It was once the realm of the toughest of young scouts, cadets and other youth organisations, but it seems schools have caught on, and ‘doing DofE’ has become a right of passage. In the last few weeks I’ve seen countless parents on my social media feed wailing over the cost of the DofE kit list.
And you, as a parent, quite possibly never did it yourself, and aren’t really sure what you’re letting yourself in for.
DofE – that’s hiking with a backpack, isn’t it?
Which if course it is. Each of the Bronze, Silver & Gold awards includes that ubiquitous hike; there are other sections of equal importance, but your teen will be doing their DofE with a youth organisation, and they’ll be organising and sorting all the other sections for you. What you will be handed to deal with is the Expedition DofE Kit List. And at first glance it might make your heart sink (and your bank card shrivel in horror).
How do I know? Well… I have completed my own DofE… and along the way I married my DofE assessor (yes. reader I married him), himself a Gold Award holder. My own 16yr old has just completed his Silver award (through Army cadets), and is about to begin his Gold prep. We’re also a family of hikers, and honestly? I just know a thing or two about getting teens out on the moors, and keeping them not only safe but comfortable, warm and dry while they’re out there.
The DofE Kit List
It’s always around this time of year that I start seeing parents having minor heart attacks on social media as they’re introduced to the Expedition DofE Kit List for the first time. Most of them have never done much, if any, hiking, so have no frame of reference. And of course not one of them wants to send their kid out ill-equipped (or a laughing stock). So they head to their chosen outdoor gear store of choice, and soon come to the conclusion that a small bank loan is required as they start to tick all those damned endless boxes.
But hold your DofE Kit List-panicky horses.
There’s no need to set up an overdraft to pay for this. DofE is totally accessible for everyone – you just need to be a little smart, and to know what you’re looking for.
How much does DofE cost?
There’s no way you’re getting to do it for free, that’s a given. But. It really shouldn’t break the bank, and if you take your time to prepare ahead you shouldn’t be stung with a hugely painful hit in the bank balance.
The formal cost of the DofE membership is £22 per level.
The additional cost of organising your weekends away for the expedition part is down to your youth organisation; we do it through the Army Cadet Force, and it costs us £12 per weekend.
It’s worth noting that the Army Cadet Force will also issue their cadets every bit of DofE Kit they need, from waterproofs to cookers and rucksacks. You’ll need to provide your boots and your food, that’s it. So if you’re on a budget, the ACF is my top recommendation!
Dofe kit on a budget?
It doesn’t help that the DofE website helpfully provides recommendations on the kit list to gear they deem suitable: naturally it’s all the top-end branded product, and seems designed to make a less-affluent parent sob into their camping mug.
So here’s our guide for DofE parents – how to complete the DofE Kit list and stay sane (and solvent).
DofE Kit Clothing
I’m going to say this right here at the very top. Don’t ever set out on a 15mile hike in brand new walking boots. You. Will. Be. Miserable. If you’re buying full leather ones you’ll need to wear them for a month or so, but even modern fabric boots with lots of stretch will potentially rub until they’re moulded to your feet. Buy as far ahead as possible, and then don’t leave them in a cupboard until you pack. Wear them around the house, use them like slippers.
The DofE hikes are graded – for Bronze you start with just 15 miles across two days on relatively easy-going terrain. You won’t be scaling mountains, you’ll probably be walking sturdy well-trod paths. So there’s really no need to splash out on those DofE Kit List-recommended hugely expensive boots which are designed to handle mountains. Especially if you’ve no idea if your child will even enjoy the experience.
For us, we’ve found that the own-brand hiking boots are excellent for day walks and shorter hikes. I know this thanks to taking a brand new pair of amazing £200 leather hiking boots** on a walking holiday in the Brecon Beacons a month ago (go me. I told you I knew about this). The first 15mile hike actually genuinely crippled my feet. Next day I had to head into a town (in my flip flops) and purchase a cheap £30 pair of boots from Mountain Warehouse for the rest of the holiday. They weren’t the most comfortable I’ve ever had, but they performed well enough for the next five days and 60 miles across the Black Mountains. Further and tougher than any bronze DofE will ever be.
(**they’re beautiful Meindls. But it’s taken me 30yrs of hiking to earn that £200 pair of boots. Until these I’ve never spent more than £60 on a pair, and usually much less – I shop in the sales, and wear own brands if I can’t find anything better. I’ve never had a blister or a wet foot)
Don’t buy the boots online – go to a high street outdoors shop (Millets, Mountain Warehouse or Decathlon are our top choices – some outlets like Cotswold Outdoors will only stock beautiful boots with heftier price tags – far more than your 14yr old will need). Look for hiking boots by Regatta, Hi-Tec, and the shop’s own brand. Try lots of them on. Different brands fit differently, and you need to try a few to see what’s most comfortable. Be sure to wear thick hiking socks when you try them on too.
Budget DofE Kit note – don’t be tempted into secondhand boots if you can possibly help it. Far far better to buy cheap ones to fit you than better ones which have moulded to someone else’s feet. That way lies blisters.
Never understimate the socks. So many people buy decent boots then skimp on the socks and suffer accordingly. I aim to spend just over £10 a pair – and one pair will last for years. My current faves are the Danish Endurance socks – on Amazon for £31 for three pairs. But I also like the Millets own-brand Peter Storm, plus Bridgedale and Brasher.
Budget DofE Kit note – Millets often have sales and codes on, so it’s always worth a poke about – and stores often have bins of reduced to clear socks too.
Plain old cotton tees from your drawer are fine, as are any running tops you have; the activewear fabric is perfect for layering and wicking away sweat. These activewear tops from New Look for a fiver (£5!!) are brill
Budget DofE Kit note – own-brand cheap activewear tops, long or short sleeved, are perfect for hiking in.
Please – don’t wear or pack heavy cotton hoodies. Cotton is heavy. And when it gets wet (and it will get wet) it stays wet – and you get wet and cold and miserable.
Fleece may not be super-stylish, and your teen may well grimace (although usually that fades the first time they wear that super-soft cosiness). But there’s a reason that anyone vaguely outdoorsy has an array of fleeces to throw on. It keeps you warm, it’s light to carry and it dries fast. It also happens to be super-cheap.
Budget DofE Kit note – You don’t need expensive tech fleeces – cheapy supermarket-own are more than good enough for warmer months of walking in the UK. We like the Regatta fleeces for £9 (if you buy the boys ones, girls will gain a little extra length in the body which is really nice. Unless your girl is super-short, always buy the men’s fleeces).
No. NOT jeans. Not now, not ever. You might think they’re tough and practical, but when they get wet they get heavy and they stay wet. Awful. You can choose sturdy cotton trousers – walking trousers are fine, but don’t get sucked into the expensive branded options. Google ‘walking trousers’, and you’ll see exactly the type of thing you’re looking for. Locally we’ve find mens work trousers cheaper, though I like the look of these £20 Srizgo ones (remember if your teen is a cadet, they can walk in their MTPs, they’re perfect. Scouts can walk in their uniform trousers too).
Budget DofE Kit note – But actually? You can see in the picture above that our teens much prefer hiking in running tights. Plenty of movement, they dry almost instantly, they’re super-cheap (Decathlon, ASDA and Tesco are your friends!) and you can always layer up with your waterproofs in really chilly weather.
Don’t buy the actual waterproof-treated trousers. You’ll drive yourself mad with the shoosh-shoosh-shoosh noise as they rub together with every step, and they’re just not comfortable in hot weather. Instead buy the cheapy over-trousers. No you won’t win a style award – but seriously, you’re sweating in a backpack, how good do you think you really look?
They’re light to carry, easily tug on over your boots when it begins to rain, and take 3mins to discard again when the sun comes back out. They’re also totally waterproof. Job’s a good’un. (We all have these £10 Regatta ones, you can see Bear sporting them in the image below on a very misty hike in Wales recently).
For the waterproof jacket, a basic Cagoule will actually work just fine – again Regatta is often your friend for these, though I’ve just spotted Mountain Warehouse has some Pakka jackets reduced to £15. As long as you have layers underneath, the task is to keep you dry, which any cheap Cagoule should do.
What they may also do, however, is cause you to sweat underneath, which then makes you clammy and damp on the inside – not overly pleasant.
So it’s definitely worth hunting around the sales and clearance sections to see if you can find a more expensive jacket reduced – higher priced models will also have a peaked hood (never underestimate how useful that is), double zips, decent pockets for maps & a phone etc, keeping them all dry too – it is worth spending a bit extra if you can.
Budget DofE Kit note This is one of the items you can def buy secondhand, or borrow from a cousin/friend. Waterproof is waterproof; if it’s the right size, wear it – it’s easy to re-waterproof if it starts to leak because it’s old. Let’s face it. A waterproof will never look cool…
The Important Little DofE Kit Extras
- Girls will be more comfortable with a sports bra – if they don’t already have one, try a supermarket’s own.
- Boys may also be more comfortable with a pair of sports underwear – chafing can be an issue on hot hikes – we’ve used these from Decathlon for £4 , though the top faves with my boys are these longer compression boxers on Amazon for £17 for 3.
- Don’t forget a hat – and even in warm weather where you think a sunhat is what you need, it’s a good idea to tuck in a beanie to wear at night when it can get super-chilly in that sleeping bag.
- Flip flops or beach shoes are ace for the campsite – don’t pack hefty trainers, you just want some flat comfort. Keep everything as light as possible!
- tube scarf – not an essential, but oh SO useful. Can be used as a sun hat, to keep heads or necks warm, to keep sweat off face, to keep hair out of eyes, as a hairband… everyone should hike with at least one. Again. no need to buy a Buff, you can get them in loads of places; I buy mine from eBay at around £3 each (have just seen Mountain Warehouse have loads of good long head tubes reduced from £10 to £3!).
- PJ’s. Don’t bother. No one gets undressed, and you don’t want to carry uneccessary gear. You all just accept you’ll stink.
The DofE Kit Rucksack
Along with your boots & socks, this is the bit of gear you want to get right. Look for at least a 60litre size (often labelled as 50:10, which means the main compartment is 50litres, and the bottom separated section is 10litres), and check for really well padded waist- and shoulder-straps, adjustable back systems (that’s the complicated-looking straps on the area which will fit against your back, which means your rucksack can be adjusted to perfectly fit the person wearing it) and hi-vis waterproof covers.
You’re probably looking at around £60 for a new one, and this is one area you definitely get what you pay for. You can make do with cheaper brands, but they just don’t have the padding and the adjustability that makes a rucksack genuinely comfortable over long distances.
We invested in the Vango Contour for Jolly’s DofE when he started Bronze, and actually bought a second one for our own use, it’s such a fabulous rucksack. That links to a Google search as prices vary widely. Currently it’s £70 at Decathlon but £42 at Sports Warehouse!
Budget DofE Kit note – However… a quick glance at eBay tells me lots of kids start the DofE, buy the gear and then don’t take it further. Desperate parents are trying to recoup some of the cash they invested, and barely-used rucksacks are showing on eBay for £10-£20 each. Rucksacks are designed to be sturdy and long-lasting – it’s highly unlikely they won’t be in perfect condition for you to use. Also ask around – friends or family may have a teen who’s done a few expeditions and still have their rucksack lurking in the loft.
Buying a sleeping bag is a bit like buying a duvet for the first time – you’re soon initiated into a whole new world of ratings and technicalities. There’s a few things to remember – you need something light, warm, and long enough. A ‘mummy’ style bag which has a hood is by far the most practical, and the warmest; you’d be amazed at how chilly the nights get even in the middle of summer, especially if you’ve been hiking in the sun all day.
Most sleeping bags are rated for how many seasons they are useful:
- 1 or 2 is Summer
- 3 Spring or Autumn
- 4 Winter
You’re unlikely to need a 4, and a 1 isn’t really practical for a Great British Summer either, so a 2/3 is what you’re looking for in your DofE kit.
We like the Easy Camp Nebula (£37), but this Berghaus Transition is reduced to less than half price in Millets, at just £30.
Budget DofE Kit note – you can again pick up decent sleeping bags secondhand on eBay (£75 bags for £20-ish); it’s another one of those items that people buy, use a couple of times and then store in the loft! Don’t forget they’ll go through the washing machine just fine, so you can easily wash it when it arrives.
Couple it with a sleeping mat – don’t forget, they’re really important if you want to get any sleep. They’re not just for comfort, the insulation they provided is absolutely essential. It used to be that every camper carried one of those rolled up mats of thin foam – you can still get them, and they do the job just fine. This Camper Mat is an Amazon bestseller, and comes in under £14.
But if you’re feeling lovely, splashing out on a self-inflating mat (a SIM) will cause your teen to thank you with relieved joy at bedtime; and I’ve just seen that the bestselling 5cm thick Trail SIM is on Amazon for just £20. Given the choice, which would you choose to sleep on – 1cm of foam, or 5cm of insulated air cushion?
The Important DofE Kit Little Extras
- Waterproof liner bags. No getting around needing them, and you won’t think you need them… until you need them, and bless the day your mum got them for you. We got the Lomo 3-pack for £11.50, and they’ve been fine. But a commenter on Facebook has geniusly suggested Builder’s Rubble Sacks – a roll of 30 for £7!
- Water bottle. It used to be the thing to have a couple of (heavy!) bottles of water in the outside pockets of your rucksack. Now though, modern rucksacks come complete with a hydration pack space – a ‘water bladder’ you fill and carry on your back, with a pipe that comes out and over your shoulder meaning you can sip on the move. Genius. Camelbak’s are the go-to brand, but the cheapest I’ve found is Decathlon’s at £8 for 2l.
- Whistle – lots of rucksacks have this built into the chest buckle, which is good to know. But having one fastened to your coat is good practice, too – look for a cheap, plastic, brightly coloured whistle like this.
- Torch – Make it sturdy, bright and not too heavy. We’ve got a couple of these Linkax LED torches (£7) , and they’re great (and the battery life is good too). But our boy has actually taken to wearing a headtorch (like this one, £6) in camp, he finds it easier to navigate around the tent (and out of it for a middle of the night wee break) if his hands are both free.
- Crockery/cutlery. No need to buy special camp cutlery – if you don’t have any you’re willing to lose, then head to the charity shop and pick up a knife/fork/spoon combo, probably 20p each. Crockery – plastic is fine; loads of shops sell bulk standard cheap plates and bowls, try picnicware from Wilkos (£1 for FOUR!). One of each is all you need, no need for whole sets. This isn’t single use plastic, you’ll still be eating off it in 25yrs time (we are). But if you’d rather go plastic free, then this 1-person enamel set for £11 looks great, or check Millets again; their enamel Highlander range is reduced, and currently £7 for a set.
- Towel – don’t lug a bath towel! The really lightweight microfibre towels are where you should spend a little cash; even the XL bath sheets weigh barely anything, cost is around £10.
- First Aid kit – you can buy ready-packed little hiking first aid kits for around £6, but you just need stuff you’ve probably got in your cabinet already. I would potentially add Compeed Plasters to your DofE Kit – I never go hiking without a couple of Compeed plasters in my pack. Last summer I was wearing 5yr old comfy boots, and one day’s hike in the heatwave randomly shredded my heels into broken blistered ribbons. I carried on hiking next day with some carefully placed Compeed!
DofE Kit Expedition Food
Okay, you have two choices here. You can take ‘real’ food and cook it yourself on your burner… or you can buy expedition food. For me, if it’s the first one or two expeditions, I’d carry the pre-made food so all you have to do is heat and eat. Keep it simple.
- For Breakfast, make up your own porridge before you go. Measure half your camping mug of oats, add any dried fruit you like, maybe some cinnamon or hot chocolate powder etc, and add 1/4 your mug dry milk powder. Once you’re on your expedition, simply add a whole mug of hot water to make quick porridge.
- for Bronze, you can make up lunch to take with you; sandwiches, pitta bread or wraps will all keep well (if it’s really hot avoid meats in them for the second day), and include high energy foods like flapjacks and cereal bars
- for dinner you’ll want something substantial – we tend to buy ‘Beyond the Beaten Track’ multipacks of meals, and keep them in a box til he needs some. It’s a range of curry, pasta, chilli, meatballs etc, and they simply require heating (and they can be eaten cold if desperate!)
- snacks – think high calorie here; nuts, cereal bars, boiled sweets, dried fruit, trail mix, shortbread … crisps will get crushed, and chocolate will melt, so look for sturdier items, and often they want savoury for the salt rather than sweet. Some hard boiled sweets & shortbread are enough of a sugar kick for them.
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