The "Ten" Backcountry Essentials

Forget ultralight top-notch gear for a moment. Forget epic climbs; and long lost waterfalls. And yes, even forget Sasquatch, Batsquatch, lemurians, the lone pine devil, and even Cibola. Let’s go back to the beginning. Let’s talk about the first thing you should learn as a hiker. Yes, I’m talking about the infamous “ten essentials”. I’ll admit that I don’t spend a lot of time talking about the basics like this, because I assume that if you’re reading my blog, you already know about these things. But you know what – when I assume things, I make an ass of u and me, and bad jokes aside, if I’ve learned anything from my time in the wilderness, many times people don’t know these things; so with summer fast approaching, now’s a good time to go over these things.


Before I get to talking about the specific items that make up the ten essentials, it’s a good idea for me to define what the concept is behind the ten essentials. The reason I phrase it like that is because there’s no set standard definition of a specific set of ten items that everyone agrees upon. There are some standard answers and standard categories (see here, here, here, and here) but there is also a great deal of variety out there. Again, if there’s anything I’ve learned over my time in the wilderness, everyone has their own modified version of the ten essentials. Which is why I’m talking about the concept behind it; which is that these are the items you would want to have with you should disaster befall you in the wilderness. These are the items that would enable you to survive.

Now, in practicality, if you are hiking or mountaineering, chances are that you will have some or all of these items with you, and you will likely be using them throughout the normal course of your day, which is great. The key to me, however, is to ensure that you have all of the items, because even if you think you’re not going to use them. Truth: you never know when disaster will strike in the backcountry. It may never strike. You may never use some of the items you have. You may carry them (or some variation of them) for years. And that, my friends is great. I hope disaster never befalls you, or your expedition, or anyone. But you carry them to be prepared; because in the backcountry, you are in the black of the map; the great unknown; and in that place of terrible beauty, anything can happen. At those times, all you will have is what you have carried; and your knowledge and that can be the difference between life and death. And that is why you carry the ten essentials: to ensure that you will survive until you can either rescue yourself; or be rescued.

Supplemental Truth: you can’t prepare for every contingency that exists. You are carrying these items to best deal with the potential nightmares that could exist. There’s a difference between being prepared; and being so over prepared you’re not prepared. I will also say that experience; and the knowledge how to use these items is key: as I documented when talking about winter hiking, the gear on its own does nothing for you. The gear only works for you when you know how to use it. A GPS unit doesn’t carry you back to civilization; and a compass doesn’t show you where you are on a map. You do those things; and you need to know how to use them, and not lose your head in doing so when in the wild. Finally, adjust your items accordingly: if you’re out for a 1 mile walk, know what to take versus a 21 mile hike. My list below is for me, and based on the fact that when I usually am out in the wild, I am out alone, meaning that I will only rely on myself and my twenty plus years of experience. Your list will likely be different; but the concept remains: take what you need to survive, that is essential. And, without further ado:

The Last Adventurer’s List of “Ten” Essentials:

1) Waterproof sack to hold items; 2) Extra Food; 3) Extra Water; 4) Extra clothes; 5) Map; 6) Compass (GPS Unit); 7) Emergency Blanket; 8) First Aid Kit (Homemade); 9) Three Trash Bags; 10) Matches (in Waterproof Match Container); 11) Lighter; 12) Whistle; 13) Flare; 14) Signal Mirror; 15) Water Purification Tablets; 16) SPOT Unit; 17) Headlamp; 18) Omnitool; 19) Duct Tape; 20) Cell Phone/Solar Panel.

That’s my list of “ten” things I’d need to survive. What’s yours?