The “Ten Essentials” Demystified
The “Ten Essentials” Demystified
For the uninitiated, the language of outdoor recreation can sometimes seem confusing and even intimidating. Experienced outdoor enthusiasts, ranging from hikers, campers, climbers and back country skiers, casually use terms like “Ten Essentials” and “Leave No Trace” often assuming others know what they mean. We want to simplify and demystify one of the most important aspects of safe outdoor activity—ensuring you have appropriate gear for the planned trip. Hike for Life wrote this article to help you understand what outdoor enthusiasts mean by the “Ten Essentials” and how you can easily apply that approach to your own adventures of any type.
First, remember that “outdoor judgement” is not a piece of equipment you can buy at a sporting goods store. Judgement—the ability to make good decisions–is acquired over time and through personal or shared outdoor experiences. The trick is to build your own judgement by learning from the experiences of others rather than having to learn everything yourself. If you are new to outdoor activities, consider the discussion here and then tailor our recommendations to your own environment and circumstances. You will learn that you do not need everything on the lists for a typical day hike and there are items not listed that are necessities on more advanced or challenging hikes (like a winter ascent of a 14er, for instance). For your first few outings, ask a friend (or ask us via our Hike for Life page) for feedback on what you are bringing—and not bringing. Over time you will develop your own preferences and rules of thumb for any outing, short or long, summer or winter.
Now, let’s get started demystifying the Ten Essentials. The original ten essentials list (map, compass, sunglasses and sunscreen, extra clothing, headlamp or flashlight, first-aid supplies, firestarter, matches, knife and extra food ) was created by The Mountaineers, an outdoor mountaineering organization, in the 1930s to help people be prepared for emergency situations in the outdoors. In 2003 the group introduced a “systems approach” that used functional systems and added hydration and emergency shelter. To further simplify the ten essentials systems approach we use just five categories that are easier to remember and allow users to tailor their equipment list for the given activity. Our five categories are: Nutrition, Hydration, Navigation, Protection and Insurance. Now let’s talk about what we mean by each category and apply the categories to day hikes.
Nutrition: bring food for twice the planned trip duration.
If you are taking a half-day hike you should at least carry a nutrition bar and maybe some dried fruit and nuts in case you wander off the trail and are out longer than planned. A mix of nuts and sweets is popular with hikers because it provides energy for the hike, is lightweight and does not require cooking. A nutrition bar is compact and can easily fit in a small pocket. Outdoor activity expends energy and you will be glad to have the small snacks when you begin to feel fatigued.
Hydration: bring water for twice the planned trip duration.
An adult should drink eight 8-oz glasses of water per day. That works out to about 2 liters of water each day. If you plan a half-day hike you would want to have a full-day of water available, plus some additional amount to account for your extra water loss due to exertion, temperature, relative humidity and elevation. Hydration is even more important in Colorado due to the combination of higher elevations and temperatures and low humidity. Even on the shortest hikes you should carry some water.
Navigation: bring a primary, practiced means of navigation a back-up system.
You should not expect or depend on just trail markings or signs on even the most frequently traveled day hike trails—some trails do not have signs and others have signs that are confusing because there are multiple trails. For most day hikes it is reasonable to use a smart phone application that shows your trail and provides navigation tips and even trail photos. You should also have a back-up means of navigation available in case your app fails or your cell phone battery dies. Your back-up can be someone else’s phone or the unlimited battery-life app—the paper map. Whether you use an app or a map and compass—you should practice using your navigation tools before the hike so you are proficient at their use. If you are not comfortable using apps or maps consider hiring a guide to show you how to use them.
Protection: bring clothing and protection appropriate for the expected environment.
Many experienced guides and trip leaders include this general statement in their trip planning notes, so what does it mean? You should always bring sun protection (sunglasses, sunscreen, headgear and clothing) to shield you from the sun, layers of clothing appropriate for the worst-case temperatures, footwear appropriate for the activity and some form of insect repellant. We distinguish between clothing for sun and layers for cold to reinforce the point that even in the heat of summer it is a good idea to have long sleeves and perhaps even pants to protect your skin from the sun. In summer two layers of clothing are usually adequate—so a lightweight jacket or windbreaker is fine. In winter three layers are the norm: a base (inner) layer for warmth, a mid-layer to retain heat and an outer layer to block wind. Footwear should be appropriate for the length of the hike and the expected conditions. Tennis shoes are fine for short hikes in some city parks in Colorado but most hikes warrant some form of trail or hiking shoes. Many summer day hikers prefer lightweight trail shoes. Finally, it is always a good idea to have protection from insects.
Insurance: bring extra items to use for contingencies.
Insurance in this sense means things you should carry to provide provisions when the unexpected happens. This list should always include a basic first aid kit, emergency signaling methods (ranging from whistles and mirrors or cell phones for day trips to satellite phones for back country trips), illumination (headlamp or flashlight) and shelter. For more extensive outings you should also carry materials to start a fire (matches/lighter/candle), a multitool with a knife, and perhaps even an emergency shelter. This list can sound excessive but there are many variations and reasons to include some of these items on even the shortest trip. If you or someone in your group has a headache or muscle pain, pain reliever from a first aid kit is very helpful. Does someone wander off the trail and lose the group? A whistle (sometimes built into a pack strap) is ideal for getting reconnected. Most outdoor stores sell versions of small emergency kits that can stay in the bottom of a lightweight day pack. If you are part of a group, then each member can have their own kit or you can coordinate to ensure the group has all of these items between them. Hike for Life guides always carry these basic supplies.
Colorado provides countless opportunities to explore and enjoy our great outdoors. It is important to ensure you have the appropriate equipment to safely complete your activity. For every trip think “Nutrition, hydration, navigation, protection and insurance.” Every activity is different–you can and should adapt your own list of ten essentials to the circumstances. When you have questions ask experienced friends or contact Hike for Life for advice. Over time the list will become second nature and you will be one of the experienced outdoors enthusiasts saying: “Bring clothing and essentials appropriate for the conditions.” Happy Trails!
The classic Ten Essentials list was: map, compass, sunglasses and sunscreen, extra clothing, headlamp or flashlight, first-aid supplies, Firestarter, matches, knife and extra food. For an in-depth description of the ten essentials see Mountaineering, The Freedom of the Hills. Mountaineers Books, Washington, 2010, pgs. 34-38.
Hike for Life exists to nurture our community spirit and to inspire others to appreciate and care for our great outdoors.
We do this by providing carefully curated guided hikes for residents and visitors to the Pikes Peak region.
Our hikes are designed to be educationally enhanced, environmentally aware and safety conscious. We believe that teaching and helping others explore safely and with an emphasis on stewardship strengthens our community and helps protect our limited natural resources.