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What are the 10 Essentials?

The 10 Essentials. You’ve probably heard this term when looking into hiking trails or other outdoor activities, but what does it mean, and why should you carry them?

10 Essentials Cover Photo

The 10 Essentials

  1. Navigation
  2. Sun Protection
  3. Illumination
  4. Firt Aid
  5. Knife
  6. Fire
  7. Shelter
  8. Food 
  9. Water
  10. Clothing

1. Navigation: Map, Compass, GPS Unit, Personal Locator Beacon

Having a topographic map and compass (and knowing how to use them) is essential for finding your way out of an area, especially in places where there is less navigation. A GPS unit is nice to have, but shouldn’t be your only tool for finding your way around in case you lose a charge. A Personal Locator Beacon can be extremely helpful for when you’ve gotten hurt and need help in a remote area without service. 

2. Sunprotection: Sun hat, Sunscreen, Sunglasses, Sun Clothing, Chapstick

You don’t need me to tell you the dangers of the sun. Having sun protection not only helps protect you from cancer and cataracts, it also makes the next day less miserable. Putting on a backpack over sunburned shoulders is never fun, and snow blindness can be very disorienting. You’ll want to get a sunscreen that’s rated at least SPF 15, though one that’s SPF 30 to 50 is recommended. Check that your suncreen is rated for both UVA and UVB rays. Don’t forget to keep reapplying.  Your lips can also get burned, so look for SPF rated chapstick. 

A hat that shields your face will help protect your face in the long run too.  One that wraps around will also protect your neck. You should still apply some sunscreen though if you are travelling on snow or water. Light bounces off, so you can still get burned with a hat. If you don’t like sunscreen, some outdoor companies make clothing that is rated to protect against the harmful rays. Look for clothing with a UPF rating. Companies like The North Face, Patagonia, Toad and Co, Marmot, ExOfficio, and more offer this. Some face wraps also help. Buff makes a few neck gaiters that have UPF ratings. 

Sunglasses that block UVA and UVB rays are a necessity too. You may hear the word polarized thrown around too. This is not a necessary feature, though helpful to reduce glare during water and snow travel, especially during fast movement


3. Illumination: Headlamp, Flashlight, Spare Batteries

Sometimes you end up hiking after dark, even if it is unplanned. Having a light source not only helps you to find the trail, but also lets you see objects like roots or rocks on the trail that could cause issues. A lantern or a flashlight works perfect fine, but many prefer to use a headlamp as a hands-free option. You should also carry backup batteries in case. The best place to store your spare batteries? In another headlamp.

4. First Aid: First Aid Kit, Medications

There are pre-made first aids kits in outdoor stores that are a great place to get started. These kits should include bandages, gauze pads, adhesive tape, disinfectant, pain medication like Aspirin or Ibuprofen, paper, pen, and gloves. It should also include any personal medication you may need. I personally have extended mine to include a CPR Mask, Benedryl, Epi Pens, and Moleskin. 

5. Repair: Knife, Multi Tool, Repair Kit

Most people remember the knife, but what about the rest? I prefer to get a multi tool that has many different tools that I could need. They come in a variety of sizes, but you should look for one with a knife, scissors, and screwdriver. Duct Tape is a multi functional tool that I keep in my repair kit, usually wrapped around a pen or pencil.

 I also carry a couple longer voile straps with me. Theses strap can do a lot, from holding down a broken ski boot to being fit onto a first aid splint.

6. Fire: Matches, Lighter, Fire Starters

Fire can be used as emergency signal and as a heat source for cooking, boiling water, and staying warm in a pinch. Matches work, as long as you have a way to waterproof their container. Many prefer to carry a lighter as they can sustain their flame longer. Fire starters are also helpful. Many outdoor stores sell fire starters, but you can also bring your own such as carrying  small pieces of dried tinder in a small baggy.

7. Shelter: Tent, Space Blanket, Tarp, Bivy

One of the most important pieces to staying alive in an emergency, your shelter will protect you from exposure to the elements. Any of the above can work, depending on your adventure. I personally prefer to carry an Emergency Bivy Space Blanket. It packs down extremely small, doesn’t weight a lot, and will protect in case of emergency.

8. Nutrition: Extra Food

Carry at least a day’s worth of extra food in case something goes wrong. These should be non cook items that are nutrient dense. Good options include trail mixes, energy bars, nuts, jerky, granola bars, and dried fruit. Foods that are salty help replenish electrolytes and help to keep you hydrated, especially as you work out. 

9. Water: Extra Water, Water Treatment Supplies

If you are outside and doing physical activity, you’ll need more water than normal. Fluids can also help with altitude sickness. Carry enough water for your hike with a little extra, and have a source to treat water if needed.  There are quite a few options for water treatment out there, so research what will best suit your needs before heading out.

10. Clothing: Extra Clothing, Appropriate Footwear, Gloves, Beanie.

What you will need may change depending on where you are, but a good place to start is with the basic layering techniques. Packing an outer layer, which is you weather protecting later (like a rain jacket), and an insulating layer (a down jacket), will keep you prepared for dramatic weather changes. Pack both upper and lower layers. 

Gloves and a beanie, even thin ones, will help a lot with temperature drops.

Why Should You Carry the 10 Essentials?

This list is made up of the most recommended essentials that you should carry on any outdoor adventure. The 10 essentials help keep you prepared when you are recreating outside. What you will bring will change on the season and climate, but this is a good list to get started and should be used all times. The essentials help you to stay safe, and alive, in the backcountry when something happens that you didn’t predict. 

Carrying the 10 essentials help keep you alive until you are able to get to safety or get help. The more of the 10 essentials you carry, the better prepared you will be, and your chance of survival increases dramatically.

When Should You Carry the 10 Essentials?

In an ideal world? Always. But that sometimes is not the case. Start off with these, do your research, get to know your limits, and you’ll start knowing when you should carry more than what is recommended on this list and when you should carry less. For example, on shorter trails runs nearby, I will carry less than this list as I know what I will need during it. On overnight trips, I will typically carry more than the 10 essentials recommendations. 

It’s about finding what will work for you, and what will keep you alive if something happens while out on the trail. Any questions? Leave a comment below. Happy trails!

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