The Cub Scout Six Essentials: A half-dozen items to pack on every campout or hike

A big part of Cub Scouts involves introducing boys to the fun and adventure of spending time outdoors. And if you’re going to spend time outdoors, you’re going to want the right gear.

The Cub Scout Six Essentials, learned as part of the Wolf Rank, is a list of a half-dozen items every Cub Scout should carry when going on hikes or campouts.

Cub Scout leaders explain the Six Essentials as part of the Wolf required adventure “Call of the Wild.”

Later, when a Cub Scout enters Boy Scouting, he’ll learn about the Scout Basic Essentials, unofficially known as the Ten Essentials.

Whether he’s a Wolf packing six must-have items or a Tenderfoot packing 10, the purpose is the same: ensuring young people have the tools they need before heading out the door.

What are the Cub Scout Six Essentials?

These are items every Cub Scout should carry in his personal gear when going on hikes or campouts

  1. First-aid kit: adhesive bandages, moleskin, gauze, antibiotic ointment, etc.
  2. Water bottle: filled and large enough to last until it can be filled again
  3. Flashlight: for emergency use only
  4. Trail food: can be made as a den activity prior to hike or campout
  5. Sun protection: sunscreen of SPF 30 or greater and a hat
  6. Whistle: also for emergency use only

When should a Cub Scout carry these items?

On any hike or campout with the den or pack. By encouraging Cub Scouts to pack and carry their own personal gear items, you’re preparing them for Boy Scouts.

How should a Cub Scout carry these items?

For convenience — and to make sure no item gets lost — each Cub Scout should carry his Six Essentials in a small fanny pack or backpack.

Cub Scout leaders should emphasize that these are tools, not toys, and should be used only when needed.

How can adults help Cub Scouts prepare and pack?

Den leaders should bring a sample set of the Six Essentials to a den meeting before the pack’s/den’s big hike or campout.

Adults should explain the importance of each item and what qualities a Cub Scout should look for in each.

For example, you might outline the difference between a flashlight and headlamp, discuss what items go into a first-aid kit, and talk about what goes into a healthy trail snack.

The Boy Scout Ten Essentials

Known as the Scout Basic Essentials in the newest (13th) edition of the Boy Scout Handbook (pages 238-239), the Boy Scout Ten Essentials are as follows.

Items in bold are on both the Boy Scout Ten Essentials list and the Cub Scout Six Essentials list.

  1. Pocketknife
  2. Rain gear
  3. Trail food
  4. Flashlight
  5. Extra clothing
  6. First-aid kit
  7. Sun protection
  8. Map and compass
  9. Matches and fire starters
  10. Water bottle


  1. The Ten Essentials is a list of the ten items recommended to be carried by all outdoor adventurers. Many years ago, the Mountaineers (an outdoor club in western Washington) and other organizations did an analysis of outdoor accidents and fatalities and determined that if the victim had certain equipment, and the knowledge of how to use them, then the incidents likely would have been avoided. Since then, nearly all outdoor organizations have adopted the list, or something very near that.

    The “six essentials” is a great idea for Scouts getting started. It is scaled to their adventure level. The hard part is to avoid nibbling on the gorp.

  2. Complements of REI:

    Updated Ten Essential “Systems”
    1. Navigation (map and compass)
    2. Sun protection (sunglasses and sunscreen)
    3. Insulation (extra clothing)
    4. Illumination (headlamp/flashlight)
    5. First-aid supplies
    6. Fire (waterproof matches/lighter/candles)
    7. Repair kit and tools
    8. Nutrition (extra food)
    9. Hydration (extra water)
    10. Emergency shelter

    I’d adjust #10 to: “Emergency Supplies (whistle, quick shelter or mylar blanket)”
    And #2 to include lip balm and a hat.

    Seems like bug spray should fit in there somewhere.

  3. I sigh every time I see the Cub and Scout lists. I tell my Cubs and Scouts to include toilet paper as THE essential for every hike and camp out. They laugh, but it’s true, and they know it. There is no comfortable substitute. I’ve tried many things like spanish moss, sand, dry grass, and lichen but they can also cause as many problems as doing nothing at all. Just one time trying to do without when you really need it and ruining a perfectly good new neckerchief will make any one put T.P. on their essential list. And, REI has it right about sunglasses. They are essential for desert, beach or snow hiking. Many eyes have been ruined by sun exposure while wearing a hat, but no sunglasses.

  4. Cub Scouts actually learn about the six essentials during their Tiger year as part of the “Tigers in the Wild” adventure.

    Requirment 1: With your parent, guardian, or other caring adult, name and collect the Cub Scout Six Essentials you need for a hike. Tell your den leader what you would need to add to your list to prepare for rain.

  5. I’ve run this as a game for Cub Scout dens, something like a “Price is Right” game. I’ll put 10 items on a table (including the Six Essentials), and the Scouts one-at-a-time run up to the table, grab what they think is one of the six, run it back. When six items have been assembled, I’ll tell them how many they got right, but not which ones.

  6. Check out the “Lost in the Woods” program started by a kindergarten teacher in Washington state, then adopted by Parks Canada and used by the SAR Tech program in NASAR. Its geared for kids toddler to elementary school age and covers the basics of how to be ready, then what to do when lost. Fits together well with the “Hug a Tree” program from the southwest US. Truly excellent for Cubs.

  7. I recommend an addition to this list: tick and mosquito spray. in the northeast, you cannot go hiking without applying at least 30% deet to boots, pants and all exposed skin.

  8. For cubs they should add toilet paper, raingear, and clothing at all rank levels. I understand why compass, fire, and cutting tools are left of at certain levels, but I question that as well, favoring at least a one year shift down for each.

    As for teaching, recruit your Scoutmaster or an effective older scout to teach it. It grows the family that way and starts the process of preparing them for thinking about the next level. We just did the knife training. As Scoutmaster I did the big rules talk and showed the methods, but two of my senior scouts were on ground with the cubs actually teaching and carving. It has helped raise the respect level of the knife. The traditional “Me adult, you scout” method of teaching sets a line that does not need to be there with the essentials. Seeing scouts have command of the material and teaching taught more about equipment respect that I could have communicated.

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