The 10 Hiking Essentials
If you’re wondering what to bring for a hike, we’ve got you covered. Customize your gear from the simplest to the most high-tech gadgets with our 10 hiking essentials.
In the 1930s a Seattle-based organization created the very first Ten Essentials list. It included everything an outdoors person would need in an emergency. Since then, the list has been reproduced many times while the basic items have stayed the same. The National Parks Service recently updated their “essentials list” to include hand sanitizer and a face mask as part of their 10 hiking essentials.
Organizations like the American Hiking Society have many resources available to get beginners prepared for hiking. REI offers classes (currently only online due to COVID-19) including some that cover packing lists. Read through our 10 Hiking Essentials and begin to build out your emergency kit. How simple or high-tech your items are is up to you!
1. Navigation for Wildland Trekking
Whether you’re on your own or out with a group, it’s always a good idea to have some kind of navigational device with you – just in case. You have many choices. The most simple compass will run anywhere from $10-$100. Others may opt for a more advanced navigation system like a GPS device or a personal locator beacon. Some compasses have a mirror attached that can additionally be used in an emergency to flash sunlight towards a potential rescuer.
All of these devices have positives and negatives – cost, ease of use, need for batteries, etc. Do your research before you buy and make the best option for your hiking goals and next wildland trekking experience.
2. Sun Protection
According to the Mayo Clinic, some of the worst effects from a sunburn can be: pain, tenderness, itching, swelling, blisters, headaches, fever, nausea, and fatigue. None of these symptoms sound pleasant while you’re outdoors on an adventure or sitting in your home (with regret) a couple days later. Experts recommend SPF 30 (at minimum) when you’re out on the trails. Bring plenty of sunscreen, and don’t forget to reapply. If you’re hiking around snow or water, take extra care to apply sunscreen on your neck and under your chin and arms. And don’t forget lip balm with SPF – reapplying after eating and drinking.
Sun protective, moisture wicking clothing is also a good idea. It will help keep your arms and legs out of the direct sun.
3. First Aid Kit
Your First Aid kit should include essential items to deal with blisters, sprains, cuts, bug bites, and more. Here are some suggestions:
- Disinfecting ointment
- Adhesive bandages of various sizes and shapes
- Antiseptic wipes
- Nitrile gloves
- Aspirin or Ibuprofen
- Antihistamine for allergic reactions (just make sure you’re not allergic!)
- Gauze and/or non-stick pads
- Medical tape
- Safety pins
Having a good knife with you while you hike is always a good idea. If you’re out hiking by yourself, you may consider wearing your knife at your side. You can get a simple single-bladed knife (folding or fixed blade) for under $15. Others prefer something like a Swiss Army or Leatherman knife with other tools included. REI has a great blog you can check out that teaches about shapes, materials and uses and how to choose a knife.
Fire provides a luxury for anyone stuck out in the elements – heat. But fire and heat not only make you feel warm and toasty but also provide many survival benefits. It can help mitigate hypothermia, keep insects and predators away, allow you to purify water, cook food, and disinfect wounds. Fire can also provide a much needed morale boost, and, of course, a way to signal for help.
A fire starting mechanism is very important to have with you whether you’ve planned a short or long hike. A fire starter can be as simple as matches (in waterproof storage) or a metal striker, or as “complex” as a flame that gets to 2,000°F and withstands 80 mph winds. You may want to include tinder as well – store bought, a DIY recipe, or just old lint from your dryer.
6. Shelter from the Storm
Your emergency shelter item can be as simple a $10 Emergency Space Blanket, available at most outdoor recreational stores. Space blankets can be used as a sleeping bag liner or a covert to increase thermal properties. They’re lightweight and very easy to stuff in your backpack as part of your emergency kit. Most are windproof and waterproof.
7. Extra Food and Water
While humans can survive for many days (even weeks) without food, of the 10 Hiking Essentials, water is probably your best friend. You can only survive a few days without proper water intake. Most people need about a half liter per hour during moderate activity in moderate temperatures. Pack enough water for your planned trip but also bring along water purification tablets or a water purification system for an emergency. Extra food is as simple as energy bars, nuts, or beef jerky.
8. Extra Clothes
Always pack extra socks, gloves, and a warm hat when you’re headed outdoors for an extended period. Additionally, long underwear (tops and bottoms) and a synthetic jacket or vest would be a good idea to pack in case you get stuck outdoors for an extended period of time.
9. Headlamps Make Adventure Travel Brighter
A headlamp may not be something you think about needing during a day hike, but you might need one if you get stuck out on a trail at night. And for you boundary-pushing adventure travelers who may find themselves trekking in the dark, you will definitely want to invest in a headlamp so you can be hands-free. If you have access to power, a “rechargeable” headlamp may be a great option. Otherwise, you’re better off going with a headlamp that allows batteries to be changed out…just don’t forget to pack extra batteries!
10. Easy Access Hiking Backpack
Whether you’re day hiking to a local spot like this one in our neighborhood, or wanting to explore multiple spots on your bucket list, the Paxis Twin Lakes backpack allows you to keep your straps on and never stop moving. Using one hand, simply pull the release handle and the things you need swing to the front in one swift, secure motion.
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