The 10 Essentials Revised and Improved

Developed in the 1930s, by Seattle based Mountaineers club, “The 10 Essentials” were items listed as needed to respond positively to backcountry emergencies and accidents. Over time, the list morphed from an item approach to a systems approach, an improvement, but still fundamentally lacking in some regards. With some critical thinking and a couple of tweaks, however, the list can be solid.

The classic 10 essentials are

  • Map
  • Compass
  • Sunglasses and sunscreen
  • Extra clothing
  • Headlamp/flashlight
  • First-aid supplies
  • Firestarter
  • Matches
  • Knife
  • Extra food

Later, when the 10 essentials evolved to a systems based approach, the list turned into this improved, but still lacking list

  • Navigation (map & compass)
  • Sun protection (sunglasses & sunscreen)
  • Insulation (extra clothing)
  • Illumination (headlamp/flashlight)
  • First-aid supplies
  • Fire (waterproof matches/lighter/candle)
  • Repair kit and tools
  • Nutrition (extra food)
  • Hydration (extra water)
  • Emergency shelter (tent/plastic tube tent/garbage bag)

At first look it, save for the wording, the lists look pretty much alike. The biggest change, however, is getting rid of the knife and replacing the idea with repair kit and tools. Honestly, a repair kit and tools make more sense than a knife. More on that later.

Since we were young, in some form or another, we’ve always practiced many of the essentials. I mean, really, they’re common sense. I remember mom telling me to take a jacket in case it gets cold. Wear a hat and sun block so I don’t get burned. Eat my food so I can get big and strong, don’t forget to drink plenty of water, time to come inside it’s starting to rain. Take this medicine to help with your cough. Hell, I did that with my kids and still do. There’s nothing magical about it… It’s called everyday life. That is what we instinctively do, isn’t it? We go to work to make money to provide for us and our families by putting a roof over our heads, food on the table, and something to drink. We turn the furnace in the house on when it’s cold out, the lights on when it gets dark.

How about communication? Don’t we call 911 for emergencies? Granted back in the early days of the 10 essentials, there was no lifeline like we have today, but even the inclusion of a way to signal for help is a fundamental essential, unless, of course, rescue is not important to you. So funny, some people who rely on a mobile phone for emergencies in the city really don’t think calling for help is important in the wilderness. If they did, they would include communication as an essential. The big irony on some of the spin-off 10 essential lists is a PLB is listed as something to be considered, but not as an essential.

The knife has been replaced for tools and repair kit by the mountaineers current version of the 10 essentials. Tools and repair kit are activity dependent. A fisherman has different tools and repair kit than say a mountain biker, who has different needs than a bird watcher, who has different needs than a white water rafter, who has different needs than a day hiker. And though not really paramount to treating a medical emergency, accidentally tearing a whole in your jacket, or having a broken zipper is annoying. If I had to list one generic item for a repair kit it would be gorilla tape, or duct tape if that is your preference.

Based on thinking here are my 10 essentials FOR remote wilderness travel.

  1. Shelter (Tarp or visqueen to stay dry and keep wind off of me)
  2. Protection from exposure to sun and cold (sun glasses, Lip balm, sun block, hat, long sleeve shirt and pants, gloves, jacket, watch cap)
  3. Hydration (I need water to keep from dehydrating)
  4. Nutrition (food to keep me going)
  5. Rest (Need rest to think clearly)
  6. Illumination (headlamp to see in low light)
  7. First-aid (prescritions, imodium, pain relievers, antihistamines, tweezers, etc)
  8. Communication (PLB, Signal Mirror, Whistle, itinerary and action plan left with others)
  9. Fire (BIC lighters and fatwood to start fire to keep warm, purify water, signal if need be)
  10. Navigation (Map and/or GPS—Both Preferred. If I don’t know where I’m at how will I know how to get where I’m going. need to know which way to go if lost, so it doesn’t turn into survival situation)

I would like to point out rest is very important. It is critical for clear thinking and healing wounds. We go to sleep every night to re-energize. In fact, when we are sick or wounded we are told to get plenty of rest. We need rest after extraneous activities. So, isn’t rest an essential? I would say so. Get plenty of it.

The list is not exhaustive, but I feel is a solid core to build upon. You can have your essentials then add the rest of your gear, such as ski equipment, cycling gear, fishing gear, hunting gear, off road racing gear, bushcraft gear, camping gear, etc.

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7 comments on “The 10 Essentials Revised and Improved
  1. vocalpatriot says:

    You are going the wrong way with this list.
    No compass but a gps..no wonder you’re lost.
    What do you have against a good knife?
    You don’t need a sword or machete,
    but you WILL need to cut stuff,
    a knife is the tool for that.
    Rest? really? Who doesn’t have a reminder to sleep?
    Most of us use alarms to end our rest cycle NONE of us uses
    one to remind us that it is time to begin our rest cycle…
    that’s just a dumb addition to your list.
    Shows lack of imagination.

    • kaleb says:

      your just a son of a bloody bitch who picks on poor people who work hard to help the common public who may depend on this information in a survival situation

  2. admin says:

    Vocalpatriot, your reply only shows me the lack of experience you have in this regard. Your problem is you’re blinded by cognitive biases, which inhibit the actual uptake of rational thought.

    I’ve gone in circles, ad nauseam, with others. I’ve hit them with facts and logic and demonstrated how they even subconsciously betray some of their ideologies. They’ve gone so far down the rabbit hole they suffer from availability cascade. You are a classic example.

    Let me lay some truth on you and share some examples, then I will leave it at that. You can then analyze your thought patterns with the rest of your response.

    A map is more important than a compass. A working GPS is better than a compass.

    A compass needle only does one thing, line up with north. It does not show you the lay of the land. It does not show you what’s beyond that next ridge. It does not show you where the river is. It does not show you where the roads are. Who cares what your cardinal directions are if you don’t know what lays in their direction.

    Consider this. When you travel to or through unknown areas, such as cities, college campuses, amusement parks, malls, etc. Do you use a compass? NO you use a map. The map gives you the lay of the land and helps you orient yourself by comparing what’s on the map to what you see in front of you. From there, you plot a course based on obstacles you observe on a map. Do you find your way around town using google compass, or google maps? Maps of course. Sorry, but real life on land is not linear. That’s all a compass is, linear. If you’re flying in the air, over open water, where there is no visible terrain, then a compass is critical, because there is no way to terrain associate. I guarantee you terrain associate all the time and that’s how you get around, e.g. You know the burger joint is so far from your place, so at the next light you turn a certain direction to get home.

    On to your knife thing.

    I WILL need to cut stuff? sure if I work in a warehouse opening boxes, maybe a letter. As for the wilderness, unless the activity calls for me cutting stuff, such as whittling a spoon or making a trap, no I DON’T need to cut stuff. In fact, there are many ultralighters who hike and backpack way more miles than you ever will who don’t carry a knife, because they don’t need it. They are not engaged in a cutting based activity. Now, you want to know what they do need? Food, Shelter, Water, Rest, Protection from the sun and cold, a map and or GPS to let them know they are on the right trail or help them plot a course to the next one. They carry meds in case they get sick and a way to call for help if the SHTF.

    All that said, it would appear you didn’t comprehend the article, or failed to read it. Had you read it in it’s entirety, I wrote this at the end:

    “The list is not exhaustive, but I feel is a solid core to build upon. You can have your essentials then add the rest of your gear, such as ski equipment, cycling gear, fishing gear, hunting gear, off road racing gear, bushcraft gear, camping gear, etc.”

    I can keep going on forever, but I think you get the point.

    So, the next time you attack and suggest I lack imagination, consider you may actually be the one lacking common sense and reading comprehension

  3. Eric Johannsen says:

    You make some great points in this article. I still carry knives, but that is just my preference. I think it is essential to revise the 10 Essentials List as needed for the situation, but most people miss that. I find that people either carry far more water and tools than they will ever need or not enough water for the trip they planned minus any other gear. Eaton Canyon on any weekend reveals this sad fact as does Henninger Flats. Great article and I miss the Dirttime videos.

  4. admin says:

    Eric, thank you. Looks like you get it

    Aside from the hiking portion, it’s just good common sense for any kind of travel, be it planes, trains, or automobiles. Add a good hygiene kit and you have good travel essentials… hmmmm, idea for another article

  5. kaleb says:

    true and a new way to look upon the essentials, if you need a knife you get it if you dont leave it but big flashy knives are just expensive and are probably just a ploy to take your money but the 10 essentials are just guide and it will depend on your task as to how much it will differ a fisherman has a completely different kit to a stock rider or such.
    if your going to get a knife get a simple reliable knife that isnt backed by a celebrity and has got good simple design

    • admin says:

      Kaleb, thank you.

      There is a saying among some of the backpacking community, “The bigger the knife the bigger the fear.” It is interesting to hangout on their forums. They have a way different (refreshing) way at looking at backcountry travel. They are not directed by fear and paranoia. They are out there with a sensible common sense approach. A very large portion of that community may only carry a SAK classic (very small). In that knife, they admittedly primarily use the scissors, mostly to open food packages. Myself, I carry only a small pair of scissors (4″). Scissors are much more efficient at cutting repair tape, athletic tape, opening packages, and cutting sections of map. I’ve not carried a knife for I think it’s been over two years now. Looking back, I carried it out of fear, a fear perpetrated by the survival community.

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