Selecting a backpack for young scouts

Selecting a backpack when you are 11 to about 14 is quite a tricky matter which presents some unique challenges. Given the cost of a good packpack, you want to ensure that it will last a long time. At the same time it has to big enough to take kit for an overnight hike as well as actually fitting a person who is an average 11 – 14 year old. We are going to discuss some of the factors to take into account in refining your choice.

At the outset it is maybe important to define the purpose for which you are buying the pack. Don’t buy a pack for all activities; rather buy for a specific activity and realise that it can change its function as you grow. Accept that if you are serious about scouting in South Africa, you will probably need a larger pack at some point but that your smaller pack will be entirely suitable as a day pack when you are bigger.


Size is the key determinant. A 75L pack is way to big for the average 11 year old and a 75L pack is really only needed for multi-night hikes which most people only do unsupported at the age of 15 or so. On the other hand a 25L pack is way to small, even for day hikes. So you need to be looking at around a 35L pack, certainly no less. Ideally, in my experience a 35L that is expandable to 45L is ideal as it allows you to use the pack for both day hikes and overnight hikes without having various pieces of equipment hanging off the outside of your pack. While it is understandable when your pack is too small it is really less than ideal. Firstly equipment has a tendency to snag on bushes and get pulled off. Secondly, in rain it is always that equipment that will get wet (and often it is your sleeping bag). Thirdly, it places the weight of the pack far back from your center of gravity and pulls you backward which is tiring. The advantage of choosing a rucksak of this size is that it will be usable as a day pack for many years to come, even when you are fully grown. Essentially, as you grow you can use this pack for day hikes and replace it with a full 75L pack for multi-day hikes.


Like any rucksak, fit is all important and completely individualised. Try the rucksak on. Put some weight in it. Feel for the points that don’t feel right. Imagine walking for 8 hours with this thing on your back. Will it rub? Will it be comfortable? Some important points are:

It should have a proper hipbelt. This means it should be padded; must be able to be tightened fully and the padding part must run across the hips. Packs around the 35L mark often just have a nylon hipbelt. This might be useful for stopping the pack swinging around but it is utterly useless for taking weight off your shoulders; the real function of a hipbelt. Second, make sure that the hipbelt can tighten. Sometimes hipbelts cannot be tightened enough to actually perform their function. You will grow into it but in the interim it is essentially useless. Make sure that the padding part covers the hips. This is probably not an issue at this age but I have run across 75L rucksaks where the padding is just too short and doesn’t sit on my hips.

Shoulder straps must comfortable, adjustable and well padded.

Whatever frame the pack has (nearly all South African packs are internal frame or frameless) check to see if it gives your back some breathing space and that it feels comfortable to you. While breathing space for your back is not essential, it does slow down the build up of sweat and the inevitable wet tshirt feeling. The effect of sweat on a cotton shirt is quite amazing in terms of hypothermic tendencies.

Hydration bladders are quite common these days and while it is not essential in a pack, it can be a nice thing to have.

Raincovers are quite common and are usually found in a pocket at the bottom of the pack. They are very handy when it rains and again, while not essential, are quite nice to have. You can always buy one separately if there is not one with the pack. The older the pack, the better it is to have one, as the waterproofing layer deteriorates with use.


Makes are again a highly individual choice but the best advice is not to get too hung up on a particular make or even model. I have found that certain First Ascent models are very comfortable for me while others just do not feel right. So the best idea is to let go of your prejudices and try what is on offer and judge on the merits, not on the badge. That said, there are some makes that are more recognisably established. The more established makes are First Ascent; Karrimor; Deuter; K-Way while lesser known brands include North Ridge and The North Face.

K-Way is the inhouse brand for Cape Union Mart and is manufactured in South Africa for SA conditions. Cape Union Mart has a good return policy (we have tried it out) so you can be assured that if there are problems you can replace the pack. In 2013 they have a 40 litre pack for R600 and a 50 litre pack for R900. Cape Union Mart also stock Deuter which is a German make. I personally have never hiked with a Deuter so I cannot comment on their longevity but they are quite expensive (being imported, I believe). Cape Union Mart has a 35L expandable to 45 litre pack for R1299.

First Ascent has the Mercury 35L expandable to 40L. I have hiked with this as a day pack and it has been very comfortable indeed, so much so that my next daypack is likely to be this one. Young scouts who have hiked with this on overnight hikes have also found this very comfortable and sufficient for a 2 night hike with some careful packing. It sells for R1100. First Ascent is a SA manufacturer and is available from Due South, Sportsman Warehouse and Outdoor Warehouse. The North Face have Terra 45, probably available from Due South. North Face tend to have reputation for making serious hiking equipment but I do not know anyone who actually has hiked with it.

So, that’s about it. In a nutshell, get what is comfortable and what works for you. Think about spending 8 hours on the trail with this thing on your back and how much equipment and food you need to pack to survive. And then buy it.




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Highlands Trail

The Highlands Trail is a unusual trail in the Kogelberg that traverses farmland and wilderness, lagoon and beach. Access to Iona Farm where the trails starts and ends can be from either side of the Kogelberg. In this instance we wanted to dump our equipment at the overnight stop in Kleinmond so we drove the long route in to Kleinmond, dumped our overnight equipment and food (after locating the keys) and took one car to Iona Farm. All in all it took a good 2-3 hours of driving from Cape Town to the start so an early start is highly advisable.

The weather was pretty threatening and later on would play a big part in our hike but when we started we had light drizzle every so often. We started at about 11. in the morning. The first part of the route passes through farmland and while the route is quite easy, the vista’s are also somewhat tedious. The cooler weather made this easier to walk; this is not a hike we would like to do in mid-summer.

Occasionally the route markers are absent and you need to follow best guess to make your way along the route. Toward mid afternoon we came to the edge of the plateau and glorious views over the lagoon. From here it was a descent through fynbos that had clearly been burnt about 2 years before, with many burnt trees. On the way down the rain started to get heavier. After quite a lengthly descent we crossed over the road and things really went pear-shaped. In the absence of markers  we turned right whereas we should have gone left. The right took us along a road whereas going left would have taken us down to the lagoon and along the edge. As it turned out either route OK but you do have to head towards the Rooisand car part on the right hand route that we were on which means turning off at the point where the road curves up towards the Kogelberg.

The real killer was the rain. It poured down on us for a good 2 hours so that water poured out of our shoes every step and raincoats become saturated.  Considering that it was February, it was an extraordinary quantity of rain. Eventually we reached the Rooisand car park with water streaming off us in all directions and no sign of let up. What we could not find was the path to cross the lagoon. After some short searching and deciding that hypothermia could become an issue if we did not keep moving, we turned up towards the main road to try and reach our overnight hut. After an amazingly long walk we turned onto the main road and tried to hitch a ride, not surprisingly no-one offered us a lift. Eventually we took shelter in a shed and contacted a friend in Kleinmond to give us a lift to the hut which they ever so kindly did. Naturally the rain eased off as soon as we arrived at the hut!! The Frank Robb hut is a very basic hut with minimal washing and cooking facilities but that day it was a fantastic break from being rained on…After drying off, hanging out sodden clothes to dry and making a fire and food we all felt a lot better and retreated to sleep.

The next day dawned clear and sunny and despite some comments about abandoning the day we got going pretty early (8am). A short walk to the nearby golf course made everyone feel better and we easily picked up the route from the corner of the parking area. The route traverses the side of the mountain above Kleinmond, staying on the same level for quite a way and giving good and changing views over Kleinmond. As the path curves around the corner, however, the hard work starts as the path heads up a valley behind the mountain we had just crossed the front of. Once we got to the nek at the top of the valley, the path turned left and headed upwards again towards the ridge. To the left are some strangely shaped “finger” rocks. The path up is a brutally short climb to the top and once there we could look over the Kogelberg towards the Palmiet storage scheme and back towards Kleinmond.

After a break we followed the path along the ridge, traversing some relatively precarious drop off’s and accompanied by spectacular views over Kleinmond. Once around the edge we followed the road which drifts down into the Kogelberg and then turns right towards Iona. This is a long section and again not something we would like to do on a hot day. The rocks are white and the reflected glare is incredible as is the heat. Even on this relatively cool day, it was very hot hiking on this section. Eventually, we passed plantations of palm trees and made our way down to Iona Farm. We then still had to drive back to the overnight hut and collect our things before taking the long trek back to Cape Town.

All in all this is a good, fun hike with some boring sections that just have to be negotiated and some fantastic scenery. An added complexity is the need to book the accommodation separately from the hike so early booking is important. The photos of the Highlands Trail are here


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Upton Trophy 2013

We came 36 out of 58. Well done to the team on a tough Upton.

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Kon-Tiki – Final Arrangements

Kon-Tiki is upon us again. We effectively have a long weekend for Kon-Tiki which we will need to use due to logistical challenges.

On Thursday 21st we will meet at the hall at 10.00am to complete the painting and pack all the equipment ready to move. We expect to be finished by 3.00pm although we hope to be finished earlier. The more scouts who come to help, the faster it will go.

On Friday we will meet at the hall at 1.00pm to pack the truck. This year we are not able to use our usual trailer and as a consequence we will have to make more than one trip to move our equipment from the hall to Zandvlei. Construction of the rafts is allowed from 3.00pm and we plan to be offloading our first load at 2:30pm at the latest. As a result we will need to split ourselves into two parties; the first will need to travel to Zandvlei with the first load, while the second will need to remain at the hall to pack the second load.

As a result we will need help with transporting scouts at approximately 2.00pm and again at about 3.30pm. We will not be transporting any scouts on the back of the truck so it is essential that we have sufficient transport for about 6 scouts at 2.00pm and again at 3.30pm. Please let us know if you are able to help with transport at these times.

The scouts usually sleep over at the Sea Scout base on Friday night and we finish raft construction at Saturday morning. All raft construction must be finished by 12 midday and raft launching starts at 2.00pm on Saturday. We will be providing supper and breakfast.

We are still not sure whether we will have sufficient numbers for a ground crew and we will confirm as soon as we know. Ground crew sleep at the Sea Scout base on Saturday night and enjoy a number of fun activities.

On Sunday the rafts are supposed to be moved to shore from 2.00pm and the rafts are disassembled and transported back. We will have make two trips this year and it is essential that every scout come to help us disassemble and pack away the equipment on Sunday afternoon. Once again we will have to split the available scouts into two halves to help unpack at the hall. As the raft team has to be at the closing parade there are substantively fewer scouts available to load and unpack at this stage so all help will be very welcome. We will also need help with transporting scouts back to the hall, probably at about 3.30pm for the first load and 4.30pm for the second. The raft crew will also have to be transported back at about 5.00pm. Please let us know if you can help with this transport.

Closing parade is at 4.30pm and we hope to have all the equipment removed and unpacked at the hall by 5:30pm.

We hope to see you all there and look forward to an enjoyable Kon-Tiki 2013!

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Kon-Tiki Navigation Lights

We have purchased a set of navigation lights which should be fine for Kon-Tiki. They run off a normal battery and last about 9 hours on one battery. The only drawback is that they will have to be turned on at night and then mounted but I think we can do that with three pulleys. These are emergency navigation lights so they should be unaffected by weather conditions.

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New Tent

We have purchased a K-Way Horizon 6 man tent to try out as a potential replacement for our older (leaky) canvas tents. Hopefully the Kon-Tiki ground crew will be the first to try this out for us in the typically windy conditions at Zandvlei…

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What you need to know about kloofing

Kloofing is a variant of hiking which involves mostly walking, swimming and jumping your way down a river. Here in the Western Cape we have quite a few options such as Elandspad, Bobbejaanskloof and Suicide Gorge. Kloofing differs from hiking in quite a few respects and this article is about those differences.

Of course, the main difference from which everything flows is that you are going out to get wet. The whole point of  kloofing is to get wet, very wet. And that means that waterproofing is what you need. You need to waterproof your pack in such a way that it will not leak after being thrown into water from cliffs, used as a flotation device and generally submerged in water.

The most expensive option but one worth having if you are going to do more than one day’s kloofing in your life is a Sea to Summit Dry Pack. It is worth remembering that no waterproof pack or sack is ever going to last a lifetime. Inevitably friction wears off the waterproof lining. But since most people only kloof once or twice a year, a Dry Pack will last quite a few years. The advantage of the Dry Pack is that it is easy to open and close, requiring no more than a couple of rolls of the top and clipping the ends together. You should also match the size of your pack to the size of your Dry Pack. For serious kloofing (e.g the 5 day Wit Els) you really need to waterproof your equipment very well. In these case using a dual layer is probably advisable. So you would use an outer Dry Sack as well as several smaller inner Dry Sacks. It is important to remember that waterproofing takes up space (there is always trapped air, no matter how well you compress your packs) so take this into account when packing, effectively you must pack less into the same amount of space. This is quite a challenge when you are doing a 5 day trip.

Cheaper alternatives are plastic bags but remember that they tear easily and are rarely waterproof for long. So if you are using them, be sure to double layer (in other words make sure you have two layers of plastic). If your waterproofing leaks the first and most immediate effect is that your clothes will absorb the water and your pack will become incredibly heavy. Any unsealed food will be ruined by water and equipment such as phones, camera’s etc will suffer a sudden death. The rule really is don’t bring your phone or any sensitive equipment unless it is hermetically sealed and can take being thrown off 16 meter cliffs. Possibly the best suggestion if you don’t have a phone like that is to take a low cost phone (with airtime) and place it in a plastic container with other sensitive equipment (like your first aid kit), place that in a Dry Sack and hope it survives the trip…

Because you are going to spend a fair amount of time in water you will need to wear shoes. Personally I recommend socks as well. The socks prevent water friction and also the inevitable sand which gets into your shores rubbing your feet raw, a most unpleasant scenario. Any shoes you wear should have good traction because in slow flowing rivers the rocks are often very slimy and incredibly slippery (leading to a great deal of falling into water). You can buy shoes with drainage which I have never actually tried out but might be worth a try. Any shoes you use will also suffer an amazing amount of damage so try and use older shoes. I find that when your feet slip on rocks there is quite a lot of bashing of your feet and ankles on underwater rocks so I prefer to wear quite heavy Hi-Tec shoes and socks that cover my ankles and are quite thick. The wet socks do weigh your feet down but I find it a small price to pay for protected ankles. Boots are not a good idea for kloofing as they are too heavy.

For clothes wearing a swimming costume and tshirt is fine. I wear a hiking synthetic tshirt (a First Ascent Duoflo) which I find drains and dries very quickly. (For scouts, have a look at the HiTec factory shops like the one in Access Park in Kenilworth. HiTec factory shops are relatively cheap and scouts get a 15% discount). Cotton shirts are probably the worst option as they retain the wet and a light breeze will quickly chill you when you are not actually in the water. You can still kloof in one but you might want to take it off at lunch time so that you are actually warmer. Be sure that your costume will not rub as you will be walking in it all day. Board shorts are fine.

There are a couple of safety rules in kloofing. The first thing to understand is that kloofing, like hiking, is inherently a risky thing to do. Accidents are fairly rare but they do happen. So have a good first aid kit and make sure that at least two people in your party are trained in first aid. As scouts we should also play scenario’s, the “what if” so that if the “what if” does happen you will have a good idea of what actions to take. Don’t wait for the accident to happen to you, be sure you have an idea of what the correct actions to take are when an accident does happen.

So the rules:

1. Never, ever dive into a rock pool. Always, always jump, feet first. Broken legs are very different from broken necks. It is impossible to judge the position and height of rocks under the water and you can easily hit your head on a rock if you dive. I personally know a person to whom this happened; he is now a quadraplegic.

2. Never do a jump until you have assessed the pool underneath; by which we mean climb down into it and make sure there are no underwater obstacles. Often there are shallow rock shelves to one side or the other (A good example is at the pool at Die Hel in the Groot Winterhoek). Jumping onto these is a good way to spend the next few weeks in hospital. There are exceptions to this, as in Suicide Gorge where there is no option but for most kloofing, someone needs to climb down and make sure. Also remember that rivers move so what is fine one year is not necessarily fine the next. If the jump makes you too nervous, don’t do it.

3. Always have a first aid kit and know how to use it and what you will do if something does go wrong.

4. Make sure you can swim.

5. Don’t let your party string out. It is easy for the last person to slip and fall without anyone noticing. Always and continuously make sure that your party stays together and you know where everyone is.

6. You are going to spend a lot of time in the sun and get a lot of reflected sun off the water. Wear a hat and use sunblock often. Sylvasun is great a helping to prevent sunburn although it will not stop you burning so you need to use it in conjunction with sunblock.

That’s the basics of kloofing. Enjoy!!


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Cederberg, being on a base for the first time

Being on a base is not what what you think it is so here’s some tips

1. Your going to be on that base with the same people for ten days so make friends. Also talk to them a lot they can sometimes help you out with certain  things like when i stayed i met someone who is now going to help me get involved with warhammer.

2.Work out where your going to be and figure out what you will have like nice bathrooms or huts.

3. Pack comfortable trust me you dont want to be stuck in the middle of  the cederberg and be uncomfortable.

4.  Whatever you do you will become involved. I did archery base and we shot every day normally and competitively

5. Try and get some experience of what you will be doing.

6. Have fun.

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