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The Hiker’s Thirteen Essentials

The “Ten Essentials” as is known to hikers young and old, first appeared in print in the third edition of Mountaineering, Freedom of the Hills, Mountaineers (January, 1974), according to Wikipedia. The original list was modified in the seventh edition, and has since undergone many modifications over the years for a variety of reasons at the hands of various groups such as the Boy Scouts of America, the Utah’s Wasatch Mountain Club, the Spokane Mountaineers (which list “thirteen essentials”), and others. We didn’t want to feel left out and have created our own list of essentials. Thirteen in our case, too.

The Thirteen Essentials

These are items that should be in the group or, better, carried individually.

1. Map and compass
While one of the two is useful, together, and with the right knowledge, these two tools can be indispensable.
2. Extra clothing
Mountain weather is frighteningly fast-moving or unpredictable. Predictably, so. Having extra layers is a must.
3. Extra food and water
If you are delayed, for any reason, hunger and thirst will become a problem. At least bring a filter or stove.
4. Headlamp (with spare batteries)
Better still, add a second headlamp to your kit. If hiking solo, you’ll need it for a battery change.
5. First aid kit
Not one of those tiny kits, either. Something well-suited for trauma is best.
6. Whistle, noise maker
This should be accessible while you’re hiking. If you fall and no one sees you, your whistle could save your life.
7. Knife/multitool
Stuff breaks, needs arise, having some modern tools to deal with these things is… well, essential.
8. Lighter, metal match, firestarter
If one has to stop because of an injury, building a fire should be on the to-do list according to the NH Fish and Game.
9. Cord or rope
For down-climbing, building a shelter, improvising a litter, mending a break, and so much more.
10. Rain pants/jacket (or a poncho)
Staying dry is extremely important. Proper rain gear will help. Also protect the contents of your pack.
11. Tarp or bivvy
To create shelter, a simple tarp can such a useful thing to have. Also works as a hypo-wrap for hypothermia victims.
12. Foam sleeping pad
Possibly the most important bit of safety gear. Getting a patient off the ground is critical. A pad offers a solution.
13. Sun protection
SPF 30, UV-protected sunglasses, and even a floppy hat or sunbrella. The sun can devastate nowadays.

Just the Start

This is just the beginning. Going in winter? You’ll need more stuff and have to change up certain items — swapping out your water filter for a pot and stove, for example. Heading above treeline winter requires even more stuff. Then there are objective-based lists requiring a need for avalanche gear, or a helmet or harness, for example. Sounds heavy, right? It is. A summer pack of 40 liters carrying a good 20 pounds including food and water is not unreasonable. In winter you can add another five to six pounds. Doing something other than hiking on a trail, like backpacking, and the weight can delve into the 30s. Some objectives require a lot more: A summer self-guided trip to the summit of Mt Rainier, for example, will necessitate the carry of a good 50-55 pounds.

Fast and Light vs. Slow and Heavy

Some will argue that speed will keep them ahead of trouble so they pack light foregoing some of their essentials and opting for much lighter weight “ultra light” gear. This is a judgement call, but we will warn you to be careful here. If injured, a patient probably won’t be thrilled with a minimalists “space blanket.”

To see some of these extended lists, please check out the sidebar of our Resources page.

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