The Ten Essentials of Hiking

Ten Things You Should Bring on Every Hike

Jasper Van Der Meij

Whether you plan to head out on the trail for a couple hours or several months, American Hiking Society recommends everyone pack the "Ten Essentials" every time you head out into the backcountry.

You most likely will never use all ten essentials on any given hike, but when you need any of these items you will be grateful to have them in your pack.

The Ten Essentials

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Appropriate Footwear

For a short day hike that doesn’t involve a heavy pack or technical terrain, trail shoes are great. For longer hikes, carrying heavier loads, or more technical terrain, hiking boots offer more support.

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Map and Compass/GPS

A map and compass not only tell you where you are and how far you have to go, but it can also help you find campsites, water, and an emergency exit route in case of an accident. While GPS units are very useful, always carry a map and compass as a backup.

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Extra Water

(and a way to purify it)

Without enough water, your body’s muscles and organs simply can’t perform as well. Consuming too little water will not only make you thirsty but susceptible to hypothermia and altitude sickness.

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Extra Food

Any number of things could keep you out longer than expected: getting lost, enjoying time by a stream, an injury, or difficult terrain. Extra food will help keep up energy and morale.

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Rain Gear and Extra Clothing

Because the weatherman is not always right. Dressing in layers allows you to adjust to changing weather and activity levels. Two rules: avoid cotton (it keeps moisture close to your skin) and always carry a hat.

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Safety Items

(fire, light, and a whistle)

The warmth of a fire and a hot drink can help prevent hypothermia. Fires are also a great way to signal for help if you get lost. If lost, you’ll also want the whistle as it is more effective than using your voice to call for help (use 3 short bursts). And just in case you’re out later than planned, a flashlight/headlamp is a must-have item to see your map and where you’re walking.

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First Aid Kit

Prepackaged first-aid kits for hikers are available at any outfitter. Double your effectiveness with knowledge: take a first-aid class with the American Red Cross or a Wilderness First Aid class.

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Knife or Multi-Purpose Tool

These enable you to cut strips of cloth into bandages, remove splinters, fix broken eyeglasses, and perform a whole host of repairs on malfunctioning gear.

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Sunscreen & Sunglasses

Especially above treeline when there is a skin-scorching combination of sun and snow, you’ll need sunglasses to prevent snow blindness and sunscreen to prevent sunburn.

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You’ll want something you can carry comfortably and has the features designed to keep you hiking smartly. Don’t forget the rain cover; some packs come with one built-in. Keep the other Essentials in the pack and you’ll always be ready to hit the trail safely.


Trash Bag

Pack this 11th essential to making sure that the trails you love stay beautiful for generations to come. A ziplock bag is a great option for keeping the trash you pick up along the trail separate from the rest of your gear. Level up by including a pair of disposable gloves to use when picking up less-pleasant litter.

Related Hiking Resources

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