10 Essentials

(This post was originally published on the Men’sHealth MVP Network.)

There’s an old saying about adventure. Mountaineer Ed Viesturs’ version is that “Getting to the top is optional. Getting down is mandatory.” All adventure is about taking risks (hopefully manageable), being prepared (the Boy Scouts were onto something), but most importantly, getting home. Enter the 10 Essentials.

A list originally created in the 1930’s by the Mountaineers,  the list comprises the gear one might need to mitigate an emergency or spend a night or more in the wilderness. In 2003, the list was updated to feature a series of “systems” rather than individual components: Navigation, Sun Protection, Insulation, Illumination, First Aid, Fire, Repair Kit and Tools, Nutrition, Hydration, and Emergency Shelters.

10 Essentials

Navigation means carrying a map and compass, should you stray from the path or otherwise lose your bearing. Of course, a map and compass are useless if you don’t know how to read them, so make sure to take an orienteering course or other instruction before you head out.

For sun protection, minimum gear includes sunglasses, sunscreen and lip balm, but can also include new SPF clothing. Sun protection is not just a summer need, as snow blindness can be caused by reflection off ice or snow in winter.

The simplest way to include extra insulation is to pack extra clothing, though carrying a foam pad for sitting and a bivy sack that can be used either alone or conjunction with a sleeping bag is a good idea as well.

Especially on day hikes, illumination, such as a headlamp or flashlight, are often forgotten or dismissed as necessary. Depending on the time of year, however, darkness can fall more quickly than expected and, if one gets lost, it might be the only way to read that map and compass you remembered to bring along.

First-aid supplies should be packed for at least the person hiking, though it never hurts to have extra. Buying a pre-made pack like one from Adventure Medical is a simple way to cover this essential. For extra, inexpensive additions to the basic kit, talk to a Ski Patroller – they often have unique approaches to homemade first aid and emergency gear.

Fire does more than keep us warm. Fire is an emotional boost on a dark night, might keep predators away, and serves as a signal if you’re hunkered down awaiting rescue. Packing waterproof matches, lighter, candles, fire starters or flint can mean the difference between a comfortable night out versus a dark and cold one of misery. Check out the Firebiner for a good example of what to bring.

You never know when your gear will fail, so a basic repair kit and tools should be in your pack every time you go out. Duct tape, thread, a multi-tool and safety pins of varying sizes are basics that you can build on depending on the gear you’re using.

If worrying about nutrition, extra food, seems onerous to you, I feel sorry for you. There are so many great prepackaged bars made of fruit, meat, nuts, or a mixture that easily fit in any pack and give you calorie-dense snacks to keep you going.

Hydration, maybe carrying extra water, can be difficult because water is heavy, though it can me made simpler if you know you’ll have water sources. The LifeStraw and Steripens don’t take up much room but mean you can drink from any water puddle or stream you find, without fear of contracting a debilitating disease from lurking microorganisms.

An emergency shelter can be as simple as a trash bag or as complex as a tent. Packing an ultralight tent gives you the most protection, though a bivy sack can be less expensive and give you almost as much comfort for a night out.

Do you need to carry each and every system each time you go out? To me adventure is, once again, about pushing boundaries with a safety net. Risks need to be identified and planned for.

If you’re out for multiple days, you probably should consider bringing them all along. I’m working on finding the right daypack and filling it with the 10 Essentials, because then it’s grab-n-go, no preparation needed.

(*While not one of the systems, I also add a trowel and toilet paper to my pack, because, hey, nature calls.)

Read more about other Essentials: SUP, Family Road Trip, Climbing Newbies, and Camping. Also, prepare for survival and put together a Winter Driving Emergency Kit.

6 thoughts on “10 Essentials

  1. I love this. I own everything in that photo and I'm very strict when hiking and running to carry what is needed. Our trail races all require the basic survival kit to be carried. It always includes at least a space blanket, whistle and first aid kit.

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