Reader Wayne left a comment on a recent post on REI Dividends. New to hiking, he wanted to know if I had any other additions to make to the Ten Essentials List — a list of ten “always-have-’em” items first developed by outdoor clubs in the 1930s. And, of course, he also wanted to know if there were any items he could skip on his usual 2-3 hour day hikes …
The overly cautious and responsible answer is that yes, you should take everything with you all the time. The reason most accidents happen is because people weren’t prepared to deal with a situation on the trail, or that they didn’t know how to deal with an accident or injury once it occurred.
The fact that you’re only going on short hikes is irrelevant. Hiker Hell is full of stories of people who just went out for a quick hike and never came back.
OK. That’s the disclaimerish part of the post. Anytime you hike, you do so at your own risk … but you also have to calculate what the chances are of you needing to bring an emergency shelter and fire starter when you’re just making the loop around Runyon Canyon.
Here are the Ten Essentials, with what I actually think of them for dayhiking:
1. Map – NECESSARY: I will never, ever, ever leave my apartment to hit the trail without having a map of the area in my bag. A physical, paper map is absolutely essential to anyone spending time in the wilderness – they’ll help you if you get lost, they’ll help you locate landmarks and options if a route is closed or more difficult than you thought, and you don’t have to worry about batteries running out. Of course, it’s not good enough to have a map – you have to have a good topographical map – not just a sketched out diagram from the web – and you have to know how to read it.
2. Compass, Supplemented with a GPS Receiver – OPTIONAL / NECESSARY: Personally, I always take a GPS receiver with me, but that’s mainly for keeping track of trails for the web site. Honestly, if I wasn’t doing that, I wouldn’t take a compass, either. But that’s because I’m very confident in my ability to read a map and determine directions from the surrounding landscape. If you’re not confident in your cartography skills, compasses are cheap and light, and you should consider them necessary.
3. Sunglasses and sunscreen – NECESSARY: A decent pair of polarizing lenses will do wonders for you. Not only will they prevent sun and snow glare, but they’ll also shield your eyes from drying winds AND errant branches and brush. I’ve been in enough thorns-swinging-toward-my-face situations to always put the sunglasses on before I head out. Sunscreen is ALWAYS important, even on cloudy days. You’re going to be spending a few hours outside in direct sunlight, and you’re probably going to be sore the next day. You don’t want to have a sunburn, too.
4. Extra food and water – NECESSARY: … to a point. I don’t pack full MRE’s on my day hikes, but I always take a few more bars or pieces of fruit than I plan on actually eating. And I always take more water than I plan on drinking, too. It adds a little bit of weight to your pack, but if you spend more time on the trail than you were planning to, you’re going to be thankful.
5. Extra clothes- NECESSARY: … again, to a degree. I dress in layers, and will usually take the top layer with me even if it’s feeling warm at the trailhead. But it’s nothing too fancy — a fleece pullover for the top, a hat and gloves, and convertible pants are my dayhike “extra clothes.”
6. Headlamp/flashlight – NECESSARY: I used to not take a flashlight with me. Then I got caught in the dark coming off an unnamed peak near Matilija Creek. The only light we could muster was by the dim glare of my GPS receiver and by setting a poor girl’s scarf on fire. Now I always bring a flashlight.
7. First aid kit – NECESSARY: This is another never-leave-home-without-it item for me. I picked up a lightweight medkit from REI that came with gauze, bandaids, tweezers, a signal whistle, antihistamines, painkillers, and all sorts of other goodies. I supplemented it with some duct tape, chewable pepto bismol, some hand warmers, blister bandagaes, and a few other items, and have actually used it quite a bit on the trail – mostly for minor things. If you get a headache in the middle of the woods, that hike back to the car gets a lot nicer when you’ve got aspirin to take. Also, you’ll look like a hero if you come upon someone who has a cut or sprain and doesn’t have a kit. Well worth the money.
8. Fire starter – OPTIONAL: If I’m car camping or backpacking, I’ll bring some matches or a lighter. Otherwise, you probably won’t need this on a dayhike.
9. Matches – OPTIONAL: See above.
10. Knife – RECOMMENDED: I always take a Swiss Army Knife with me, but I’ve very rarely used it. Still, the potential uses for a knife are pretty strong, so it’s probably worth taking one along.
How often do you leave one of the Ten Essentials at home? And have you ever been caught wishing you’d packed it?
He has also been featured on Good Morning America, NPR, and the Associated Press, as well as in documentaries for Columbia Sportswear and the OTIS College of Art and Design.
Casey was one of eight people chosen by the National Parks Foundation to participate in the 2015 Find Your Park Expedition. His first book "Day Hiking Los Angeles," will be published by Mountaineers Books in 2016.
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This post was written by Casey Schreiner on March 11, 2009