The Ten Essentials first appeared in print in the third edition of Mountaineering Freedom of the Hills Mountaineers (January 1974). Many regional organizations and authors recommend that hikers, backpackers, and climbers rigorously ensure they have the ten essentials with them. However, personal preferences and differences in conditions may dictate otherwise and with experience most adventurers add and subtract from the list depending on the situation. Some lightweight hikers do not always carry all of the items and believe it is an acceptable risk they take in order to travel light and fast.
Ten essentials list
According to the eighth edition of Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills book there are ten essentials, which are now referred to as the "classic" essentials. While still valid and widely used they do not reflect modern outdoor sports and all of the new gadgets that now are common.
- Compass (optionally supplemented with a GPS receiver)
- Sunglasses and sunscreen
- Extra clothing
- Headlamp (or flashlight)
- First-aid supplies
- Extra food
In 2003, the essential list was revised as part of the seventh edition of Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills to keep up with modern equipment. The current edition, 8th edition continues with the new essentials list with no major revisions. The new list takes a "systems" or functional approach.
- Navigation. Topographic map and assorted maps in waterproof container plus a magnetic compass, optional altimeter or GPS receiver.
- Sun protection. Sunglasses, sunscreen for lips and skin, hat, clothing for sun protection.
- Insulation. Hat, gloves, jacket, extra clothing for coldest possible weather during current season.
- Illumination. Headlamp, flashlight, batteries. LED bulb is preferred to extend battery life.
- First-aid supplies, plus insect repellent.
- Fire. Butane lighter, matches in waterproof container.
- Repair kit and tools. Knives, multi-tool, scissors, pliers, screwdriver, trowel/shovel, duct tape, cable ties.
- Nutrition. Add extra food for one additional day (for emergency). Dry food is preferred to save weight and usually needs water.
- Hydration. Add extra 2 liters of water for one additional day (for emergency).
- Emergency shelter. Tarp, bivouac sack, space blanket, plastic tube tent, jumbo trash bags, insulated sleeping pad.
The textbook recommends supplementing the ten essentials with:
- Portable water purification and water bottles
- Ice axe for glacier or snowfield travel (if necessary)
- Signaling devices, such as a whistle, mobile phone, two-way radio, satellite phone, unbreakable signal mirror or flare, laser pointer.
Not every expedition will require the use of an essential item. Carrying these basic items improves the chances that one is prepared for an unexpected emergency in the outdoors. For instance, if a hiker experiences a sudden snow storm, fresh clothes and fire starter may be used to keep warm, or the map and compass and headlamp will allow them to exit the wilderness quickly; otherwise they might succumb to hypothermia and perhaps even death. In addition, what you carry on a short summer trip on a popular trail is much less than a snowshoe trip in winter where you do not expect to see other people because the chances of being benighted are higher and because the risk of suffering hypothermia are greater.
A caution: The ten essentials are simply equipment. The skills necessary to use the equipment to your advantage only come with experience. For example, first aid training is more important than simply carrying a first aid kit. Matches are useless if you don’t have experience finding dry wood in wet conditions. Practicing map and compass skills is vital to being able to use them to navigate…and so on.
Other outdoor organizations have variations of the Ten Essentials pertinent to local conditions. For example, Utah's Wasatch Mountain Club lists extra water in place of food, as Utah is mostly desert terrain, and water is more difficult to find.
The Spokane Mountaineers list "thirteen essentials", which supplement the list with emergency shelter such as a space blanket, signaling device, and toilet paper and trowel (for sanitary disposal of human waste; the toilet paper also doubles as tinder for starting a fire).
The "Ten Essential Groups" is an alternative approach to essential gear selection. Items from each group should be chosen depending on the season, geographic location, and trip duration. In 2011, Columbia Sportswear adopted the "Ten Essential Groups" concept for their iOS app "Take Ten to the Greater Outdoors".
- Bow drill
- Distilled water
- Drinking water
- Emergency shelter
- Hiking equipment
- Mini survival kit
- Orienteering (Scouting)
- Pioneering (Scouting)
- Scout Outdoor Essentials
- Solar still
- Survival kit
- Survival skills
- Thermal insulation
- Water purification
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- Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills; 8th Ed; Mountaineers Books; 596 pages; 1960 to 2010; ISBN 978-1594851384.