Do you ever leave on a trip and have the unshakable feeling that you’ve forgotten something? You’re planning on driving for a hike but you really think that something is missing, so you unpack the car, check your bag for sun protection and snacks, reassure yourself that everything is going to be OK and get to the start point when you realize that you meant to pick up your friend and her dog… and your walking boots.
To help you with this, we’ve put together a list of everything you should take with you for your trip. It’s modeled after the Mountaineers ‘Ten Essentials’ list – they’re a Seattle based organization for hikers and climbers who originally came up with the idea back in the 1930s. It’s been adapted since then, and what we’re left with is a widely agreed-upon collection of essentials for a safe and fun adventure.
1. Navigation Equipment
Look, a lot of us have favorite hikes and do them regularly. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take a map with you! Between seasonal differences and unexpected changes to the landscape, it’s easier to get lost than you might imagine.
It’s also worth bringing some navigation equipment if you’re going on a trip with another person who does know where they’re going, in case there’s an accident or you get separated. So, regardless of where you’re off to, grab a pack to make sure you stay safe.
What should be in the pack? Well, some people like to use satnavs or other electrical navigation devices (A hiking watch with GPS is included).
If this is you, bring a couple of spare batteries or power banks and make sure everything is working before you leave. Next, you’ll want a map of the area you’re traveling to. Just an up-to-date paper map is fine, and many national parks will have them for sale or easily available when you arrive.
You should store this in something waterproof – folded up in a sandwich bag is fine – to make sure that it’s protected from rain or leaky water bottles. Also, you’ll need a compass, and the ability to use it correctly.
Next, we’d recommend a fully charged mobile phone and a backup that remains switched off and inside your waterproof bag. Phone signal might get patchy in remote areas, but it’s still a good idea to have one in case something goes wrong.
Finally, you might want to take a personal locator beacon, which will notify emergency services if you activate them. You should look into how these operate in your area before investing, as there can be some discrepancies. Some hiking watches which have a built-in GPS can also notify emergency services.
2. Extra Water
But water is heavy! What if it leaks? I’m going to be close to a lake- I’ll just have a sip from that!
No. Getting dehydrated is one of the worst things that can happen to your body, and it essentially stops in from functioning. You won’t be able to concentrate, and you’ll struggle to walk/climb as effectively, which makes it much more likely that you’ll get lost or stranded.
Always take a spare bottle (or more) of water with you. We’d also recommend re-hydration sachets, for emergencies.
If you’re traveling near a large body of water, you might be able to drink some of it but you’ll need proper filtration or treatment equipment, such as a special water bottle, straw, or tablets. Even then, rivers dry up or you can get lost, so it’s important to have some form of backup.
3. Extra Food
Technically, you can survive for three weeks without food. But for most people, that’s a statistic you’re interested to know and never want to try out for yourself. Also, most people get pretty miserable (or ‘hangry’ – hungry and angry) after missing a meal.
So, grab yourself some trail snacks, and then a few spares. There are lots of different options, but anything with lots of protein and carbohydrates is a good idea because you’ll be using up more energy.
As for foraging for food…. Be extremely careful. Eat the wrong mushrooms and you can end up very sick or even worse, dying.
The same goes for berries: blackberries are delicious, and belladonna – which looks almost identical – will kill you. Much like drinking water from rivers and lakes, it’s usually best avoided.
4. Extra Clothes
The type of clothes you choose to wear will depend on the season and terrain. You should also check the weather forecast in advance, as unexpected rain – or sun – could easily derail your plans.
Regardless, we’d recommend bringing a small hat, which will keep you nice and warm if the temperature suddenly drops, and a pack-a-mac or other waterproof coat that will fold up into your bag.
Bonus tip: Having a pair of the best hiking underwear can really improve the quality of your hikes. No more chafing!
It’s amazing how useful very simple ideas can be. A headlamp could not be more straightforward – it’s a torch that goes on your head – but it can really make all the difference if you’re out when the sun starts to set.
It’ll make navigation easier, help you avoid rocks, roots and anything else you might trip over and if you’re camping you’ll be able to set up your tent much faster and easier.
Even if you’re just planning a day trip and should be back at home before it gets dark, we’d highly recommend a headlamp. Plus, they’re usually light, cheap, and small and will go in your bag without any problems.
To ensure that your headlamp stays fully charged throughout your trip, you can also take along a backpacking powerbank.
6. Sun Protection
OK, confession time. I get sunburnt easily. As in, I’ve had a nasty sunburn after wearing sunscreen on a cloudy day, in England. That’s how white I am. But even for people with dark skin or people who tan or get freckles, sun protection is vital.
Skin cancer is a real threat, and even if you manage to avoid that your skin will age prematurely and sunburn is uncomfortable.
So, what can you do to avoid it? Sunscreen is a good place to start. It should be applied before you actually get outside, and you should reapply it regularly. Check the guidelines in your area to see what time of year sunscreen is recommended, and make sure you’ve got something with a high SPF and protection against both UVA and UVB rays.
If you’re not a fan of sunscreen because you think it’s greasy and unpleasant, you can try sun-resistant clothing. This will cover most of your body, but it’s light to wear so you won’t get too hot.
Grab a sunhat, too, so you can avoid sunstroke and avoid getting a sun-burnt face and neck. Finally, get some sunglasses. You can use fashionable ones, or something that’s specially designed for sports and outdoor activities – they’ll probably all work about the same.
Finally, it’s important to remember that you’ll need all of this even in the winter and on overcast days, and especially if you’re out in the water. Did you know that the first sunglasses were created by Inuits? It’s because light reflects off the snow and water, and can cause snow blindness. You might not end up using everything all year, but it is important to have it with you.
Alright, technically you can’t carry fire with you, but it is worth taking matches, lighters and something to light.
This means that if you do end up stranded in the night you can keep warm, stop any animals from coming too close and rescue teams can find you if necessary.
So, what will you need? Matches and lighters (you can use fancy ones, but cigarette lighters will work fine) are good, or you can get flints to create sparks.
These can be difficult to use, though, so practice at home first. Then you’ll need something to light. You can use leaves and twigs if they’re dry, or you can get blocks of ‘fire lighters’ – foam bricks that burn for a lot longer and you can gradually create a proper fire with patience.
Of course, you cannot play with fire – you need to be careful. If there are lots of dry leaves around make sure you clear them away to stop the fire spreading and getting out of control, and always keep a container of water close by so you can thoroughly extinguish your fire when you’re finished.
8. First Aid Kit
At some point, we’ve all got nasty blisters or bites from ticks on a hike and had a miserable time. You can either moan about it and make everyone else annoyed at you or you can be quiet and try to wince away from the pain. Either way, it’s not great.
But making sure that you’ve got plasters, as well as antiseptic wipes and bug repellent is a good way to improve a bad situation, so a first aid kit really is a good idea.
You can get small ones that will fit easily in your bag and contain everything you need for scrapes and bruises and to generally strap things up until you can either get home or get further medical attention.
Knives are just all-around useful pieces of equipment. You can repair equipment, make some kindling for a fire or prepare food with a good knife. If you’re looking for something complicated, get a Swiss Army knife with lots of different attachments, or you can just use one simple blade. As ever, be extremely careful – knives can be dangerous if you don’t use them correctly.
Alternatively, some people like to use the best backpacking saw in place of a knife.
What type of shelter you use is entirely up to you, and it’s worth adapting the type of shelter you bring for the type of trip you’re going on. If you’re off for a hike where you’re camping, bring an instant tent that will house you and all your equipment and provide adequate cover for the expected weather.
If you’re not planning on staying anywhere overnight, it’s still a good idea to bring something with you in case of an emergency. This could be a tarpaulin, bivy sack or a space blanket. You should be able to pack these up easily and they could be vital for keeping you protected and dry.
If you are camping overnight whether it’s on your owns or with friends and family we have reviewed a while range of tents in various sizes in our tents section.
When the Seattle Mountaineers put together this list, they probably didn’t expect it to continue to be used nearly 100 years later.
However, with their experience and understanding of the natural world – and thinks that could go wrong – they provided a really useful starting list that has helped guide explorers and keep them safe, hydrated, fed and warm in situations that could easily become dangerous.
Hopefully, all you’ll need to do is get everything on this list, put it in a backpack, take it with you and never actually use it – but if things do go wrong, there’s a good chance you’ll need everything and be extremely glad that you made the effort.