Camping 101

Scouting is a lot of things, but one of the most important things is camping.  Getting the boys outside, in front of the campfire, telling jokes and stories with family and friends, is one of the great joys of Scouting.  Most families new to Scouting are also new to camping, and figuring out where to begin can be intimidating.

The first and best rule is, there is no "right" or "wrong" way to camp - there is only your way, which will change over time as you find what feels right for you and your family.  Some folks like big roomy tents, others smaller ones they can break down and stow quickly. Some like to eat foil dinners, some will break out the hot dogs every time.  No one way is better than others, there's only what you're comfortable with.

The only sure thing is, a night in front of a campfire beats a night in front of the TV every time.

Overnight Essentials
  • The Tent
    • How many people will sleep in the tent? Tent makers assume every square inch of floor space is occupied by a person, which leaves no room for clothes or other provisions, so you'll probably need to buy a bit bigger than you need. A family of 4 should comfortably fit in a 6-person tent, with their weekend bags inside.
    • Find the right balance of size and setup/breakdown. Before you buy anything, try to find a YouTube video of some setting up and taking down the model you are thinking of. There are sizeable tents that can go up in 5 or 10 minutes. Others take 20-30 minutes.
  • Tent Footprint
    • "If it ain't rainin', you ain't campin'", the saying goes. When it does, you will want the footprint that goes with your specific tent, above. Rainwater should go under the footprint, keeping your actual tent floor dry(ish). These are usually sold separately from the tent, don't assume it comes with it. Consider the price as part of the cost of the tent.
  • Sleeping Bags
    • Outdoor camping means it's time to put away the sleepover kiddie sleeping bags. At the Cub Scout level we try to avoid extreme cold or heat, so a "40-degree" bag should be fine.
    • That said, fall camping can include nights in the 30s, so if your sleeping bags aren't rated for anything below 40, keep your eye on the weather report and bring extra blankets or clothing.
    • Kids can (and should) still sleep in kids' sized sleeping bags. On colder nights that will mean less "cold spots" inside their bags.
  • Camp Pads
    • These go under the sleeping bags to give more padding. Find a balance between thickness and portability. Some people camp with inflatable mattresses, which is just fine - as long as they are willing to carry the motor/pump into the woods.
    • Of all the things to purchase, we recommend spending some time in a camping store looking at different options for these.  A poor pad can easily mean a poor night's sleep, so you'll want this to be as good as it can be for you.
  • At Least One Chair
    • There's nowhere to sit in the woods except the ground.  Any outdoor folding chair will do, so you might have this already. Campfires can sometimes turn in to a game of musical chairs, make sure you don't lose this game!
  • First Aid Kit
    • Most $20 first aid kits sold at camping stores or online will do. The most common camp injuries are small cuts and burns. An assortment of antiseptic cleaners, bandages, and cold packs should take care of most issues.
    • NOTE there are Scouting requirements which teach the boys what goes in to a proper first aid kit. So, work with your Scout when putting this together.
  • Light
    • Hand-held or head lamps are really important when moving around a dark campsite at night. Our Pack Overnighters feature port-a-potties nearby, but that means a walk through the woods in the dark.  On moonless nights that can be impossible without something to light the way.
Nice to Have
  • Wagon
    • You don't always get to camp next to your car, and where we have our Pack Overnighters don't allow it.  So whatever you bring with you has to be carted from a parking lot to the campsite, which can sometimes be quite a distance.
  • Camp Stove
    • Most Scouting camping trips feature a campfire, which most folks will use to cook. However, if what you're cooking requires more than coals (i.e. you need to boil water and don't have a cast iron kettle), you can invest in a small camp stove with external propane tanks.
    • Most morning coffee drinkers will bring a stove and a kettle. The campfire isn't always re-lit for breakfast cooking.
  • Table
    • This is essential if you have a camp stove, but very helpful even if you don't.
Where to Buy
  • Casual Adventure is located across the street from the VA Square Giant, just a couple of blocks from ASFS.  It's a bit smaller than the bigger stores, but the service there is unparalleled, and they are Scouting-friendly. Incidentally this is the same store that carries Scouting uniforms, so you'll be there at some point anyway.
  • REI is located in Bailey's Crossroads.  They'll have a lot more selection, but also have a really good customer service reputation as well for this kind of stuff, unlike a lot of bigger stores. They have a couple of big sales annually, if you have your eye on something for a while you can sometimes find it cheaper at just the right time.