An Introduction to the Ten Essentials

I’ve always loved being outdoors, but growing up in New Jersey getting out to hike was something you could only do a few months out of the year. Since moving to California however; I’ve very quickly made up for lost time and I currently spend as much time hitting the trail as I can fit into my schedule. Being the overly technical person that I am, I soon found myself searching the internet for all the information I could find on how to up my hiking game and, most importantly, how to stay safe and not risk losing any valuable time outside. Often times there is nothing wrong with just walking around in the woods and calling it a hike, but I yearned to really delve into the finer details of being an outdoorsman. I was excited by the vast amounts of information I discovered from people with much more experience than myself and I hoped not only to learn and follow in their footsteps, but most importantly to avoid the common mistakes that I’m sure I would find myself falling into.

Hands down the most important thing I’ve learned since joining the hiking community is about the “The Ten Essentials”. This list is not only extensive and ridiculously well thought out, but also a legitimate lifesaver. The true beauty of the list lies in the fact that while most people will never casually use more than a few items on it, it’s value is inconceivable until you need to use one of them. Now I’m sure you’ve basically figured out by the name alone, what sort of list The Ten Essentials is, but I’d like to provide some brief history on the list itself for you other nerds like me:

“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. In 2003, the group updated the list to a “systems” approach rather than listing individual items (for example, map and compass now fall into the Navigation “system”.) The updated "systems" approach made its debut in The Mountaineers’ seminal text on climbing and outdoor exploration, Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills (The Mountaineers Books), now in its eighth edition.” (REI Expert Advice)

For this series of articles I’d like to focus the current systems approach to the Ten Essentials which are as follows:

  1. Navigation (map and compass)

  2. Sun protection (sunglasses and sunscreen)

  3. Insulation (extra clothing)

  4. Illumination (headlamp/flashlight)

  5. First-aid supplies

  6. Fire (waterproof matches/lighter/candles)

  7. Repair kit and tools

  8. Nutrition (extra food)

  9. Hydration (extra water)

  10. Emergency shelter


I will be writing about one or two of these categories in each part of this series and which items I place into each of them. You don’t need anything fancy or expensive to make the ten essentials work for you. Personally I think it best to have as many items pull double-duty as possible to simplify things even more (For example a multi-tool with a firestarter falls into system 6 and 7). Most importantly though, you must not only have all of the ten essentials, but you must know how to use them. That compass in your pocket isn’t going to show you the way home unless you can interpret what it is showing you.

This introduction seems to have run on a bit longer than I intended (I just LOVE talking about the 10 Essentials!), so I’ll be breaking up the articles a bit. Head over to my next article where I go into detail about my current options for “Navigation”, my thoughts on the system as a whole, and some quick ways to up your game almost immediately. All of that info is live right now, so you don’t have to wait to keep on reading...

See you on the trail!


“There is no expectation that you will actually use all of these items on a hike, but that in the case of an emergency, they could make the difference between life and death.”

-Jeff Hester (SoCal Hiker)