The Ten Essentials, you may have heard of it. Maybe not? Essentially (see what I did there?), it is a list of the 10 essential things you need to take hiking or backpacking.

Packing the Ten Essentials on each and every hike (even day hikes) is a good habit to get into. You probably won’t need all of them on a hike but you never know what will happen, especially in remote backcountry areas. And if something does go wrong, you will thank yourself for it later.

Be like a boy scout, always be prepared.

What are the Ten Essentials?

The original Ten Essentials list was concocted in the 1930’s by The Mountaineers, a Seattle-based organization for climbers and outdoor adventurers, to help people be prepared for emergency situations in the outdoors.

Back in the Olden Days, the list included:

  • a map
  • compass
  • sunglasses and sunscreen
  • extra clothing
  • headlamp/torch
  • first-aid supplies
  • fire starter
  • matches
  • knife
  • extra food.

Over the years, the list has evolved into a systems approach rather than including individual items.

The Ten Essentials | Navigation

Updated Ten Essential Systems

  1. Navigation: map, compass, altimeter, GPS device, personal locator beacon (PLB) or satellite messenger
  2. Headlamp: plus extra batteries
  3. Sun protection: sunglasses, sun-protective clothes and sunscreen
  4. First aid: including foot care, your regular medications and insect repellent (as needed)
  5. Knife: plus a gear repair kit
  6. Fire: matches, lighter, tinder and/or stove
  7. Shelter: carried at all times (can be a light emergency bivy)
  8. Food: Beyond the minimum expectation
  9. Water: Beyond the minimum expectation
  10. Clothes: Beyond the minimum expectation

With the updated systems approach you can tailor the items that you take to your particular trip. On a short day trip, you won’t need to take the whole shebang but you may decide to take a map, compass and PLB for navigation and save the GPS and altimeter for a longer, more complex hike.

Top Tip: When deciding what to bring, consider things such as weather, difficulty, duration, and distance from help.

free 10 essentials checklist

The Ten Essentials | Navigation

Navigation tools are a must for any trip, even a day hike. Tools include a map, compass, altimeter watch, GPS device and personal locator beacon (PLB).

  • Map: A topographic map should accompany you on any trip that involves anything more than a short, impossible-to-miss footpath or frequently visited nature trail. You can usually find topo maps online to print out.
  • Compass: A compass, combined with map-reading knowledge (there will be posts on this coming up), is a vital tool if you become lost in the backcountry. Many smartphones, GPS devices and watches include electronic compasses, but it’s good practice to also carry a standard baseplate compass. They weigh next to nothing and do not rely on batteries. If you rely on your smartphone and it goes flat, you are going to be in a spot of trouble.
  • GPS device: A GPS device allows you to accurately find your location on a digital map. Those designed specifically for outdoor travel are often built rugged and weatherproof. Another option is to use a smartphone with a GPS app, however, smartphones tend to be more fragile. Keep in mind that both smartphones and GPS devices do run on batteries, so you’ll need to watch your battery power and possibly carry extra batteries or a power bank.
  • Altimeter watch: An altimeter watch is a worthwhile navigational extra to consider bringing along. It uses a barometric sensor to measure air pressure and/or GPS data to provide a close estimate of your elevation. This info helps you track your progress and determine your location on a map.
  • Personal locator beacon (PLB) or satellite messenger: PLB’s can be used to alert emergency peeps if you need help in the backcountry. When activated in an emergency, they will hunt out your position using GPS and send a message via government or commercial satellites (very James Bond). These devices work in remote locations where a cell phone cannot be counted on to have a signal. It is good practice to ALWAYS  (note the capitals and bold?) carry a PLB in the backcountry. They can literally save your life.

Note: A compass equipped with a sighting mirror can also be used to flash sunlight to a helicopter or rescuer during an emergency. Two birds, one stone. Boom!

The Ten Essentials | Navigation
The Department of Conservation website has maps readily available

The Ten Essentials | Headtorch

Being able to find your way through the wilderness at night is essential, so you always need to have a light source with you.

Headtorches are the best option as they allow you to be ‘hands-free’. With a headtorch you can cook dinner, navigate by map, going to the loo without dropping your torch down the long drop or hold your trekking poles.

Top Tip: Carry extra batteries. I ended up cooking in the dark on my last overnighter for some reason….

You may also like: Solo hiking tips and tricks

The Ten Essentials | Sun Protection

Always pack with you and wear sunglasses, sun-protection clothing and sunscreen.

Good reasons to carry sun protection include:

  • Preventing sunburn
  • Preventing snow blindness
  • premature skin ageing
  • skin cancer
  • cataracts

Sun protection includes:

  • Sunglasses: Sunglasses will help prevent squinting in photos, protect your eyes from damaging rays and make for a much more pleasant hike. If you’re planning prolonged travel on snow or ice, you’ll need extra-dark glacier glasses.
  • Sunscreen: Wearing sunscreen is recommended to help limit your exposure to UV. In New Zealand conditions, you will need a very high sun protection factor (SPF) such as 50+. It’s like there’s a hole in the ozone layer or something down here…. Try to choose a sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB rays. Reapply at least every two hours (more if sweating or planning on ploughing through a lot of water).
  • Sun-protection clothing: Clothing can be an effective way of blocking UV rays from reaching your skin without having to slather on sunscreen (you’ll still need sunscreen for any exposed skin, like your face, neck and hands). Many lightweight, synthetic pieces of clothing come with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) rating to indicate how effective the pieces are against UVA and UVB light. A hat, preferably one with a full brim, is a key accessory for sun protection.
The Ten Essentials | Sun Protection
I like to hide under my hat

The Ten Essentials | First Aid

It’s vital to carry and know how to use the items in a first-aid kit, it kind of renders the kit worthless if you don’t know how to use it. Instead, it will just be adding extra weight to your pack.

You can buy pre-made first-aid kits that take the guesswork out of building your own. Though many people personalise these kits to suit individual needs.

Your kit should include:

  • Treatments for blisters
  • Adhesive bandages of various sizes
  • Several gauze pads
  • Adhesive tape
  • Disinfecting ointment
  • Over-the-counter pain medication
  • Pen and paper
  • Latex gloves
  • Emergency blanket
  • Your regular medications

The length of your trip and the number of people involved will impact the contents of your kit.

Top Tip: I always keep my PLB, gear repair kit and fire tools in my first aid kit so they are always together and in my pack.

The Ten Essentials | Knife

Knives are handy for gear repair, food preparation, first aid, making kindling or other emergency needs. A versatile piece of kit.

A basic knife may have only a single foldout blade; more elaborate knives and multitools include things like one or two flathead screwdrivers, a can opener and/or a pair of foldout scissors.

Side Story: Pa always has a swiss army knife in his pocket, even when sitting on the couch. Not sure what he expects to encounter on the couch. When I am being a smart arse he likes to take it out of his pocket and just flick it in and out… See, versatile.

In addition to a knife, a small gear repair kit can come in handy in the backcountry.

Useful items include:

  • duct tape
  • cordage
  • fabric repair tape
  • zip ties
  • safety pins
  • repair parts for a water filter, tent poles, stove, sleeping pad, crampons, snowshoes and skis.

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The Ten Essentials | Fire

In case of an emergency (or you get really freaking cold), you need to have reliable supplies with you for starting and maintaining a fire.

Fire tools include:

  • Matches are a great piece of kit as long as they are waterproof or stored in a waterproof container. Convenience-store matchbooks are often too flimsy and poorly constructed to be trusted for wilderness use.
  • Firestarters help you jump-start a fire and is indispensable in wet conditions. The ideal firestarter ignites quickly and sustains heat for more than a few seconds. Options include dry tinder tucked away in a plastic bag, candles, priming paste, heat “nuggets” (chipped-wood clusters soaked in resin) and even lint trappings from a household clothes dryer.
  • Lighters are hardier than matches and lightweight. Chuck one of these in your first aid kit so you always have one with you

For outings where firewood is not available, such as trips above the tree line and/or on snow, a stove is recommended as an emergency heat and water source.

The Ten Essentials | Fire
Woman make fire *grunts*

The Ten Essentials | Emergency Shelter

Always carry some type of emergency shelter to protect you from wind and rain in case you get stranded or injured on the trail.

Options include:

  • an ultralight tarp
  • a bivy sack
  • an emergency space blanket (which packs small and weighs just ounces)
  • a large plastic trash bag.

Remember: Your tent is only your emergency shelter if you have it with you at all times. If you leave it behind at your shelter it as about as useful as ‘tits on a bull’ as Mum would say.

You may also like: Leave No Trace – What is leave no trace and how to practice it

The Ten Essentials | Extra Food

Always pack at least an extra day’s worth of food in case something causes your trip to go long. It’s a good idea to pack items that don’t require cooking and that have a long shelf life. Things like extra energy bars, nuts or dried fruits are good.

If you’re going on a long multiday trek or a winter adventure, consider bringing along more than a one-day supply.

The Ten Essentials
Food, extra clothes and a warm hat up Tongariro

The Ten Essentials | Extra Water

Water is essential for survival. Always carry enough water for your hike and have some method of treating water while you’re out and about.

Water treatment options include:

When figuring out how much water to carry exactly, consider:

  • most people need about a half litre per hour during moderate activity in moderate temperatures
  • the temperature
  • the altitude
  • level of huff and puff
  • an emergency

As a starting point, always carry at least one water bottle or a collapsible water reservoir. When beginning a hike, fill up your bottle or reservoir from a potable water source.

The Ten Essentials | Extra Clothes

Backcountry weather conditions are unpredictable and changeable. You may start out in bright sunshine and find yourself in torrential rain an hour later.

Injury can result in an unplanned night out. When deciding what to bring, think about what you would need to survive a long, inactive period out in the elements.

Common options include:

  • a layer of underwear (tops and bottoms)
  • an insulating hat or balaclava
  • extra socks
  • extra gloves
  • a synthetic jacket or vest
  • for winter outings, bring insulation for your upper body and legs.

You may also like: Gift Guide for Hikers

Final Thoughts

The Ten Essentials should always be in your pack, no matter the duration of your hike. Backcountry conditions are changeable and unpredictable. You never know what is going to happen out there. It is much better to be safe than sorry.


free 10 essentials checklist

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The Ten Essentials should always be in your pack, no matter the duration of your hike. Backcountry conditions are changeable and unpredictable. You never know what is going to happen out there. It is much better to be safe than sorry. But what are they? Read on to find out more about the 10 essentials

The Ten Essentials should always be in your pack, no matter the duration of your hike. Backcountry conditions are changeable and unpredictable. You never know what is going to happen out there. It is much better to be safe than sorry. But what are they? Read on to find out more about the 10 essentials

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