My Dayhiking Essentials: Not the Standard Ten Essentials

hiking-essentialsThe purpose of the Ten Essentials is to improve your chances of survival in an emergency situation. The Mountaineers’ “essential systems” list, the new incarnation of their original ten essentials, has gotten away from true survival essentials. Sun protection? Repair kits? Illumination? Nice, but not essential to my survival on a dayhike in the Pacific Northwest. As my partner, who used to be in the army, pointed out, the more gear you require people to have, the more shortcuts they’re going to take, and they might not choose the true essentials. Nobody wants to carry emergency gear that isn’t needed. I will choose my own items for comfort.

I take emergency preparedness seriously; I was raised by an Eagle Scout who drilled into me to “be prepared” – but I think gear is not the most important survival tool I carry. Instead, it’s my skills. I’m the kind of person who actually has an emergency kit at the house, bug out bags for both me and my partner, and an emergency kit in the car. Preparedness ain’t a joke. But I’m not sticking with the status quo on gear.

What I Need to Survive a Night in the Woods

There are two types of situations where I would need to spend an unplanned night in the woods on a dayhike: I (or someone in my party) am not physically able to hike out, or I am not safely able to hike out (whether it’s dark, conditions are dangerous, or I’m lost).

For both situations, I need food to eat and water to drink. I will need to stay warm overnight. The first situation also requires medical supplies. For my survival, I need only meet my physiological needs.

The Gear I Carry on Day Hikes

I carry small survival gadgets in a ziploc bag. My first aid kit is its own bag. Clothes fill the bottom of my pack.

  1. Warmth
    • Fire (I carry two methods to create fire: a lighter and waterproof matches. For a true essential, I’m happy to build in redundancy. I also often carry a bag of lint in a ziploc bag so I know I have dry tinder.)
    • Clothing (All year round, in addition to my regular clothing, I carry a fleece hat, gloves, long sleeved shirt, and light fleece sweater. I supplement at other times of year, adding full rain shell if there’s even a remote possibility of rain. All clothing is synthetic that won’t get cold if it gets wet.)
    • Emergency shelter (a space blanket)
  2. Water (I usually carry two full nalgenes and the ability to obtain more water – in my case, iodine tablets.)
  3. Food (I bring enough for the hike and an additional 1200 calories. If I’m hiking with other people I try to bring extra food in case they’re not prepared.)
  4. First aid supplies (I built my own kit so I know what’s in it, I know where everything is, and I know how to use everything that’s in it)
  5. Pocket knife (I like having a knife with scissors on it)
  6. Whistle / ability to contact people (If I have reception, I will bring my cell phone in addition to the whistle.)

What “essentials” are missing from my list?

  • Navigation: When I hike, I know where I am going, and I stay on the trail and on my intended route (especially if I told someone where I was going). I act predictably and rationally. I don’t take shortcuts. I don’t go off trail. I also pay attention to my orientation to known features; for example, when hiking near I-90 I always pay attention to where I am in relation to the freeway. If I’m going to a new trail or planning to go off-trail, I’ll bring a map and compass, which I know how to use quite well.
  • Illumination: I plan so I have plenty of time to complete my hike during daylight. I pay attention to the light and will turn around if there’s a danger of not making it back before dark. I am prepared to stay the night, so I don’t need to prepare for night-time hiking. In the winter, when it gets dark at 4, I add a very small headlamp to my kit.
  • Repair kit: If I’ve broken something so badly it won’t suffice for my survival, I doubt I could repair it with anything I could carry. Gear that is not useful can be ditched. I’m confident in my ability to develop a solution that will allow me to survive. (I do have my pocket knife and keep a safety pin in my bag, but I doubt most people would consider that a kit.)
  • Sun protection: Whether or not I bring sun protection varies on a case-by-case basis. Much of the Northwest is forested, so if I know the area I’m hiking in will be shaded, then I won’t bother bringing a sun hat and sunglasses. I wear prescription glasses, so I didn’t have sunglasses for years due to the expense. Now I have them, but I don’t consider them an essential.

Some hikers like to carry the full Ten Essentials (plus some) while others don’t seem to bring anything more than a water bottle. What do you consider the essentials for dayhiking?

What “standards” for outdoor activities do you disagree with?

(Also read part one of this post, “Why I Don’t Carry the Ten Essentials on Dayhikes“)

About Tracy Durnell

Seattle-area graphic designer and SFF writer inspired by the Pacific Northwest, crafting a sustainable and intentional life.

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