What are the Ten Essentials?

As written on the Mountaineers Books site, the ten essentials prepare you for two questions: “First, can you respond positively to an accident or emergency? Second, can you safely spend a night—or more—out?”

An example of “sun protection.”

The ten essentials list, originally developed by The Mountaineers Club and first appearing in print in the 1970s, have recently moved from specific equipment and supplies to a more functional system approach:

  1. Navigation. Topographic map and assorted maps in waterproof container plus a magnetic compass, optional altimeter or GPS receiver.
  2. Sun protection. Sunglasses, sunscreen for lips and skin, hat, clothing for sun protection.
  3. Insulation. Hat, gloves, jacket, extra clothing for coldest possible weather during current season.
  4. Illumination. Headlamp, flashlight, batteries. LED bulb is preferred to extend battery life.
  5. First-aid supplies, plus insect repellent.
  6. Fire. Butane lighter, matches in waterproof container.
  7. Repair kit and tools. Knives, multi-tool, scissors, pliers, screwdriver, trowel/shovel, duct tape, cable ties.
  8. Nutrition. Add extra food for one additional day (for emergency). Dry food is preferred to save weight and usually needs water.
  9. Hydration. Add extra 2 liters of water for one additional day (for emergency).
  10. Emergency shelter. Tarp, bivouac sack, space blanket, plastic tube tent, jumbo trash bags, insulated sleeping pad.

What should be taken on a simple day hike near town in the middle of summer is going to be different than a shoulder-season (spring or fall) backpacking trip. Traveling in different climates and geographies, or with folks of different fitness levels, will also change demands. Going into the desert you might emphasize extra water, additional insulation in the mountains, or EpiPens for someone with severe allergic reactions. And though different trips will have different needs, the ten essentials remain a solid core guideline.

In fact, even with short trips in familiar terrain, it is wise to follow the essentials because the unanticipated can always happen.

The ten essentials is not an exhaustive list, and by some accounts should be expanded upon. For instance, Adventure Alan proposes a more modern list of thirteen essentials, much of which overlaps the ten essentials, but really emphasizes trip planning and staying found and includes a bullet point for a “SOS Device”—like the Garmin InReach or SPOT.

A few other “essential” add-ons are trash bags (recommended by Modern Hiker, Therm-A-Rest, and the Washington Trails Association), snow navigation tools, and a trowel and toilet paper (being sure not to bury the toilet paper).

Taken on a quick overnight trip into the Silver Peak Wilderness with co-workers.

Courses from organizations like NOLS and local hiking clubs are great resources for learning how to be safe while hiking or backpacking. I was exposed to a wealth of knowledge and experience at the Los Padres Chapter of the Sierra Club’s Wilderness Basics Course in Ventura County, and find the more winter-focused Wilderness Travel Course in Los Angeles County intriguing.

In upcoming posts I will go into more detail with the ten essentials and trip planning. In the meantime, be safe and happy trails!