The 10 Essentials

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The 10 Essentials are the 10 things that you should have, or would want to have while in the backcountry.  Whether that be hiking, backpacking, hunting, etc.  These items are what could potentially be the difference between surviving and perishing.

Water

As far as I’m concerned, the number one priority when on the trail is water.  You should always bring water with you and have a way of collecting and purifying water along the way as well.  To that end, I always bring with me a 1L bottle of water and a water filter that can filter 99.99999% of all bacteria, such as salmonella, cholera and E.coli; and 99.9999% of all protozoa, such as giardia and cryptosporidium.

Currently, I’m using a Platypus Gravityworks 2L water filtration system.  It utilizes a 2L dirty water bag, and a 2L clean water bag and the filter itself.  I will be changing to the Sawyer Squeeze as it is a simpler system.  What I don’t like about the Platypus system is the hoses.  I prefer the simplicity of the Sawyer system of just attaching the filter directly to the bottle or bag and filtering from there.  It’s less complicated and easier to store and use.

I’ve heard that the new versions of the Sawyer Squeeze are not compatible with the Platypus bottles and so I’ll be picking up two, 2L Evernew water bags for when I need to carry more water.  I’ll also bring along a cut off bottle top to use as a scoop when needed.  I prefer using the top of a bottle over the bottom as this way I can utilize it as a funnel if I need to and also put a piece of cloth around the cap opening to use as a pre-filter.

“A person can survive only three to five days without water, in some cases people have survived for an average of one week. It is not recommended that anyone try this at home. Once the body is deprived of fluids the cells and organs in the body begin to deteriorate.”

Shelter

Shelter is important, especially so when you have harsh environmental conditions.  A shelter can protect you from the heat of the sun or keep you warm when it’s cold out.  It will keep off the rain or snow and block the wind too.

Shelter provides a mental benefit as well.  It can provide you respite from biting stinging insects or from a bothersome hiking companion.  It’s a place you can go to get away from it all.

When it comes to shelter on the trail, a tent is the most popular option.  There are plenty of companies that make quality tents but I prefer something that has enough room for me to spread out a little bit in.  Has a fully enclosed space to keep the bugs and mosquitoes out.  Is water proof for when it rains or snows, and is as lightweight as possible.

Clothing

We love to spend time in nature.  Being among the mountains, trees and streams is what it’s all about.  But while we’re out there, it’s important to bring the proper clothing to protect you from nature as well.  When it rains, a rain jacket and pants will keep you dry.  When it’s windy, a wind jacket will prevent loss of body heat through convection.  When it’s cold, you’ll want a warm jacket, warm base layers and a hat.  When it’s sunny you’ll want a lightweight hat and sun glasses.  Long sleeved shirts and pants will protect your skin from the harsh rays of the sun too.

A good portion of the weight you’ll carry will come directly from the clothing you bring to protect you from the elements when spending time out in nature.

Food

Food is essential.  It’s what your body uses for fuel.  It what you body uses to reproduce cells.  You literally are what you eat.  However, a healthy person can go weeks without food.  So when it comes to surviving in the woods, food is not my first priority.  However, the less food you have, the weaker you will become and the harder it will be to get things done, therefore decreasing your chances of survival.

The human body stores energy in the forms of fat, carbohydrates and proteins.  Carbs are the first to be used up, next is fats and then proteins.  Once you’ve  gotten to the point where your body is using it’s proteins as fuel, your body is literally eating itself.

When it comes to surviving without food, the weather plays a very large role.  When it’s cold out, your body uses more energy to keep your core temperature at 98.6°F / 37°C.

Some of the symptoms that you will encounter when going without food are weakness, confusion, diarrhea, irritability, poor decision making, immune deficiency.  If you get to the point of advanced starvation and your organs have started to shut down, you will begin to experience hallucinations, convulsions, muscle spasms, irregular heartbeat, and eventually death.

“Gandhi fasted for 21 days while in his 70’s. People lost in the wild have also survived for long periods of time without eating. Medically speaking, most doctors agree that healthy humans can go up to eight weeks without food as long as they have water.”

Sun Protection

Sun protection can come in many forms.  From a shelter, to a wide brimmed hat.  An umbrella can be used for sun protection as well.  Long sleeves on your shirt and full length pants will keep the sun off your skin and prevent you from getting burned.  If you prefer to wear a t-shirt and shorts, or even less, I highly recommend the strongest UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) sun lotion you can find.  If you are relying on your clothing for this protection, be sure that the materials you’ve chosen are UPF rated too.

Lip balm and sun glasses shouldn’t be forgotten either.  The lip balm will help prevent dry cracked lips and the sun glasses will protect your eyes from the bright suns as well as reflected light too.

“UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) represents the ratio of sunburn-causing UV without and with the protection of the fabric, similar to SPF (Sun Protection Factor) ratings for sunscreen. While standard summer fabrics have UPF ~6, sun protective clothing typically has UPF ~30, which means that only 1 out of ~30 units of UV will pass through (~3%).”

Light / Electronics

While I don’t think that having a light is essential, it is always nice to have for when you have to go pee in the middle of the night, or if you are doing some night hiking because it’s too hot during the day.  Being able to see what went bump in the night can be reassuring too.

I used to carry a handheld flashlight and a headlamp but rarely do I ever choose the handheld anymore.  I’ve decided that a headlamp is more than sufficient, and recently have discovered that manufacturers are now making rechargeable versions.  This will cut down on the weight that I’ll have to carry as I won’t need to bring along a ton of batteries, for all my electronics anymore.

If you’re the kind of person who enjoys taking picture of the scenery or likes to record videos on the trail, you’ve probably experienced the dreaded dead battery.  Now that more and more electronics have the built in ability to be charged up instead of using replaceable batteries, I’ve decided that the best course of action is to invest in a good back-up battery charger that can be used to charge all my electronics when they need it.

Also, in an effort to cut weight, I’ve moved away from the idea of having a separate camera, music device, etc. when I already have an all-in-one device.  Every smart phone can be used as a phone, video camera, still picture camera, web device, music device.  You can load books and videos on it, use it as a GPS, etc.  They’re the ultimate electronic accessory for a backpacker.

Navigation

Getting lost in the backcountry is no joke.  It happens more than we’d like to think and recently people have died due to poor navigation skills and were later found mere miles from their campsite or car.

Many people have tuned to technology to get them where they want to go, and while GPS is a marvel of human engineering, the basic skills of figuring out where you are, where your destination is, and how to get there are just as important today as they were a thousand years ago.

While my main navigation systems is a GPS, I do always have a map of the area I’m in and a compass.  You don’t need a fancy compass either, just something that tells you where North is.  If you can find North and know where North is on a map, all you need to do from there is figure out where you are.  Main terrain features are the easiest way to figure it out.  If you can see a large hill, or mountain or a river nearby and can find those features on a map, you can, for the most part, figure out where you are and how to get where you want to go.

I very much recommend you seek out navigation training at your local outfitters or even just check out YouTube for lessons.  It could save your life.

“It’s best to keep a topographic map and compass as a backup in your pack, along with a map of the area.”

First Aid

A basic first aid kit is something that I feel everyone should have on them, especially when help is not near by.  What happens when you get hurt, or someone else does?  At some point when you are out on a hike, you are going to get hurt.  It’s a part of the experience.  In most cases, it’s pretty unlikely that you’ll get hurt so bad that you will need a hospital, and just about everything else you can handle.

Some of the most common hiking related injuries  you’ll likely encounter are sun burn, blisters, bug bites, chaffing, a twisted ankle, minor scrapes, muscle cramps and diarrhea.  Your personal first aid kit should be equipped to handle these common afflictions.

Fire

Fire can be a source of warmth, used to signal for help, used to cook your food, or just a place to hang out by and share some stories.  It’s commonly referred to as hiker TV.  Is it essential to have?  My answer is no, it’s not.  Is it essential to know how to start a fire if you need one? Yes, absolutely.

I always bring at least 2 Bic lighters.  They are lightweight, easy to use, almost never fail and are cheap to buy.  I like the kind that are transparent so I can see how much lighter fluid I have remaining.  One lighter I keep in with my cook kit, the other is in my miscellaneous pouch.

Tools

I used to carry a folding pocket knife every time I went into the woods, until one day I asked myself, how often do I actually use the blade, and how often would something else be more useful?

A lot of people will say that the most useful thing you can have in the woods is a good knife, and they’re not wrong.  I do, however, feel that this very much depends on what you are doing in the woods.  If you are just a hiker, I would argue that a small multi-tool is more useful.  Sure you can’t baton wood with it, and you’re probably not going to be able to chop down a tree, but that’s not my intended goal.

For my purpose, the pliers, scissors and file all come in just as handy as a blade, and a multi-tool has a blade too.  A small multi-tool can be more handy than you think and I feel is worth the weight.

I also suggest bringing along a small repair kit including a needle and thread, for if/when you blow a seam. Repair tape and maybe even a safety pin or two.