You know the 10 essentials, right? Classic items such as a knife, a signal mirror, and some fancy kind of firestarter. It's probably one of the first lists you saw when you started preparing to hike or camp. And in order to be a responsible hiker, shouldn't you always have them with you?
Well, answer this question for me (really, I would love to hear your thoughts): how often do these items actually make it into your bag?
The current list of Essentials, published by The Mountaineers in the 7th edition of Freedom of the Hills, goes like this:
- 1) Navigation
- 2) Sun Protection
- 3) Insulation
- 4) Illumination
- 5) First Aid Supplies
- 6) Fire
- 7) Repair Kit and Tools
- 8) Nutrition
- 9) Hydration
- 10) Emergency Shelter
Each item represents a system instead of a specific piece of equipment. So for navigation, that might mean bringing a good topographic map and a compass, or maybe just the map. Except, what if this hike requires a GPS and altimeter in order to navigate effectively?
This is where "Essential items lists" fall short. The idea that as long as you have these certain items along, you're safe/prepared/set.
The purpose of an essentials list is to help remind us of items that could be potentially life saving if the trip goes south. That's awesome, but it may also foster poor decision-making. How do you determine which items you need to have along with you?
What if the hike is only a half mile long? Do you need a map, or for that matter, an emergency shelter?
Ultralight hikers might forgo taking an emergency shelter and heavy first aid kit. They are embracing a higher level of acceptable risk. Their past experiences allow them to evaluate hazards and weigh the consequences based on their personal abilities to problem-solve with the gear they bring.
A beginner, on the other hand, probably should be bringing a heavier pack full of these items -- as long as they know how to use them. They don't have the experience to make some types of risk management decisions yet. The coolest part about living a life full of outdoor adventure is that you learn these skills quickly. Your decisions have a direct and immediate impact on you safety, comfort, and overall happiness.
Believe me, I've been there. I have estimated the length of my day incorrectly and been left in the dark. I have tried to lighten my pack by shedding layers that I really wanted when it got cold. I have run out of food hours before I got back to the car because I didn't bring enough snacks. But with each of those learning experiences, I have fine-tuned my personal list of essentials.
I'm not saying ignore the 10 Essentials. It is a list compiled by a lot of seasoned outdoors people and can serve as a fantastic jumping-off point. I am saying that it's not a hard and fast rule, so don't treat it like one.
Here is a very rough outline of items I typically bring, even on a short day hike. I put them all together in a small sack called my essentials bag. When I want to go somewhere, I can just grab my bag and know I am covered (note, I do supplement this list depending on the trip).
- 1) A good 7.5 minute series topographic map
- 2) Lightweight compass
- 3) 2 oz tube of SPF 50 sunscreen
- 4) SPF 15 chapstick
- 5) Pair of polarized sunglasses
- 6) R1 Hoody, or equivalent insulating top
- 7) Headlamp
- 8) 3 extra AAA batteries
- 9) A small roll of athletic tape
- 10) 50 mg (2 tablets) Benadryl
- 11) Small Bic lighter
- 12) Trango Piranha knife (1 inch blade)
- 13) 1 Kind or Pro Bar
- 14) Watch face, with the band removed
My list is going to look different than yours, and it should. My experiences are different, and my level of acceptable risk (or discomfort) is different as well.
What's on your list?