Ten Essentials of Backpacking
That May Save Your Life

The Ten Essentials refer to ten “must-have” items carried by outdoorsmen which will leave you well prepared for backwoods exploration.


Together these Ten Essentials comprise protection against unforeseeable circumstances that will greatly improve your chances of survival should an unexpected event occur.

Think of them as an insurance policy. You pay for them (carry the weight/bulk) with every backpacking trip hoping that you won’t have to use them. However, if you ever need them, you will be truly grateful that you have them. In the case of a backwoods emergency, the Ten Essentials may truly make the difference in your survival.

What Items Comprise the Ten Essentials?




1. Map
2. Compass
3. Flashlight (with extra batteries and bulb)
4. Extra Food
5. Extra Water (and purifier)
6. Extra Clothes (including emergency rain gear)
7. Matches & Firestarter
8. Knife
9. First Aid Kit
10. Sunscreen & Sunglasses

The purpose for most of these items is obvious. However, let’s take a closer look at each one and elaborate just a little bit.

Map--A map of your area helps you to identify where you are. More importantly, it will help you find a route to where you want to be, whether that is an exit route or a water or shelter source.

Compass--A compass can help you navigate your way to your intended destination. It is especially useful when the weather is inhospitable, such as heavy fog and you are unable to view landmarks that you may have followed to where you are now.

Flashlight--A flashlight can be used to find your way in the darkness as well as to signal for help. Even if you decide to stop and wait out the night, having a working flashlight can be a great comfort when you begin hearing those things that go bump in the night.

Even better than a flashlight is a head lamp. This is basically a flashlight that is held in place with a strap around your head. When turned on, it will shine wherever you look and will free your hands for other tasks like fire building, eating or making an emergency shelter.

Extra Food--You will want food heavy in calories and nutrition. You should have a full day’s supply of extra food. This need not be heavy or bulky. Nuts, dried fruit, beef jerky and other lightweight, compact foods carry good nutrition and will provide the calories (energy) that you need to survive.

Extra Water (and purifier)--When hiking, you should never deplete your water supply before refilling. Always have more than you need to reach your next intended refilling destination.

In addition to water, you will need a way to purify it. This could be a pump, water purification tablets or both. It is a good idea to keep a small bottle of water purification tablets in your pocket. Should you get separated from your pack, you still have the ability to purify water for drinking.

We are half-way through the Ten Essentials. Are you gathering your supplies?

Extra Clothes (including emergency rain gear)--If you have followed the guidelines for packing in this website, you are well-prepared with layered clothing.

If you are out for a short day-hike on a sunny day, you may be tempted to leave the jacket and hat behind. This is not a good idea, especially if you are hiking above tree line. Weather can change quickly. And if you are injured or lost and end up spending the night in the woods, you will be well-served to have a jacket and hat to ward off hypothermia after the sun goes down.

Rain gear can be a waterproof jacket with a hood, but in an emergency, a simple plastic garbage bag can do a lot to keep you dry and thereby, warm.

Matches & Firestarter--Little will do more to help your peace of mind when lost and forced to spend the night in unfamiliar surroundings than a fire.

The warmth it offers both directly and in the form of being able to cook a hot meal or even a simple hot cup of tea is immeasurable. Always carry matches and a fire starter.

Knife--A knife is an absolute necessity for hiking for so very many reasons. In an emergency situation, it will become your best friend.

You can use your knife to take what you have available and turn it into useful resources. Need to shave a dead stick into kindling?—good. Need to turn a drawstring from your jacket into lengths of cord to hang a trash bag to form a shelter in the rain?—got it. Did you injure yourself and need to cut strips of cloth into bandages?—you’re there. This tool is indispensible.

First Aid Kit--There are things in your first aid kit that you cannot easily replicate in nature.

For instance, if you are injured, a pain killer and/or anti-inflammatory such as Ibuprofen or Tylenol would be most-welcome.

Exposed to poison ivy, bee sting or other allergen? Benadryl will help alleviate the symptoms or even keep them from escalating to life-threatening levels.

A simple piece of moleskin to cover a painful blister can make continuing your hike much more comfortable.

Sunscreen & Sunglasses--These items are important in any season. The sunscreen will protect your skin from sunburn, especially if you are injured, unable to move to a shady area, whether in cool or hot temperatures. The sun is particularly intense in the mountains and above tree line, shade may be scarce or non-existent.

Sunglasses not only shade your eyes on a bright, sunny, warm day, but protect you from the glare from snow. Snow blindness can completely incapacitate a hiker.

That completes our Ten Essentials. I have a few more items that I believe deserve strong consideration.

Additional Considerations:

Outside of the category of the Ten Essentials, I would recommend that you also carry the following items:

• A length of duct tape—This can be wrapped around your water bottle, or a pencil, or any other convenient place. NOTE: In bear country, treat your duct tape like food. DO NOT keep it in your tent. For some reason, bears are attracted to the adhesive.

• An unbreakable mirror and a whistle—Used to signal for help during daylight hours.

• A needle and nylon thread—Can be used to remove splinters, repair torn equipment, or even fashion into a crude fish hook and line for a meal.

• Insect repellant—lotion variety is smaller and easier to carry.

• A length of nylon cord—the uses are innumerable.

• Space blanket—keeps critical body heat close to your body.

The amount of weight that these Ten Essentials will add is minimal. This is no place to shave ounces. Take what you need, in small quantities and hope you never need them.

However, if you find yourself in dire circumstances, you will be glad that you have these Ten Essentials.

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