The holiday seasons are upon us, and as you start to think about holiday gifts, why not think about a few practical stocking stuffers or gifts that your scout could use this year? Scouting is not about "stuff", but there are a few handy items which could make your scout's outings even better next year. Here's a list of a few items which I'd put on your list if your scout doesn't already have them:
1. One Liter Nalgene Bottle. It's a necessity for hiking, and every scout should have at least two (or three). You can never have enough Nalgene bottles, which are nearly indestructible, designed to fit pumps (get the wide version), and easy to clean. What to look for: Real, not fake Nalgene brand bottles--the other ones break!
2. Duct Tape. Duct tape has a million uses around the house; in scouts, it's good for everything for patching tents, fixing boots, repairing ripped clothing, and a million other things. You can't go wrong with duct tape and Boy Scouts.
3. Paracord/Utility Cord. Paracord, like duct tape, can be used for many things: stringing up your food in a tree, staking down your tent, creating a wilderness shelter, fixing your shoelaces, tying gear to your backpack, making a drying line, and much more. Every scout should already have some of this in their ten essentials, but a little more won't hurt. What to look for: buy real, strength rated line from a reputable outdoors store (Sports Chalet, REI). Do not buy "fake" paracord from non-outdoors retailers like Home Depot (not strength rated, and liable to break).
4. Compass. It's one of the "ten essentials" for hiking, and your scout really ought to already have a quality compass in their backpack or daypack. However, if you or your scout just hasn't gotten to it yet, there are lots of good quality compasses available for between $10 and $15 (the best ones are made by Brunton, Suunto, and Silva). I'm partial to the basic, plastic-based with rotating dial style compasses, which although not as accurate as more fancy models stand up to scout abuse better. What to look for: rotating dial, flat, clear plastic base.
5. Wrist Watch. Once upon a time, every boy in America had a wrist watch. Amazingly, today, almost no new Boy Scout to the troop owns one of the most important items for a successful outing: a wrist watch. Credit the iPod and smartphone: most kids nowadays don't own a watch, which is necessary to figure out where you need to be, and when. However, scout outings are a no-cellphone, no-iPod zone, and most cellphones rapidly run out of batteries out on the trail anyway (and don't work). Even a cheap, $10-15 digital wrist watch works fine. What to look for: Water resistant/sports style watches are the best to take the rigors of Boy Scouts.