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10 Essentials for Hiking

Ever since I learned the basics of outdoor survival skills, I realized how important it is to prepare before heading out on a hike, even if it’s just a day hike. There are several important things to bring when hiking so that you are prepared for unexpected events.

I often remind people to always bring the 10 essentials on every hike. It’s easy to get complacent and figure why bother when it’s only a short hike.

The thing is, most emergency situations with outdoor enthusiasts are day hikers who either got lost, injured, or stuck in bad weather.

The difference between being prepared with the correct gear and not being prepared could save someone’s life.

Of course, nobody plans on getting lost, injured, or stuck in a fluke snowstorm.

But it happens.

Who needs rescuing more often, day hikers or backpackers on multi-day hikes?

Check out the stats, according to this National Geographic article:

“Across all U.S. national parks from 2004-2014, day hikers comprised 42 percent of the 46,609 search and rescue cases, almost four times the amount of the next closest group, overnight backpackers at 13 percent.”

Here are the 10 essentials for hiking – bring them on every hike.

 

10 essentials for hiking

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1.   Navigation

You can’t rely on your cell phone and online maps as your only means of navigation while hiking. Pack a compass and get into the habit of taking note of landmarks and which direction you are walking.

While hiking in the backcountry you’ll need to bring a compass and topographical map of the area. Take a basic course in map and compass reading if necessary.

Buy a book such as Falcon Guides Basic Illustrated Map & Compass and memorize basic map and compass skills.

Some key navigation tools to consider:

GPS device

Altimeter

Personal locator beacon – it’s used to contact emergency responders

Carrying multiple navigation tools gives you the confidence you need in finding the right track.

Recently I purchased the Pro version of AllTrails app because it provides my GPS location while hiking. I can see my location on the trail, marked with a blue dot, and I can see when I’ve veered off the trail.

Note: To save battery life on your cell phone, set it to airplane mode because GPS still works while on airplane mode setting.

 

2. First Aid

Hiking is an adventure activity that is not exempt from mishaps. That’s why you can’t completely rule out injuries. And therefore, one of the bare essentials for hiking includes a first aid kit.

A basic first aid kit should contain:

  • Antiseptic wipes – alcohol wipes individually wrapped
  • Anti-bacterial ointment
  • Anti-itch lotion
  • Antihistamine
  • Blister prevention and treatments such as mole skin or 2nd Skin Blister Kit
  • Bandages in several sizes, including butterfly bandages
  • Bug spray
  • Medical adhesive tape
  • Non-stick sterile pads
  • Pain relief tablets such as ibuprofen
  • Safety pins
  • Tweezers

Add these items to your hiking vacation packing list.

It’s also a good idea to add a pair of gloves in case you must deal with open wounds.

If you plan on spending time in the backcountry you should enroll in a wilderness first aid course.

Generally, you want to ensure that you have some critical emergency skills. The first aid supplies will only help to enhance how you handle the ailments and injuries you might experience along the way.

 

3. Food

For both longer and shorter hiking trips you need to bring extra food beyond what you will consume on the hike.

The food items should have a long shelf-life and be easily digestible. This can include a variety of options such as:

  • Granola bars or trail mix
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Dried fruits
  • Baked goods such as bread or cookies

Note: if you need something warm, then you can carry a backpacking stove to make coffee, tea, and heat up dehydrated or freeze-dried food packets.

 

What are the 10 essentials for hiking?

 

4. Water

While you are hiking your body is shedding water through perspiration, even if you don’t notice it. Hydration is important.

How much water should you drink while hiking?

A general rule of thumb is to consume about 16 ounces (half a liter) of water per hour of hiking.

You can find a variety of water containers for hiking, from water bladders to stainless steel bottles.

Your hiking essentials should include a sufficient water supply to ensure that you are well-hydrated plus extra water or a means of purifying water in the wilderness.

While on multi-day hikes carry a water purifier or filter such as LifeStraw so you can make use of water sources in the wilderness. And bring water purification tablets.

Carry a couple of large heavy duty zip-lock plastic bags – freezer bags are stronger. You can use these for water storage.

 

5. Fire

Regardless of the season your hiking ten essentials checklist must include reliable supplies to start and maintain a fire.

Bring at least two sources for starting a fire. For instance, a flint and striker, a butane lighter, or waterproof matches.

Knowing how to build a fire is a critical skill that anyone traveling in the backcountry should have.

You need to stay warm and possibly heat your food during your hiking journey. So, your survival bag should have at least two tools for starting a fire. Besides that, ensure that you add waterproof matches in case of equipment failure.

Also, fire starter cubes can come in handy when you need to start the fire, especially when the surrounding conditions are wet. A small container with petroleum jelly slathered onto cotton balls makes an excellent fire starter and takes up little space.

Note: in case you don’t expect to come across firewood during a multi-day hike, then make sure that you carry a portable and lightweight stove.

 

6. Shelter

One of the main reasons people perish out in the elements is due to lack of shelter when they get lost on a trail and need to spend a night (or several) outdoors. Hypothermia can occur when exposed to cold air, water, wind, or rain.

Weather conditions can change rapidly, especially in mountain terrain, and night time temperatures drop dramatically.

Some of the best shelter options to pack include:

Bivy sack

Ultralight tarp

Mylar emergency blanket

Generally, you should pack lightweight insulating items for shelter as part of your essentials for hiking and camping.

Note: most people don’t carry items for shelter when going on day trips. While this may appear sensible, it’s also risky. An unexpected incident, such as an injury can prevent you from getting back on time. This means that you must unexpectedly spend the night away or rest until you get assistance. So, it’s always advisable to pack an emergency shelter.

 

7. Clothing

Weather conditions often change quickly. So, it’s always important that you carry a variety of clothing regardless of the predicted weather patterns.

Warm weather requires that you wear lightweight breathable clothing to avoid sweating excessively. Moisture wicking fabrics such as nylon and polyester are considered the best.

But you should also carry extra clothing so you can layer for insulation. This helps to ensure that you stay warm when temperatures drop.

Even if rain is not in the forecast a rain jacket, something lightweight but waterproof, should be on your hiking essentials list.

At the very least, bring a rain poncho. Better yet is a Waterproof rain jacket for hiking and backpacking. If you get wet and cold, then you could be at risk of hypothermia.

While hiking in winter you need to bring more layers so you can adjust to changing needs, also bring a face and head covering, mittens or gloves, and winter hiking gear such as crampons or microspikes.

Note: when choosing your clothing attire for a hike, avoid products that are made of cotton. Pack wool or synthetic clothing that dry much faster than cotton. Read my full guide on What to Wear Hiking in Winter.

 

8. Knife, Tools & Repair Kit

Carrying basic repair equipment in addition to a multi-function tool can be highly beneficial in managing minor issues that may arise during hiking.

Carry a backpacking knife or a multi-purpose knife, such as a Swiss army knife with your hiking gear essentials.

Basic repair equipment such as duct tape and tenacious tape may be of great help when fixing your sleep tent, sleeping bag, and puffy coat, among other things.

Paracord, elastic bands, and twist ties are all lightweight but useful items for your kit. I also bring binder clips, cheap but effective for holding stuff together.

You can use duct tape, or instance, to fix a broken tent pole. Some people even use it to protect their feet from pressure points that may lead to the development of blisters.

Wrap a length of duct tape around a small container rather than lugging around a roll of tape.

Buy an eyeglass repair kit and pack that in your tool kit. It’s small yet indispensable if your glasses need repairing.

 

9. Illumination

Even if you are not planning to hike until late in the evening, pack essential items for illumination in case of emergencies.

Pack a hiking headlamp and extra batteries. Or buy a rechargeable hiking headlamp.

You can get lost and while trying to find your way back, it may be dark already. In some instances, the hike may take longer than you had initially anticipated.

With the sunlight fading, a headlamp can come in handy while you are trying to figure your way back to the trailhead.

Generally, headlamps suit hikers since they are lightweight and it leaves hands free.

Alternatively, you can use your smartphone’s flashlight. But ensure that you have a power bank because your smartphone’s battery may end up getting depleted quickly.

 

10. Sun protection

Sun protection is vital for any hiking trip that you take. It doesn’t matter if the weather will be cold and gloomy because weather patterns change often, and you always need to protect your skin.

Your sun protection essentials should include:

Sunscreen: it should be worn all the time you are outdoors, whether it’s sunny or cloudy. Sunscreen helps to protect the skin from damage caused by UV rays.

Polarized sunglasses: they protect your eyes by helping to reduce the harsh glare of the sun’s rays from reflective surfaces such as water and snow.

SPF lip balm: protects against UV rays.

Sun protective clothing and a wide brimmed hat: they provide an effective way of blocking the ultra-violet rays from causing harm to your skin. There are many types of sun protection clothing made with an ultraviolet protection factor.

 

Summary

Imagine a scenario where you get lost on a day hike, it starts to get dark and the temperature drops dramatically, maybe it starts raining or snowing. How are you going to survive the night alone in the wilderness?

Even if you provided your hiking itinerary with someone and they report you missing, the search and rescue team is most likely not going to start looking for you until daylight.

Be prepared and pack the correct gear – the ten essentials.

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