The Ten Essentials For Hiking, Camping And Backpacking

Don’t go on a hike, backpack or camping trip without these pieces of essential gear.

By Dan Sanchez

The ten essentials has been the rule for must-have items since the 1930’s by Boy Scouts and mountaineers. The items are often altered or changed over time, depending on the conditions of your trip and its location. But the bare minimums do make a difference, especially in emergency situations.

While the ten essentials should be used as a guideline, it doesn’t mean you have to stick to only ten items. You can add items that you may think you need, given the situation you’ll be in.


1. Pocket knife: A good knife will be one of the most useful tools you can carry. It’s good for cutting rope, using as a screwdriver and many other uses. Folding knives tend to work best as they can be kept in your pack or clipped to your pant pocket. A knife with a two or three-inch blade should suffice. Keep it sharp, clean and always cut away from your body. We like the Benchmade Rift 950, but there are many other knives you can consider. Some also have added tools such as a can opener, toothpick, file, and other stuff. Keep in mind that the more features it has, the heavier and bulkier it gets.

Adventure Medical Kit's AFA 2.0 is perfect for a group of up to four people and features antiseptic, wipes, bandages and more.

2. First Aid Kit: You should actually have two. A larger one to keep in your vehicle and a smaller one in your pack. Many lightweight kits come with tools and instructions to treat injuries ranging from headaches and sunburns, to a broken leg or lacerations. Most “essential” style kits have everything you need. Larger versions often just have more of the same items. A smaller kit works well if you replenish the items  you’ve used.

3. Extra Clothing: Following the basic techniques to layering allows you to adjust to the temperature and situation. An extra insulating layer and lightweight jacket don’t take too much room in your pack, but will come in handy if you’re stuck somewhere and need to stay warm. Even in summer conditions, there are areas where temperatures may drop to near freezing as the sun goes down.

4. Rain Gear: Always bring a rain jacket if you know there is slim  chance of showers in the horizon. In dry areas or in the summer months, a garbage bag can also serve as a make-shift, lightweight rain poncho in case a freak storm rolls in. A garbage bag can also serve as temporary shelter.

5. Flashlight: If you ever get lost or stranded, a flashlight can help you find your way when the sun goes down. It can also be used to signal for help. Make sure the batteries are always fresh. Some flashlights with a push-button switch can be turned on accidentally. We had a situation where one turned on in our backpack and it actually burned a hole in it and could have started a fire. So it’s a good idea to remove the batteries when it’s stored.

6. Extra Food: On a backpacking trip you always plan your meals. Make sure to bring at least one extra one just in case. Trail-mix and energy bars make for easy lightweight extra food that won’t spoil if you have to spend an extra night out. They’re also great for day hikes where you may only be planning on bringing a lunch.

An aluminum water bottle can come in handy to gather water and to also be used with a water purifying device.

7. Water Bottle: Most people will have water in their camp and may take along a 1-liter plastic water bottle on a day hike. Backpackers typically have a 2-liter water bladder, but it’s always a good idea to have a small bottle to gather water in case of an emergency.

8. Matches or Lighter: Carry a handful of wooden strike-anywhere matches. Keep them in a plastic container so that they don’t get wet. A lighter also works great, but make sure it has plenty of butane. Regularly switch out old matches for new ones as they are harder to light with age.

9. Sunscreen: While there are many types, a small bottle that protects against UVA and UVB rays will work best. Natural sun screens may require more applications if you perspire so read the labels carefully and don’t forget a hat and sunglasses.

10. Map and Compass: We hardly see people on the trail with a map and compass anymore. Most know the trails inside out, but it only takes one missed sign post or carin and you’re lost. Take the time to learn how to read a map and use a compass. It’s easy and could save you from getting lost.  We’ve also seen people with hand held GPS units that they don’t know how to use. Make sure you test it out at home and familiarize yourself on how to use it, and that the batteries are fresh.


Water Purifier: Being able to find water in an emergency situation is great, but you won’t be able to drink it without purifying it first. Some lightweight alternatives to carry, can be as simple as some iodine tablets or a small portable filter. We like the SteriPEN Journey as a lightweight solution to purify water with UV light, but there are others available that are also effective. See our guide to choosing a water treatment system.

Cell Phone:While you may not get good reception in a deep canyon or ravine, you can climb to the top of a hill or rock outcropping to make an emergency call. Keep in mind most cell phones have a built-in GPS system. If you have a Blackberry or iPhone, you can always Tweet for help or post it on your Facebook page.

Mosquito Repellant: This is a must during spring and summer months. There are many deet and deet free repellants available so choose what you like and what works best for you. We like the All Terrain repellants as it uses natural ingredients and has a unqiue time release application.

One thought on “The Ten Essentials For Hiking, Camping And Backpacking

  1. Excellent list for hikers, campers, and backpackers alike! I’d add just one thing to the list – a sturdy piece of luggage to fit all the gear you’ll be carrying. Most of the essentials on the list would easily fit in a daypack. I have the Excursion-Backpack from Briggs & Riley’s new outdoor luggage line BRX. It’s an ideal size for day hikes – neither too big, nor too small!

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