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The Well-Packed Backpack

by Tim Leitch - The Leader - Outdoors - October 1996

Most new Scouts don't really know how to select and pack clothing for an outing. During Beaver and Cub days, their parents did this task for them. By the end of a camp many Beavers and Cubs can't put their clothes back into their pack and inevitably seek leader assistance.

Teaching Scouts how to select clothing and pack it requires effort -- both on the part of youth and parents. However, using our method, by the start of their second year most Scouts have acquired a good set of skills for selecting and packing their clothing. One year's exposure to cmaping in the four seasons is enough to make them competent.

Start Here

We begin by asking parents of new Scouts to our second meetings in fall and winter. Here we describe our program and familiarize them with the equipment requirements for the year. A leader brings a fully loaded pack and explains in detail what items were selected, why, and how they are packed.

Many parents have only experienced summer camping, so we give new Scouts lists of equipment and clothing appropriate for our four season outings. Then we discuss each item touching on each of the following messages.

  1. Scouts are old enough to select their own gear and pack it. Parents who feel they need to check items should only do so for one or two outings, and then after the child has set it out on the floor before packing. (Our equipment list makes a good guide for youth and parents.)
  2. Place all clothing in extra large zip-lock bags to keep them dry. Squeeze out excess air. Sort items into changes of clothing (i.e. put together socks, underwear, and a T-shirt) rather than clothing type, and place in zip-lock bags. Pack together bags that collectively make complete changes of clothing for convenience.
  3. Make sleeping bags as compact and waterproof as possible by wrapping them in a ground sheet.
  4. If planning a three day trip (or less) in moderate temperatures and your pack weighs more than 16 kg (or 25% of your body weight), re-evaluate your needs. Never eliminate the essentials.
  5. Packing order is very important! Place items required first on the top. Put clothing that you might need at anytime (e.g. dry mitts/gloves, rain suits, dry socks) in outside pockets.
  6. Locate your heaviest items as close to the back and top as possible. This will position the load over your vertical centre of gravity. Failure to do so will force you to bend forward to compensate, causing lower back discomfort and early fatigue. But, a top-heavy pack will create balance problems.
  7. Loose loads can shift easily and make hiking uncomfortable. Tighten the pack's tie-downs to eliminate this problem.

Ease Into It

Each fall we start the season by camping near home. Leaders monitor all members to make sure they have the necessary clothing. If some Scouts ignore our packing lists and bring inadequate clothing (going without a jacket is a teenage favourite), they can always borrow or, at worst, call home and parents can bring the missing item. (This last option is the one most dreaded by youth. It happens only once!)

Our parent and youth discussions provide mostly theoretical information. The best educator is always real life experience. A long hike with full gear is a great way to drive home the need to pack correctly, but let your Scouts practice packing before your first trip. Spread some gear out on a meeting floor, discuss the clothing needs, then let them pack it. Nothing works better than hands-on experience.

In no time, your Scouts will be knowledgeable hikers, able to pack and carry their gear into the best camping sites. Happy trails!

Scouter Tim Leitch helps pack 10th Whitby Scout packs, ON.

"Reproduced with permission of the Leader magazine and the author."

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