Packing the ‘Ten Essentials’ when you go into back country, even on day hikes, is a great safety habit. Although typically you may use only a few of these items, you may never fully appreciate the value of the ‘Ten Essentials’ until you are in a situation where your life depends on them.
Remember first and foremost: Knowledge is the most important key to safety but it is not mentioned on this list.
Having items in your pack has no value unless you understand how to use them. You can talk about the ‘Ten Essentials’ but the most important essential is ‘between your ears’!
Classic Ten Essentials
3. Sunglasses and sunscreen
4. Extra clothing
6. First-aid supplies
10. Extra food
Updated Ten Essential “Systems”
1. Navigation (map and compass)
2. Sun protection (sunglasses and sunscreen)
3. Insulation (extra clothing)
4. Illumination (headlamp/flashlight)
5. First-aid supplies
6. Fire (waterproof matches/lighter/candles)
7. Repair kit and tools
8. Nutrition (extra food)
9. Hydration (extra water)
10. Emergency shelter
A map and compass are now viewed as 2 components of a navigation system. Add a wrist altimeter, a GPS and you can see how the ‘Systems’ approach to the Ten Essentials can easily total more than 10 individual items.
Bring a topographic map on any outing that involves more than a short, impossible-to-miss path or well populated nature trail.
A compass, combined with map-reading knowledge, is a vital tool in case you become disoriented in the back country. Have high-tech GPS receivers made compasses obsolete? No. A compass weighs next to nothing and does not rely on batteries.
An altimeter is a worthwhile navigational extra to consider. It uses a barometric sensor to measure air pressure and provide a close estimate of your elevation—information that helps you track your progress and determine your location on a map.
2. Sun Protection
Sunglasses are indispensable, and you’ll need extra-dark glacier glasses if you’re planning prolonged travel on snow or ice.
When choosing sunscreen health experts advise choosing 1) a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 to SPF 30, and 2) one that blocks both UVA and UVB rays. And don’t overlook SPF-rated lip balm.
For extended treks, wear lightweight, synthetic sun-protection clothing that comes with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF).
Bring additional layers of clothing in case conditions abruptly turn wet, windy or chilly.
Clothing should be selected according to the season. Ask this question: What is needed to survive the worst conditions that could be realistically encountered on this trip?”
Common options include an extra layer of underwear (tops and bottoms), an insulating hat or extra socks and a synthetic jacket or vest, and a Mylar Blanket to wear inside jackets or wrap around clothing.
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Headlamps are the light source of choice in the back country because they are hands-free, small, lightweight, and have a long battery life.
A strobe mode headlamp is a great option as headlamps have their longest battery life while in strobe mode.
Flashlights and packable lanterns also have value. Some flashlights cast very powerful beams and are useful for signaling during emergencies.
Always carry spare batteries. Every member of a back country party should carry their own light.
5. First-aid Supplies
Pre-assembled first aid kits take the guesswork out of building your own kit, and many people personalize these kits to suit individual needs. All kits should include treatments for blisters, many adhesive bandages of various sizes, several gauze pads and rolls, adhesive tape, disinfecting wipes, instant ice pack, scissors and tweezers.
It is also advised to carry a compact first aid guide for treating medical emergencies.
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Matches: Use a waterproof variety, or good quality matches ( not the flimsy cardboard type) stored in a waterproof container. Take plenty and ensure they are kept dry. Mechanical lighters are handy, but always carry some matches as a backup.
Firestarter: As the name implies, a firestarter is a material that helps you jump-start a fire. The ideal firestarter ignites quickly and sustains heat for more than a few seconds. Candidates include dry tinder, candles, heat “nuggets” (chipped-wood clusters soaked in resin) and even lint trappings from a household clothes dryer to pack and bring along.
7. Repair Kit and Tools
Knives or multitools are handy for gear repair, food preparation, first aid, making kindling or other emergency needs. A basic knife should have at least 1 foldout blade, 1 or 2 flathead screwdrivers, can opener, and foldout scissors.
If you carry a self-inflating mattress, bring a repair kit for it.
Here’s a classic tip for carrying the basics of a poor-man’s repair kit: Wrap strips of duct tape (the universal fix-it product) around your water bottle or trekking poles so you can repair any problem you encounter the back country.
8. Nutrition (extra food)
Always pack at least an extra day’s worth of food. Best items are freeze dried and no-cook items with long storage times such as extra energy bars, nuts, dried fruits or jerky.
9. Hydration (extra water)
Carry at least 1 water bottle and a collapsible water reservoir. Bring some means for purifying water, whether it’s a filter/purifier or chemical treatment.
When beginning a long hike, consult your map and try to identify possible water sources. Re-supply at the last obvious water source before beginning a stretch of unpredictable water availability.
10. Emergency Shelter
Shelter is a new component in the updated ‘Ten Essentials’, one that is targeted to Day Trippers in the event of an overnight emergency situation. (Overnight wilderness adventurers will already be prepared with shelter.) The best option is one or several emergency Mylar blankets that ‘pack small’ and weigh just ounces.
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