The 10 Essentials for Backpacking Applied to Christmas Shoe Boxes

Packing a Christmas shoe box for a needy kid is the ultimate Lightweight Backpackers challenge!

For those of you who have participated before can attest that there’s not enough room for all of the toys, hygiene items, clothes, school supplies, toys, art supplies, hand tools, shoes…

How do you know what to include and how to efficiently pack an Operation Christmas Child (OCC) Shoe Box? I love this nonprofit because you get to fill up a shoe box and then OCC will deliver the presents worldwide.

Yesterday when I was helping my mom’s OCC group fill their Christmas shoe boxes, I kept thinking about the 10 Essentials for Backpacking. The 10 Essentials are the most vital Wilderness Survival items that all day-hikers and backpackers should carry on every hike. By packing toys as well as survival items, this could be a life changing present for a child. On the OCC site, several heartbreaking testimonies by orphans shared how their favorite presents in the shoe boxes were the facecloths and the toothbrushes so that they no longer had to share with 20 other kids. Toys are very important to include, but so are the survival items.

It’s hard to know what to include; should the box mostly be full of toys because they can spread joy and teach life skills like creative problem solving and finger dexterity or is a water filter, shoes, a toothbrush and a dress more important? According to the OCC, rape is common in developing countries because women/girls don’t own a single piece of clothing. Does that mean every girl should get a dress? It’s best to go with your heart on what to include in the shoe box.

Operation Christmas Child receives the fewest number of shoe boxes for kids ages 11-14, so I’ve compiled a list of ideas for presents for the teenagers.

Applying the 10 Essentials for Wilderness Survival to a Christmas shoe box for 11-14 year old child:

 1. Navigation:

It would be impossible to know beforehand where in the world your shoe box was going, so a map would be inspiring to look at but not particularly helpful for navigating, instead include a compass!


 2. Sun Protection: (liquid sunscreen is not allowed due to shipping regulations)

Imagine on a long hike not having a hat or sunglasses. You would be drained and possibly sunburned.

Look for hats (like a moisture wicking/compact runner’s hat) and a pair of sunglasses.

 3. Insulation:

Backpacking clothes are designed to be lightweight/compact, moisture wicking, quick drying… Part of this is due to the materials that the clothes are made out of, such as wool or fleece. Both wool and fleece are great insulators and they come in lots of fun colors and patterns.

Consider the material when picking out socks, a winter hat, a scarf/buff and gloves.

 4. Illumination:

1 billion people don’t have access to electricity. Imagine that you’re camping and your headlamp runs out of batteries. How would you spend the evening? What if you needed a bright light to finish your school work? A popular option for those without electricity is to use kerosene lamps, but unfortunately the kerosene is very expensive and the smoke is toxic.

When you are shopping for a headlamp, a flashlight or an inflatable/collapsible lantern, consider how the child will recharge the light. Look for hand crank, solar powered or gravity fed lights, or provide extra batteries.

 5. First Aid Kit: (medication and liquids are not allowed)

Consider putting together a first aid kit of fun band aids, gauze, tape, disinfecting ointment, gloves, a non-battery operated thermometer, a pen and paper, tweezers and scissors.


 6. Fire (lighters and matches are not allowed):

When backpacking matches, a lighter and a fire starter are all essentials, but due to shipping regulations none of these items are allowed to go in the shoe boxes.


 7. Repair Kit and Tools (knives and saws are not allowed):

Can you imagine going on a hike without your knife? That would limit what you could do. Knives aren’t allowed to be sent as presents, but scissors are more than welcome! I think scissors are one of the most important items in a shoe box. A kid could use them to make art, cut thread or fishing line, used in a first aid kit…

Ideas: scissors, fun colored duct tape, safety pins, hammer, screwdrivers, Allen wrenches, multipurpose tool, pliers, nails, screws, safety glasses, colorful rope/paracord, needle and thread.

Whether you are putting together a box for a boy or a girl consider sending them both sewing and hand tools. Nature doesn’t discriminate when your tent rips or your trekking pole falls apart. Let’s empower the kids with being self-sufficient, creative problem solvers.

 8. Nutrition (food is not allowed):

Hiking with salty and sweet food to help replace the lost electrolytes from sweating is very important. So is carrying an extra days worth of food. But since food doesn’t pass the shipping regulations, unfortunately candy cannot be included either.


 9. Hydration (liquids are not allowed):

A multi-day hike is planned around where to get clean water. The receiver of this shoe box might not have access to clean water. Look for a water filter that is simple to use, because the child might not know how to read the English directions.

I adore the Sawyer Mini water filter because it’s easy to use, compact, and it removes 99.9% of all bacteria and protozoa. As you can see in the photo, the pink Sawyer Mini threads onto a standard drinking bottle, as well as to the included squeeze pouch or straw. The filter lasts for 100,000 gallons and the only maintenance it needs is to be back flushed with the syringe.

Also consider including a collapsible drinking pouch like a platypus that has a screw cap.

10. Emergency shelter:

The “space blanket” material comes in different shapes: a blanket, a one-man bivy, a sleeping bag or a poncho. The poncho could be used for an extra layer of warmth or as a rain jacket.


Time to Start Packing!

National Collection Week for OCC shoe boxes is November 13-20, 2017. Go to the Operation Christmas Child’s website to find a drop-off location near you.

After thinking about the 10 Essentials for Wilderness Survival, I realized that the list assumes that you already own a bag to carry the 10 Essentials, at least one set of clothes, and a pair of shoes. That may not be the case for children growing up in poverty. Click here to read more about what to pack in a 11-14 year olds’ shoe box, like The Shoe That Grows five sizes, lasts five years and costs $15 a pair!