A Message to Parents about Outdoor Clothing for Scouts
For the past 9 months, I have volunteered to mentor my old Boy Scout Troop. I’ve given several lectures and gear talks, lead a hike for some of the beginners, and gone on a winter camping trip with the boys and their leaders. One of the lessons I’ve really been trying hard to teach is how to select safe and comfortable outdoor clothing for scouts.
It Starts with the Feet
Your scout is going to spend a lot of time on his feet. Whether hiking, cooking, playing games, or just walking around camp, his feet will do a lot of work. The feet are protected by two basic pieces of equipment: the sock and the shoe. Of the two, I find the sock is more important.
Rock the Socks
“If there is anything you take away from this article, it is that your scout should never wear cotton socks.” -CampingJay
Socks play three primary roles in protecting the foot. They pad the foot and keep it from rubbing against the shoe. They provide insulation against the cold. Most importantly, they keep the feet dry. No boots are truly waterproof: they’re all open at the top! Even if you did find a magical pair of boots that could keep all moisture out, they’d also keep all moisture in. Feet can perspire up to a pint of moisture every day. Cotton matts down and hold moisture against the skin. Wool socks wick it away and keep feet warm, dry, and comfortable.
“But wool socks are expensive, is it really that important?” – Budget conscious parent
Yes! For these three reasons:
- Wet skin becomes soft over time and will develop dangerous blisters or sores.
- Water is an excellent conductor of heat. Wet feet will be cold and may develop frostbite.
- Bacteria and fungi thrive in moist environments. Walking around in wet socks may lead to infection.
- Look for socks that rise above the ankle. Super-low cut socks are styling these days, but they allow the shoe to rub against your ankle. They also let more dirt in.
- You want good amount of padding under the heal, ball, and around the toes with thinner material elsewhere.
- Don’t go too thick. Two thin layers are better than one thick one. You can take a layer off, but you can’t remove half a sock if it’s too thick.
Made in America!
Shoes or Boots
The shoe is the second most important piece of gear you’re going to buy. This is a pain on the wallet, because shoes are expensive and kids feet grow quickly. Serious outdoorsmen who spend a lot of time doing various outdoor activities own multiple pairs of boots or shoes for different applications. That can be pretty pricey, and scouts only average 1 weekend a month and a week every summer outside. Without spending too much money, here are some basics to look for in a multi-purpose hiking boot:
- The soul of the shoe is difficult to twist while holding it with the toe in one hand and heel in the other.
- The lacing should come up 2-3 holes or hooks above the ankle.
- Synthetic shoes breath better and are softer on the feet than those made of leather.
- Shoes with mesh will help moisture escape
- Waterproof/Breathable is better than Waterproof
- Avoid leather. Leather boots are stiff and not good for hiking in.
- You don’t need heavy duty backpacking or work boots, just light day hikers.
Shoes or Boots?
I do most of my three season (spring/summer/fall) hiking in trail running shoes. Trail runners are lighter than boots but tougher than road runners. They usually feature large mesh panels for superior breathability. Light feet are fast and nimble and can easily avoid missteps. Saving weight on the feet reduces the fatigue that builds up through the day. That said, I DON’T recommend them for scouts for the following reasons:
- Kids are clumsy and fool around. They can use a little extra support around the ankle.
- While I go around puddles, kids go right through them. A higher top helps keep mud out. Mud is abrasive.
Sandals or Flip Flops
It isn’t good to wear boots all day. Feed need a chance to breath and relax. Whether your scout is going to summer camp or on a high adventure backpacking trip, get a really cheap pair of flip flops or sandals to wear in camp at night. They’re also a lot easier to put on for 3 am runs to the nearest tree, if you know what I mean.
Most of the laces that come with boots are OK, but you’ll want to provide your scout with a backup pair. Some stores sell bungee laces that supposedly keep themselves tight; don’t get them. I find these don’t provide the support that’s need while walking on uneven terrain. I actually replace all of my boot laces with 44o paracord. It is stronger than standard laces, comes in a variety of colors, and is the same material I use for guying out my shelter at night.
This is Part 2 of a Five Part Series
Footwear: It starts with the feet!
My Gear Lists
Look back soon for Summer and Winter Camping Gear Lists!