mug can really help with camp cooking!
Water bottles are essential for hiking, and useful at night. One that is translucent and marked in millilitres is a good investment. A 1 L size is most useful. If you have them, Platypus or Camelbak hydration packs are fine and convenient (though they need special packs and can be ‘popped’ or pierced in rough use.)
Something to stop food being crushed on hikes. Many of us just grab an old 1L ice cream tub for this purpose. Small and light is key.
Knife, Fork, Spoon
(for hike) Lightweight packing camp cutlery can be very, very useful. Increasingly people find they can save cost and weight by simply buying a ‘spork’.
Bowl & Plate
(for hike) Lightness and robustness are the keys to camp crockery. And deeper bowls are more useful than shallow ones. Plastic is fine, Aluminium or light alloys are also fine.
Personal Kit – Hygiene
Toiletries and personal hygiene items
Everyone has their own preferences for hygiene items, but we insist that people do not bring aerosols. Experienced campers will usually find room to slip half the toilet roll into a waterproof zip lock bag just in case. Alcohol or Gel hand wash tends to cause less mess than soap, and can be had in environmentally friendly formulas. Body Wipes are a wonderful new invention for light weight hikes, and make sharing a tent much less odorous.
It is usually a good idea to take a half of a full size towel, either as a pillow, or for cleaning up after falling in a lake, swimming pool, or canal! Choose towels for their lightness and expendability. (Dunelm do some nice cheap microfiber towels right now).
Personal Kit – Equipment
A full-size rucksack
A full-size rucksack in the range of 55+ L for women and 65+ L for men is essential for expedition camping. Ensure you have one with the right frame shape, belt and straps for your gender.
It needs to have shoulder straps, chest band, hip belt and a good range of adjustment. Try many on to learn about comfort and fit before buying.
Modern technology has made them much lighter, tougher, more waterproof, and more comfortable than even five years ago. Buying new makes a great deal of sense, unless you have a friend you can borrow a new one from. It is essential to take professional advice and have them fitted after wearing them fully loaded in the store. Explain that they will get 10yrs of use up to Gold DoE when buying them. Reliable brands include Lowe Alpine, Go-Lite, Osprey, North Face, Vaude, Karrimor, Berghaus and Technicals.
Very much a matter of choice, but make walking with a pack much easier and can be pressed into all sorts of useful services (such as making windbreaks with jackets, drying clothes, holding tents open and pressing through nettles). Recommended if you have them.
Obligatory – approx 1,000 calories of easy to digest food (cereal bars, mars bar, mint cake, that sort of thing), packed tight and waterproof. Strictly for emergencies.
Personal First Aid Kit
Obligatory – You may not hike or participate in adventurous activities without one. This is very much your own first aid kit, and will contain medicines, tablets, creams, plasters, non-stick dressings, and the like. In summer hikes, rehydration salts / isotonic drink sachets are a very good idea. It is essential that this first aid kit also contains complete contact details, and a record of any medical conditions pertinent to the person carrying it. We strongly discourage explorers from sharing any medicines, even mild painkillers, because of the risk of an adverse reaction.
The two most common injuries at camp are minor insect stings, and small burns. Bringing treatment for those is generally considered wise. Insect repellent (water proof) works, but please BEWARE that insect repellent can instantly dissolve nylon, polyester, tent fabric, rucksacks, spectacle frames and waterproof coats, so seal it in a paper bag inside a strong polythene bag! Sunscreen is also ‘vital’. We urge Explorers to bring sunscreen – they can be spending up to 14 hours a day in the open air, and sunburn is both likely and serious.
Mobile phones can be controversial in Scouting: on one hand they are menacing distraction when safety critical, or time critical, information is being handed out; and on the other hand they can be a lifesaver when groups become separated. On balance we recommend that Explorers carry them, but that they do not use them to listen to music, and keep them switched off except to report location to examiners/trainers by text. Be aware that we won’t provide recharging facilities for mobile phones.
Small, shrill and kept on a lanyard. Please learn the UK emergency signal sounds before you use it. Obligatory.
Of legal size (under 3”), very sharp, and of good steel. Spring, butterfly and lock knives are illegal, as are blades over 3” (rules are complex, so look them up). We recommend the original Swiss Army knife.
Watch / Alarm clock
A good watch – robust, and preferably analogue. Analogue watches can be used for navigation and competitions as well as telling the time quickly. Most phones have alarm functions, and we all know how hard Explorers find it to get up in the morning, so something loud is recommended.
We suggest that a brightly coloured wallet containing contact details and the name of the Explorer unit is used as this is much more likely to be found and returned from the undergrowth.
Torch + Spare Batteries
Modern lightweight LED torches, especially head torches, have revolutionised night time. There is no need to bring a searchlight, and generally we encourage people to exercise their night vision. Having said this, a head torch for finding one’s way around a tent at night is a very good idea. (Models like Petzel and Black Diamond are pretty reliable)
Plastic Bag (for laundry)
You can rig a clothes line to dry clothes upon, but we do suggest that worn or soiled clothing is kept separate from clean.
Pencil & Notebook
There are lots of things to keep track at camp, and on expeditions, so a small pencil and notebook in a waterproof zip lock bag can make all the difference. Required to take notes for DoE ‘expedition objectives’ as well!
Bright orange, literally lifesaving, and an obligatory item for all expeditions.
Map & Compass
We can provide maps and compasses at camp, but having a SILVA type compass of your own can be extremely helpful. If you have a map of the summer camp area then by all means bring it.
Now, what can we do to cut down cost and weight? Watch this space!
Good work. I’m aghast at the amount of kit DoE kids carry. Always looks like a liability to me; a 55l pack would be an absolute maximum size in my mind. And there should be no need to feel obliged to fill it. The biggest advantage anyone can take with them is knowledge and experience. That can reduce the pack-load as effectively as expensive ultralight gear.
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