The 10 Essentials

Before you take your winter camping trip there are essential items that should be included in your pack to ensure your comfort and survival – the famous 10 Essentials. In the 1930s, the Mountaineers, a Seattle-based hiking, climbing, and conservation organization, came up with a list of 10 essential items that no climber should be without. Many outdoor training schools make use of the 10 essentials to teach outdoor skills and good practices. Since then many 10 essential lists have been published by various groups tailored to suit particular outdoor situations.  Regardless of the situation most people agree on the following items.

1) Map – Even if you have hiked a particular location in the spring, summer or fall, it will appear completely different in the winter. Bring a map. A map can tell you where you are, how far you have to go, time to get there, amount you have to climb, where to park your car, campsites, water sites, and an emergency route in an accident. If traveling on foot in the back country 7.5 minute USGS quads or 15 minute maps will give you the detail that you are starving for – if you know how to read it!

2) Compass – Carry a compass at all times. If you learn to use this tool, and its cousin the topographic map, and you are on your way to finding that never done route to the never visited part of the forest. Don’t rely on a GPS unit a replacement. You shouldn’t trust your navigation to anything with a battery in the backcountry – especially in cold temperatures.

3) Flashlight Or Headlamp – A flashlight or headlamp should be carried at all times. You may need to walk in the dark. A light source can be used to signal for help in a critical situation. Headlamps are more convenient for hands-free operation while hiking or in camp.

4) Extra Food – Whenever you are outside have extra food in case you are delayed by bad weather, injuries, getting lost, or getting exhausted. The mountaineers of the 1930’s suggested a one-day supply of extra food. Extra food can boost morale, ward off hypothermia, and when things are bad give you much needed energy. In the winter leave the low carb food at home, that’s for another time and place.  Options include energy bars, hard candy or chocolate.

5) Extra Clothes – You need to have extra clothes to deal with a wide range of weather conditions. A down vest and/or hard shell take up little in your pack, but can provide critical warmth when the conditions get really bad or you have to spend an extra night on the mountain.

6) Sunglasses And Sun Screen – Ever have snow blindness and sunburn at the same time? Ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun reflecting off the snow can cause a painful eye condition called photokeratitis or ultraviolet keratitis. This sunburn of the cornea and conjunctiva is not usually noticed until several hours after exposure. Symptoms include tearing, pain, redness, swollen eyelids, headache, a gritty feeling in the eyes, halos around lights, hazy vision, and temporary loss of vision. Prevention is as simple as wearing eye protection that blocks most of the ultraviolet radiation.

7) First Aid Kit – Prepackaged first aid kits designed just for hikers are a great item to have. These packages contain band-aids, bandages, basic medicines, and many other items. Of course, if you don’t know how to use it, it won’t be of much use. Take a wilderness first aid course to learn how to deal with injuries and sickness in the backcountry. Wilderness first aid is the specific discipline of First aid which relates to care in remote areas, where emergency medical services will be difficult to obtain and/or rapid transport is not readily available.

8) Pocket Knife Or Multi Purpose Tool – A knife will allow you to perform various tasks in the back country such as cutting bandages, removing splinters, punching holes in tarps, cutting rope, or making kindling.

9) Fire Starter And Matches – Fire is warmth and warmth is good when you are cold. Fire also serves as a good signal to others when you are lost. A basic fire starter is useful for starting a fire in emergency situations and for getting wet wood blazing. A fire starter can consist of a chemically-treated fire stick, candles, melted paraffin and newspaper, waxed cardboard, dryer lint, wood shavings, or hundreds of other materials. In addition to the fire starter carry at least two methods for starting a fire: matches, lighter and/or a flint and steel. These will be essential in starting your fire starter when conditions are cold, wet and harsh.

10) Water And A Way To Purify It – Without water your body will weaken and your muscles and organs just won’t be able to function. Water also fends off hypothermia and altitude sickness. Iodine tablets or good stove to melt or boil water can help solve the problem.

The table below depicts the difference between three lists: the list described above, Wired Magazine’s list of 10 Essential Outdoor Survival Items[1] and a list from Gotta Go-It Snows[2].

Wired Magazine

Gotta Go – It Snows: Daypack List

Flashlight or Headlamp Flashlight  
Extra Food High Calorie Protein Bars Food
Extra clothes Extra Clothes
Sunglasses & sun screen  
1st Aid Kit 1st Aid Kit  
Pocket Knife or Multi-tool Knife Multi-purpose Tool
Fire Starter and matches Butane Lighter & Tinder Three Pocket Lighters
Water and a way to purify it Water purification supplies  
whistle Light Weight Wood Stove
Plastic Trash Bag Camp Saw
Backpacker Hammock Tarp
Metal cup or can Light Weight Cooking Pot

Once you have assembled your ten essentials try to keep them together in an easy to grab kit.  I keep components of the ten essentials together with my toilet bag and first aid kit.  It goes on every hike or winter camping adventure.



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