The basic idea behind taking essentials on hiking and backpacking trips is to be prepared for accidents and emergencies. While you may not need these items on every trip, they can make a big difference when they are needed. On backpacking trips, make sure to stash these items in your daypack for hikes away from camp.
THE 10 ESSENTIALS
1. Navigation: Always hike with a paper map! Even if you are familiar with a trail, a map will be useful if you need to get off trail for any reason. The preferred type of map is topographic, with contour lines to indicate changes in elevation, and map features including trails, streams, and landmarks. Learn how to read the map and orient yourself to the landscape. Also recommended is the use of a compass and the skill to use it. In stormy, foggy, or whiteout conditions, a compass can be the only way to navigate back to a trailhead or road for assistance. Map and compass classes are available from outdoor recreation organizations, hiking clubs and outdoor retailers. GPS units and smartphones are incredibly useful, but both rely on battery power and/or coverage areas in order to function, so they could fail in an emergency.
2. Sun protection: Prevent eye and skin damage from the sun with the use of sunglasses and sunscreen (15 SPF or higher). Additional items that can help provide protection include hats with wide brims, lip balm (with SPF), and clothing using UV-blocking fabric.
3. Insulation: Even on the sunniest of days, the weather can change abruptly in the backcountry, so bringing extra layers to deal with the conditions is always a good idea. In the Pacific Northwest, a rain jacket should go on every trip, as well as a lightweight insulated jacket or puffy, a hat, and a light pair of gloves.
4. Illumination: A headlamp or flashlight is important to have in case you end up needing to hike in the dark. Always take extra batteries.
5. First aid supplies: Take along a basic first aid kit, or assemble your own. Essential supplies include items such as bandages, tape, pain relievers, antihistamines, antibiotic ointment, and medications.
6. Fire: If a need to stay overnight becomes necessary, being able to start a fire with waterproof matches is important. Lighters may not work in wet or windy conditions, or at higher elevations, so matches are a better choice. A candle can be handy for helping to get a fire going, or lighting up a small area. For fire starter, I like to take cotton balls soaked in petroleum jelly.
7. Repair kit and tools: a knife or multi-use tool and duct tape to repair a day pack, hiking boots, etc. can be very handy.
8. Nutrition: 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.
9. Hydration: Always bring plenty of water and a way to treat water from natural sources using filters, purifiers, or chemicals when you need more.
10. Emergency shelter: The purpose of an emergency shelter is to assist with keeping a lost or injured person relatively warm and dry. Lightweight emergency blankets made of a thin reflective mylar material are commonly provided in survival kits for this purpose. Additional options include bivy sacks, tarps and large plastic bags. When backpacking, it’s still a good idea to carry a lightweight emergency shelter while hiking in case you can’t make it back to camp.
Additional items that are essential
1. Appropriate footwear: Important for stability and protection on varied terrain.
2. Trekking poles: used to increase stability in steep sections of trail and while crossing streams. Many people also use trekking poles to help ease pressure on their knees.