The Ten Essentials are core safety and preparedness items that one should always carry on outdoor adventures. First published in the classic mountaineering reference manual, Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills, the Ten Essentials apply to all types of adventures in the wilderness, not just mountaineering outings. This article details each of the Ten Essentials for hiking and provides a curated list of what we think are some of the best products in each of the categories.
Of course, the Ten Essentials are just some of the basics you should consider for your outing, as additional items may be warranted depending upon the demands of an adventure. Prior to any outdoor adventure, one should consider nutrition and hydration requirements, navigational needs, weather, potential for injury, and a variety of other safety factors. But the Ten Essentials are great start for your hike’s packing list. So start planning and have fun out there!
THE TEN ESSENTIALS: GEAR RECOMMENDATIONS
All of the Ten Essentials for hiking are important. However, we started this list with perhaps the most important of them all…hydration. Dehydration and heat exhaustion are serious risks during outdoor pursuits, so you should carefully consider hydration needs before embarking on any adventure. Depending on when and where you are venturing into the wilderness, particularly in the Rocky Mountain states, water sources may be widely accessible or incredibly scarce. Plan accordingly by bringing enough water with you to start your adventure and consider bringing equipment to treat water as needed.
Recommendation: Nalgene Wide Mouth Water Bottle (1L)
The 1L Nalgene water bottle is perhaps the most common BPA-free plastic bottle you’ll see in the outdoors. It’s tried and true, fits in most daypack/backpack external side pockets, and is an excellent option for day hikes.
Recommendation: Platypus Big Zip Water Reservoir
If you need to increase your water capacity, opt for a water reservoir. Depending upon how long your outing is, a 2L or 3L option is a good choice for water capacity. Platypus Big Zip Water Reservoirs are easy to use, durable, and have a fast flow rate.
Recommendation: Sawyer Squeeze Mini Water Filter
If you will need to treat water from streams, lakes, etc., you should bring a lightweight water filter with you. The Sawyer Squeeze Mini is an excellent, lightweight option, that can be installed in-line with your water reservoir or used on its own with a water pouch or compatible bottle. This is a great item for longer, backcountry outings. For additional information on Sawyer products, check out our review of the full size Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter.
Just like water, nutritional needs are another extremely important component of the Ten Essentials for hiking. Especially for strenuous outings, you need to ensure your calorie intake meets the demands of your energy expenditure. The good news is that there is an abundance of energy efficient food items that pack a healthy punch of nutritional value (e.g., protein, fiber, carbohydrates, whole grains, etc.). For longer outings that require more than snacks, consider carrying no-cook backpacking items, such as dehydrated meals, that only require hot water to prepare.
Recommendation: Bearded Brother Bars
Bearded Brothers bar are some of the best tasting energy bars out there. 100% organic, vegan, and gluten free. These bars are packed with protein and are available in a bunch of flavors. We love the Almond Butter Chocolate bar.
Recommendation: Good To-Go Meals
Good To-Go dehydrated meals are some of the best tasting backpacking dinners on the market. Super easy to make by just adding hot water and waiting, these are an ideal choice if you want a no-fuss meal. Our favorites are Indian Vegetable Korma and Bibimbap. Check out our full review of Good To-Go meals here.
Navigational tools are critical to the Ten Essentials for hiking because they help ensure you stay on your planned route. Nowadays, many of us rely on electronic navigational tools such as GPS devices or our smartphones. However, electronic equipment can fail or run out of battery life. Learn how to read topographical maps and use a compass so you can always find your way.
Recommendation: Trails Illustrated Maps
Trails Illustrated Maps are high-quality waterproof topographical maps published by National Geographic. Over 250 maps of trails in the US and Canada are available. Pick up the map that corresponds with your outdoor adventure and plan your route(s) ahead of time.
Recommendation: Suunto MC-2G Navigator Compass
To accompany your maps, you need a high-quality compass. There are plenty of compasses available at various costs and Suunto makes some of the best compasses out there. We like the Suunto MC-2G Navigator Compass since it provides what you need for emergency use – a declination scale, mirror sighting, ruler, and magnifying lens. But again, any quality compass along with compass/map reading skills, should suffice.
When venturing into the outdoors, you should always protect yourself from the sun’s UV rays. Core elements to your sun protection kit should include proper UPF clothing, a wide brimmed hat or neck covering that protects the back of your neck, polarized sunglasses, and SPF sunscreen.
Recommendation: Buff Original Headwear
We often wear a Buff as a neck gaiter to protect from the sun, given its UPF 50 protective construction. Buffs are also a great option to use as a face covering on the trail. In fact, there are 12+ ways of wearing a Buff, so it’s a versatile piece of gear.
Recommendation: Goodr OGs Polarized Sunglasses
We prefer sunglasses that look as normal on the trail as they do around town. Too many outdoors sunglasses look far too sporty and would not be worn off-trail. For our money we prefer goodr OGs Polarized Sunglasses for their versatile looks and timeless style.
Recommendation: Sun Bum Mineral SPF 30 Sunscreen Spray
Sun Bum is our go-to sunscreen nowadays. We like its non-greasy feel and neutral fragrance. Any quality sunscreen will do, but Sun Bum SPF 30 is our choice for long days in the sun.
Insulation and Extra Clothing
Extra clothing is core component to the Ten Essentials for hiking to ensure preparation for a variety of weather situations. Look for high quality, versatile garments that can serve you well in multiple situations. A lightweight, insulating layer is a critical component to your pack to enhance safety, especially in areas prone to temperature fluctuation. Also consider adding in rain gear and gloves.
Recommendation: Arc’teryx Atom Hoody
The Arc’teryx Atom is easily our favorite insulated jacket. Yes, there may be lighter weight alternatives on the market, but we love the style, fit, packability, and function. Wear the Atom during early morning starts or when you reach the mountain summit. It’s a great addition to an outdoors wardrobe and comes in handy when the temperature dips.
Lightweight Rain Jacket
Recommendation: Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket
A rain jacket is one of those items that you may not need, but it sure does help when it starts to rain buckets. Since rain gear will likely be in your pack more often than you will wear it, seek out lightweight options. We like the Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket as our emergency rain jacket for its lightweight design. Outdoor Research recently redesigned their Helium jacket, but you can also opt for their Helium II jacket (which is often on sale).
Recommendation: Black Diamond Lightweight Screentap Gloves
Black Diamond’s Lightweight Screentap Gloves provide lightweight hand protection for those cold mornings or chilly mountain summit situations. The sensor features on the gloves allow you to use these with your smartphone’s touch screen. We always pack a lightweight pair of gloves on alpine excursions.
Carry a light source with you as part of your Ten Essentials for hiking, even if you don’t intend to stay overnight on your outing. A light source is essential for nighttime navigation and is an excellent emergency item if you have to travel during the evening hours. We prefer headlamps over flashlights because of their convenience and hands-free use.
Recommendation: Black Diamond Spot 400
Black Diamond makes durable and highly functional headlamps. Weighing under 3oz., the Black Diamond Spot 400 is an excellent everyday headlamp that is useful as an emergency headlamp and is also great for nighttime travel and trail-finding. But, check out other headlamp variations within Black Diamond’s lineup. Choose the headlamp lumen/weight based on your adventure needs.
Never leave home for the wilderness without something to start a fire. Items as basic as a lighter or matches are helpful for cooking, but they can also save your life if you get lost and need to stay warm. These are low cost, low weight items you should always have with you in your pack as part of the Ten Essentials for hiking.
Recommendation: Zippo Windproof Lighter
Super simple and lightweight. We like lighters better than matches, just based on ease of use. Of course, these require fuel and are a bit heavier. But the Zippo Windproof Lighter is reliable and highly functional.
Matches and Fire Starter
Recommendation: UCO Titan Stormproof Matches
Any matches are better than none. However, UCO Titan Stormproof Matches are waterproof and windproof. When you only have a few matches, you need the make them count, and these will do the trick. Consider pairing them with fire starter to make starting a fire a bit easier.
Any time you head out for a wilderness adventure you should have a first aid kit as part of your Ten Essentials for hiking to help treat small injuries. Scrapes, cuts, insect bites, upset stomach, etc. These are all minor ailments you may eventually encounter yourself or in your group. Choose to build your own kit or purchase a pre-assembled kit that covers your basic first aid needs.
First Aid Kit
Recommendation: Adventure Medical Kits Hiker
Adventure Medical Kits makes convenient and lightweight first aid kits. For instance, the “Ultralight/Watertight” series caters to the ultralight crowd seeking to only carry bare bones first aid kit needs. This “.3” kit is ideal for 1 person and can cover you for 1-2 days. Alternatively, the “Backpacker” kit is ideal for multi-day wilderness adventures. It contains enough standard bandages, wound care items, medications, and instruments to cover 1-2 people for 1-4 days. Choose among the various sizes and kit contents applicable for your trip into the wilderness.
Repair Kit and Tools
Murphy’s Law says that stuff will break when you need it most, but if you packed your Ten Essentials for hiking appropriately, you’ll be covered. You should always have a knife and some basic repair items to fix your gear. We like multitools better than standard pocket knives, because multitools give you a basic knife and more tool options with weight efficiency. Duct tape and a lightweight repair kit will also go a long way to keeping your gear intact.
Recommendation: Leatherman Wave Plus
You don’t need a huge knife to go on a hike. The Leatherman Wave+ is a do-it-all beast, featuring 18 different tools at only 8.5oz. The Wave+ is one of Leatherman’s best sellers and we think its quality is unmatched. This should be a mainstay in any bag.
Recommendation: Gear Aid Tenacious Tape Camp Repair Kit
If you don’t feel like putting together your own repair kit, consider purchasing a pre-constructed kit such as the Gear Aid Tenacious Tape Camp Repair Kit. This kit gives you 19 repair supplies to patch holes, fix tears, and replace broken gear components. Gear Aid also makes a bunch of other specialized repair items without needing to purchase a full kit.
Weather can rapidly turn for the worse or you could lose your way on the trail and need to spend an unplanned night in the wilderness. If you don’t have a tent with you, an emergency blanket or lightweight bivy can be a life saver (either as a shelter or reflective source of heat). Thus, an emergency source of shelter should be part of your Ten Essentials for hiking.
Recommendation: SOL Emergency Blanket
For only 3oz., an emergency blanket should accompany your standard outdoors kit. In a pinch, the SOL Emergency Blanket can help provide warmth, serve as a primitive tarp for shelter, or even reflect sunlight for rescue purposes. However, for a few more ounces, the SOL Emergency Bivy has better heat trapping ability, but is bulkier and costs more.
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