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Have you ever heard of the 10 hiking essentials?  No?  Well, don’t feel alone.  I’ve been seriously hiking for years and never heard of this list.  After looking it over, I think it’s a pretty darn good list of things to carry or at least to think about before heading out on the trail.  The 10 essentials are: navigation, headlamp, sun protection, first aid, knife, fire, shelter, extra water and extra clothes.  In this blog I am going to discuss just a quick overview of each item and my personal recommendations.  We will have more in depth discussions about the essentials in the coming months.

Ah top of the list.  Navigation.  Let’s not get lost first.  While many people use their cell phones for navigating, if you are going deep in the back country, your phone will likely not be a reliable source.  There are two low cost and no technology solutions for this. Get maps of the area you are going to hike in.  I love the ones that are waterproof.  Also a good compass is a good thing to have.  I have a lensatic compass that I use.  If you are not sure how to use one, I highly recommend finding a land navigation course you can take.  

Next is a headlamp.  But you only hike during the day?  OK that is your plan.  The last time I hiked the Subway in Zion NP, we started out at about 9am in the morning.  It is not a particularly long hike but there is a lot of trail finding along the river.  We were planning on being back at the car well before dark.  We reached the parking lot just as the sun was setting.  You can bet I was glad I had my headlamp with me.  I recommend a rechargeable headlamp.  They are fairly inexpensive at most big box stores.

Sun protection is very important and you should bring it with you, not just put some on before you leave.  There are all kinds of topicals you can use on your exposed skin.  I also use a shirt called a rash guard when I am kayaking so I don’t have to worry about putting sunscreen all over my back.  A hat with a wide brim is great too if you are going to be in exposed areas.  

A knife comes in very handy while hiking and camping.  I will admit on day hikes I usually do not carry a knife but when I am going backpacking to camp I will have one with me.  You will need it to cut rope or even shave small pieces of sticks to get your fire going.  

How many times have you been on the trail and got a cut from a sticker bush or gotten a blister?  Having a few first aid essentials will make a big difference when one of these things happens.  I try to have a small amount of bandaids, maybe a small bottle of new skin, and blister specific bandaids with me even on small hikes.  You can put together a small “go” bag of the essentials to throw in your backpack.  When I am on longer, more strenuous hikes, I have a larger military style bag that I put all the essentials in plus some other things like KT tape (has come in handy more than once), a set of scissors, rolls of gauze and medical tape.  You can also just purchase a first aid kit at many camping stores that are good to have.  

Any time you are going to be on a trail you are not familiar with, you should probably carry a container of waterproof matches or a disposable lighter with you or both.  You never know when you might get lost and wind up being out a lot longer than you expected.  Having the ability to make a fire can help to signal your position (being careful to not start a wildfire of course) or to keep you warm if you are stuck overnight.  You can get small containers of waterproof matches from the camping section in many stores.

Along with matches, you should also carry something that you can make a shelter with.  This doesn’t have to be an actual tent.  There are things called emergency bivvy bags.  They are very inexpensive and they range from something like a sleeping bag to a tent.  You could even use a poncho or a small light tarp.  These will give you shelter or help keep you warm if you unexpectedly have to spend the night outside.

Anytime you are going on even a short hike, you should bring food with you.  I know recently I was out on a day hike and started getting hungry.  I went into my pack and realized I made a mistake before I left my house.  I forgot to check for food in my bag.  I had none and it almost made me turn around and go home.  The only reason why I didn’t is because it was only a five mile hike, I wasn’t going to starve and I knew the trail.  Now I always make sure I have three or four power bars with me even on short hikes.

I also learned a lesson about making sure you have extra water with you.  I did an eight mile hike that was fully exposed in the summer in Arizona.  I started out early but it got hot fast.  I had a two liter water bladder that was full but by the time I got to my turn around point, the water was almost gone.  This worried me a lot and on the way back I hurried and did no side trips.  Thankfully I had water in the car so when I got back to it I had a nice long drink.  This taught me to get a three liter bladder and to carry a water purifying system with me if there are water sources along the way.  You need to carry more water than you think you will need all the time.  

Last item on the list is extra clothes.  This will mean different things during different seasons.  You should consider keeping an extra pair of dry socks with you year round.  If your socks get soaked with sweat, you might wind up getting blisters from the friction.  In the winter, even on warmer days, I will have a knit hat and gloves and use a good sized day pack.  This allows me to layer up or down as needed.  

Again, this is just a quick overview of the essentials to get you thinking about the things that should go in your pack before you leave the house.  Think about the hike you’ve planned, things that you could use and things that could go wrong.   This should help you stay safe out on the trails.

Share Your Thoughts With Us


  1. Susan Torpy

    Great overview. I would add having a whistle of some sort.  As you indicated, cellphones don’t always receive a signal. 

  2. Kelly Tully

    Very good!

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