We love the outdoors! Instagram and Facebook are flooded with absolutely stunning images of Mountains, Valleys, Arches, Canyons, and every other masterpiece that Mother Nature throws at us. It’s an incredible phenomenon watching Social Media inspire people to make the move to spend more time outdoors.

Yet, Social Media has failed in properly preparing people for their next outdoor adventure. I have spent quite a bit of time hiking remote trails both solo and with friends. Like a lot. Within the past year, I’ve hiked everywhere from the Big 5 National parks in Utah, Mt. Washington in New Hampshire, remote mountain peaks in Nevada, sections of the Appalachian trail, the Great Smokey Mountains, the desserts of Moab, and more.

It is without fail, I will see people hitting the trails completely unprepared. I’m talking no water, late departures with no signs of illumination, lack of gloves or hat, flip flops (not making this up!), and just the sheer physical inability to safely finish a hike. And this scares me!!! For the sake of their safety, the safety of rescue teams, and the preservation of keeping our trails wild. Setting off on a hike ill prepared is dangerous. Fact: Mother Nature does not care about you. She will murder you.  

Okay, Nicki. You’ve made your point. How does an Explorer Chick go about packing for her next outdoor hike?

Easy! The 10 Essentials. If you ask any hiker or backpacker what they carry in their pack, you’ll get as wide a variety of answers as there are miles on the Appalachian Trail. However, experienced hikers will be carrying the 10 Essentials for unexpected emergencies and survival. It’s a hiking checklist to help you pack and bring gear for your day hike, backpacking trip, or climbing expedition.

The 10 Essentials, originally developed in the 1930’s by the Mountaineers, is meant to answer 2 questions:

  1. Can you respond positively to an accident or emergency?
  2. Are you prepared to spend a night or more safely outdoors?

It has since developed into a systems approach outlined in the textbook, “Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills.” The new approach added emergency shelter and hydration. Your next adventure packing list should include items from each of systems.

Of course, it’s not an all-inclusive approach. Depending on your trip, you’ll pack additional items. Overnight trips will require camping gear. Glacial traverses demand an ice axe and crampons. Ultralight travelers may chance risk and not carry some items to lessen their load and quicken their pace.


The 10 Essentials: A Systems Approach

Red River Gorge Trail Guide - Hiking

1. Navigation ~ Time to get back to the basics. Yes, our cell phones have GPS, Google Maps, and put us in touch with the outside world. They’re wonderful and our sidekicks in life. Yet, they are not 100% reliable for both battery life and service. Always carry with you a topographic map and a compass. Bonus points if you stick your map in a water proof case.

The 10 Essentials - Sun Protection

2. Sun Protection ~ Sunglasses and sunscreen are not just for the beach and pool. They are especially necessary when hiking or climbing on snow, ice, water, and high altitudes. If you’re wearing sun glasses, then you should be wearing sunscreen and vice versa.

Extra Insulation

3. Insulation/Extra Clothing ~ Ask yourself, “What is needed to survive the worst conditions on a trip?” The answer varies according to season, altitude, and conditions. A hat, extra thermal layer, or rain gear take up little room and weight, but can keep you warm and dry on an unexpected overnight bivvy. Keep in mind temperature changes as you ascend and at nightfall. A hot, July day can turn into a cold summer, night.

Black Diamond Headlamp - Hiking

4. Illumination ~ Headlamp or flashlight and spare batteries. Even if you plan to return before sunset, be prepared. They’re small, compact, lightweight. Just toss them in your bag. Don’t rely on your cell phone flash light. Remember, we’re going back to basics!

Medical Kit

5. First Aid Supplies ~ Go to an outdoor retailer and pick up a kit. Learn how to use it. Easy, peasy. They come prepackaged, so grab the one that fits your adventure style and length. Many come with a booklet with first aid instructions. Take the time to get to know your kit and booklet.

Fire - HIking

6. Fire ~ Carry what is necessary to start an emergency fire. To get your fire started, carry butane lighters, waterproof matches, or whatever creates a spark as long as it works. Also, pack a fire starter such as candles, chemical heat tabs or canned heat. They’ll be your best friend when trying to start a fire with wet wood. If traveling in high altitude snow or over a glacier where firewood is non-existent pack a stove and extra water source.

Repair Kit

7. Repair kit and Tools ~ Knife. This is the big one. It’s so useful each traveler should carry their own. Other handy items include shoe laces, duct tape, cable ties, replacement parts for equipment, etc.

Extra Nutrition

8. Nutrition ~ This should be a no-brainer. It’s one of the Big 3 required to sustain life. You know what makes your body tick. Pack what fuels you and then pack extra. Your extra food should require no cooking, be easily digestible, and store for long periods.

Extra Water

9. Hydration ~ Again, another no-brainer, and we understand the importance of hydration. Carry sufficient water and have the skills and tools necessary for obtaining and purifying additional water. Bringing a wide mouthed container is ideal because it is easiest to refill. Your research prior to your trip should include finding and knowing the locations of water sources.

Emergency Shelter

10. Emergency Shelter ~ If you’re not carrying a tent, pack something that will provide shelter from wind and rain beyond your rain gear. Think a plastic tube tent, emergency blanket, or even a jumbo trash bag. You can purchase an Emergency bivvy sack at an outdoor retailer for under $20 that comes in it’s own little sack and weighs less than 4 ounces. Just toss it in your pack before every adventure.

Adapted from Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills, 8th Edition. Published by The Mountaineers Books

Photo Credit: Nicki Bruckmann

Ready to learn more than the 10 Essentials? Join Explorer Chick on one of our overnight Backpacking Trips where you will learn the skills and gain the experience to backpack confidently in the wild.  

Red River Gorge Backpacking Workshop