The Ten Essentials for Hiking

The ten essentials are all about being prepared. While you may not need all of these items on every trip, they can make a big difference when the unexpected happens.

Ten Essentials for Hiking


Ten Essentials: navigation

Don’t get lost. Take a paper map, use a GPS app and/or compass… and learn how to use them. Maps are especially useful when you aren’t sure which trail to take at a junction or to know what type of terrain to expect. Even if you are familiar with the trail, a map will be important if you need to get off trail for any reason. Learn how to read the map and orient yourself to the landscape. 


Stash a headlamp or flashlight in your pack to light up the trail when it gets too dark to see. Like all gear, know how to use it before hitting the trail, and check the battery level and/or bring extra batteries.

Sun Protection

Ten Essentials: sun protection

Getting a sunburn is a bummer. Use sunscreen or cover up with a hat, sunglasses and long sleeves/pants. It can be easy to overlook the need for sun protection with so many grey, cloudy days in the Pacific Northwest. But clouds are much better at blocking visible light than damaging UV rays. At higher altitudes, sun protection is particularly important since the air is thinner and cleaner, which leads to higher UV exposure.


first aid for hiking & backpacking

Sh*t happens. Be prepared to deal with it by taking a first-aid kit with medical supplies. The size of your first aid kit will depend upon the length of your journey and the size of the group that it is meant to treat. Ideally, each hiker will carry their own first aid kit with items specific to their needs. Here is what I carry in my first aid kit.

Emergency Shelter

Ten Essentials: emergency shelter

Sometimes things don’t go as planned and a shelter can make things more tolerable… and survivable. Emergency blankets made of a thin reflective mylar material are commonly provided in survival kits for this purpose. Additional options include bivy sacks, tarps, rain ponchos, and large plastic bags.


Ten Essentials: insulation

Prevent hypothermia with outer layers to stay warm and dry on outdoor adventures. Even on the sunniest of days, the weather can change abruptly in the backcountry, so bringing extra layers to deal with varying conditions is always a good idea. In the Pacific Northwest, a rain jacket should go on every trip regardless of the forecast.

Fire Starter

Ten Essentials: fire starter

The ability to start a fire with matches or a lighter can be a literal lifesaver in an emergency situation. But it’s not always the easiest task in the soggier areas of the Pacific Northwest. Essential gear for starting a fire includes a lighter or waterproof matches and dry tinder of some type. For economical and lightweight tinder options, bring lint from a clothes dryer; coat cotton balls in petroleum jelly; or add wood shavings to unscented candle wax.

Repair Kit & Tools

Ten Essentials: repair kit

A knife, multi-tool, or duct tape can be handy to repair broken gear or provide protection. They can assist in cutting food, sawing wood, splitting a bandage, or fixing a zipper. Scissors are a particularly useful feature to have in a multi-tool. For a repair kit, duct tape works well for almost everything, at least temporarily. A needle and thread can help with repairing tears in shoes or boots, clothing, tents, and backpacks.

Extra Water

Ten Essentials: extra water

Always bring plenty of water and a way to treat more using filters, purifiers, or chemicals from natural sources if needed. In general, plan to drink a half liter of water for every hour of moderate exercise, increasing the amount in hot weather or during periods of intense exertion.

Extra Food

ten essentials - extra food

Throw an extra snack or two in your pack in case a hike is unexpectedly extended. In addition to your planned snacks or meals, bring a small amount of extra food in case a hike or trip is unexpectedly extended. Items that don’t need cooking are best, including trail bars, nuts, and dried fruit.

One More Essential

Common Sense: Keeping a level head and making well thought out decisions during emergency situations is your best ally in getting home safely. When feeling stressed, remember to breathe and use skills that you have practiced such as navigation, fire-starting, and first aid.

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