Best affordable summer camp/canoe trip supplies for 12yo boy
June 4, 2019 5:42 PM   Subscribe

We are not outdoor people but our son is excited to go to canoeing camp in New England this summer. This means he'll probably encounter variable weather and temperatures. Being cold, wet and miserable will certainly doom the whole adventure so can mefites help me decide how to best spend my limited budget to get him the necessary equipment that will protect him from the elements and survive two months of abuse by a pre-teen?

Keeping him warm and dry will go a long way to making this whole trip a success. I don't mind buying stuff at Amazon, Walmart or REI....but I'm overwhelmed by my choices and don't want to cheap out on the exactly wrong thing. Links to actual items you like, use etc. would be very helpful. He's a pretty standard size 12/14 Adult Small and prefers sweatpants and all things with an elastic waist. He only wears running the Crocs, Tevas, trail shoes are all unfamiliar territory.

Here is the list:
Wool or Fleece Sweater - We have a fleece zip up jacket (no hood). Would wool be significantly better? He loves his sweatshirt hoodie but it's cotton/poly which I know is not great if it gets wet.
Thermax or Polypropylene long sleeved shirt
Synthetic long underwear
Hat with brim - should this be a baseball cap or a fishermans hat?
Sleeping bag with stuff sack
River waterproof bag 25"x 43"
Sleeping pad
Trail Shoes
Kneepads for canoes (they recommend basketball or wrestling kneepads)
Quick-dry long pants

Thank you!
posted by victoriab to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (24 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Merino wool socks are the best. Warm when wet and they tend to be far less smelly. I love Darn Tough and Fits, but the Costco ones are really great for the money.

Sunglasses are a huge comfort on sunny days on the water. Get a leash to hold them on his head if he goes for a surprise swim.

Fleece is fine, but make sure he knows it’s flammable. Ok, maybe that’s a good case for cotton or splurging on wool. In summer, my warm layers are in my dry bag until we setup camp so it’s fine to have a comfy sweatshirt.

You should also have a good raincoat. No fun getting soaked.

Here in Minneapolis, we have a great place for used camping and outdoor stuff called Repair Lair. I wonder if you can get to something like this. Marshall’s bought Sierra Trading Post, and it has some great deals.
posted by advicepig at 6:01 PM on June 4 [2 favorites]

There are cheap headlamps on the market but the difference between the cheapest ones you can find and a $25-40 headlamp are considerable. Go for the nice one; it'll be useful for many years.

Also, seconding the recommendation for some nice socks.

There may be a hiking or other outdoor club in your area that has a gear swap, or there may be a Facebook or other social networking group for that. Worth looking into for things that are not highly personal.
posted by Nerd of the North at 6:50 PM on June 4 [2 favorites]

Not for comfort, but DEET and a lesson on tick season protocol. Anecdotally they’re supposed to be really bad this year.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:49 PM on June 4 [2 favorites]

Wool is good because it stays warm even when it's wet, unlike fleece. Teva sandals take some getting used to, so dont buy them just before the trip, he'll end up with blisters. Other waterproof sandals might be a better idea.

I have quick dry pants from REI and I love them.
posted by ananci at 7:54 PM on June 4 [1 favorite]

I think your list is very good. I have spent many many summers canoeing in the Adirondacks. I would have a bucket hat in addition to a baseball cap. I would add some bandanas so that your child can cover their necks and head when the sun is beating down.

I cannot say enough about my fleece (Patagonia i.e. expensive). It keeps me warm at night even when it is wet. It is quick drying too. I have fleece pants for night and lounging by the fire.

I also have some long sleeve sun shirts that act as a 50 (I think) SPF. I swim in it too.

I know it makes sense to do this as inexpensively as possible especially with a 12yo boy who will quickly grow out of it and might even lose it, but I found that with warmth and sun items, I cannot afford a bargain. My two boys have hiked and canoed extensively and one rode his bike cross country at 16. The key is lightweight and durable. You can wear a fleece over and over. Easy to clean by dipping it in the lake or river.

To me, the key is to not get sunburned during the day and to stay warm at night. Also, to stay as dry as practical. I would add a rain poncho or rain jacket.
posted by AugustWest at 7:59 PM on June 4

If you have a brick-and-mortar REI store nearby and are a member, it looks like many of them are having a "garage sale" this Saturday of lightly used returns sold as is at very good discounts.

If he only wears running shoes, he might feel more comfortable in trail running shoes, which are kind of a cross between hiking and running shoes. Some don't look all that different than regular runners. They sometimes aren't as supportive as regular hikers, but likely enough for what he'll be doing?

Maybe Crocs are a bit cooler these days, but a decade ago I was roasted unmercifully for wearing them on a rafting trip with my adult son. And really, the basic styles were kinda foolish as they weren't all that secure. I'd say closed-toe style sandals or Teva-style would be more versatile (on preview, the warning comment above about late-purchase Tevas is right). Probably more expensive though, although off-brands should be fine if they're comfortable for him.

I'd think an inexpensive, mid-temp, synthetic insulated sleeping bag should be enough for NE summer, depending on exactly where/when. Would usually be fine in the midwest where I am.

Definitely a rain jacket or poncho.

A fisherman's hat of some type gives *much* better sun protection than a baseball cap. The former may or may not be as cool as the latter if that matters in this situation. Maybe both, they're small??

They probably mean "base layer" for the synthetic long underwear. Prime brands can be surprisingly expensive, so I'd look for off-brands again, although might not be easy to find this time of year.

I'd say your fleece jacket should be fine, but the comment about a dry bag is on point if he really wants his hoodie. Or again, maybe both?
posted by ClingClang at 8:09 PM on June 4

Are you buying him a life preserver? It’s much more comfortable to get one that truly fits and is comfortable for paddling. New England lakes are cold and squalls can come up suddenly. Camps will likely require them, and the old ones that have been worn for years and stored damp are the worst. My son loves his brimmed hat with a chin strap. And layers are always good. Consider pants that zip off and shorts that can double for swimming. Plus synthetic underwear. Our go to is LL Bean, but that’s because it’s in our backyard and the staff is really helpful.
posted by Sukey Says at 8:14 PM on June 4

A long time ago I attended and more recently have taught science workshops at kid's camps in northern California. YMMV in New England.

Wool or fleece sweater – Sounds like you’re set here, pack both the beloved cotton hoodie and the fleece jacket.
Thermax or polypropylene long sleeved shirt & synthetic long underwear– I don't have experience with these fabrics and much prefer silk or wool base layers. Icebreaker, Smartwool, REI, and Patagonia all make good stuff in this department. The real key is putting it on in the first place and layering appropriately.
Quick-dry long pants - These and these are casual, stretchy, and quick drying. REI and Costco make some nice athletic pants too.
Hat with brim – Any hat he’ll actually wear is the best choice.
Sleeping bag with stuff sack - This rectangular bag would fit the bill just fine. This mummy is more fitted, so it'll be marginally tighter and warmer.
Sleeping pad - Inflatable option, (generally more comfy but could outright fail if it gets a hole) and closed-cell foam option (less padding but unbreakable) - regular size in both.
Headlamp – This will get him very safely to/from the bathroom at night. I've bought them for my whole family. Amazon has similarly priced options.
River waterproof bag 25”x43” – That's a big bag. I've used these and they're great, worth every penny. You could also resell it at the end of the summer and make a good portion of your money back. A good dry bag is worth all the money you spend on it; it keeps everything else you're carrying safe and dry. Good brands are Sea to Summit, Sealine, NRS.
Trail shoes & Sandals/tevas/crocs – Bring him to a local store and try on a bunch of shoes for the right fit/function. I'd say he needs hiking shoes/tennis shoes (depending on expected hiking activity), easy slip-on sandals (for wearing around camp), and then either water shoes or water sandals.

I second everyone above that he'll also need a solid rain jacket,.

Don't forget a comfy pillow, favorite stuffed animal, and a notebook/sketchbook. Maybe a waterproof camera? Can you send care packages? I remember those *very* fondly.
posted by scrubjay at 9:08 PM on June 4 [1 favorite]

LLBean is easy because they'll take time with you on the phone. Walmart's Ozark Mtn. camping label is basic, affordable and I have had good experience with it. Campmor is a reliable site
LED Headlamp - Walmart; a friend swears by Rayovac.
The cotton-poly sweatshirt will not be warm enough if it gets damp; that's why they specify wool or fleece. I see lots of great name-brand fleece at Goodwill, but I'm in Maine where it's standard issue. Here's a good pullover from LLBean.
Polypropylene long sleeved shirt - Hanes makes them - Walmart. LLBean
Hat with brim - Baseball or fishing cap is fine, or a bucket hat that provides some sun protection on his neck. Walmart, check camping and fishing.
Teva / Keen / Chaco - he should have footwear that he can walk in that dries quickly. I've worn Teva sandals and Keen water shoes and they are very comfortable.
Synthetic long underwear - LL Bean
Sleeping bag with stuff sack - easily borrowed or Walmart. Sleeping bags always come with stuff sacks that are just barely big enough. A little bigger is easier. Synthetic fill, not down.
Quick-dry long pants -these from Old Navy are poly. These cargo pants are mostly nylon some cotton. These from LLBean would be ideal. It's ok to call the camp to review choices.
A waterproof bag will be spendy. REI has a used gear site and there are other used outdoor gear sites. Dry bags seem to be sized in liters. I'd ask the camp for more details.

Sunglasses, and a floatable polypropylene cord to keep from losing them on the water.
Foam pad for warmth under the sleeping bag?
posted by theora55 at 9:28 PM on June 4 [1 favorite]

Keen water shoes are incredibly comfortable and absolutely the bomb. They are standard issue for everyone I know who guides tours on the water.
posted by charmedimsure at 11:56 PM on June 4 [4 favorites]

He should definitely know how to check for ticks. My uncle got Lyme Disease with a tick bite to the groin on the North Shore in Massachusetts.

I tend to be an over-packer but I don't like being cold. Fleece pants, three extra pairs of socks, an extra hoodie or two and the warmest comfiest slippers that your young man can wear in downtime.

I've worn these from LL Bean for decades and they're always in my bag when I travel.

Or convince him that flip-flops with socks are cool now.

If he's going to Maine I'd look for stuff to keep him warmer. He might not need so much in Massachusetts or south of it.

He's going to need some home comfort at some point, make sure he has that.
posted by bendy at 2:43 AM on June 5

I had a great experience at Hurricane Island Outward Bound in Maine. If that's the kind of thing he's doing MeMail me.
posted by bendy at 2:45 AM on June 5

I'm remembering that I'm all about being comfortable when camping.

You need a pair of fip-flops or easily slipped-off shoes so that you can drop them at the door of your tent when you go inside. Outside shoes should stay outside of the tent.
posted by bendy at 2:57 AM on June 5

I used to lead canoeing trips for young teenagers. Here are some thoughts:

When people say “a good raincoat” they mean one that is breathable as well as waterproof, i.e. not just made out of rubber. Storebrand REI rain jackets are good; you don’t have to buy him a Northface or Patagonia one.

Find him a pair of water shoes or tevas that are as comfortable as possible and then make him wear them before his trip (for short periods at first), so he breaks them in. Kids with lily-white soft feet + brand-new wet sandals is a really good recipe for really awful blisters. Keeping blistered feet healthy in a wet environment is really hard. Kids occasionally got sent home from our program because their blisters got so bad and started to get infected, and their instructors couldn’t manage it safely anymore on the river.

A foam sleeping pad is much hardier than an inflatable one, and a lot cheaper.

If your list says “ wool or synthetic only” for a certain layer, please believe them. You can send his cotton-blend hoodie with him too. A normal wool sweater or a thick fleece pullover are both good options for the warm layer. His fleece zip-up jacket sounds fine as long as he doesn’t mind getting it a bit dirty. Make sure he can fit the fleece jacket under his rain jacket.

Storebrand long underwear from an outdoor store like REI are also good. So are storebrand sleeping bags. If you’re overwhelmed by the selection of sleeping bags, talk to a salesperson in the store; they’ll help you sort through it. A mummy bag is going to be a lot warmer than a regular rectangular one; I would suggest getting a mummy bag.

A baseball cap works fine as a brimmed hat. Send him with two regular cotton handkerchiefs and if he wants to jury-rig some extra sun protection with that, he can. Sunglasses with a strap are also helpful.

If you get him 2-3 extra medium-sized stuff sacks (don’t worry about getting fancy water-proof ones, the cheapest option will do), he can use them to organise his stuff in his big waterproof bag. For instance, underwear and toiletries and headlamp go in one stuff sack, warm stuff in another. It makes it easier to find stuff in the great gaping maw of your dry bag.
posted by colfax at 3:56 AM on June 5 [1 favorite]

I think Columbia convertible pants are the best! Super quick dry. They have heavier weight ones. But on a surprise nice day hey look at me I'm wearing shorts!!

Also I did this trip (ish) when I was about 11 or 12. i was given my first real Swiss army knife. It's 30 years old and I still carry it often. Used it in earnest at work yesterday. It's remains one of the few absolute lifetime mementos I possess.
posted by chasles at 3:57 AM on June 5

Disclaimer: I work at an REI.

In my personal opinion, getting a comfortable, warm sleeping bag & pad and good shoes are the most important to feeling comfortable. If I'm well rested and my feet don't hurt, it goes a long way to making the rest tolerable, no matter the conditions.

For a sleeping bag, I might suggest the REI Trail Pod 30. It's synthetic, so if it gets damp it'll still keep him warm in a way that a down bag will not. It's a mummy shape and comes in its own mesh storage bag that turns into a stuff sack. The tested comfort rating is around 40 degrees, though, so you may want to consider the 15 degree version if he sleeps cool. My coworkers often recommend these bags to folks with teenagers going to camp because they're comfortable and warm but are fairly durable and don't require as much attention/maintenance as a down bag might. Good bag for the price point.

If you're near an REI, do go to the garage sale on Saturday. They will likely have a bunch of trail shoes for ~half off, since this is the time of year that people buy trail running shoes, wear them once or twice, and return them for fit/comfort reasons (trail shoes are running shoes with reinforced soles for more comfort/protection on uneven terrain). It is also the time of year that people bring back last year's pair of sandals that they didn't like when they bought them last summer but didn't get around to returning. I have a pair of Keen Whisper sandals and a pair of Teva Originals that are both super comfortable and great for being in and out of water. The Tevas are lighter weight, but the Keens provide a little more protection (closed toe). Chacos are what's popular and trendy right now but they're also literally 2x as expensive as Tevas and (for me and my feet) not nearly as comfortable.

Caveat about the garage sale: those purchases are non-returnable.

Sleeping pad: not even going to try recommending one over the internet. Your local REI will have sample ones inflated for him to lie down & roll around on. Pay attention to the sounds they make when you roll over - some of them crinkle like a bag of potato chips. Doesn't bother me, but your son or his tentmates may disagree.
posted by coppermoss at 4:12 AM on June 5

Oh, and re: ticks, consider treating at least his socks and pants with permethrin.
posted by coppermoss at 4:17 AM on June 5 [1 favorite]

Lots of great recommendations but I also wanted to say check out your local Buy Nothing group or parents groups (often on Facebook) - I’ve seen tons of outdoor things being offered.
posted by brilliantine at 4:57 AM on June 5 [2 favorites]

I would go for a waterproof headlamp personally; you can get usb rechargeable ones and a solar charger to cut down on battery weight but the battery life of all my headlamps (i think they're all black diamond? but none are waterproof which i have regretted in the past) has been excellent so it might not be an issue.

A baseball cap isn't going to prevent sunburn on the back of the neck, which is agony until it heals as it's v difficult to go through your everyday motions without turning your head. A full-brimmed hat is a better choice.

Definitely get everything possible treated with tick poison.
posted by poffin boffin at 5:12 AM on June 5

An addendum on choosing a hat: if you think your kid can be responsible about sunscreen and put some on every day on his neck (as well as the rest of himself) and maybe reapply once during the day, then a baseball cap is perfectly fine sun protection. If he’s the kind of kid who is going to forget to do that, then a hat that shades his neck is a better idea.
posted by colfax at 9:33 AM on June 5

(ObDisc: brought up in Minnesota's waters, now live in new England, and was in Maine last weekend. have camped & canoed plenty.)

Lots of good, specific advice above!

"Cotton kills": definitely buy polypro/polypropylene shirts & shorts instead.

Long sleeve swimshirt or rash-guard shirt for during the day to keep off the Day Star's Killing Rays; the fleece is for nighttime. A long-sleeve wool shirt is nice for bedtime, since he should only need like a 40-degree bag for summer. (Wait, where in new England is this camp, exactly? That may change what he needs to bring.)

Really consider soaking his clothes in permethrin (the bug-killing stuff) before he leaves, to supplement insect repellent which he may forget ("forget") to use or have wash off.

Quick-dry pants with zip-off legs that turn into shorts are awesome. Columbia sells great ones, but there are also a ton of cheap knock-offs on Amazon now -- though beware of the sizing!!

Buy a "boonie" or "bucket" hat so his ears & neck are protected from the sun.

Have him try everything that's new or wear everything around the house so he knows how it works, and what's likely to go wrong.

REI's house brand usually adopts the good innovations about a year behind top-shelf brands, so if he's going to use the stuff a few times, you can save some money there -- or definitely thrift it if he's not skeeved out by used clothes.

(Bear in mind that he may not use all of it! I went to a great canoeing camp as a kid where we were told on the second day to tie one leg of our jeans in a knot, and we could take whatever fit in the leg. Everything else stayed behind, and we all pretty much had just a swimsuit, rain coat, shorts, bathroom stuff, and a hat...and we were just fine. That said, my kids go to summer Scout camp with tons of junk!)
posted by wenestvedt at 10:51 AM on June 5

For sleeping pads, consider the Thermarest Z-lite. I don't think it's as comfortable as most inflatable pads ... but it won't puncture.
posted by compartment at 3:41 PM on June 5

Thanks so much for all of the great responses. A few folks asked where the camp's in the middle of Vermont, so it could get pretty chilly at night. Luckily, a friend has lent us a Kelty mummy bag, long underwear, headlamp and some hiking/trail boots to get us started on the list.

I definitely hadn't been considering the sun aspect and he's definitely a candidate for a bad sunburn without proper protection. I also hadn't been thinking about the ticks at all so I'll definitely try the tick treatment on his socks and pants. The tip about the REI sale is awesome and we're definitely going to go this weekend and see what good deals we can score. We have about two weeks to break in any sandals we buy...hopefully that will be enough time. Also, that original list came directly from the camp so I can't take credit for creating it. The dry bag they're asking us to bring IS huge (I think it converts to 70L) but they'll be doing a week in a canoe later in the season so I guess that's how much room it takes to fit a weeks worth of gear.

Thanks again for all of the great advice. Please don't hesitate to add more advice or recommendations and I'll post an update of what we ended up with before he heads off.
posted by victoriab at 4:28 PM on June 6

Okay, the 2 months at canoeing camp was a success! Thank you all so much for the guidance. Here is what we ended up getting and generally how everything fared.

+10 for the idea of having him figure out how to work everything before we left. The inflatable sleeping pad, getting the sleeping back into the stuff sack that has this attached rain cover that's super confusing, changing the batteries on the various flashlights...just general nitpicky stuff that I am glad we spent some time going over even though his interest level was -1000.

One BIG error I made was doing most of the packing for him. Next summer, I'm letting him pack the bags himself so he'll know what he has and where to find it. We got him back home and were unpacking the 2 HUGE duffel bags and I found ALL of his socks still clean and tidy in a side pocket of the duffel. He basically borrowed socks or bought the at the camp store for the entire first month before he told us and we sent him some about a month in.

We did treat all of his clothes with the tick stuff I got from REI. Definitely do it outside (I hung everything up on our playscape) on a non-windy day...ideally not near any living, breathing is serious stuff. But the good news was that there were no reports of ticks, leeches yes, ticks no.

I went to Old Navy and bought a bunch of the quick dry athletic shirts, shorts and gym pants for most of his clothing. I also got him a few Old Nay swimsuits. I got some inexpensive fleece pants and a jacket from REI who were super helpful about the whole project. I splurged on a nice pair of Columbia shorts and sun shirt which I think he wore for days at a time and they still look brand new. Very impressed with the Columbia stuff. We also got the dry sack from REI and it was expensive. If I'd had more time I would have tried to score one second hand from Ebay or Craigslist...but I do think a name brand was important since you wouldn't know if the cheap one your got from Wish really worked until it was too late.

We borrowed the long underwear stuff, sleeping bag etc.

Shoes - we bought some Keens, Trail shoes that look like running shoes and he took his regular running shoes and some slippers. They all seems to get A LOT of wear. I saw a lot of pictures of him running around camp in his robe and slippers like a young Archie I'm glad I sent them.

None of the flashlights survived the I won't spend any serious money on them again. I think I might put one on a lanyard next time so maybe it will be a bit easier to keep up with.

He liked on the the baseball caps from REI and that's what he wore the entire summer. He sometimes wore a bandanna around his neck to protect himself from the sun. He didn't wear the hat with the huge brim that I bought him...but maybe next year!
Thanks again for all of the help and advice.
posted by victoriab at 3:35 AM on August 21 [1 favorite]

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