The Essentials

The contents of my day pack laid out. The pack is an 18 liter with space for a hydration bladder. If I don’t carry the bladder, I’ve got a refillable water bottle in it’s place. Depending on the weather, I’ll add a layer or two of insulation and my rain gear. With the contents of my pack, I should be able to handle an unexpected night on the trail.

You’ll hear just about every hiker or backpacker mention them. The 10 essentials. But what are they and why are they so important?

My Personal 10 Essentials Philosophy

First let me preface what I’m about to share with my own 10 Essentials Philosophy. While I may have learned the list as my son became active in Scouting, it was later that I really considered my own view on these items. During my first Wilderness and Remote First Aid class, the instructor asked us to define “wilderness” and “remote”. The answers fell into all the categories you’d expect: geographically remote places like the Boundary Waters or our the backcountry of National Parks. Places that are physically hard to get to and make receiving medical attention difficult. Then we were asked if it would be possible that a place less remote could be made so by natural disaster like tornado or wildfire. We agreed that would be true. Through that discussion we agreed that just about anywhere could be rendered remote – including a city. That discussion stuck with me.

This changed what I carry on hikes, even in urban areas, and sealed the the importance of these basics. Besides, if you think about your day-to-day movements, it’s likely you have some version of these with you anyway. I take comfort that not only do I have what I need to spend an unexpected night outside, I also have the tools to help someone else who finds themself in need.

The 10 Essentials

You’ll find many versions of this if you search the term “10 Essentials”. Almost every list is a take on the same basic premise of what you need for survival (shelter, food and water, first aid). Some are adjusted based on the location or activity. All are meant to provide you with basic items that you can use to survive a night in the wilderness – when weather becomes a challenge, your injured, help might be delayed in getting to you or, heaven forbid, the location you are in is rendered remote. This is the list that I use and what falls into each item for me:

#1 Pocket Knife – a basic pocket knife that my son gave to me from his ample collection of knives. Nothing fancy, not huge. But you do you if something larger is your jam.

#2 Personal First Aid Kit – my kit includes basic supplies: a small assortment of bandaids, moleskin, famine hygiene products (both pads and applicator-less tampons), ibuprofen and an antihistamine.

#3 Extra Clothing – depending on the weather conditions and how long I’ll be out this may include an extra insulation layer, hat, gloves and a Buff.

#4 Rain Gear – Dry = Warm. I don’t know about you, but hypothermia doesn’t sound fun. Nor does being soaking wet for any length of time. So I’ve usually got my rain jacket and rain pants along. I even carry them in the winter because the gear I have works great as a windbreaker and, along with my insulation layer I’m plenty warm and dry.

#5 Sun Protection – this includes a sunglasses hat with a brim, sun screen and even a cool shirt I have that is SPF protection. Even in the winter you can get sunburned. So a little protection can go a long way.

#6 Water Filtration/Water Bottle – staying hydrated is really important to your safety. Having safe drinking water to hydrate is even more important. At a minimum, bring a refillable bottle and consider including a water filter like the Sawyer Squeeze or Life Straw that filter out all the nasty stuff that can make you sick. Remember to hydrate often while on trail.

#7 Flashlight or Headlamp – Being able to see your way in the dark is pretty awesome. Reading a book or finding the zipper on your tent is helpful too if you’re out past sunset. And if you get stranded it makes the dark a little less unsettling. So pack a headlamp and set of batteries so you aren’t left in the dark.

#8 Snacks – Srsly. Snacks are the best park of hiking! You hike, you get hungry. When thinking about what to bring, you can include all kinds of treats, but be sure your snacks do double duty to ward off the early hangries and give you long term energy. A candy bar is great, but something with nuts or protein will keep you moving strong between meals. Adding in a salty snack will help replace minerals on a hot day. And bring enough to share in case you run across someone who didn’t plan so well.

Bonus snack game: I carry some drink mixes as well. They can break up the monotony of water and entice you to drink even more.

#9 Matches, Lighter, or Flint & Steel – Yet another hand thing is to be able to create a fire if you need it. Whether you need to cook a meal or need to sterilize something for first aid, a means to quickly and efficiently start a fire is always a good idea. Keep in mind the conditions you’ll be traveling in to make a smart choice between matches, a lighter or flint and steel. I for one am notorious for taking multiple matches to get a fire started so a lighter and a bit of dryer lint are most often my go-to. But maybe you’re more comfortable with a flint and steel.

#10 Navigation Method / Map and Compass – Knowing where you are going and how to get there are really the point of hiking aren’t they? Not to say that a side trip can’t be fun. But a side trip that ends in lost is not the idea. So having a reliable source of navigation that you know how to use is really important. Perhaps the most important. Your brain, a map and a reliable way to orient yourself to a place will help you get the most out of your trip. There are lots of options from the old fashioned map and compass to GPS systems to your phone. Just be sure you are comfortable in how to use your preferred method.

So that’s it. Pretty simple really. I almost always find myself pulling one of the 10 out of my pack during a hike. Knowing I have them is awesome and knowing where they sit in my pack is even better. I can usually get them out pretty quickly as each has a home that is consistent no matter which pack I carry.

The 11th Essential

If you’ve been reading the blog for a while, you likely know I’m also pretty passionate about Leave No Trace principals. One of the items that’s in my pack is my bright green Deuter Dirtbag that I received as a gift. I use it on almost every hike. My own trash, plus anything I find on the trial goes into it to be packed out to the trailhead, or even to home. You can do the same. Your 11th essential doesn’t need to be anything fancy. A used ziplock or bread bag works just as well and they weigh next to nothing when empty.

Kula Cloth

My Kula Cloth has become an essential in my pack. This little square has been a game changer for me. Because, well, we all have to pee at some point. It’s an anti-microbial, absorbent with a hanging loop and stitching that glows in the dark. It’s saved me more than once from lack of toilet paper and it means less impact on the environment.

What’s on your list of hiking essentials?

I’d love to hear what you have in your daypack. Comment below. Share a story about when you had to use one of your essentials or a time when you wished you’d had them and didn’t. I learn something every time I chat with others on the subject and maybe you will too.

Next Post Preview: Finding headspace on the trail. A couple days that have been filled with challenges had me heading out to the trail to find some clarity.

Copyright Ruth Wikoff-Jones, | No Use Permitted Without Prior Permission

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