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.