Packing some basic essentials whenever you step into the backcountry is a good habit, even for a seemingly simple day hike. True, on a routine outing, you may use only a few of them or, honestly, maybe even none. It is when something goes amiss for yourself or someone else out there that you develop a genuine appreciation for the value of carrying these items that could be crucial to your survival or someone else’s.

The original ten essentials list was assembled in the 1930s by a Seattle based organization developed by climbers and outdoor adventurers, to better prepare people for emergencies that they may encounter while out in the outdoors of the PNW. Back then, the list included such items as a map, compass, sunglasses and sunscreen, extra clothing, a light, first-aid supplies, a fire starter with matches, a knife, and additional food.

Over the decades since, gear has become more advanced, and the list has evolved to a more “systems” approach rather than including individual items. Here is what it looks like today:

  • NAVIGATION - A topographic map should accompany you on any trip that involves anything more than a well-traveled footpath that is impossible-to-miss. This can come either as a digital or paper version but should show basic topographics. Compass - A compass, combined with map-reading knowledge, is essential should you become disoriented or lost while in the backcountry Many  smartphones, GPS devices and watches include electronic compasses, but it’s   still wise to be prepared and also carry a standard baseplate compass as it does not rely on batteries. GPS - 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 popular option is to use a smartphone with a GPS app that works while out of cell service, but consider that most phones are more fragile, so be sure to protect it with a rugged case.
  • HEADLAMP - The wilderness at night can be quite disorienting. Being able to find your way through the darkness is essential, so you always need to have a light source with you. A headlamp is a preferred choice of most backcountry travelers because it keeps your hands free for all types of tasks. Remember, rapidly changing temps can drain your batteries fast so ensure you always have extras.
  • SUN PROTECTION – We find this to be the easiest to forget when were headed out. BE sure to put some sunscreen on the vulnerable spots like your nose and ears and take adequate clothing that will keep you covered. The snow reflection in winter months can lead to some serious burns and eye strain.
  • FIRST AID - It is vital to carry and know how to use the items in a first-aid kit. Pre-assembled first-aid kits take the guesswork out of building your own, though many people personalize these kits to suit individual needs. We like to keep our kits pretty straight forward and streamlined. Items such as a tourniquet, puncture seal and gauze are the primary items at the top. Many members of our team like to carry the 1000MG Full Spectrum Salve in there as well to help with pain management on strains, sprains or even tired shoulders from carrying a pack all day. At a minimum a kit should include treatments for blisters, adhesive bandages of various sizes, several gauze pads, adhesive tape, and a type of disinfecting ointment.



  • KNIFE - Knives area great resource to have for on-the-spot gear repair, food preparation, first aid, making fire starter supplies or other such emergency needs which makes them a key tool to have in your bag. Basic knifes may include a single foldout blade but we prefer to have a fixed blade knife while out in the mountains. Let’s face it, the mountains are rugged and therefore you want a tool that wont break on you under any conditions.


  • FIRE – Fire can be a lifesaver while out in the mountains. It’ll keep you warm, cook your food and provide light in the nighttime. Having the ability to start a fire should be a top priority in your kit. Firestarter, , is any element that helps 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. Be sure to bring a lighter, waterproof matches or a flint so you can provide adequate spark to your tinder.


  • EMERGENCY SHELTER – This can come in the form of a light weight bivy bag, space blanket or even the waterproof fly from your backpacking tent. Whatever it is, you’ll want to ensure it is light weight and can adequately protect you from the wind and any moisture should you spend the night out there.


  • FOOD – Most of the time its almost guaranteed you’ll be carrying food/snacks out in the mountains. Personally, I like to travel light. Therefore, I tend to carry a bag of jerky and a small bag of chocolate with maybe some energy boosters such as a gel or energy shot. With this combination, I manage to cover proteins, fats, carbs and sugars which is great energy to have out there. No matter what you choose, try to pick foods that will cover these groups so that you stay fueled out there.


  • WATER -Well this one is a no brainer. As a standard it’s a good idea to carry a minimum of 1L in your kit. Keep in mind with winter fast upon us that hydration bladders and hoses will freeze very quickly so it is a better idea to bring a Nalgene type bottle. Pro tip: if you can’t get a bottle insulator to prevent it from freezing in your pack, place the bottle upside down in your bag. Doing this will ensure the cap does not freeze and you will still have water when you need it.


  • EXTRA LAYERS – Plan for the worst. Weather changes can happen in minutes and emergencies often appear out of nowhere. Bringing an extra layer or two is always smart should something happen; you could get caught in a storm or worse. At a minimum, an extra set of socks, extra line gloves and if you’re out for the weekend, extra base-layers.

The exact items from each system that you take can easily be adjusted to match the type of trip you’re taking. For example, on a short day hike that’s easy to navigate, you might choose to take a map or compass but leave your GPS or Garmin InReach behind. On a more extended or complex outing, you might decide you want to bring all of your key tools to help you find your way. When deciding what to bring, consider factors like weather, difficulty, duration, and distance from help.

No matter what you choose, remember never to underestimate nature and go out into the wild prepared for anything.

Be safe out there and have fun!

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