There are 10 items that you should always carry on when you are going hiking or wild camping. They will ensure you are prepared for an emergency situation on the trail.
No matter how long you are going for, these 10 items are essential for your safety and comfort on the trail. The 10 essentials will prepare you to spend the night or longer if you get lost or injured on the trail. Better safe than sorry.
Originally, this list was assembled by “The Mountaineers” in 1930 to help climbers and adventurers be prepared for emergency situations on the trail. It used to be a list of 10 items, including a map, compass, sun protection, extra clothing, headlamp, first-aid, knife, extra food, fire starter, and matches.
More recent, this list has evolved to a categories approach, listing 10 categories for survival, instead of including the specific items. Depending on your environment and the conditions of the trail, you might want to bring different items. For example, if you are hiking in summer, you might want to carry extra water and a thin layer of insulation just in case.
The 10 essentials can be divided into these categories:
2. Sun protection
5. First aid supplies
7. Repair kit
10. Emergency shelter
Keep scrolling to find out what you can bring for each category.
Whenever you go hiking, you should always carry a map and a compass. Not only should you carry one, you should also know how to use them.
It is always a good idea to look up how to read a topographic map and how to use a compass.
Maps can be digital or in paper format. It is advised to always carry a topomap, in case you get lost. This is especially true for longer hikes.
Of course if you are very familiar with the area, you could just rely on your phone and local knowledge.
Most GPS and trail apps have good maps to use on your phone, which makes it easier to navigate. You can also download a GPX-file for you app, so that when your GPS finds your location, it will show you exactly how far you are from the trail and so on. This is a good way to prevent from getting lost.
When you are doing a hike, where you are required to do some navigation or when you are hiking in an area that is not as easy to navigate through, it is always recommended to carry a compass. Again, you can find a compass on your phone these days, but it is still advised to carry the actual compass separately. They are usually very lightweight and don’t take up much space.
But now that I think about it, do ultralight thru-hikers actually carry a compass in their pack? I will need to find out.
Compass skills together with a detailed map can really save your life when you get lost. For more information on what to do when you get lost, check out this video: WHAT TO DO IF YOU GET LOST WHILE HIKING 🌲😱🌲
c. GPS device
If you are going on an overnight or multi-day hike, I would recommend carrying some kind of GPS or two way communication device, or a Personal Locator Beacon. All of these will be able to find and communicate your location with search and rescue, if you ever needed to contact them.
In my opinion, a PLB or two-way communication device is a must for all solo hikers, and especially thru-hikers. Because their plan might change or something, which might mean that they will never be found if gone missing.
For the best options in regards to PLB and two-way communication devices, check out this article.
2. sun protection
Sun protection is very important when spending time in the outdoors. It doesn’t matter if it is cloudy, you can still get sunburnt. The effects of UV exposure can have a negative impact on your skin and eyes.
Always pack sunglasses, sunscreen and UV protective clothing, such as a hat or UPF pants.
When we talk about insulation, we mean something to keep you warm. For example some extra clothing, a beanie or even gloves.
Always try packing something to keep you warm in case the weather turns. The weather can be very unpredictable at times, but sometimes it is also good to have that extra layer of clothing in case of an emergency situation.
You need to pack some extra clothing, such as a warm jacket, waterproof jacket or a balaclava. An extra pair of socks and a warm base layer are also good options to carry with you.
In case you need to spend the night, it is always good to bring a headlamp or torch and an extra battery. It is essential for your survival that you can find your way at night.
There are some very good lightweight headlamps available nowadays. Some weigh less than 50g. My favourite is the Nitecore NU25 – it only weighs 28g. I have just ordered one for my Bibbulmun Track adventure. A budget option that is not bad, but doesn’t give you a red light option is the Onbright 50 from Decathlon.
5. first aid supplies
For every outdoor activity, including hiking, you should have some kind of first aid supplies. You need to carry the gear to cover basic injuries. But you also need to know how to use it. You can get small survival skills booklets with first aid kits, or you could do a first aid course. Whatever it is, please make sure you can take care of basic injuries.
Things to include in your first aid kit are: band-aids, foot care, insect repellent, compression bandage, disinfectant wipes, adhesive tape, ointment creme. Also include some over the counter medicine such as pain killers or muscle relaxing creme.
Depending on where you go hiking, you might also include things to care for snake or spider bites, or any other animals you might encounter.
For more information on how to choose a first aid kit, check out this article.
When you need to survive a night in the wilderness, a fire will increase your chances of survival. It provides warmth, acts as a deterrent for animals, and will help emergency services to find you when they start looking for you.
I would recommend to always carry at least a lighter and/or some waterproof matches. You could also get one of those fire starting kits to include in your essential items list.
It can also be a good idea to bring some sort of fire starter, such as cotton pads. These are lightweight and are an excellent help to start a fire.
To find out more on how to make a fire, check out this article.
To find out more on what to do when you get lost, check out this video: WHAT TO DO IF YOU GET LOST WHILE HIKING 🌲😱🌲
7. repair kit
It’s important that you can repair whatever you are using on the trail. For example, if you are going on a multi-day hike, you need to be able to repair your sleeping pad or tent if necessary. Most likely you will rarely need these repair kits, but you can take a few general essentials with you that can multitask.
A few essential items to include in your repair kit are: knife or multitool, duct tape, superglue, needle and thread. With these items you can go a long way of fixing things.
It is recommended to always have extra food with you, when you set off on a hike. This doesn’t mean you have to carry a stove with you at all times, but just some extra food in case your trip takes longer than anticipated.
If you are going on a day hike, this can be some extra nutrition bars, power bars, trail mix or anything else that you consume on trail.
For overnight hikes, I would recommend bringing an extra dinner with you on trail. Most likely this will be a dehydrated backpacking meal.
For longer hikes, always bring an extra day of food, you never know. It is better to eat too much than to be stuck without food. And of course, plan your hiking food according to the nutritional values and calorie intakes that you need.
For some ideas on budget hiking food that you can buy from the supermarket, check out my video here.
Before you go on a hike, it is always a good idea to look up if there is any water sources and where to find them.
If you are on a day hike, always bring plenty of water. I would never leave the house with less than 1 litre of water. For hot days, I would carry at least 2 litres of water.
And if you can, bring a water filter or purification tablets to be able to filter the water in case you need it. More on water filtration later.
10. emergency shelter
It is recommended to always have some kind of emergency shelter with you. This is one, that I would replace with an emergency blanket. Because it is very lightweight, and it can also act as some kind of shelter in an emergency. Bringing more than that on a day hike, is in my opinion not necessary.
Always make sure that if you are going to a remote area where you need to use your navigation skills, that you always come prepared to spend the night.
All these items will help you survive in an emergency situation on trail. It’s not said that you will need all of these items, or that you will use them at all on your hikes, but at least they prepare you for an unpredictable experience.
Depending on the conditions of your hike, these items will vary every time. Always adjust them to the conditions of the trail you are planning to hike.
***Did I miss anything in this article or would you like to add something? Please use the comment section below or send me an email on firstname.lastname@example.org and I will see what I can do***