Chances are if you’re reading this you’ve got a child that’s going on a school, Cadets, Scouts, or Guides hiking trip or are starting their bronze Duke of Edinburgh award, and you’re in charge of purchasing the gear to kit them out.
We all know the conundrum; you want the gear to be functional and keep them warm and comfortable on their expedition, but you’re not confident that they’re ever going to use it again. In this guide, we’ve put together some advice on choosing the most important and expensive items you’ll need to buy – so packs, mats, sleeping bags & shoes.
We’ve also listed suggestions of affordable, middle of the range, and premium gear for beginner hikers, so without further ado, let’s get stuck into it.
We’ve got a selection of gear options for all budgets. Image by Snowy Mountains Grammar School
Pack size, weight and warmth are critical factors for sleeping bag choice
A sleeping bag is one of the most important pieces of gear as it’s the difference between a comfortable night’s sleep and a cold and sleepless one. Packed size, weight and warmth are the most important considerations here.
Avoid bulky & heavy bags designed for general camping
Sleeping bags made for general camping have a bulky packed size, so they’re not suitable for carrying in a rucksack. Instead, look for sleeping bags that are between 1-1.5kg if possible and have a suitable packed size. For more information on choosing lightweight sleeping bags for hiking, check out this article here.
Pick a bag that’s as warm, light and compact as possible for your budget. Image by Alamy
Choose a bag rated 5 to 10 degrees lower than the average temperature
If you’re unsure what temperature rating to go for, we recommend choosing a bag with a comfort rating (not lower limit or extreme rating) that’s 5 to 10 degrees lower than the average temperature that it will be used in.
Choose synthetic for affordability, down for longevity
A down-filled sleeping bag will offer the most warmth for weight in comparison to a synthetic bag. When taken care of, a quality down bag can last for years so it’s a good investment if it’s going to be used over and over.
Otherwise, there is the option of a synthetic bag. Synthetic sleeping bags are popular with campers and hikers alike, as they’re inexpensive, dry faster if they get wet, and will still provide some insulation when damp compared to down.
Good – Roman Palm Passport
If you don’t want to break the bank, your best option would be the Palm Passport Sleeping Bag -5°C from Roman. This bag is rated to -5, has a tapered design to allow for it to pack down compactly, and while it’s not the lightest at 1.6kg, it’s still around a kilo lighter than bags designed for general camping use.
Better – Black Wolf Hiker
An affordable down sleeping bag option is the Hiker range from Black Wolf. These are tested to the international ISO23537:2016 standard, and are filled with responsibly sourced 700+ loft water repellent down. These come in three different warmth options – the 200 (8°C), 300 (4°C) and 500 (-2° C) and have a suitable packed size for hiking.
Accessorise the sleeping bag for extra warmth
A thermal sleeping bag liner is a lightweight way to increase the warmth of a bag by a few degrees and is extra insurance should the temperatures drop unexpectedly.
We’ve also got some extra tips on how to make a sleeping bag warmer, which might be handy to read here.
Comfort and warmth need to be weighed up with packed size when picking a sleeping mat. Image by Goal Zero
The same considerations should be made for a sleeping mat
For a more technical trip where weight, warmth and packed size are again very important considerations – a bulky and heavy mat will be uncomfortable to carry.
Air-filled mats are generally the most compact, lightweight and compressible options for lightweight adventures. In cold conditions, however, you will need to choose one that’s insulated.
Self-inflating mats have open cell foam which has cores or holes cut out so they can be compressed down, which are a bit more luxurious but are slightly heavier than air-filled mats.
The third option is closed cell foam mats which are dense rolls of foam which can’t be compressed. These offer a small amount of comfort but are super light and won’t cost much.
Good – OZtrail Giga Mat
Some schools won’t allow air-filled or self-inflating mats, as both of these styles can be punctured. So if that’s the case, closed cell foam mat is the only sleeping mat option.
A simple and lightweight foam mat such as the OZtrail Giga Mat is one to consider. It’s made from closed cell EVA foam and has an eggshell top for extra comfort. It can also be used under another mat in colder conditions for extra insulation and for other activities such as yoga or gym so it won’t gather dust in the shed after the trip.
Better- 360 Degrees Adventurer 2.5 SI Sleeping Mat
The Adventurer 2.5 from 360 Degrees is a versatile self-inflating mat which is constructed from die cut 2.5cm thick cm foam, weighs just 0.62g and has a packed size of 30L x 15W x 15D cm.
It’s a perfect beginner option, as it’s self-inflating it provides extra comfort compared to a closed cell mat, yet it’s still packable.
Best – Sea to Summit Ultralight Insulated Sleeping Mat
A go-to option here would be the Ultralight Insulated Sleeping Mat from Sea to Summit as this packs down to 23L x 11W x 11H cm, is 5cm thick which provides a decent amount of padding, and has an R-value of 3.3 to insulate against the cold from the ground.
It represents great value for money as it’s insulated, compact and offers enough thickness even for side sleepers to be comfortable. It’s also consistently a best seller with great reviews that we’ve had in our range for a few years now.
Choose the right style of backpack and make sure the harness fits correctly
Look for a long thin top loading pack, not a zippered travel pack. Harness fit is the most important thing, so make sure you have it fitted in person if you can.
The hip belt has to be snug, as it carries 60-70% of the weight, and the shoulder straps need to be rounded over the top of the shoulders. A pack should also have an internal frame that distributes weight onto the hip belt.
If possible, get the harness of the pack fitted in person. Image by Wilderness Escape Outdoor Adventures
A big pack will be a heavy pack
A 65L size rucksack should provide plenty of space to carry a sleeping mat, sleeping bag, clothing, first aid kit and basic kitchen gear. If you can fit all your gear in a smaller pack then you’re on the right track, if you need much bigger than 65 litres you may need to reconsider the amount of gear you’re putting inside.
Don’t get hung up on all the extra pack features
Accessories such as a detachable day pack or removable rain cover are handy. But all these features add weight, so without them, the pack will weigh less to start with.
Good – Caribee Cadet 65L Auscam Rucksack
The Caribee Cadet 65L Auscam Rucksack is the ideal choice when you’re looking for a basic design that will get the job done.
It features a padded back, a padded hip belt, an aluminium frame for distributing weight, and molle webbing attachment points for carrying gear.
Better – Black Wolf Tarn Rucksack
This pack offers a few extra bells and whistles, and is slightly lighter and weight sitting in the middle of our range.
It features a simple and classic design with cushioned foam ventilated Spider 3D harness and an independent hip belt for a comfortable carry. You load gear through the top, access the bottom of the pack through the zip opening, is hydration compatible and comes with a built-in raincover. It’s a great value first pack which is best suited to those who plan on taking it for a spin again.
Best – Deuter Aircontact Rucksack
The Deuter Aircontact range offers premium comfort and durability out of all the packs in our range and comes in a range of sizes as well as slimline fit options.
The air contact back system provides padding, ventilation, and you can get an excellent fit thanks to the pivoting help belt. The adaptable shoulder harness also provides maximum comfort when carrying gear. This is the best option for those who are confident it will get used over and over again in the future.
Have footwear fitted if possible
Sneakers are not going to be heavy duty enough for hiking. In general, hiking shoes and trail runners are appropriate for day hikes when you’re only carrying a day pack. For a multi-day expedition with a heavier rucksack, sturdier higher cut trekking boots are needed.
If you can, have hiking boots properly fitted. Take the time in-store to get your adventurer to try them on with appropriate socks, walk around the store if possible and up/down stairs etc paying attention to slippage and rub spots.
Running shoes won’t be suitable for a hiking trip. Image by Limavady Grammar School
There should be wiggle room for toes
There should be space for toes to wiggle and volume in the shoe to adjust for feet swelling in warm weather. The heel should not slip up and down, and the sides of the shoe should be snug against the foot without crushing toes to avoid sideways slipping.
Once you’ve found the boots – break them in!
Also, allow plenty of time for the shoes or boots to be broken in before the trip as well to ensure that they’re comfortable. For more information on how to choose footwear, take a look at our hiking shoes and boots guide here.
What do you remember most vividly about your first hiking trip?