If you’re wondering what to bring on your next day trip, this post has you covered! I’ll be going over the ten essentials and why you should carry them. I also cover their history, suggest additional items, and offer tips for customizing your pack.
The Ten Essentials
The ten essentials first appeared as a checklist in the third edition of Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills, published in 1974. Since then, many organizations have endorsed it for promoting wilderness safety.
The ten essentials are divided into two categories. The first is to prevent and respond to emergencies and includes navigation and communication devices, a flashlight, sun protection, first aid, and a knife.
The second category is equipment to spend a night outside and includes a fire kit, emergency shelter, and extra food, water, and clothes.
Let’s go over each item:
1. Navigation & Communication Devices
If you are travelling to an unmarked or unfamiliar place, you’ll need a topographic map and compass, or global positioning system (GPS). If you can, it’s best to bring all three.
Communication devices, like personal location beacons and satellite messengers, allow you to call for help. Beacons send an SOS message with your location tag. Messenger devices are similar but can also send text messages. You can buy devices with GPS, SOS, and satellite phone capabilities.
- Some outdoor clubs, orienteering groups, and Mountain Equipment stores offer free classes on map and compass skills.
- If your map isn’t waterproof, seal it in a watertight bag. You can buy map cases or use a large Ziploc storage bag.
If you are outside after sundown, you’ll need a light source. Any flashlight will work, but headlamps work best because they free up your hands. Choose one that is bright, fits comfortably on your head, and is waterproof.
- Headlamps with flash or strobe capabilities can work as signalling devices at night.
- Carry some spare batteries in a waterproof container.
3. Sun Protection
To shield yourself from the sun, pack sunscreen, sunglasses, and protective clothing. Opt for a sunscreen that’s SPF 30 or higher. This will block out 97 percent, or more, of UVB rays.
Don’t forget about your eyes. They can burn before you begin to feel pain. A burn to the cornea causes “snow blindness.” The symptoms are headache, blurred vision, and temporary blindness. Sunny environments with snow and water are particularly dangerous.
4. Knife (& Small Repair Kit)
A knife or multi-tool will allow you to cut and repair items. A pocketknife is useful for precision work. A larger knife can be helpful for gathering and processing firewood.
Some people include a small repair kit in this category. The authors of Mountaineering suggest bringing tape and cordage. Other items listed include safety pins, a needle and thread, wire, duct tape, cable ties, plastic buckles, and replacement parts for equipment.
- Duct tape is versatile. It can bind and repair items. It’s also highly flammable and works as a firestarter.
5. Fire Kit
A fire kit should include a lighter, matches, and some type of firestarter. You can make firestarter by adding petroleum jelly to cotton balls. Kevin Callan wrote an excellent post on homemade firestarters.
- Storm-proof matches are water and wind resistant making it easy to start a fire in poor conditions.
- You can use some natural materials as tinder. Pine resin, fatwood, and plant downs work well. I wrote a post about natural tinder here.
6. First Aid
A first aid kit is an important part of any pack. Equally important is familiarizing yourself with the contents of your kit and how to use them.
If you can, enrol in a Wilderness First Aid course. These courses teach you how to respond to common backcountry injuries. In Canada, you can take courses through the Canadian Red Cross, Boreal River Adventures and Canadian Wilderness Medical Training.
- Bring extra prescription medications in case you need them.
- Don’t forget to restock your first aid kit after each trip.
7. Emergency Shelter
If you have to spend a night, an emergency shelter will help protect you from the elements. It can also provide some peace of mind. You can use a tarp, tube tent, or bivy sack.
- You can buy tube tents and tarps for cheap. Tube tents usually include a rope, but no pegs. Bring some with you.
- In an emergency, layered spruce boughs can act as an effective insulator against the cold ground.
8. Extra Food
Carry an extra day’s worth of food. Focus on high calorie snacks like, jerky, protein bars, granola, nuts, salami, cheese, and meal powders.
- Coffee drinkers can experience bad side-effects due to withdrawal. If you’re a coffee drinker, pack some extra instant coffee.
9. Extra Water
Pack extra water. Ideally, you should drink 2 litres of water per day. The more exercise you do, the more water you need.
You can get water bladders and collapsible bottles to help reduce weight and bulk. Still, water adds 2 pounds per litre! If there is a water source nearby, save yourself some weight and bring a water filtration system or purification tablets.
- Sawyer makes a pocket-sized water filtration system. It’s rated to filter up to 100,000 gallons of water.
10. Extra Clothing
When choosing extra clothing, consider the season and potential weather conditions. You’ll need to bring enough clothes to get through a night. Make sure to include extra base layers and socks.
- The body cools quickly from sweat. It’s best to change out of sweaty clothes at the end of the day.
- When it’s possible, shelter yourself from cold winds. Wind chill can turn a mild day into a dangerous one.
11. Signalling Device
I have a few extra items to add to the list. The first one is a signalling device. This can be a whistle, reflective mirror or signal panel. Should you become lost, a signalling device will increase the chances that you are found.
- Three loud blasts on a whistle is the universal signal for distress. Each blast should be around 3 seconds. Take a breath between each blast to allow the sound to travel.
12. Trip Plan
My second item is a trip plan. You’ll leave it with someone you trust. Trip plans say where you are going, who you are going with, when you’ll be back, what you are doing, and what equipment you are using. This information is vital if search and rescue is ever needed.
- I’ve written an entire post about trip plans here.
- Adventure Smart has a free app that guides you through the process of making a trip plan. You can then email or text your plan to someone.
13. Insect and Tick Repellent
If you live in a place with biting insects, you’ll need bug spray. Picaridin and lemon eucalyptus protect against mosquitoes, ticks, and black flies. You can use them on skin and clothing.
Permethrin is also effective against all mosquitoes, ticks, and black flies. You can use it on clothing, but it’s unsafe on skin. Some outdoor gear is pretreated with permethrin. It should be good for several washes before you have to reapply the chemical.
Deet works well on mosquitoes and ticks but it’s not effective against black flies. You can use it on skin and clothing.
- Contrary to popular belief, citronella is not an effective insect repellent.
- Smoke might help repel biting insects.
Putting Together YOUR Day Pack
Now that you know the ten essentials, you’re ready to put together your day bag. Pack as light as possible without sacrificing your safety. Carrying too much weight can be dangerous. It makes it difficult to travel, you’ll tire faster, and you could be delayed.
Over time, you’ll find the right balance between weight and comfort. Never ditch the essentials. Instead, think about how you can make your gear as light as possible. After each trip review what you did and did not use. Were you missing something? Was your pack too heavy? Did you need more water? Adjust accordingly.
Store your ten essentials together in a place that is easy to access. That way, you can grab them and go. If you don’t have to repack or search for things, it’s more likely that you’ll carry them.
Mountaineering is now in its 9th edition. It goes into greater depth on the ten essentials and surviving in the outdoors. I highly recommend it.