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Ten Essentials

These recommend survival items will help with your safe travel in the back country. Depending upon the conditions, the activity, and experience may cause you to add or subtract individual items from the list that you carry with you.

The ten essentials are meant to serve a particular need so there may be a need to carry multiple items to service it.

  1. Navigation – These could include map, compass, altimeter, GPS receiver, personal locator beacon.
  2. Sun protection – Sunglasses, sunscreen, hat, protective clothing.
  3. Insulation – jacket, hat, gloves, rain shell, thermal underwear, spare clothes.
  4. Illumination – Headlamp, flashlight.
  5. First-aid supplies – Include foot care and insect repellent.
  6. Fire – lighter, matches in a waterproof case, hot-spark.
  7. Repair Kit and Tools – pocket knife, multi-tool, duct-tape, cable ties,…
  8. Nutrition – Additional food beyond the minimum expectation
  9. Hydration – Additional water beyond the minimum expectation and water treatment
  10. Emergency Shelter – bivy tube or space blanket at minimum

The type and length of trip will determine exactly what would be sufficient to meet the essential needs listed above. For example, if you are going on a day hike in a well marked and easy to travel a map and compass may be all that is necessary to carry. While an extended backpacking trip along the PCT it might be justifiable to carry an altimeter, GPS, and Personal Locator beacon in addition to a map and compass.


Knowing where you are going before and during your trip are important. These tools will help you keep on track and help you be found if you do get lost. Carrying these items is not enough. You will need to be familiar with how they work and how to use them. Basic map and compass skill are important even when you have access to a GPS receiver.


A trail map is good for planning a trip, but it will not give you sufficient information for navigation in the field. A topographical map provides additional information that will allow you to visualize the terrain in three dimensions.


When you are lost or just wondering if you are traveling in the right direction, a map is not enough. That is where a compass with the knowledge of how to read it and the map come into play. Although most phones and other mobile devices have a compass app, still bring a physical compass along as well. They do not run out of battery and are not overly sensitive to moisture.

GPS Receiver

A Global Positioning Device (GPS) uses signals from multiple satellite to triangulate your position and may or may not include a method to display your location on a map.


An altimeter uses a barometric sensor to estimate your elevation. This information can be useful in determining your location on a map if you are traveling in an area with a lot of ups and downs.

Personal locator beacon (PLB) or Satellite Messenger

PLB and Satellite Messengers are relative new comers to the backcountry. A PLB will use an internal GPS receiver to determine your location, and a transmitter that will transmit this information via satellite. Depending upon the device it may work in a passive mode where it only transmits when activated, or in active mode where it will periodically update its location.


Conditions can abruptly turn wet, windy, or chilly while you are out on the trail or your day trip may turn into an overnight stay because of injury or mishap.

Think about what you would need to survive a long, inactive period out in the elements. Anytime you are thinking about staying warm, think layers. Consider an additional base layer like long underwear, hat and gloves, extra socks, jacket or vest, and rain gear.

Where and when you will be out in the back country will help you decide on what you will need.


Even if you do not intend to be out navigating the wilderness in the dark, having a method of illumination will be essential if your trip is unexpectedly extended. For illumination, headlamps have an advantage when you need your hands free, but a flashlight will work as well. be sure to take extra batteries as well.

First-Aid Supplies

You need to be prepared to treat injuries and illness while you are out. Where you are going will dictate how extensive of a first aid kick you will need to carry. For short hikes it might be a couple a band-aids and insect repellent while a deep trek into the backcountry it might be wise to carry a more extensive kit.


Being able to start a fire will be important in a survival situation. It can be used to signal for help, provide warm, and cook food. Pack matches or a disposable butane lighter. Packing a fire starter can also be useful to help light a fire quickly.

Repair Kit and Tools

The one tool you should probably be carrying with you is a pocket knife. A multi-tool may provide you with more options in a compact space, but is only useful if you have a need for the tools it provide. Other items to consider for quick repairs would be a length (not an entire roll) or duck tape or a few cable ties.

Remember repairs on the trail do not have to be pretty or permanent. They just need to get you out of the wilderness safely.


Plan for the unplanned. Take a days worth of extra calories just in case your trip is unexpectedly extended. Preferably no-cook items that have good nutritional value in order to keep your energy high. Salty and easy to digest snacks (e.g. trail mix, nuts, and granola bars) work well for outdoor activities.


Hydration is important. Pack sufficient water for your expected needs and then add some additional. Also bring along water treatment supplies like a filter and/or disinfectant method. Knowing where you are going and what water sources are available will help determine your best options.

Emergency Shelter

If you get stranded on the trail you will need some type of emergency shelter to protect you from wind and rain. A small tent, tart, bivy sack or even a space blanket can used for this purpose. Even a sufficiently large poncho might serve this purpose as well.

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