Boy Scout 10 essentials: Items every Scout needs in the outdoors

Prepared. For Life. It’s more than a motto for Scouting; it’s a way to plan and execute each outing, even if it’s just a Saturday morning hike. In the woods, the products here (stowed in a daypack) can keep you comfortable, warm, hydrated, safe and, most of all, prepared to face what nature puts in your path — whether you asked for it or not.

This list is based upon the Scout Basic Essentials included in the Boy Scout Handbook and Fieldbook, with some upgrades (like using a headlamp instead of a flashlight). The list in the Handbook includes: a pocketknife, first-aid kit, extra clothing, rain gear, water bottle, flashlight, trail food, matches and fire starters, sun protection, map and compass.


POCKET KNIFE: Swiss Army Serrated Spartan
Featuring a large serrated blade, screwdriver, a can opener, punch, tweezers and the requisite plastic toothpick on the end — what more do you need? Plus, it folds down to 3.58 inches. Don’t go down a trail without it.


WATERPROOF SACK: SealLine Baja Dry Bag
$15 and up (depends on size);
Roll it shut and clip it closed — that’s all it takes to protect your clothes, sleeping bag or electronics from rain or even an accidental swim. A dry bag is a must for anyone backpacking in rainy places. SealLine’s Baja series comes in a range of sizes, using tough vinyl and a solid buckle on top to seal up watertight.


FIRE STARTERS: REI Stormproof Matches
If your gear gets soaked, you need a fire — fast. Let’s hope your matches survive. REI’s basic Stormproof Matches have a coating to prevent compromise of their fire-starting ability. Twenty-five matches in each small box are enough to bring many campfires to life.


COMPASS: Silva Polaris 177
Read a map, set your bearing and go. A compass is essential, and the Polaris 177 is a great entry-level choice. It’s small and durable. The clear base plate has the scale, measurement and cartographical markings you need to navigate in the woods.


HEADLAMP: Princeton Tec Fuel
A flashlight? No way. Modern outdoorsmen use headlamps for their hands-free convenience and point-of-view shine. This Princeton Tec design illuminates with four small and efficient LEDs, which are now the standard “light bulb.” Three AAA batteries offer enough juice for up to 146 hours of enhanced vision in the dark.



WATER: Platypus Big Zip SL
Hydration reservoirs are the canteens of the 21st century. A drink hose snakes near your mouth, easily connecting you to 100 liquid ounces stowed away in your backpack — keeping hydration within your reach at all times. A leak-free closure and no-taste plastic reservoir make the Big Zip a solid choice for on-the-trail water needs.


WATER PURIFICATION: Potable Aqua Tablets
Illness-inducing bacteria is a thing of the past with purification tablets that kill microscopic “bugs” living in even the most pristine-looking wilderness water. Potable Aqua removes common microbes (including Giardia lamblia) in 30 minutes after being placed in a bottle or hydration reservoir.


HAT: OR Drifter Cap
Protect your head and shade your face from the sun. These are the goals of a cap like the Drifter, which uses a Gore-Tex fabric to offer a waterproof cover that can also breathe. A stout bill shades the face. A draw-cord cinch on back will keep your cap on even if the wind picks up.


Don’t call it a raincoat. While the PreCip is waterproof for rain, it’s so much more. A waterproof/breathable membrane in the fabric keeps the elements out and lets the body breathe. Taped seams, zipper flaps, and a hood make this jacket a veritable coat of armor outside through a huge swing of temps. Wind, snow, and, yes, downpouring rain, are kept easily at bay in the PreCip.


FIRST AID KIT: AMK Medical Kit .9
It weighs 12 ounces and comes in a watertight case. Inside, you’ll find an assortment of meds, bandages and other anatomical fixers you might need in the woods. Whether it’s minor scrapes or stomach sickness, blisters or burns, this kit has you covered.

STEPHEN REGENOLD is editor and founder of


61 thoughts on “Boy Scout 10 essentials: Items every Scout needs in the outdoors

    • I do not want to rely upon a 30 minute wait to kill the pathogens. I like the Sawyer’s filtration systems, even the Lifestraw for dipping a cupful of water from a stream and drawing it out, straw-like, through the system. The mini-filter by Sawyer’s is more versatile for filtering water for large numbers of thirsty Scouts. Hydrate frequently; take breaks often to rest the hikers.

  1. How about a trash bag and a whistle? We teach Hug-a-Tree to our scouts, and those are the two essentials of Hug-a-Tree.

    • I give the bright orange whistles to the kids in the Troop to attach to the sternum straps of day packs or backpacks, if they prefer. Kids who actually go on the hikes should be rewarded, hopefully to encourage other kids to join buddies on these adventures.

  2. Pingback: Scouting/Camping Ideas

  3. The pictured SOL Scout is a neat little kit – I carry one, but there is not much in it that is First-Aid in nature. That said, AMK does does offer some hybrid survival/first-aid kits under their SOL brand – these might be worth a look if they fill gaps in your kit(s).

  4. 1. Cutting Tool. Good fixed blade knife. quality 4 to 5″ blade full tang.
    2. Cover. Proper clothing, 55 gal. Drum Liner. 5′ X 7′ reflective tarp.
    3. Cordage. 100′ of paracord, 500′ of bankline. Gorilla Tape
    4. Combustion Device. Lighter, waterproof matches, best is a magnesium block with ferro rod.
    5.Container. Stainless steel water bottle. 5 Liter sealine bag.
    6. Sail Needle.
    7. Compass.
    8. Candle or light
    9. Multi-tool
    10. 100% cotton bandanna

  5. Get a more reliable fire starting system than matches. Carry a butane lighter and ferrocerium rod (possibly with magnesium) and carry your own tinder/fire starter. Practice using them first.

    I agree that a stainless steel water bottle without plastic is best, in case boiling water becomes necessary.

      • Just remember that scouts arent allowed to have fire starter such as butane lighters, or normal kitchen lighters

      • I am thrilled that the film instudry is seeing this side of Robert. I truly believe he will go far.. eventually beyond acting. I look forward to seeing all of his future movies, no matter what the movie is about.

  6. Better to put new batteries in flashlights, lanterns, and radios before the trip begins, so you don’t need to carry extra batteries. Only applies for a short trip, though.

  7. There is a much more useful Swiss Army knife for the same money, the Tinker model, it has a Phillips screwdriver instead of the corkscrew. Don’t see much need for a corkscrew on a Scouting outing……

      • I have a leatherman for work, I also have one in my scout pack for hikes and camps wouldn’t go anywhere without my leatherman, also carry a Ka-bar as well for when the leatherman isn’t satisfactory

      • I use a corkscrew to loosen tight knots, in shoelaces, tent lines, sailing applications. The corkscrew has lots of uses. The problem with this knife is that it does not lock, which can create other dangerous situations.

    • As an ultralight backpacker I found I never needed all that extra stuff and now just go with a single partial serrated blade knife, and the blades are usually better at cutting paracord and small branches for hot dog (marshmallow) sticks

    • As a Scoutmaster and an avid backpacker, we need to teach our scouts to be resourceful rather than reliant on excess equipment. A single blade knife will suffice in 99% of the situations a scout will encounter. I see too many boys packing extra pounds that just aren’t needed. +1 for the large trash bag. Recycle aquafina water bottles rather than heavy Nalgenes/metal…

      • I do agree that part of being in the scouts teaches one to be more resourceful, But on some equipment, I do believe that a certain amount of redundancy should be practiced. I carry two knives. One is a basic pocket knife the other is a Ka-bar.

      • I agree with both the resourceful and redundant ideas. I always take 2 lights but our council has a no sheath knife policy so only 1 knife and I figure if I need another I’ll sharpen a can lid or something.

    • Well what if a Scout or Webelo gets lost and has a lighter and does not know how to do that glass sun ray type of thing. What else does the child have to do freeze to death, or just use the lighter Scouter Kevin

      • Lighters are simply not reliable in wet conditions. Ever try to spark a bic when a big rain drop hits the flint? The lighter will not light when wet, even a zippo.

    • Allowed but you must follow the chemical and liquid fuel rules which is a bit of a hassle for just a lighter such as “Using liquid fuels for starting any type of fire—including lighting damp wood, charcoal, and ceremonial campfires or displays—is prohibited” so you can cook with it but you would burn your fingers

    • Should be 14 essentials: Mom of Eagle Scout here : Always carry a whistle… comes in handy for alerting others of one’s position in case you are separated from the group. Came in handy to alert others on trailhead that they were going in wrong direction. They were to far away to hear our yells, or our whistling: but they heard the “coach’s whistle”.

  8. All you have to do to waterproof matches is dip them in candle wax. It’s best to use the strike anywhere matches if you can get them but if not, use an old pill bottle with the easy-open top for people with arthritis. They usually have a hole that you can tie to paracord or something & attatch it to your pack or clothes. Cut out the stiker off the box & stick it in the bottle. It keeps them dry, on your person & ready to use. Learned that in Girl Scouts.

    • WRONG!!!

      Put the matches in the pill bottle, glue the striker to the outside, then put both in a zip-lock bag to keep them dry, but never, ever, EVER put the striker AND the matches (especially not “strike anywhere” matches) inside the same container. That’s just asking for trouble.

      Ever seen a Scout’s backpack go up in flames because his Mom put the striker paper AND “strike anywhere” matches inside an old film container? It doesn’t take much jostling to ignite a match packed that way, especially not “strike anywhere” matches.

      And if you’re thinking “Tiny container, very little oxygen, the fire will just burn out.” Wrong again.

      The first match flares up, ignites the closest matches, they flare up and set off the rest, and in that first second or so you’ve got a flame hot enough to melt a hole in the plastic bottle and set it on fire. Or the expanding gases just pop the lid right off. In either case there’s plenty of oxygen and plenty of fuel (wood and plastic) to keep everything burning for at least 10-15 seconds, which is more than enough time to set fire to the contents of the Scout’s backpack.

      If he’s lucky the Scout behind him will see the smoke, realize what’s happening, and they’ll get his backpack off before he’s hurt.

      If he’s not lucky, maybe it’s late in the hike, everyone is tired and they’re all plodding along with their heads down. And he’s wondering why he’s sweating so much. And why his back is so hot? And it’s not until his backpack actually goes up in flames that anyone notices anything wrong.

      If he’s lucky, he can still get his pack off in time and avoid serious injury.

      If he’s not lucky he panics, and he can’t undo the straps & clips, and nobody is fast enough or has a knife sharp enough to cut the straps off.

      And Stop, Drop & Roll don’t work too well when a 13-year old boy has a flaming backpack strapped to his body.

      If he’s lucky, they still get the pack off and he has nothing more severe than 3rd degree burns over his back.

      And if he’s not lucky? Draw your own conclusions.

      TLDR: Never EVER put a striker and matches in the same container.

      • that is a lot of words just to say Isolate the striker, I wrap mine in enough foil to be useful for other tasks.

  9. I’m haveing to deal with this very bad list of so called essential’s right now with the scouts. I’m makeing sure my grandson understands that this list could get him killed in the woods. He already knows what the “real essential’s” are. But he likes hanging out with the other kids so we put up with this dangerous nonsense advise.

    • I have pointed out: pull up Everett or Seattle Mountaineers for their official Ten Essentials list. They live here in the soggy, foggy, damp, dripping Northwest so they know from experience. It is interesting to see the variety of opinions here. I am pleased that no one is citing that wondrous TV Discovery Channel program: ‘Naked and Afraid…and dehydrated, hypothermic, malnourished, bug-bitten and stupid? For survivalists and instructors some of the stuff shown is so terribly fakey and one can point out dozens of errors/horrors.

  10. It is pretty clear that this list was put together to sell product. I like REI’s 10 essential video: Looks like there isn’t agreement on a lighter. I’ve used them without issue up to 11,100 on Mount Rainier to light stoves; and have been completely soggy in the Pacific Northwest and they’ve worked fine. I have the same lighters I bought when I was climbing back in 1982, they’ve only just recently been running low on fuel, after 10 years of scouting. . .

  11. I have to agree with Tony’s March 3 comment; this is such a commercialized list, it’s appalling. What’s worse is that it’s titled “Boy Scout 10 essentials”. Guess what — the BSA 10 Essentials are in the handbook (page 264 of the 12th edition), and this list does not match it!
    Items in this list but not in the BSA list: Dry sack and water purification. In the BSA list but not in this list: Extra clothing, map, and trail food. Also, the BSA lists “Sun protection”, which includes sunscreen, lip balm, sunglasses, and a hat. This list only calls for a hat. Also, this list only calls for matches, but it should also mention firestarting fuel (e.g., vaseline-soaked cloth, or something like Coughlin’s Tinder).
    Pretty disappointing list, for Scouting Magazine.

  12. This list is terrible. I’m in Girl Scouts. And even we have a better ten essentials list than this. Come on boys, keep up.

  13. This list is just a start. hopefully scoutmasters are teaching boys how each of these items are good but that there are alternatives that are better.

    Please also remember that a usable variation of every item can purchased at Walmart and it will function just fine. nay sayers should create a youtube of their ten items and put the link here. Maybe show the usefullness.

  14. Oh, no, they need those 10 items so national can overcharge them by 4000%. Ziploc bags have worked for everyone else, at about 9 cents each. A 1.29 bic lighter works better than the 8.99 bsa survival matches. They are waterproof, and float. As for the rest, well, here’s some good advice, READ your Boy Scout Handbook. It tells you what you NEED.

  15. Keep in mind water purification tabs and matches eventually run out.
    Be prepared by having more than 1 way to make water potable and to make fire.
    I recommend stainless steel bottle and ferro rod w/tinder.


  16. Hydration packs or water bottles?? Hydration packs are a waste of money!! Hard to keep clean, frozen lines in the winter. This is a salesman talking to us, not a Scouter!! There are much better things to recommend that a Scout spend his money on.

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