The Modern 10 Essentials

Many people are familiar with “The 10 Essentials”: ten items you should carry with you at all times when you are adventuring outdoors. These items are necessary to keep you safe in case of an emergency. This list was established in the 1930s, and has been updated based on modern technology and resources.

1. Navigation – Map and Compass. Even if you have traveled in an area dozens of times, and are absolutely certain that you know where you are going, bring a map! Trails are maintained and moved, plants look different as the seasons change, and trails are closed without clear alternative routes. Especially after a fire, everything looks different! A map and compass are a little thing that can keep you safe. In addition, you need to know how to use these two things together! Why not fully rely on a GPS? Beside it being heavier, the batteries can die or the unit can malfunction. Sticking to the basics is a safe bet.

Take a Map and Compass class at your local REI.

2. Sun Protection – A sunburn is more than just uncomfortable; it is dangerous. The sun drains energy and nutrition. Your body becomes dehydrated. The negative side effects of sun exposure can be avoided by simple sun protection. Sunglasses, sunscreen, a hat, and a few light layers keep you comfortable and safe. Many clothing lines carry layers which have UV protection.

“People focus so much on sunscreens,” Dr. Morison said. “It should be a package of protection. A hat, staying out of the sun, avoiding the hottest part of the day and covering up are all part of the whole story. It’s not just the sunscreen.” –

3. Insulation – warm layer and rain layer. A sunny day can turn into a chilly night, or mountain rain showers can appear unexpectedly. A lightweight rain layer (look for something rain proof, not just water resistant) and a warm fleece jacket are worth their weight in gold. They will keep you comfortable and safe while exploring your favorite spots.

4. Illumination – headlamp/flashlight. Hiking during the day is no reason to leave the flashlight behind. Be prepared for the unexpected! Not only is illumination needed if you get caught out after dark, you can increase the fun if you run into a dark spot to explore something such as a cave or old mine. Headlamps have the distinct advantage of being hands-free, but make sure whatever you carry has good batteries! (and bring extras…)

5. First-aid supplies – More than just a few bandaids. Outdoor first-aid kits are available in a variety of sizes depending on your activity and length of trip. A minor incident can be prevented from turning into a major emergency with a few well-planned supplies. Make sure you check in with your adventure partner or group. Does anyone have asthma? Take medication? Allergies? If someone has asthma, make sure they have a working inhaler. If allergies, that they carry an epi-pen and you know where it is located and how it is administered. Need a list of recommended supplies? Email!

6. Fire – waterproof matches/lighter/candles. Having the ability to start a fire means the ability to cook, get warm, provide light, and create a signal when lost or in need of help. A few matches weigh nearly nothing, and can make a big difference if you are in a bind.

7. Repair kit and tools – If you are biking, an extra inner tub is a smart choice to remember. But so is the rubber cement to repair your inflatable sleeping pad! And a multi-tool like a Leatherman or Gerber is great for getting the job done with less effort and quicker results. Even a simple Swiss Army knife will do for the little jobs. Duct tape is an essential in the repair kit, first aid kit, AND tool kit! Don’t leave these things behind.

8. Nutrition – A few protein bars, trail mix, and a piece of fruit is great for a day hike. Make sure to bring MORE food than you think you will need. Hiking and climbing take it out of ya’! Plan for more calories than you usually eat, and bring something extra in case one of your friends isn’t quite as prepared.

9. Hydration – Water. Water. Water. Bring it. Drink it. A daypack with a Camelbak or Platypus (with a lock so it doesn’t leak) is a convenient way to get your water around. It is recommended to bring 1 quart for each hour you plan on traveling, and then bring a little more just in case. A water filter or purification tablets can help cut down on the weight water adds, but make sure there is water available on the trail before relying on that option.


10. Emergency Shelter – If you have slept in a bivy bag, you know. Getting caught overnight unexpectedly can happen in even the most well planned-out circumstances. A simple tarp would work but an added space blanket would be even better. 

We’d love to know what your favorite “essential” that you bring along on your outdoor adventures is……(comment below!)


One Response to The Modern 10 Essentials

  1. Opal Daly October 1, 2013 at 5:20 am #

    My essentials: hair ties and nail clippers. I always carry a few extra hair ties! And nail clippers are great to snip thin twine or rope, in addition to cutting down my nail when I want to climb 🙂

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