The Ten Essentials

Packing the “Ten Essentials” whenever you step into the backcountry, even on day hikes, is a good habit. True, on a routine trip you may use only a few of them or none at all. It’s when something goes awry that you’ll truly appreciate the value of carrying these items that could be essential to your survival.

The original Ten Essentials list was assembled in the 1930s by The Mountaineers, a Seattle-based organization for climbers and outdoor adventurers, to help people be prepared for emergency situations in the outdoors. Back then, ion casino the list included a map, compass, sunglasses and sunscreen, extra clothing, headlamp/flashlight, first-aid supplies, fire starter, matches, knife and extra food.

Over the years, the list has evolved to a “systems” approach rather than including individual items. Here’s what it looks like today:

1. Navigation

Contemporary navigation tools include five essentials for traveling in the backcountry: a map, compass, altimeter watch, GPS device and personal locator beacon (PLB). Here’s more detail:

  • Map: A topographic map should accompany you on any trip that involves anything more than a short, impossible-to-miss footpath or frequently visited nature trail.
  • Compass: A compass, combined with map-reading knowledge, is a vital tool if you become disoriented in the backcountry. Many smartphones, GPS devices and watches include electronic compasses, but it’s wise to also carry a standard baseplate compass because it weighs next to nothing and does not rely on batteries, making it an indispensable backup.Note: A compass equipped with a sighting mirror can also be used to flash sunlight to a helicopter or rescuer during an emergency.
  • GPS device: A GPS device allows you to accurately find your location on a digital map. Those designed specifically for outdoor travel are often built rugged and weatherproof. Another popular option is to use a smartphone with a GPS app, but consider that most phones are more fragile so you’ll likely need to protect it with a case. Whichever you choose, keep in mind that these gadgets run on batteries, so you’ll need to monitor your battery power and possibly carry extra batteries.

2. Headlamp

Being able to find your way through the wilderness at night is essential, so you always need to have a light source with you. A headlamp is the preferred choice of most backcountry travelers because it keeps your hands free for all types of tasks, whether that’s cooking dinner or holding trekking poles. Always carry extra batteries.

3. Sun Protection

Always pack with you and wear sunglasses, sun-protection clothing and sunscreen. Not doing so can result in sunburn and/or snow blindness in the short term and potentially premature skin aging, skin cancer and cataracts in the long term.

  • Sunglasses: Quality sunglasses are indispensable in the outdoors to protect your eyes from potentially damaging radiation. If you’re planning prolonged travel on snow or ice, you’ll need extra-dark glacier glasses. All sunglasses sold at REI block 100 percent of ultraviolet light (UVA and UVB)—a key function of quality lenses. UVB rays, the rays that can burn your skin, have been linked to the development of cataracts. Groups should carry at least one pair of spare sunglasses in case someone loses theirs or forgets to bring them.

4. First Aid

It’s vital to carry and know how to use the items in a first-aid kit. Pre-assembled first-aid kits take the guesswork out of building your own, though many people personalize these kits to suit individual needs. Any kit should include treatments for blisters, adhesive bandages of various sizes, several gauze pads, adhesive tape, disinfecting ointment, over-the-counter pain medication, pen and paper. Nitrile gloves should also be included.

The length of your trip and the number of people involved will impact the contents of your kit. It’s also a good idea to carry some sort of compact guide to dealing with medical emergencies.

5. Knife

Knives are handy for gear repair, food preparation, first aid, making kindling or other emergency needs, making them an essential for every outing. Every adult in your group should carry a knife.

A basic knife may have only a single foldout blade; more elaborate knives and multitools include things like one or two flathead screwdrivers, a can opener and/or a pair of foldout scissors. The more complex your needs (if, for example, you are leading an inexperienced group), the more options you may want in your knife or tool.

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