The 10 Essentials

As one of my previous instructors once told me, “There’s a fine line between preparedness and paranoia, and I’m just more prepared than you.

This is my obligatory blog post about the 10 essentials that you need before you go hiking. If you do a quick search for 10 essential hiking items, you will find a ton of blog posts out there, which are for the most part the same.

While I state this below a few times, please, know how to use all of your equipment and develop the skills such as wilderness medicine. EMS, REI, and many others have staff as well as classes that an help you prepare.

1. Navigation

Map & Compass, GPS, Personal Locator Beacon

This is a must. People get lost in the woods. It's happened to a friend of mine in Death Valley. I also had a friend get injured in the wilderness of Alaska while doing a 100+ mile hike and he was rescued as we all were watching him trek via his personal locator beacon. Here in New Hampshire hiking up Mount Washington via the Tuckerman Ravine, avalanches are something to worry about so that PLB is a key item to have.

Now Map & Compass. It's low-tech, doesn't require batteries and will last until the magnetic poles shift quite a bit. Even then, if you know the declination for your compass you will still be good.

With all of these tools, you need to learn how to use them. There are both map and compass as well as GPS classes that you can take, orienteering clubs, and if you want an adventure you can use your skills in geocaching. By the way, the geocaching in Latvia was top-notch when I visited in 2014.

2. Headlamp

Plus extra batteries.

When you are in the woods, it tends to be dark. When you are hiking in the woods in the mountains, the sun can set on the other side of the mountain much earlier than you anticipate. Therefore this is a must-have piece of equipment. Don't skimp on this even if you think it's an hour hike and you are headed out with the sunrise. You simply do not know what you may encounter.

3. Sun Protection

Sunglasses, protective clothing which includes a hat, and sunscreen.

I tend to burn easily with the sun, so I have a wide-brimmed hat to protect my ears as well as the back of my neck. My beard protects my face and chin. I tend to wear long sleeves most of the year and while I have prescription glasses, I do have a pair of tinted prescrptions glasses as well. The sun can really impact your health and energy level if you are not careful.

4. First Aid Kit

bug repellant, foot care, etc.

A first aid kit (FAK) is a must, however, knowing how to use it is even more important. Take a class in Wilderness First Aid, NOLS & SOLO Schools are both great schools that I have trained at. Additionally, while you can purchase a FAK, I heavily recommend that you tweak if for your surroundings and needs. This is where snake bite kits, an EpiPen, your own medication, etc. all will come into play.

5. Knife

Gear Repair Kit

A sharp knife that has a blade that locks can be helpful at cutting rope, making kindling for a fire if you have to one, minor repairs to equipment, etc. While this is a separate category, I did place gear repair kit here as well. One item that I cannot give enough praise to is paracord. It can be used for bootlaces, tent tie downs, etc.

One tip, when cutting, always have the blade moving away from your body. If you slip, at least your body is not the way of being hit.

6. Fire

Flint & Steel, Matches, Tinder

Fire is good for warmth, cooking, and moral. I don't recommend fires at all due to forest fire dangers, etc., however, in a survival situation fire can go a very long way.

TIP: The lint that you get from your clothes dryer. Take that and store it in a ziplock baggie. You can also use vaseline on cotton balls, which is good during a light rain to get a fire started.

7. A shelter

This can be as simple as an emergency bivvy sack.

8. Extra Food

Always carry more food than you will need. I'm writing this from a day-hike perspective. I realize that you cannot do this if you are going to hike the Appalachian Trail.

9. Extra Water

Always carry more water (or a way to purify) than you need for the trip. Again, I'm writing this for a simply day-hike perspective.

10. Extra Clothing

Dress in layers. Get ready for your socks to be soaked. Get ready for the rain. Be prepared.


Any tools that you bring that are battery powered, remember that they have a life span. So, if you bring a fancy UV light for water purification, how long will those batteries last? In some cases such as water, it’s best to have 2 backup methods (e.g., UV light and iodine tablets as an example).