Whether you’re going on a day hike or a thru-hike there are some things that should always be in your pack. These are known as the Ten Essentials, and was originally complied in the 1930s by The Mountaineers, a Seattle-based organisation for climbers and outdoor adventurers, to help people be prepared for emergency situations in the outdoors.
These days the original list has expanded in to categories, rather than specific items, and everyone has their own preferences for each item. So, want to know what you should be taking with you when you venture into the great outdoors?
Here’s my take on what the essentials should be:
You should always ensure that you have a shelter of some kind, incase you get stuck out in the wilds or caught in horrible weather. For a backpacker this will be your tent/tarp/hammock, but for a day hiker this could be a lightweight bivvy sack.
What I have: NatureHike Cloup UP 2
Kinda goes without saying, but getting lost is a bad idea. Carrying a paper map and compass (and knowing how to use them) could save your life, and is an essential backup to the electronic navigation options. Most people will have a smart phone, and there are some great apps out there for finding trails (Alltrails, Gaia, Hiiker, OS maps are all great options!), but even these will only work if you have battery and phone signal. The next step up, would be a personal locator beacon, like the Garmin InReach. I don’t have one of these yet, because they generally require a monthly subscription, but it’s definitely on my ‘to get’ list.
What I have: Paper OS map and compass, Komoot app, Hiiker app
A head torch is the go-to for most on the trail, simply because it leaves your hands free. Essential if you’ll be doing any portion of your hike in the dark, or setting up camp after sunset. I also have a small backup torch, and of course, my phone has a torch option (but remember, if you are using your phone for navigation, that you have limited battery life).
What I have: Cheap head torch from Aldi, pocket torch and phone.
Always carry a basic first aid kit. Plasters, anti-septic cream, insect repellent. When walking for miles, you need to take care of your feet! If you’re a larger person, like me, anti-chafe powder or cream could make a huge difference in your enjoyment of the trek. I also keep a silver foil ‘space blanket’ in my kit.
What I have: Plasters (various sizes and types), anti-septic cream, roll of leukotape, safety pins, paracetamol, ibuprofen, anti-histamines, gloves.
Kinda self-explanatory, but getting sunburn (or heat stroke) would be an unpleasant way to remember your hike. Sun protection isn’t just sunscreen, it can also be a hat, sunglasses and UPV protective clothing. Most importantly, don’t forget to reapply often!
What I have: SPF 50 sunscreen, baseball cap, hiking shirt with UPV protection
Having a way to repair kit is extremely important, especially on longer treks! Your kit could include patches for tent repair or to patch punctures in your inflatable air bed/pillow. Duct tape for repairing pretty much anything. A small sewing kit for torn clothing. A knife or wire-saw to be able to prep wood for a fire. Safety pins. It’s up to you, but take a look at your kit and try to think of how it could break, and what you would need to patch it up long enough to get a replacement.
What I have: duck tape (small amount wrapped around a straw), patch kit for my airbed and tent, sewing kit, small Swiss army knife.
Having a way to start a fire, for warmth/light/protection, can be the difference between life and death in an emergency. I always carry at least two different ways of started a fire, normally a ferro rod and a lighter. But waterproof matches, tinder and/or a stove, are also good options.
What I have: Ferro rod, lighter and cook stove.
It goes without saying, but walking for miles is hungry business. Always carry more food than you expect to need. Even if its just an extra backpacking meal, or a couple additional chocolate bars.
What I have: I always have an extra ration and snacks.
Water is heavy. So it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to carry enough for a multi-day trip in your pack. But even on a day hike, it’s a good idea to have a way to purify water in the event of an emergency. If you drop your one and only water bottle and spill its contents, you need to be able to safely refill it from a stream/river/pond. There are lots of options for making water safe, from a life-straw, Sawyer water filters, to tablets, always have at least one method with you.
What I have: I have a Sawyer filter, and I also keep sterilisation tablets in my emergency kit.
At the least, always carry a spare pair of socks. Your feet take a beating, and having something warm and dry to put on when you stop can be a life saver. Hats, gloves, bandanas, waterproof jacket and trousers, buffs. Anything that might add a bit of extra warmth and keep the weather off. Hypothermia is never a joke, and can happen even in the summer months. (I’d recommend learning the signs and symptoms of hypothermia, so that you can spot it in the early stages.)
What I have: a full change of clothes, separate sleep clothes and at least one extra pair of socks.
So that’s it. The essentials. Whether you carry them all on a short day hike is up to you. But definitely make sure you have something for each category on a multi-day trek. The worst time to realise you need something is in an emergency, so plan ahead and stay safe out there!
What else do you carry that you consider essential?