Gear up for the backpacking merit badge

backpacking merit badge

Cullen McMillian’s backpacking experience includes a 30-day National Outdoor Leadership School trip in Scandinavia.

Your scout has done the 5-mile hike, three 10-mile hikes, a 15-miler and the big 20-miler. His written up his hikes, and he’s earned the coveted Hiking merit badge. Now, it’s time to take the next step. Or the next several hundred thousand steps, with a bigger pack and more weight on his back.

It’s time to go after the Backpacking merit badge.

This is a challenge that likely will thrill most scouts, and why not. It’s a chance to take three short (at three days) overnight trips followed by a big five-day, 30-mile escape into the woods. Sleeping under the stars, eating camp food, going without a shower. Could life get any better?

As a parent, you’re also excited: backpacking teaches basic life skills, from how to work as a team to simply how to survive. But there’s also a bit of parental trepidation: that’s a lot of equipment — How much is this going to cost?

Probably not as much as you think.

First, a lot of the clothes your scout wore to earn that hiking badge are the same clothes he’ll need for backpacking, same with hiking shoes/boots. And because the Troop likely has some gear for the scouts to use — tents and stoves, for starters — there’s really only three things they’ll need to buy. Cullen McMillian, who’s been backpacking more than half of his life (the Charlotte native started when he was 10!), offers advice on what you should look for and suggestions on specific pieces of gear well-suited to scouting.


backpacking merit badge

Gregory Stout 65

The priciest item on the list, but well worth it. First, what to look for:

That said, Cullen has two recommendations:

Sleeping bag

backpacking merit badge

Sierra Designs Synthesis 35

You can pay a bundle for a good sleeping bag. Or you can pay $129.95.

Sierra Designs new Synthesis 35 bag is a remarkably good deal. It’s relatively light (2 pounds, 6 ounces), it packs down remarkably well to occupy modest portion of your Scout’s bag, and its new synthetic insulation embraces the best of both down (it’s warm) and synthetic (it performs even when wet) bags. The 35 means it should keep your camper warm to about 35 degrees (the Synthesis also comes in a 50 [$119.95] and a 20 [$139.95] version, but 35 should suffice for camping in our climate. A good deal, says Cullen.

Learn more about the Sierra Designs Synthesis 35 here.

Sleeping pad

backpacking merit badge

Therm-A-Rest RidgeRest

You can spend upwards of $200 for an ultralight inflatable mattress that will rival your mattress back home for comfort. You can also spend $29.95 for the classic RidgeRest closed cell mattress from Therm-A-Rest. The latter is a much better option for your scout: it can take a beating, it needs little maintenance, it’s no big deal if it gets wet. 

It may not have much padding, it’s not plush, but does that really matter? Kids can sleep just about anywhere. 

Learn more about the Therm-A-Rest RidgeRest here.