The essential items that can make the difference
Many people who have an outdoor misadventure quickly point out that having and using the 10 essentials allowed them to survive. The traditional list of the 10 essentials presented below has been modernized into basic groups of supplies you should carry at all times.
- Flashlight and spare batteries
If you take just a little too long on a hike and are caught by darkness, it can get really dark under the trees. We’ve found people who only got lost after dark and could not stay on the trail. Some of these people even hurt themselves after falling once they left the trail. One small flashlight can make the difference between coming home late, and being injured in the dark.
- Extra Food and Water
If you’re delayed by weather, a little food and water can make an uncomfortable situation much better, and water can be the difference between life and death. You’re less likely to panic, and it allows you to think clearer so you don’t turn a little mistake into a big one.
- Extra clothing (rain, wind, water protection)
It can get cold in the mountains at night, just a few hundred feet in elevation makes a difference. Even a jacket and a hat can help keep much warmer.
- Navigational Aids (map, compass, altimeter, GPS, chart, radio, mobile phone)
Without (at the very least) a map, a compass and the knowledge of how to use them, you’re really at the mercy of whoever built the trail you are on. Without markers and sign posts, a map is the only way to tell where you are. GPS units take this to the next level, but always have the map as a backup.
- Fire Starter
Fire offers warmth, and can signal rescuers in an emergency. Matches, lighter, a candle and some dry tinder is all it takes.
- First Aid Kit
A small accident can be a big problem if you have nothing to treat it with, having the equipment and the training is important.
- Emergency Shelter
Something as simple as a garbage bag can become an emergency shelter; tear a hole in it and put it over your head and you have a waterproof place to sit. It sounds crazy, but if you want to be more high tech you can buy mylar safety blankets that do the same thing, or any number of other products. They weigh ounces and are tiny, and they sit in your kit until you need them.
- Sun Protection
The sun is a force to be reckoned with. Without sun protection, burns and sun stroke are almost certain on a sunny day, even more so in the middle of winter. Sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses might seem like a good idea at sea level, but in the mountains they are essential equipment.
- Pocket knife
This useful item can make tent pegs, whittle wood for a fire, cut rope and hundreds of other things that can help you survive.
- Signalling Device
If you are in trouble it’s important that you be able to call for help. Most hikers bring their cell phones, and you should read our article on cell phones and rescue to understand their limitations. A whistle is an essential device that has saved hundreds of lives by attracting SAR members to a missing person’s location. Other devices include Satellite messenger devices (beacons), two-way radios, satellite phones, flashlight, and a mirror.
Wikipedia has an excellent article on the Ten essentials. The basic idea here is to be prepared for bad luck or misadventure by having the minimum necessary to survive until help arrives. Most accidents in the backcountry (and most searches done by our team) could have been avoided had the subject carried even some of these items.