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The Year of Essential Outdoor Gear

We're going back to basics to celebrate the 10 Essentials, the classic list of what outdoor gear to bring into the backcountry. Every month in 2016 we're giving one Reviewer of the Month an incredible prize pack, worth more than $300, filled with examples of the 10 Essentials listed below.

The 10 Essentials list dates back to climbing courses run by The Mountaineers group in the 1930s. It made its print appearance in the third edition of Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills in 1974 and has been referenced by outdoor enthusiasts ever since.

Much has changed in the past 80 years with outdoor equipment—the advent of internal frame packs, GPS receivers, waterproof-breathable shells—but the 10 Essentials endure.

And for good reason. Whether you choose a magnetic compass or a GPS receiver for Navigation (number 1 on the list), the 10 Essentials and its updated systems approach is designed to help you respond positively to an accident or emergency, and to safely spend a night—or more—out.

Here are the 10 Essentials we'll be giving away to each of our 12 monthly winners, along with timeless advice from Freedom of the Hills (FOTH):


#1 Navigation: Brunton TruArc 5 Compass

"Always carry a detailed topographic map...Always carry a compass."

A map and compass top the list. Additional navigation tools can include a GPS receiver, altimeter, and route markers and descriptions.

Our navigation prize, the Brunton TruArc 5 base plate compass, features map grid lines for quick orientation, a magnifier, and a TruArc Global Needle system ($20).

#2 Sun Protection: Sawyer Stay-Put Sunscreen

"Carry and use sunglasses, sunscreen for the lips and skin, and clothing for sun protection."

Our sun protection prize, Sawyer Stay-Put Sunscreen 30 SPF (1 fl oz), will help protect skin from rays year-round. Shade your face with a breathable, wicking Trailspace Trail Runner Cap when things heat up.

Also protect skin from biting bugs with Sawyer's Picaridin Insect Repellent (3 fl oz) and treat gear and clothing with Permethrin Premium Insect Repellent (12 fl oz) ($23.50, plus hat).

#3 Insulation: Arc'teryx Rho LTW Neck Gaiter

Carry "additional layers that would be needed to survive the long, inactive hours of an unplanned bivouac."

Additional layers are ones you aren't already wearing while active and might include hats, balaclavas, socks, and puffy jackets.

The lightweight, packable Arc'teryx Rho LTW Neck Gaiter is 95-percent Merino wool and keeps out snow and cold while trapping in your body heat ($39). We'll top things off with a Trailspace wool Ibex beanie.

#4  Illumination: UCO A-120 Headlamp

"Carry a headlamp or flashlight, just in case."

That means even if you're planning to return to the car before dark. FOTH recommends spare batteries and bulbs too.

The UCO A-120 headlamp features an infinitely adjustable dial to control its light level—up to 120 lumens—a red LED for night-vision mode, and an adjustable neoprene strap ($39.99).

#5 First-Aid Supplies: Adventure Medical Kits

"Avoid injury or sickness in the first place."

Beyond that, carry a first-aid kit and know how to use it. Supplies can include gauze pads, roller gauze, bandages, adhesive tape, scissors, cleansers, latex gloves, and paper and pencil.

The Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight & Watertight .7 first aid kit comes in a lightweight, waterproof DryFlex bag with supplies for one to four people on trips of up to four days ($27).

#6 Fire:UCO Matches & Light My Fire Tinder

"Carry the means to start and sustain an emergency fire."

Common fire starters include butane lighters and matches in a waterproof container. If there's no firewood where you'll travel, carry a stove.

Be sure your fire-starting method is reliable—even in wet, cold, and windy conditions—and consider doubling up.

The UCO Titan Stormproof Match Kit contains 12 matches and three replaceable strikers in a floating, waterproof case. Each four-inch, windproof/waterproof match burns for up to 25 seconds ($10).

Light My Fire's Tinder-on-a-Rope works even when wet since its resin content (up to 80 percent) burns, not the fatwood ($5). You'll want to pair this with our next prize.

#7 Repair Kit and Tools: Light My Fire & TheTentLab

"Knives are so useful in first aid, food preparation, repairs, and climbing that every party member needs to carry one."

In addition to knives and multi-tools, consider carrying duct tape, cable ties, needle and thread, safety pins, and other repair tools.

The Swedish FireKnife, a collaboration between Light My Fire and Mora of Sweden, has a flexible and sturdy profile-grounded blade, plus a Swedish FireSteel fire starter in its handle ($39.99).

The Deuce of Spades minimalist backpacking trowel from TheTentLab is a tool of another sort. It's made from aerospace grade aluminum, can be used right-side up or upside down, and weighs 17 grams ($20).

#8 Nutrition: Good To-Go Meals

"A one-day supply of extra food is a reasonable emergency stockpile" for shorter trips.

How much extra depends on your planned trip length, but bring extra that stores well even on a day hike. If you won't have a stove be sure your emergency food doesn't require one.

A professional chef makes gourmet, dehydrated Good To-Go meals, like Thai Curry (3.4 oz) with vegetables, jasmine rice and spices, and the slow-cooked Smoked Three Bean Chili (3.5 oz) ($6.75 each).

#9 Hydration: Potable Aqua Tablets

"Carry extra water and have the skills and tools required for obtaining and purifying additional water."

Water consumption varies depending on temperature, altitude, and exertion. Always bring at least one bottle or collapsible container.

Potable Aqua Chlorine Dioxide Water Purification Tablets are proven effective against bacteria, Giardia, Lamblia, Cryptosporidium, and viruses ($9.99). Potable Aqua Water Purification Tablets with P.A. Plus provide purified drinking water from any fresh water source, and PA Plus tablets remove iodine's taste and color ($9).

#10 Emergency Shelter: Ultimate Survival Technologies

If not packing a tent, "carry some sort of extra shelter from rain and wind, such as a plastic tube tent or a jumbo plastic trash bag."

Your potential shelter depends on the season and conditions, but even on a day hike or climb bring something, like an emergency blanket or bivy sack.

The multi-use Ultimate Survival Technologies Tube Tarp 1.0 can be used as a ground cloth, all-weather tarp, or sleeping tent. Its aluminized side provides thermal insulation and reflectivity ($39.99).

#11 Know-How: Mountaineers Books

Of course, all of this gear only helps if you have the appropriate know-how to use it. Consider signing up for courses on navigation, wilderness first aid, and other outdoor skills.

And turn to trustworthy sources, like Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills (Mountaineers Books). Since its first edition in 1960, Freedom of the Hills has endured as a classic outdoors text. From choosing equipment to tying a knot, from basic rappelling to planning an expedition—you'll find it in this essential reference ($30).


Do your 10 Essentials differ from what's above? The specific equipment you choose will depend on personal preferences, the season, weather conditions, terrain, activities, and other factors.

For more on the 10 Essentials visit How To: Packing the Ten Essentials by The Mountaineers.

Write a review of your essential gear (you could become a Reviewer of the Month), or tell us about it below.


re #1, a compass --- a compass really needs to be accompanied by a useable map, and if a choice must be made between the two, select the map over the compass.

Bill Hudson said:

re #1, a compass --- a compass really needs to be accompanied by a useable map, and if a choice must be made between the two, select the map over the compass.

 Agreed. I expanded that first quote to make sure that's understood.

Very cool idea and I'm sure will be warmly received by the Reviewers of the Month. 

I was first introduced to the 10 essentials when I joined the Angeles Chapter of the Sierra Club's Rock Climbing Section in about 1960. Historically, since the list was originated by The Seattle Mountaineers, it was slanted toward climbing in the Pacific Northwest. The Angeles RCS and Ski Mountaineers devised a revised version, more tailored to the Sierra and SoCal mountains. There are versions that are "15 essentials" floating around, and others tailored to specific mountain ranges. And there are versions that are more basic without specific gear named.

I didn't get my first copy of MFOTH (being the full name "Mountaineering - Freedom Of The Hills) until 1964, a paperback version. Right now I have only 2 versions, both hardbacks, the 4th and the current 8th. Somewhere along the line, I donated older versions to Friends of The Library in a futile attempt to reduce the number of books we have. That just left space for more books.

The most important thing is to treat the "10 Essentials" as an outline of the TYPES of gear you need, with tailoring to suit the wilderness area you are headed for. The Cascades are different from the Rockies, are different from the Sonora Desert is different from the rain forests of Kilimanjaro ... etc. 

A good knife .

I agree, this really is a cool idea.


Bill S. says it all - it should be termed the "Ten Essential Categories of Gear'"  But only two copies of MFOTH?  Four editions grace my groaning bookshelves, including the first and the most recent.  It is interesting to see how treatment of various topics has changed over the years.

hikermor said:

Bill S. says it all - it should be termed the "Ten Essential Categories of Gear'"  But only two copies of MFOTH?  Four editions grace my groaning bookshelves, including the first and the most recent.  It is interesting to see how treatment of various topics has changed over the years.

That's great that you still have the original edition. It must make for good reading, though I imagine not as much has changed fundamentally as we might assume.

As hikermor and Bill S mention, the 10 essentials list has changed from specific types of gear to systems of gear (for example from "map and compass" to "Navigation"). One thing I really like about this is that it forces the individual to actively think about and make conscious decisions about what to bring on a specific trip/outing. Because ultimately you're responsible for yourself and the decisions you make.

It goes back to The Mountaineers asking "can you respond positively to an accident or emergency?" and "can you safely spend a night—or more—out?"

The next 3 essentials (in order of importance)

11. Coffee

12. Hammock

13. Batteries to charge smart phone

Bacon is higher priority that #13.  Jus' sayin'.

I totally agree with G00SE: Coffee is essential. Everyone is in serious danger if I don't have my morning cup.

I've only got one, paperback edition of MFOTH, but I did take mine around to the Banff Mountain Film & Book Festival for years getting it signed by such folks as Greg Child, Joe Simpson, Doug Scott, etc.  It was a great way to be able to have a conversation with each of those folks.

Bill Hudson said:

Bacon is higher priority that #13.  Jus' sayin'.

 I stand corrected!

(To replace water supply, also a chemical backup if the
hardware fails or your water container gets “skunky”)
with extra light bulbs & batteries.
6. MAP in waterproof container.
7. COMPASS plus an optional GPS receiver
‘storm proof’ or in a watertight container.
9. POCKET KNIFE or multi-use camp tool.
12. SUN SCREEN & SUNGLASSES – Summer and Winter.
13. WHISTLE for signaling for help.
14. FOOD STORAGE bear & mini bear protection device.


Optional Items
BIRD, ANIMAL & PLANT identification books
CAMERA & Extra batteries and memory
HAT for warmth & part of your sun protection system
REPAIR KITS sewing, tent & back pack, glasses etc.

This document is well formatted for printing on:

It also includes, on a half sheet, printed on the other side:
Smellables include: Matches - Lighter - Stove - Fuel, All film cameras and extra film, Clothes that have spilled food or drink on them, Condiments (all spices included), Chapstick - Use unscented only! Deodorant/Antiperspirant*, Extra batteries, Feminine hygiene products (used or unused)**, First Aid kits & Band Aids, All Food, candy bars, treats, trash, unburnable garbage, (check and double check)**, Foot powder, Insect repellant, Lip balm, Lotions of any kind, Medicine (place in boot if needed during the night such as inhalers, etc.), Mole Skin or Mole Foam, Duct Tape, Shampoos, Soaps - personal & laundry (including Campsuds), Suntan lotion and sunscreen, Tobacco* **, Toothbrushes and toothpaste, Unwashed dishes, Water bottles (bears have associated these with sugary drink mix)

…Anything in question.

* Highly discouraged ** Not to be placed in latrines
Anything else that has a non-human odor may attract bears, even though not food related.

Not in bear country ?
What about “Mini-Bears” ?

Always LEAVE at HOME things like:
Do you want a bear to give you a ‘goodnight kiss’?

Anything with an UNNECESSARY odor!

-- Based on Philmont Scout Ranch BEAR PROCEDURES --
Prepared by: David Lagesse Mar 2015 v1.6

I live here in the soggy, damp, dark, chilled Cascade Range. I remember the Ten Essentials from Ira Spring (who taught me photography in his studio at the bottom of Queen Anne Hill in Seattle) and from Harvey Manning, icons of REI !  Please add a hiking staff to your list...the list that you will always carry as you leave the Trailhead. Wear a hat! A hat traps heat which otherwise escapes your body. Chemical treatments are only good if you have longer contact-time; I like the Sawyer's Mini-Filter and I always start with clean water...just stand outside and hold a cup at arm's length....ha! ha!  In this Age, a cell phone which will work for a text message if no voice is possible, and personal medication for your unplanned overnight. For unplanned overnight or for being lost, I like the larger poncho-type shelters/raingear such as the Greenwood Cape from Six Moons Designs in Portland. In pouring rain, you can toss the entire covering over yourself and set up your teepee underneath and out of rainfall. I still like the breathable Adv.Med.Kit sleeping bag 'wannabee' for unplanned overnight. If you make the day hike pack too elaborate, you are on a backpacking trip. Otherwise, most of these lists cover the program; always 'think' overnight, just in case. Your Day Hike pack should weigh in about 12 lbs., including a nice day pack of 1,800 cu. in./30 liters. I never carry toilet paper, but opt for 12 paper towels in a zip-lock plastic bag...more versatile than toilet paper; yes, I have a mini-stove. So much of survival is the maintenance of proper attitude. ¿Avez vous un botelle de Cognac?  Well, I do put in a tiny, 100 ml. for the sake of attitude adjustment. Not for Scouts!

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