The Important 10 Essentials for Hiking

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Hiking is an incredible way to explore the great outdoors, get closer to nature, and enjoy breathtaking landscapes. Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or just starting out, it’s crucial to be prepared before you hit the trails. In order to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience, the 10 essentials for hiking should be carried. These items will not only help you navigate the wilderness but also provide peace of mind in case of unexpected situations. 

History of the 10 Essentials

The original Ten Essentials list was assembled in the 1930s by The Mountaineers, a Seattle-based organization for outdoor adventurers, to help people be prepared for emergency situations in the outdoors.

The original list was a list of items to carry. To this date more modern lists are based on a 10 systematic approach. Currently the newest list was published 2017, in the ninth edition of Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills.

Here are the 10 essentials for hiking, that should be a part of your packing list: 

Navigational items such as GPS, map, and compass

1. Navigation

Navigational tools are one of the most crucial out of the 10 essentials for hiking. Navigational tools are necessary for keeping you on the right trails. With the progression of technology phones have become even more useful with the amount of available navigation apps, one of my favorites being AllTrails. 

When using your phone though it is highly important to bring a detailed map of the area and a compass just in case. The worst feeling is having your phone die or break without a way to navigate the rest of the way. 

Also, be sure to familiarize yourself with these tools. It does not do much good to bring a compass and a hard map when you do not know how to use or read them. GPS devices can be particularly helpful in providing accurate coordinates and tracking your progress, while a compass can serve as a reliable backup in case of battery failure.

If you are going to be heading out to the backcountry for extended amounts of time or just frequently. It isn’t a bad idea to have communication devices such as a personal locating beacon (PLB) or satellite communication device. 

These devices can be lifesavers in emergency situations, allowing you to call for help and provide your exact location. For GPS and PLB systems I have always preferred Garmin products, due to quality, efficiency, and reputation. 

The Garmin inReach Mini is a super reliable beacon that I and many others often use. Also, for an incredible lightweight GPS watch, it’s hard to beat the Garmin Instinct

1L bottle, 2L hydration bladder, and water purification

2. Hydration 

Staying hydrated is vital for maintaining energy and preventing dehydration while hiking. Pack an adequate amount of water based on the duration and intensity of your hike. The amount of water varies with the condition and on the person. But as a general rule, plan to drink at least half a liter (16 oz) of water per hour of hiking at a moderate temperature. 

Consider using a hydration reservoir or water bottles that are easy to access. A popular hydration system I carry is 2-3x 1 liter bottles or 1 liter bottle, and a 2 liter reservoir along with some electrolytes. If you’re hiking in areas with natural water sources, it’s wise to carry a water purification system or filter to ensure you have a safe and clean water supply.

There are many ways to filter water, either through physical filtration or chemicals. I am a big fan of using filtration bottles and systems such as the Sawyer Squeeze. I also like to use a chemical filtration system as well, such as chlorine dioxide tablets because it gets rid of everything. 

I bring 2 filtration methods but usually rely on the Sawyer Squeeze for sources that I do not suspect or to filter floaties after using Chlorine dioxide tablets. Chlorine dioxide tablets is my main method of water treatment for the majority of water sources especially for when I will have water that will be able to sit for a while. 

Example of a day’s worth of food on the trail

3. Nutrition

Nutrition is essential to keep your energy levels up during your hike. Pack lightweight, non-perishable foods that are rich in nutrients and provide sustained energy. Energy bars, trail mix, dried fruits, nuts, and jerky are all great options. 

I really like to aim for calorie dense foods and a good combination of carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats. When getting ready for a hiking or backpacking trip it’s a good idea to write out a meal plan and to eat about an average of 2500 calories a day or 2,250 to 2,750 calories. The higher end if you are younger and more muscular and then the lower end if you are older, less muscular, and smaller by frame. 

It is a good idea to carry an extra day’s worth of food in case your hike takes longer than expected or encounters delays. I usually bring at least one day’s worth of food that will not require any cooking and has a good shelf life. 

What I like to bring are things like trail mix, nut bars, jerky, and dried fruits. In addition, to protein based and caloric dense foods like protein bars, chips, and snickers. I usually bring one dehydrated meal like a Mountain House and plan to lightly cook for other meals. 

As always, eat what works for you and if you have a food allergy follow your food guidelines. There is so much out there just experiment through trial and error to see what you like.

4. Clothing

Choosing the right clothing can make a significant difference in your comfort and safety while hiking. Dress in layers to accommodate changing weather conditions and exertion levels.

Start with a moisture-wicking base layer to keep sweat away from your skin, followed by insulating layers to trap heat, and finish with a waterproof and breathable outer layer to protect against wind and rain. Don’t forget to bring a hat to shield you from the sun or keep you warm, depending on the weather, as well as gloves to protect your hands.

A good tip that I often do is to bring a pair of extra hiking socks. I often bring two pairs for hiking and one for sleeping. I usually almost always carry rain gear unless I am out in the desert then sometimes, I ditch some pieces. I do often carry a pair of sleeping clothes and these are typically my dry set for when I need to air out wet or washed clothes. 

My first aid kit features essentials I often use

5. First Aid Kit

Accidents and injuries can happen on the trail, so it’s crucial to carry a well-equipped first aid kit. Include essentials such as adhesive bandages, sterile gauze pads, adhesive tape, antiseptic wipes, pain relievers, tweezers, scissors, and any necessary personal medications.

The best first aid kit is designed for your needs. For example, my DIY kit has a few things targeted towards blisters because that is my most common issue out on trail.  I use things like mole skin or kinesio tape for hot spots, hydrocolloid pads if it is open, and padding to form donuts.

Most places sell a pre-built first aid kit, which can definitely help take out some of the work in making your own. If going with the pre-built, always look at what it includes and add any items that fit your personal situation. Also, take the time to learn some essential first aid skills before you embark on your hike. 

6. Illumination

Having a reliable light source is essential, particularly if you’re hiking during low-light conditions or planning an overnight trip. Carry a headlamp or flashlight with extra batteries. 

Headlamps are particularly useful as they leave your hands free for other tasks. LED lights are energy-efficient and provide bright illumination. Remember to check your batteries before each hike and carry spares to ensure you’re not left in the dark.

Also, always carry a spare bulb and batteries! These head lamps also make for a great resource for early morning hikes. I have even used mine for setting up camp at night and it makes setup so easy being able to use both hands. Some of my favorite brands for headlamps are PETZL and Nitecore.

7. Shelter

If you end up stuck in an overnight situation an emergency shelter is a must. Even if you’re only planning a day hike, carrying a lightweight emergency shelter is a wise precaution. 

These shelters provide essential protection from the elements in case of getting lost, injured, or facing unexpected weather changes. Look for shelters that are compact, easy to set up, and provide adequate coverage from rain, wind, and cold.

There are quite a few options such as a bivy sack, a lightweight tent, or a space blanket.  A lightweight tarp works well for wrapping yourself up to stay warm or even finding some sticks or using trekking poles to make a tent shelter. A bivy sack is basically a mummy sleeping bag that works to hold in heat while also protecting you from the elements. 

Among these types of shelters, blankets and tarps are usually the most lightweight and minimalist option. Emergency tents and bivy sacks provide a bit more protection and warmth however weigh a little more.

Swiss Army Knife, Firefly, and cotton balls in Vaseline.

8. Fire 

Fire can be a valuable asset in emergency situations, providing warmth, a signal for rescue, and a way to cook food. Carry waterproof matches or a reliable lighter as your primary fire-starting tool. 

Also, I recommend having a second source for fire just in case. I defer to the firefly ferro rod which fits right into my Swiss army knife. I recommend practicing with your firestarter so you are well prepared in the case of an emergency. 

Additionally, bring fire-starting materials such as tinder, fire cubes, or even DIY starters. I have made DIY starters with dryer lint and cardboard and a small container of petroleum jelly-soaked cotton balls. These items ignite easily and can help you start a fire even in damp conditions. 

My small functional gear repair kit

9. Tools and Repair Kit

Carrying a multitool or a sturdy knife can prove invaluable for various tasks while hiking. From cutting rope or cord to repairing gear or preparing food, having a versatile tool can save the day. 

Look for tools with at least a knife, scissors, tweezers these are the most abundantly used features. Other practical features you might use could be a can opener, corkscrew for knots, and bottle opener. I started off with the classic Swiss Army Knife but ended up wanting a few more bells and whistles and got the Swiss Army Knife Victorinox

Additionally, having a repair kit comes in handy more than you would like to believe. I recommend a basic repair kit with items such as duct tape, safety pins, and a small sewing kit to address any gear or clothing issues that may arise. Big tip is to make sure you know how to sew before bringing a sewing kit!

Wearing a bucket hat to protect from the sun

10. Sun Protection 

This system is obviously about protecting yourself from the sun especially during those summer hikes. Without it you risk being roasted and coming back looking like a lobster, we’ve all been there and that’s no fun! My favorite sunblock is really anything natural. But lately I have been using Alba botanica sun spray or the travel stick by blue lizard. Both work well and are gentle on the skin without all the synthetic stuff. 

Other things that I usually carry are SPF lip balm like this one from Jack Black. In addition, to a Buff, sunglasses, and a hat. Buffs work super well and are versatile for covering your face and neck for extra protection.

Sunglasses are great for both high heat and snowy conditions when the sun reflects light from the snow. This bucket hat from Columbia is one of my favorites that works for covering your neck and face.

Frequently Asked Questions 

Do I always have to bring the 10 essentials for hiking? This is the most common question asked in regard to the 10 essentials for hiking. And really this systematic list does have some variability to it. On shorter hikes there may not be the need to have all of these items.

Compared to day hikes or backpacking trips where you most likely will want to have all of these items. When I pack, I always have all of these items in mind but, if I am going on a hike that is shorter and I am very familiar with the area I personally may not bring all of these items. 

Final Thoughts 

Remember, while the 10 essentials form the foundation of a well-prepared hiker, you should also consider additional factors specific to your hiking destination. This may include packing insect repellent, extra sun protection, trekking poles for added stability, bear spray in bear country, or any other gear necessary for the specific terrain and conditions you’ll be encountering.

Before you embark on your hike, it’s important to inform someone of your hiking plans, including your route, expected duration, and when they should expect to hear from you upon your return. This ensures that someone is aware of your whereabouts and can take appropriate action if needed.

By adhering to the 10 essentials for hiking and being well-prepared, you’ll be ready to face the challenges of the trail while minimizing risks and ensuring an enjoyable hiking experience. Stay safe, respect the environment, and embrace the wonders of nature as you embark on your next hiking adventure!

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