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The Ten (or 11) Essentials

One facet of Adventuring Responsibly is to Be Prepared. This is an old principle as relevant now as it ever has been. Part of being prepared for a wilderness experience comes with what has been dubbed “The Ten Essentials.” First popularized from a mountaineering magazine in the 70s, The Ten Essentials has had a few updates here and there, but for the most part has stayed the same. Some might ask why this needs to be shared as it looks like common sense – sadly, in my experience, I have seen that this isn’t always the case. Let’s take a look at them in more detail, along with a new movement that adds an 11th essential item.

Maps: A trusty map and a compass is always a good thing to put in your bag. Nowadays, you can even get a GPS unit that is pretty handy if you plan on hiking alone or on a longer backpacking trip. In any event, some form of navigation is imperative to knowing the area you’ll be visiting and can help if there is an emergency. DO NOT trust your cell phone – short battery life, loss of signal etc makes a cell phone an un-trusty companion while out in the wild. A GPS unit in many cases also has a signaling device in the event of an emergency – this would be highly recommended. In any event, someone should know of your plans and whereabouts in the event you don’t return home on time.

Sun Protection: This is good to have no-matter the weather conditions. A hat (may we suggest one here?), sunglasses, long-sleeved shirts, sun screen and chap-stick etc. A sunburn is bad enough when you’re just at the pool – it’s a real issue if you’re out on your own in the wild or have a member of your group suffering.

Insulation: No matter the conditions, the cold is the enemy. Make sure you have proper equipment to stay warm. A beanie, extra layers, proper underwear and good socks. Heat escapes mostly from your head so wearing a cap at night can drastically help with sleeping out in the cold. Throwing in a couple hand/feet warmers takes little room or weight and can make a dramatic difference to keep your hands and feet agile. 

Flashlight: Again, your cell phone’s light is not an option. Have a proper flashlight or headlamp with some extra batteries. There are even lights you can get that you can hand-crank in the event of battery loss, or that charge via solar energy – no excuse to not have a reliable light source in our day and age – the future is pretty awesome!

First-aid: Get a first-aid kit. Get one now. This, I’d argue should really be at the top of the list is we were putting them in order of importance. A first aid kit with wraps, band-aids, medicines (check expiration dates), bug repellent, burn-ointment so on and so forth. A pre-made first-aid kit can be bought on Amazon or even Wal-mart. Basically anywhere you could get camping equipment, you should be able to find a kit. While the pre-made one is a great place to start, make sure you tailor yours to your needs.

Fire: Have some ability to start and light a fire. If you bring a camping stove/ burner, be sure it is full of fuel before you leave. Matches, kindling etc should be stored in a water-proof container as wet matches will leave you up the proverbial creek without a paddle. Also of note is knowing proper fire safety and guidelines.

Multi-use tool: This is pretty self-explanatory. Some sort of tool at your disposal that is light-weight and handy. A knife was the original listed item, and should absolutely still be in your bag. A multi-use tool that includes a knife, plyers, can opener, screw-driver etc is an excellent option. Also of importance is to include is a small shovel (for digging those cat holes) and some rope. Going back to item number one, a tool with a whistle can also be handy.

Food: Yes, you will of course need food. While it may add some weight, it is better to have more food than not enough food, especially if an emergency has you staying longer than planned. Dry food helps to save on weight and also is preserved much longer. Dehydrated meals have come a long way in options and taste so there is bound to be something for everyone. Regardless, after 10 or so miles of hiking in a day, even a dehydrated meal tastes like food from a 5-star restaurant. I also like to carry a small book with me of edible plants in an area should the need arise.

Hydration: If you don’t drink water, you’re going to have a bad time. Actually, more than a bad time as no water means dehydration and death. Research is important to understand how much water you will need depending on temperatures and how difficult the adventure will be. Water filters are helpful as well in an emergency situation and knowing if there is a reliable source of water where you will be is critical for your planning. Drink smaller sips more often – if you feel thirsty, this is a sign of not being properly hydrated.

Emergency shelter: Some form of shelter is critical in an emergency to help fight the elements. A space-blanket is a cheap and convenient option. A light-weight, water-proof tarp or a light-weight tent will go a long way. If you look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, food, water and shelter are the three items as the base of our human needs and these items can make or break your wilderness experience, especially if something goes the wrong way.

A trash bag: Here we have what some are calling the 11th essential item while out in nature. Sadly, more and more people are unaware of their impact and leave trash behind in public lands. It’s important that we who take up stewardship are prepared and able to leave a place better than we found it. A garbage sack is light weight and can even be used as a shelter in extreme situations – a win win!

So there you have it, folks. The 11 essential items for a great wilderness experience and what could mean the difference between life and death in an emergency situation. Being prepared does not mean something won’t go wrong, it means you will be ready when and if something does go wrong. Having a knowledge and possession of the 11 essentials will help to make sure you Adventure Responsibly!



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