In the 1930's The Mountaineers devised a list of ten essentials you should take with you on any hike, even on a day hike. These items make it possible for you to respond positively to an accident or emergency and for you to safely spend a night (or more) out in the wilderness. You will probably never fully appreciate the Ten Essentials until you really need one of them. The updated list includes Ten Essential "Systems":

1. Navigation (map and compass)

  • A map not only tells where you are and how far you have to go, it can help you find campsites, water, and an emergency exit route in case of an accident.  See Maps, Etc..
  • A compass helps you find your way through unfamiliar terrain, especially in bad weather where you can't see the landmarks.
  • A GPS (global positioning system) can also help, but it is no substitute for knowing how to read a map.  What happens when the batteries run out?

2. Sun Protection (sunglasses and sunscreen)

Especially above timberline, when there is a skin-scorching combination of sun and snow, you'll need sun-glasses to prevent snow blindness and sunscreen to prevent sunburn.

  • Sunglasses should be ultraviolet ray (UV) resistant.  Even on a cloudy day you can get sun damage especially when snow or water is reflecting the UV rays. Wraparound lenses help keep light from entering the corners of your eyes and also help buffer eyes from wind.
  • Sunscreen should protect you from both UVA (Sun burn) and UVB (aging) rays.  Sunscreen that's been sitting in your medicine cabinet for a season or more may have lost some of its sun-protection factor (SPF). SPF is a UVB rating of how long it takes for exposed skin to burn while wearing the sunscreen compared with how long it takes for skin to burn without any protection.  Most Sunscreen need to be re-applied every two hours, more often if you are going into the water.  A light-colored hat with a wide brim can also be an effective sun deterrent
  • Sun-protection clothing with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) may also be useful. In the desert, consider using a long-sleeved light shirt and lightweight loose-fitting long pants.

3. Insulation (extra clothing)

Remember that high mountains make their own weather, and storms can erupt suddenly and violently. Even in a temperate summer forest, a dousing rain can quickly chill you to the point of hypothermia.

  • Rain gear not only protects against rain, but also wind, cold, and even insects. A warm, windproof, water-resistant jacket can help you withstand mountain conditions.
  • Bring one more clothing layer than you think you'll need. Two rules: Avoid cotton (it dries slowly and keeps moisture close to your skin), and always carry a hat.
  • Plastic baggies or extra socks can help keep hands warm.
  • In a pinch, a garbage bag can have head and arm holes cut to make a rain vest or rain skirt.

4. Illumination (flashlight or headlamp with extra batteries)

Headlamps and flashlights allow you to find your way in the dark or signal for help. Headlamps are convenient for hands-free use.

5. First-Aid Supplies

  • Prepackaged first-aid kits for hikers are available at outfitters, but you can customize your kit with your favorite blister treatment and ointments for common outdoor ailments (a topical antihistamine, for example, to take care of itches and rashes).
  • Double your effectiveness with knowledge: Take a 16-hour Wilderness First Aid Basics course from the American Red Cross.

6. Fire (Matches and fire starter: waterproof matches/lighter/candles)

The warmth of a fire and a hot drink can help prevent hypothermia.  Also, a fire can be a signal for help if you get lost.

  • Carry matches and a small amount of fire starter protected in zipper-locking bags. Dripping candle wax on match tips helps waterproof them. Commercially available windproof and waterproof matches are also a good choice.
  • A good fire starter is anything that ignites easely and sustains heat for more than a few seconds. This can be anything from pocket lint to filled-in journal pages. Pine needles and birch bark make especially good starter, even when wet.

7. Repair Kit and Tools

  • Pocketknives or multitools are handy for gear repair, food preparation, first aid, making kindling, cutting strips of cloth into bandages, removing splinters, fixing broken eyeglasses, performing a host of repairs on malfunctioning gear, and many other emergency needs. 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. 
  • If you carry a self-inflating mattress, consider bringing a repair kit for it.

8. Nutrition (extra food)

Nothing boosts energy and spirits as much as a quick trail snack.  You can make your own trail mix with nuts, raisins, banana chips, and chocolate bits.  The combination of sugar, fats, and potassium tastes great and provides quick energy, long-lasting calories, and replacement electrolytes.  Always take a bit more food than you think you will need. A lot of things can keep you out longer than expected, like a lengthy detour, getting lost, an injury, or difficult terrain.

9. Hydration (extra water)

Without enough water, your body's muscles and organs simply can't perform as well.  You'll be susceptible to hypothermia and altitude sickness, not to mention the abject misery of raging thirst.  You have no idea just how sick you can become from hiking up a long steep slope on a warm day at high altitude if you do not drink enough water. It is really not funny.  Always carry plenty of water and stop often to drink.

10. Emergency Shelter

Shelter is a new component in the updated Ten Essentials, one that seems targeted at day trippers. (Most overnight wilderness travelers already carry a tent or tarp.) The thinking is, if getting lost or injured leaves you stranded in the back-country, something is better than nothing if you have to deal with wind or rain. Options include:

  • an ultralight tarp
  • a bivy sack
  • an emergency space blanket (which packs small and weighs just ounces)
  • even a large plastic trash bag.

Also Consider: Signaling Devices

  • Cell phones can be great, but they don't get a signal many places in the mountains.  They also run on batteries and will run down.
  • Some compasses come with sighting mirrors.  If yours does not, consider taking a small mirror to signal rescuers in an emergency.
  • Consider bringing a whistle.  It might also frighten off a bear.

Also Consider: Toilet Paper and a Trowel

For sanitary disposal of human waste.  The toilet paper also doubles as tinder for starting a fire.

Also Consider: Pack

Consider bringing a day-pack or a backpack, something to put all of your other stuff into so you don't have to carry in your arms.

Also Consider: Passes and Permits

  • You will need an Annual Discover Pass to park on WA State property (state parks, etc.). It was $30 for one car at Lake Sammamish State Park in 2011.
  • November 1 through April 30 you will need a WA Seasonal Snow Park Permit and you may need a Special Groomed Trails Permit (e.g. at Hyak or Lake Easton) to park at a WA, OR, or ID State Snow Park.
  • You will need an Annual Pass ($80 in 2012) to park in National Forests, National Parks, etc..  If you are 62 or older, you can use a Senior Pass ($10 in 2012) which is good for the rest of your life.  Both are available from the Snoqualmie Ranger Station (42404 SE North Bend Way, North Bend, WA (425) 888-1421).
  • You will need a Wilderness Permit if you are going to camp in a NFS Wilderness Area.  This is free and available from the Snoqualmie Ranger Station (42404 SE North Bend Way, North Bend, WA (425) 888-1421).

Above All Else: Knowledge

Having items in your pack has no value unless you understand how to use them.  Consider when lost in the woods that travel may be the wrong thing to do.  The definition of "lost" is that you don't know where you are or which way to go, so don't travel. March in circles if you need to keep warm, but putting miles between yourself and your last known location decreases the likelihood you'll be found by searchers.  As one search-and-rescue leader told us, "People talk about the Ten Essentials, but the most important essential is between your ears."