Before hitting the trail for an extended backpacking adventure or even a day hike, you obviously need to prepare your pack with some key supplies. There are several specific items that you should always have on hand in your pack to be well prepared for an enjoyable trip. These ten essentials, as they are called, are the pieces of gear that are valuable to have with you in case of emergency, or just to make your hiking experience safer and more enjoyable. During most trips you might not use all or maybe most of these supplies, but if an emergency comes up these important items could truly save your life or that of someone else.
Traditional Ten Essentials
The ten essentials list was established in the 1930s by a Seattle area group called the Mountaineers, in order to assist outdoor adventurers as they decided what they should and shouldn’t pack with them on any type of hiking outing. These items were thought to be helpful to bring in preparation for a possible emergency or an unplanned night on the trail. All these items are fairly obvious and require little detailed explanation:
- Sunglasses and sunscreen
- Extra clothing
- First-aid supplies
- Fire starter
- Extra food
Updated Ten Essentials
In 2003, the Mountaineers decided that the above list needed to be updated to fit better with technological and product developments, as well as what outdoors lovers have found most useful as they enjoy nature. The new list groups items into systems instead of just specific items, and it gives every outdoors lover a great basis to go by as they decide what equipment to include in their pack.
- Navigation (map and compass) – This system includes the traditional map and compass, as well as newer technologies such as GPS that make it even easier to navigate. With a GPS device, you can easily locate yourself at any time. There are also tools such as a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) that are valuable to carry if you are hiking into the backcountry, just in case you have a situation where you are injured or get lost.
- Sun protection (sunglasses and sunscreen) – Aside from sunscreen and sunglasses to shelter yourself from the sun, there are clothing options that offer sun protection in the material to provide an additional safeguard. These pieces are usually lightweight and come with an ultraviolet protection factor rating that details how the clothing blocks UVA and UVB rays.
- Insulation (extra clothing) – An extra layer or two of clothing is helpful to have on hand in your pack, just in case of adverse weather. If the weather gets unexpectedly cold or wet, you will be very thankful for the additional items. Extra socks are always a great thing to include, just in case you find a puddle or two during your outdoor excursion.
- Illumination (headlamp/flashlight) – A flashlight is always valuable to have, but a headlamp (and extra batteries) will allow you to see and keep your footing if it starts to get dark as you hike. Also, a headlamp allows you to put up a tent, cook, and do other things requiring use of both of your hands. When selecting flashlights and headlamps be sure to select the LED lights as they last much longer than traditional bulbs.
- First-aid supplies – A well-stocked first aid kit is essential to have just in case of minor emergencies and carrying an emergency medical rescue kit will let you be prepared for more extensive injuries. This type of kit comes with a good supply of various bandages and even special gel to care for burns.
- Fire (waterproof matches/lighter/candles) – Waterproof matches have been carried by backpackers for years, but it is also helpful to bring along a lighter and even a few candles just to have a few more fire options. The ability to start a fire can be a lifesaver in an emergency.
- Repair kit and tools – Any outdoors enthusiast will find use for a multi-tool that serves various purposes, but also consider including items such as a small hammer or a folding shovel. These tools will come in handy when putting up a tent or disposing of personal waste in appropriate locations. A good knife is one tool that every backpacker should carry, as it can be used to cut bandages and even repair gear if needed.
- Nutrition (extra food) – Obviously having food along as you hike and camp is necessary, but you may want to consider dried food options that are lightweight and have a long shelf life. Carrying at least a day’s worth of extra food is always a good idea, just in case.
- Hydration (extra water) – Hydration is critical when you exert yourself outdoors, so carry some sort of hydration at all times. There are a variety of hydration pack options on the market, as well as portable water filter purifiers to make any water safe to drink. If you will be taking an extensive hike, carrying a water filter is crucial to avoiding dehydration.
- Emergency shelter – Even if you don’t plan to camp overnight while you are out backpacking, a situation may arise that makes it necessary to find some type of shelter. This shelter can be something lightweight that allows you to get out of the elements, such as a tarp or a bivy sack.
There are many ways that each of the ten essential systems can be modified to suit your individual needs. You might want to adjust the gear you carry in your backpack based on the specifications of each trip you take, to avoid having to carry too many extra supplies. Regardless, make sure you always have an item from each of the ten systems to ensure that you are prepared for any possibility out on the trail. Carrying these items will not prevent emergency situations, but by equipping yourself to handle almost any circumstance you will ensure that you can continue to enjoy the outdoors on future trips.