10 essentials for Hiking and backpacking


An extended trip or just a day out in the wilds needs to be carefully planned and all essential items packed and taken.  99/100 you won’t need them but when you really do need them you will fully appreciate that they were there for you. Here are 10 essentials for hiking and backpacking that you will need to ensure a safe trek.

The original 10 essentials was developed by ‘The Mountaineers’ a voluntuary community that was formed in the US in 1906 and has now over 11,000 members.  The Mountaineers have developed all aspects of mountaineering including conservation, promoting national parks, equipment development and climbing and walking safety.

mountaineering-the-freedom-of-the-hillsIn 2003 the organization updated the ‘Essential list’ which was originally developed in the 1930’s into a systems approach.  

Both are essentially a list covering the same areas of safety and are designed for climbers and outdoor enthusiasts to prepare for any emergency incident. 

This new systems approach first appeared in the Mountaineers book Mountaineering – The Freedom of the Hills which is currently in it’s 8th edition.

The updated version lists categories rather than individual items of equipment.  Back in the day climbers and walkers didn’t have the sophisticated kit that we often take for granted.  The systems approach accounts for this.

What to bring on a hiking trip – emergency backpack checklist

  • Navigation (map and compass)
  • Sun protection (sunglasses and sunscreen)
  • Insulation (extra clothing)
  • Illumination (headlamp/ flashlight)
  • First-aid supplies
  • Fire (waterproof matches/ lighter/ candles)
  • Repair kit and tools
  • Nutrition (extra food)
  • Hydration (extra water)
  • Emergency shelter

10 essentials for hiking - compassNavigation

With so much development in electrical gadgets there is now a vast choice instrumentation.  You should have at least:

  • Map
  • Compass

Very basic equipment that still works.  A box standard compass requires no batteries, takes up little space and still does the job.  A printed map may seem old hat but again no batteries required and not much to go wrong apart from blowing away in the wind!  The only additional equiptment that is essential with the basics is being equipped with the knowledge to use them i.e. reading the compass and topographical maps.

Obviously we are in a different era to the early pioneers who had nothing else to rely on but bacic equipment.  There are some cool backpacking gadgets available in the modern era which can help you find and be found such as:

  • Altimeter – using barometric pressure – earths air pressure can accurately pinpoint your altitude above sea level.
  • GPS – Pinpoint and illustrate on an electronic map your exact location using sattelite navigation 
  • Electrical compass – built into watches and phones 

Sun Protection

Blindingly obvious (excuse the pun).  Prolonged eye and skin protection against damaging UVA and UVB rays from the sun.  Equipment required:

  • Sun screen for skin
  • Sun glasses/ visors

Sun screen needs to give high Sun Protection Factor (SFP) resistance particularly for prolonged activity outdoors. At least SFP 15 should be used on all skin not proteced by clothing and SFP30 on prolonged activity.  The sun screen selected should provide protection against UVA and UVB rays.

10 essentials for hiking sun glasses for snow and ice

Eye protection is essential particularly if you are in activities on ice and snow where extra-dark sun glasses are required.  Any eye protection should block UVA and UVB rays (UVB rays are linked to the development of eye catacts).


Weather can change very quickly particularly at different altitudes.  Even a relatively small rise above sea level can take you into a different climate.  The best way to approach this is to prepare for the worst case scenario.

Its basic common sense to take an additional layer of clothing.  It still amazes me to see rescues of people who went out for a stroll on mountains and were found near to death in tee shirts and shorts when the weather had turned.  Some items of clothing to consider are:

  • Spare socks
  • Adequate insulating underwear
  • Headwear to prevent heat loss through the scalp.
  • Protective synthetic jacket
  • Gloves

10 essentials for hiking illuminationIllumination

Even if you don’t intend to stay outside during the hours of darkeness it is advisable to carry some form of illumination.  If you lose your way, get injured or change the route when  you could unintentionally find yourself trying to navigate in very low lighting levels.  

It doesn’t have to be pitch dark either.  With dusk approaching or dense cloud cover or where you are travelling through a dense tree canopy the lighting avilable from the sun can be drastically reduced.

Headlamps (lamps fitted on a band around the head) are ideal in the backcountry as they are fixed without having to hold them.  There is also the option to place them on ‘strobe mode’ which extends the battery life.

Hand held devices are also useful and whatever form of illumination you chose always carry a spare set of batteries.

10 essentials for hiking first aid kitFirst Aid kit

This goes without saying.  There are many pre-packed first aid kits  on the market which removes the problem of having to assemble your own.  Some essentials that should be included  are:

  • Blister treatment
  • Adhesive bandages
  • Gauze pads
  • Adhesive tape
  • Pen and paper
  • Nitrile gloves
  • Pain relief medication
  • Insect bite treatment

Other items you might consider are insect bite treatment and thermal emergency blankets

The size and scope of the kit/s would depend upon the size of the party and nature and length of the expedition.


If you are using matches they must be waterproof or contained securely in a wrap or container that is water tight.  Damp matches are not much good to you when you need warmth and something to cook food on

Mechanical lighters are excellent but always have a backup of dry matches just in case you run into a problem.

Dry kindle is essential as a fire starter but finding dry kindle in the middle of nowhere in wet conditions can be an impossible task.  Take some with you.  A small amount of dry tinder packed in a box or bag can be a life saver:

  • Priming paste
  • Heat nuggets (wood chips with resin)
  • Candles
  • Wood slithers

Repair kit and tools

There are plenty of pocket sized multi tools on the market. You should seek those out that have a variety of individual tools such as:

  • Foldout Blade
  • Flathead screwdrivers
  • Scissors
  • Can opener

A puncture repair kit may also be useful especially if you are relying on an inflatable mattress.


Pack for all eventualities! If you are delayed, injured or caught in bad weather you will need extra sustenance. So take an extra days rations.  

Walking longer distances burns a lot of calories and extra food as a precaution is always advisable as you can get mighty hungry out there and may eat through your rations quicker than expected. 


This is so important!  Hydration is often overlooked until the body starts to complain with headaches, cramps and worse.  You should carry at least one full bottle and a spare collapsible bottle for refilling. 

The US Department of Health and  Human Services  state that Most healthy people should try to drink six to eight, 8-ounce glasses of fluid each day.  

10 essentials for hiking hydrationThis is during normal day to day living.  When you are hiking for hours at a time you will lose more body fluid through increased perspiration and respiration.   You need to carry and have the facility to find more fluids to restock your body.

If you are sourcing your water from open supplies such as reservoirs and rivers it is essential to carry water treatment products.  It’s a good idea to idetify water sources on your route before the event.

Emergency Shelter

Most backpackers will take some form of shelter with them.  It is the day tripper that seems to get caught out the most.  If you become stranded due to being lost, injured, delayed or caught in an unexpected weather change, what have you got to shelter under?

Yes you may be able to find a cave, overhanging rock  or outbuilding if you are extremely lucky. What is you are caught in the backcountry unable to proceed and unprotected?

Something as simple as a large plastic trash bag could offer adequate protection in a storm.  An emergency space blanket is light, waterproof and takes up minimal space.  An ultra light tarpualen tucked away in your ruck sack can double up as a ground sheet to sit on or protect you if you are stranded.  Small item to consider but has big comsequences if you have nothing as backup if you hit trouble!.

Hiking and backpacking checklist – in conclusion

It may seem like overkill to pack a large list of things you need for hiking emergencies.  Are they really necessary? You may never be unfortunate enough to get into difficulties but for peace of mind and your own well being it makes perfect sense to have the proper hiking attire and equipment.  Just pack it, forget about it and enjoy the hike!

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