How Expensive Is Scout Backpacking?

There is no easy way to determine how much Scout backpacking costs. Every backpacker has their own list of things they want on the trail and most of it is accumulated over several years, not purchased all at once. Boys can sometimes borrow or rent what they need, buy used equipment at a garage sale, shop online, or simply go without. Many units provide group equipment that has been purchased with money from Scout dues or fundraisers. Consequently, there are so many variables that it’s difficult to say how much parents will spend for the first backpacking trip. The best we can do is calculate some rough estimate of the replacement cost for things in a backpack regardless of whether they were actually borrowed, rented, purchased used, inherited, or given as gifts.

It costs a ton for your parents to fill this up with new clothing and equipment.

Here are some estimates for buying brand new gear using the pack list published in Backpacking for Boys as a shopping list. Prices are from the REI website that is linked through 50miler.com. You might say this is a worst case shopping scenario.

Backpacks range in price from about $100 to $500, depending on weight, quality, and size. For a basic beginner’s backpack like the Kelty Yukon, plan on spending about $120. Get a Gregory Cover to protect it from rain and snow for $25 more. The most popular sleeping bag at REI is the North Face Cat’s Meow (+20) bag priced at $179. For comfort and warmth, put a Therm-a-Rest Z-Lite sleeping pad under the new sleeping bag for $40.

Buy a pair of sturday Merrell Phaser Peak hiking boots ($145) or spend up to $450 for some Italian Zamberlands. (Don’t buy cheap boots no matter where you shop.) For foot protection, two pair of Merino Wool Expedition Socks cost $14.50 each. If you like, get two pair of REI Cool Max Liners for $11. Camp shoes like Crocs are $25.

REI Sahara zip-off pants are nice for $60 and the Sahara Cargo shorts are $40. If you wear underwear, the Capilene Boxer Shorts cost $30. (If you plan to change your underwear, double that.) Two wicking REI T-shirts will set you back $24.50 each and an Ex-Officio Long Sleeve shirt sells for $80. When the weather turns bad, reach for an REI Revelcloud Jacket ($139) and then the Outdoor Products Poncho ($35). Don a Smart Wool Ltd Hat for $25 and pull on your REI Performance Glove Liners ($15).

It's good to have parents who can buy you nice things.

Find additional room in your backpack for two Nalgene Bottles ($10 each), a MagLight Flashlight ($12) and a small Photon Light for backup ($12), REI Day Pack First Aid Kit ($12), lickable Guyot Bowl and Cup ($15), Spork ($4), Black Diamond Carabiner ($8), MRS Pack Towel ($20), and the important GSI Cathole Sanitation Trowel ($5). About $20 worth of Energy Gel or Energy Bars will be about right for a long trek and a Suunto A-10 compass ($14.50) might keep you from getting lost.

Your Troop can provide the REI Half Dome two-man tent ($199) for you to sleep in and a bunch of stuff sacks ($8.50 each) to hang your food and smellables in trees to keep them away from the bears. The MSR Whisperlight Stove is great for $90 but you have to buy your own fuel ($5) and cooking pot ($15 – $50). A Katydyn Water filter ($80) is an absolute necessity so you can pump clean water into a Reliance Fold-A-Carrier ($8) and hang it somewhere for easy access. There are, of course, kitchen utensils like stirring spoons, measuring cups, and scouring pads to collect; and, if you want a Trek First Aid Kit, look at the REI Backpacker Plus Kit for $47.50.

If your Troop provides tents, stoves, water filtration, and other group gear they will spend about $475 to keep you sheltered and fed. Your parents should budget an additional $1,215 for brand new backpacking clothes and footwear ($720) plus personal gear like backpack and sleeping bag ($495). Add California taxes and get to a whopping $1,859 investment to put a Scout on the trail for his first 50 mile backpacking trip. A group of 12 hikers, therefore, would carry more than $22,000 worth of equipment and clothing if purchased new. (No wonder REI loves Scouts!)

Your full backpack is worth a lot of money!

In addition to the basics, you can look at lots of “nice to have” personal things like sunglasses, walking sticks, stool, local maps, mosquito hat, soap, sunscreen, chap stick, and a good pocket knife which altogether might cost an additional $150-200. Trails maps generally run $20 each. Campsites have to be reserved for $7 and more. Food has to be purchased for the crew and gasoline for driving everyone to the trailhead is extra. It adds up quickly.

Of course, very few people will purchase everything at once and a lot of these items (especially clothing) are probably around hanging around the house somewhere because it was purchased for an earlier outing. Still, the cost of backpacking can be a formidable challenge to families who are already struggling to buy uniforms, pay for outings, and finance summer camp for their new Boy Scouts.

Your turn. What advice can you give about saving money on backpacking purchases.

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8 comments

  1. Michael Sagehorn says:

    Fellow Scouters: Nearly $2 K to go backpacking ? Are you nuts?

    Most 50 milers are in temperate weather in California-some even in the Bay Area and SoCal perimeter parklands. This “cotton kills” business is way overplayed. I read your list of gear and it sounds like someone is on the “take” with REI. Here are some alternate suggestions.

    Pack-Craigslist, troll UC Berkely/Sac State student want ads (starving/stupid students will sell the expensive gear their parents bought them to party or get a new phone)

    Sleeping bag-see above or use a bag from Big 5 and augment it with a fleece blanket

    Foam pad- Wal-Mart

    Clothing- nylon fitness/school gym shorts and track suit bottoms. T-shirt for hiking and a long sleeve flannel for camp wear. Wool sweater or shirt OR fleece for warmth. (Marine Corps wool sweaters or Pendletons from the thrift shop or estate sales are warm even when wet)
    Nylon windbreaker preferably with a hood. Cheap nylon poncho . A beanie from the drug store .

    Footwear- running shoes with stiffer insoles or work boots that fit. Good wool or poly socks.

    Scouts don’t need
    a poop trowel. Just use your heel and a stick to dig a hole
    Nalgene-use two big Gatorade or 1 liter soda bottles
    Patagonia underwear
    Pack cover?…Use a big garbage bag
    Outdoor store eating gear- use an empty Cool Whip container and an insulated coffee cup from the gas station or 7-11. Sporks from Taco Bell or carve out a spoon from a stick.

    Another tack is to have your Assistant Scoutmasters attend the outdoor leader training offered by Bay Area Wilderness Training (BAWT) located in Oakland. After completing the four day course, you will have access to a gear lending library of top quality backpacking equipment-North Face, MSR, Mountain Hardware, Sierra Designs, Osprey. Nearly all the inventory are Scout age sizes with the remaining gear in adult sizes for leaders. The gear is free.

    Spending $2K on gear for a kid seems wasteful unless he earns it himself. In 1968 I bought my first Scout pack-a Yucca pack-no frame and after stuffing my Army surplus mountain bag of duck down had very little room for not much else, but enough to be comfortable and fed.

    In 1972 I upgraded to a Gerry Overnighter an aluminum internal frame with five horizontal zippers again with not much room but the needed essentials. I wore it out after 15 years of near weekly use and college travels.

    The Marine Corps, where I served, had its own ideas of what kind of backpack I should carry, but I became comfortable carry a large bag ALICE pack with 100 lb loads. In that same vein I bought and used a pricy Dana Design Astralplane Overkill for off duty hiking and using it as a Scoutmaster in leading 50 milers.

    I took my own advice recently and purchased a vintage Kelty external, red, Expedition Tioga pack bag circa 1974 for $35 on eBay. It’s my favorite pack and I carried it last weekend.

  2. Michael D. says:

    Several Scouters sent suggestions through Facebook or email about saving money on backpacking equipment. They note that common household items can often replace expensive specialty gear. For example, an empty Tupperware container can be used as a bowl and, as Liz mentions, one liter Smart Water or Gatorade bottles can be emptied and then used to carry water for the rest of the hike. Sporks can be collected at Taco Bell. Food can be dehydrated at home. First Aid kits can be assembled instead of purchased. The message is be creative.

  3. Liz in Seattle says:

    Check out Goodwill and Value Village for fleeces and wicking T shirts. Also, skip the Nalgenes; the liter bottles weigh in at a hefty 6.25 oz. Buy a liter of Smart Water at Safeway, and reuse the bottle. Very lightweight, and you just recycle it after the trip (sorry, plastic-bottle-haters).

    Oh, and for Cat’s Meow folks…if you have a bag liner, you can add another 10-15 degrees of warmth in the shoulder seasons. Or just use your base layer as PJs…

  4. d jahnke says:

    Shop both online and in stores. Buy only when “on sale” and be prepared to compromise. Check out Backpacker’s Editors’ Choice from years gone by for great gear that has been discontinued. E-bay and Craig’s List are sources but buyers beware…

  5. Dave Newton says:

    Aren’t all Scouters Backpacking Gearheads to some degree.

    Scouts go through a few phases of gear, first car camping, hiking and short backpacks as a new Scout, where the need is for simplicity, lot-of-pockets, and lowest possible price since they will outgrow or lose it in a year or 2. I recall well buying 2 pairs of boots 1 year for my son when he hit a growth spurt.

    It’s the next phase as they get a bit older that the need for better gear arises that can carry them through longer trips with more demanding conditions. Hopefully by then they have the basics of clothing, and then can buy their next round of packs and other gear that they can likely use well into their adult lives. This is the time to start getting selected higher quality pieces to make the longer trail days ahead easier and more comfortable.

    Great Blog Mike, keep up the dialog on Scouting relevant topics.

  6. Joe M says:

    This makes me appreciate the priceless memories. 🙂

  7. willy says:

    I had a Cat’s Meow bag and hated it. Was cold every night (even at Summer Camp) and even worse on cold nights. (If you read its reviews on the web you will find many people think it is a very cold bag.) REI stood up to their policy and gave me a full refund. I now have a Marmot Trestles 15 and love it. I know several other Scouts who also have one and love theirs. Inexpensive, warm, and not (too) heavy. Worth the small weight increase.

    Other advice – you can buy some things used (Craigslist) especially backpacks (like new for half price.). The Jansport Carson 80 or 90 are real bargains. I have many miles on mine.

  8. Rudi Taft says:

    Love 50miler.com!!! Should be required surfing for all new and old Scouts.

    Go to the brick-and-mortar store. Try on the shoes/pants/shorts for sizing. Go on-line and purchase. For example, went to Sports Chalet and tried on some hiking shoes. Walked around a bit for size and comfort. Ordered same shoes on-line for $20 less than Sports Chalet. Wanted an external frame Kelty Tioga 5000. Brick-and-Mortar wanted $160. Found it at sunnysports.com for $114 (got the last one, sorry).

    You don’t necessarily need to buy everything all at once, but whatever you do, buy good quality stuff early in the Scouting career so it will last and ensure your Scout has an enjoyable experience, enhancing his willingness to stay in Scouts. Shoes/pants/shirts are the exception, but consider swapping…ain’t nothing wrong with wearing pants that someone has outgrown…might want to wash them first…

    Never pay full price!!!

    Google (can’t believe this is a verb now) the product that you want and lots of sites show up…visit them and compare prices. Good deals on some of the websites below and most have a generous return policy):

    http://sunnysports.com
    http://sierratradingpost.com
    http://backcountry.com
    http://steepandcheap.com
    http://www.rei.com/outlet
    http://amazon.com

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