You may have heard of The Ten Essentials for hiking, but aren't sure exactly what this essential list entails. Learn what makes up this list and why each item is needed for a successful day hike.

One of the most confusing parts of the ten essentials is that it's not made of ten items, but rather ten categories. These categories include the basic necessities for a hike, big or small. Let's jump into what these items are:

hiking gear

The Ten Essentials

  • Navigation
  • Sun Protection
  • Additional Clothing
  • Illumination
  • First-aid Supplies
  • Fire
  • Repair Kit and Tools
  • Nutrition
  • Hydration
  • Emergency Shelter

These categories are broken down to include the must-have items to bring with you on a hiking trip. Let's look at why you need and more importantly, why you'll need each item! Print this list to prepare for your next hike or send it to a friend to use as a reference before making their first gear purchases.

1. Navigation

  • Map
  • Compass

Get from point A to point B and back in one piece! Some people bring a GPS while hiking but it should be used as a reference in addition to a map and compass. Take a navigation course at an outdoor organization near you to learn the basics of using a map and compass.

2. Sun Protection

  • Sunscreen
  • Lip Balm
  • Sunglasses

It's important to protect your skin and eyes while hiking in any season. Most people realize that harmful UV rays can damage your eyes even if it's raining or cloudy outside! In a survey conducted in 6 U.S. cities in 2004, researchers reported that harmful UV-B rays associated with DNA damage were raised by 25% on partly cloudy days as compared to a sunny clear day. And on a sunny day you may be hiking above the treeline for extended periods of time exposed to the elements. Don't let a sunburn be how you remember your hike!

3. Additional Clothing

  • Down jacket, pants, rain jacket, long underwear, gloves, hat

Did you know the temperature decreases by about 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit for every 1,000 feet up you go in elevation? While it may be warm at the start of the hike, the temperature will drop as you go higher up and it may also be windy at the summit. Bringing insulating clothing will allow you to have that summit picnic and take in the views comfortably. A rain jacket will keep you happy if an unexpected rain shower rolls in and also double as a windbreaker if you find yourself on top of a windy summit.

4. Illumination

  • Headlamp
  • Extra batteries

Sometime you may find yourself on the trail after dark. It could be due to poor planning, an injury causing you or your hiking partner to hike out much slower, or a number of other possibilities. Having a headlamp in your pack is a must for those scenarios you can't predict. Bringing extra batteries is needed in case your current ones run out or you, um, accidentally clicked the light on in your pack… Another great backup is an ultralight headlamp for those emergencies. With something so light and tiny there's no reason not to carry one at all times.

5. First-aid Supplies

  • Make Your Own Kit

Instead of purchasing a pre-made kit, make your own for much cheaper with items you'd more likely use on the trail. Some basic supplies you have in your home (bandages, gauze, ointment) and a foot care kit can be put in a zippered storage sack to be easily accessed while on the trail.

6. Fire

Another category for those just-in-case scenarios. You want to have the ability to make a fire in case of an injury or navigation issues and you need to stay put in an area for a while. Be sure to store your matches and/or lighter in a waterproof case. For a cheap fire starter check out these DIY ideas!

7. Repair Kit and Tools

  • Knife or a multi-tool
  • Repair tape

If you get a tear in your puffy jacket or pull a thread in your shirt, a couple of essential tools will save you from costly gear replacements. These gear patches are precut and ready when you need to cover a hole. A small pocket knife has all the features you'll need but is light enough to just toss in your your ditty bag.

8. Nutrition

  • Extra food

Bring enough food to keep you energized throughout the hike plus some extra in case you use more energy than you expected, spend more time on the trail, or need to help out a fellow hiker who ran out. Pick food that is nutritionally dense and high in calories for its weight.

9. Hydration

  • Water bottle or hydration system
  • Water filter or treatment drops

Staying hydrated is essential while hiking. Thankfully there are many systems you can use to ensure you are consistently hydrated. You can choose between a water bottle or a hydration bladder to store your water. Both are great options and it is just a matter of personal preference. If you're going on a longer hike or find you drink a lot of water, you may need to resupply your water from a stream. You will need to filter your water or use treatment drops to make the water safe to drink. Even if it looks clean, there could be microorganisms that can make you very sick if you don't treat your water. With the right set up filtering your water is very easy and lightweight so don't be intimidated!

10. Emergency Shelter

  • Lightweight bivvy or tarp

If you're going to hike for the day, you may not think you need a shelter. An emergency shelter such as a bivvy or a backpacking tarp are easy to bring as they are extremely light and compact. If you ever need a shelter in an emergency, you'll have one.

You'll need the proper daypack for storing this essential gear.

Once you have the basic gear for your hike, you'll want to start thinking about the skills you have and the ones you need to work on. These skills will complement your gear list and both will evolve with your experience as a hiker.

You may end up carrying more gear than just the ten essentials on your hike. Here are our suggestions.

The Non-Essential Items Worth Bringing

Type II 26 Summit Pack: This backpack has the right capacity and organizational compartments to easily find everything you need, but keep your load light.

Camera: Whether you go with your smartphone, compact camera, or DSLR, you'll want a way to document your hike!

Trekking Poles: Use these hiking poles for navigating across tricky stream crossings and save your knees hiking downhill.

Insect Repellent: If it's spring or summer, you'll need to take some to avoid running from pesky mosquitos or dreaded black flies all day!

Backcountry Trowel: Leave no trace by using this tool to do your business the right way.

Toilet Paper: Carry it in a Ziplock bag with your trowel and bring an extra bag for storing used toilet paper.

Hand Sanitizer: For after you use the bathroom.

Bandana: Extremely multipurpose item. Use on your head, keep your neck warm, pre-filter your water, as part of your first aid kit, and so much more!

Whistle: A plastic emergency whistle is the life saving tool you never knew you needed!

Field Guide/Trail Description: Learn to identify animal prints, birds, or trees while you're hiking or bring along a copy of a route description for extra navigation help.

Signal Mirror: This small often forgotten device can save your life! Be sure to be familiar on how to use it, before going into the backcountry.

Hiking Gear List Breakdown

Category Gear Selection
Navigation Map
Field Guide and/or Trail Description
Sun Protection Sunscreen
Lip Balm
Illumination Headlamp
Extra Batteries
Additional Clothing Examples: Down Jacket, Pants, Rain Jacket, Long Underwear, Gloves, Warm Hat
First-aid Supplies First-aid Kit
Fire Matches or Lighter
Fire Starter
Repair Kit and Tools Knife or Multi-tool
Repair Tape
Nutrition Food Examples: Snacks, Lunch and some Extra Food for Emergencies
Hydration Water Bottle or Hydration system
Water Filter or Treatment Drops
Emergency Shelter Emergency Bivvy or Tarp
Additional Essentials Ideas Daypack
Trekking Poles
Bug Spray (during warmer months)
Hand Sanitizer
Backcountry Trowel
Toilet Paper
Emergency Whistle
Signal Mirror

We hope this article was helpful!

Be sure to share it with any of those that are new in the hiking community. See you on the trail!

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December 08, 2015 — Brian Fryer