Scout Gift Ideas for the Thrifty Parent

By David Peters, Volunteer Communications Committee Member

​Outfitting an adventurer all at once can cause sticker shock. The good news is, you can get pieces each year that can be useful today and for decades to come.

Ideas for Lions & Tigers and parent partners.

Buy a headlamp - get two hands free!

For just under $3 at Northern Tool and Equipment you can get enough of Model# W9199 for the whole den and not care if they get misplaced.

If your scout is a little more responsible I recommend

Energizer line of headlamps. Look online or in stores and you’ll see price ranges between $15 and $30. Get something above 200 lumens. Search online for the words “Energizer Headlamp.”

Around $50 and up and you get features like dimming, different colored night vision modes, better water-proofing and longer battery life. If you don’t want to do the research, The Black Diamond brand Storm 350 is a repeat Backpacker Magazine “best of” for several years.

Pro-tips – choose a color you can spot in poor lighting so you can spot it when you need it. The best headlamps have higher red night vision ratings.

Idea for a hungry wolf.

A meal kit vs mess or cooking kit.

Wolves have a requirement to wash dishes so it’s about time they get their own. I like the LightMyFire triangle mess kit for a few reasons. They’re lightweight, the pieces nest together well making it easy to store, they’re dishwasher safe, and the shape can be a conversation starter in the school cafeteria. There are several versions of these - from 5 pieces to 8, but I like the one with the BSA logo because lunch is every day just like scouting recruitment efforts.

$15 at:

Recommendation - add the $6 harness: Search terms “Light My Fire Harness.”

Pro Tips: Write the scout’s surname on each piece in permanent marker and get a spare Spork or two.

If your scout needs to cook with a kit, check out the MalloMe Camping Cookware Mess Kit for around $20.

The handles are attached preventing pieces getting lost and the anodized aluminum not only is efficient at heat transfer, it’s easier to clean than cheaper versions.

Ideas for Bears & Webelos

Sleeping easy, sharp and pointy.

Camping overnight is a requirement shared by these ranks and a highlight of these years is the Whittling Chip aka the “license” to carry a pocketknife at camp.

Blade length requirements can differ from unit to unit, so check with your unit before purchasing one. But a blade length 4” or under is the general rule I’ve always followed.

The Swiss Army Knife (SAK) with all its tools is one of the coolest gifts to receive as a kid, but the experienced Scouter knows there are better and safer options.

Don’t get me wrong, I like the SAKs for an everyday pocket tool but not so much for camping and definitely not for kids. The SAK doesn’t lock into place – it can unexpectedly fold and cut an inexperienced whittler. It is not ergonomic for little whittlers’ hands. And when the big blade gets dull; instead of sharpening it, kids just switch to the short blade, forcing it to do a job it wasn’t intended to do.

For about the same price, a former den leader has designed this nifty version of lock blade and bundled it with an 11-function multi tool, fire starter, whistle and a tin to be converted into a first aid kit so this totally meets the “cool factor” for scouts. The knife even has a hole so it can attach to a keychain or lanyard making it especially hard to misplace.

Honestly, the only thing that would make this better is if it were a nonslip, even-wet rubber grip in hunter orange that glowed in the dark. But for under $22 on Amazon, this tool bundle is a winner all around. Search terms: “Loma Creek Pocket Knife.”

If your scout already has a knife, consider a piece for the sleeping system. Sleeping system has three main parts - the pad, the bag and the liner. Even with minimal care, each should last your scout into adulthood.

The overnight requirement; it’s in the bag.

For 97% of scouting, a bag rated at 30 degrees is going to fit the bill. Let me be clear, what that degree rating means is if you’re in this bag when it’s 30 degrees outside - you won’t die. It doesn’t mean you’ll feel like a gecko mid-day on a desert rock some clear sky afternoon.

A 30 degree rating is pack friendly (small and lightweight enough) and price friendly enough that often it’s cheaper to buy two and double them up than it is to get a bag rated a mere 15 degrees warmer.

Online search terms. Best sleeping bags for youth.

Pro Tip: Women and kid sizes often only differ in price.

And for more and longer comfort –

cooler or warmer, add a liner.

Liners are light, small, hygienic and are more useful than you’d think plus they can double the life expectancy of your sleeping bag.

Liners can be silk, cotton or polycotton. Some can keep you as much as 10 degrees warmer and others 10 degrees cooler.

On a hot summer campout, I like to sleep on top of my bag in my liner for that perfect combination of cushy underneath and comfy light blanket on top. I’ve heard some non-campers use the silk liners in hotel rooms instead of the hotel sheets because they’re just that comfortable.

Besides helping you get into that perfect temperature for deep sleep, liners can double the life expectancy of your sleeping bag. It is a lot easier and more common to wash a liner than a sleeping bag.

Online search terms: sleeping bag liner.

Pro Tip: Sea to Summit is a reputable brand that backs their products with a hard to beat warranty.

Sleeping pads – closed cell or inflatable.

Inflatable sleeping pads are great for warm weather camping, they pack small, are super light but unless they're designed to fit inside the sleeping bag, they will sap heat when cold weather camping.

Thermarest sells chair rigging for their popular line of inflatable so your pad can also be your camp chair. Note the size of pad is a key factor in the chair rigging – too big or too small will not work.

Closed cell pads are a must for cold weather camping, are pretty light but are bulkier than their inflatable counterpart making them just slightly less pack friendly. Don’t get me wrong, the closed foam, lightweight pad is and always will be a great all weather camping option.

The Thermarest Ridgeline has been the affordable gold standard for decades but there are a lot of similar products on the market.

Gifts for Arrow of Light through Tenderfoot.

Keep water in and out.

Water in

The perfect thing for these scouts is a hydration backpack with some storage. The bladder has a straw that attaches to the shoulder strap and is a steady reminder to drink water. Carrying water in this manner is way more comfortable and handy than a Nalgene bottle. The importance of hydration at camp can’t be stressed enough.

A hydration pack with around 1100 cubic inches is enough storage on day hikes to carry the ten essentials, their rank book and not too many extras.

For just under $40 do an online search for the TETON Sports Oasis 1100 Hydration Pack;

Pro tip: get a color that’s easy to put a name on as well as spot from a distance.

Water out

A poncho is super cheap, packs well and has a multitude of additional uses from ground cloth, to shade to gear rain cover.

An affordable step up from the poncho I recommend is FrogTog. For under $20 you can get a breathable coat AND pants – yeah.. AND pants. The fabric can tear easily but for the price, comfortability, breathability, packability and the protection they provide, you can’t lose. Search “Frogg Togg youth.”

If you’re getting one rain suit you want to last for multiple scouts, the PVC stuff is extremely durable. Be warned though it doesn’t breath well and can be heavy - but you’ll definitely get your $20 out of it. You can find these at Walmart and other big box stores.

Pro tip: Avoid rain pants with a zipper or “convenient” opening to the crotch. When one sits in the rain – like say on a canoeing trip, water pools in this area and it will get through. There will be much laughter that rainy day and for many years after. Don’t ask me how I know, but I know.

Gift ideas for 2nd Class and 1st Class

Surviving comfortably under the stars

Hammocks aren’t just for camping anymore so naturally they make great gift ideas for those who have high adventure in their sites.

The main considerations are size, accessories and tent functionality. As for size, most people get a double for comfort not because they plan to buddy up. Hammocks that don’t come with everything for sleeping like tarp, insect netting and under-quilting can easily be added later.

For less than $25 search online for “COVACURE Double Hammock” with built in bug netting.

Survive in style with a good first aid kit.

There are several things the better first aid kits have in common.

Starting on the outside, easy to identify markings as being a first aid kit should go without saying. For away from the home or vehicle, a waterproof construction should be sought. Something the size of a loaf of bread is sufficient for a patrol or two – no need for anything the size of a college backpack. And lastly, kits that provide a way to attach to a backpack are more easily accessed in an emergency, something with MOLLE loops or straps make the kit especially handy.

Inside, everything should have its place. The better kits have identifying labels for each item. And the best kits group their items by type of trauma. Roll out style kits are nice because not only do they instantly reveal their entire contents; in the wild they can double as a clean and sterile surface.

Some kits in no particular order you might like to compare online are: SurviveWare brand Small First Aid Kit, Mayday brand Roll-Up First Aid Kit 105 Piece and 12 Survivors brand UltraLite First Aid Kit TS42004R.

Gifts for Star and Life

Leaders stay on their feet.

Non-cotton socks aren’t exactly exciting to open but they’re the unsung heroes on just about every adventure. Nothing can cut a leader down like feet that are cold or developing blisters. Get a variety of weights from poly liners to the tried and true thick wool. While you can get socks just about anywhere, there’s few places to find official BSA socks.

Leaders take a seat.

Camp chairs are a luxury on adventures. There are many styles each with its own purpose. REI has the following article on how to choose a camp chair. 

Gift ideas for Eagles and Venturers

Power to go, Next to the Skin and One Size Fits All

Power to go

The number of gadgets that require power is growing every day. A flashlight, radio, camera and cell phone that can be recharged or have batteries that can be, are useful on and off the grid.

The GoalZero’s Nomad 7 Portable Charger is hard to beat for price and function. At $150 it may not be in the budget but components such as their power banks are more price friendly. The $30 Guide 10 Plus Power Bank charges four AA batteries, which then can power non rechargeable radios, flashlights and cameras.

Close to the skin

The right base layer can keep the scout cool and dry, warm and dry and even better smelling. Cotton is rotten for base layers so look to the synthetics, silk and even wool. These fabrics are not cheap but are worth every penny.

One size fits all.

Gift cards are a great way to stay in your budget and help the scout get closer to that larger item they need for their big adventures.

The thing with gift cards is they often lock the recipient into one store. Instead, consider getting a Visa or MasterCard gift card from your bank. They spend anywhere, which is well worth the small service charge.

Pro tip: get a receipt. If the card is lost, any remaining balance can be recovered as long as you have the receipt.

Another way to go is Amazon gift cards since pretty much everything except Amazon stock can be bought on Amazon these days.

Pro Tip: Use Amazon Smile to support Northern Star Scouting when getting anything from Amazon – even gift cards.

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