10+ Essentials

10 Essentials you need

Table of Contents

Map and Compass

Carry and know how to use a map and compass.

Always carry a detailed printed topographic map of the area you are hiking in, I use the AMC maps printed on waterproof and tear-resistant Tyvek, or you could use a protective case or plastic covering such as a Ziploc bag to protect a paper map.

Always carry a compass. Always.

It’s ok to carry other navigational tools such as an altimeter or GPS receiver or to use the GPS on your phone, BUT.. don’t rely on technology, as all tech is prone to failure when you need it most (Murphys Law).

While carrying other navigational tools such as an altimeter or GPS receiver, or using the GPS on your phone can be helpful, it’s important not to rely solely on technology. Murphy’s Law states that anything that can go wrong, will go wrong, and this can certainly be true when it comes to technology. In a situation where you are lost or in an emergency, it’s essential to have backup navigation methods and to know how to navigate without technology. This includes being able to read a map, use a compass, and understand basic navigation principles so that you can navigate safely and confidently in any situation.

When hiking, a compass is crucial as it guides hikers in identifying their cardinal direction and steering through uncharted territory. Lack of a compass can result in hikers becoming lost or bewildered, thereby making it hard to get back to the starting point or reach their destination. Furthermore, hikers can use a compass alongside a map to strategize their journey and pinpoint likely dangers or hindrances. It’s important to keep in mind to account for Declination!


Whistle & Signaling Device

For summoning help, a whistle will outlast your vocal cords and can be heard for much farther. A signal mirror can be used to reflect sunlight to get the attention of someone searching for you.

A whistle and a signal mirror are important tools for hiking because they can help you attract attention and communicate your location to rescuers or other hikers in case of an emergency.

A whistle can be heard from a long distance and is much louder than shouting, so it’s an effective way to alert others to your presence. If you get lost, injured, or stuck, blowing a whistle in a series of three short blasts is a recognized signal for help. This can attract the attention of other hikers or rescuers who may be nearby.

A signal mirror is a reflective device that can be used to catch the sunlight and create a bright flash that can be seen from far away. If you’re lost or stranded, a signal mirror can help you alert search and rescue teams or passing hikers to your location. It’s also lightweight and compact, so it’s easy to carry in your backpack.

Overall, a whistle and a signal mirror are important safety items to have with you when hiking because they can help you communicate your location and signal for help in case of an emergency.

Knife &/or Multitool

A knife can be used to cut food, rope, as well as personal protection.  It can be used to create kindling for fire starting by creating a feather stick and the back of the blade can be used with a Ferro rod to create a spark to light a fire.

Having a knife is important in hiking because it can be a versatile and useful tool for a variety of tasks that you may encounter on the trail. Here are some reasons why a knife can be essential when hiking:

  1. Cutting and slicing: A knife can be used for cutting rope, opening packages, preparing food, and slicing through dense vegetation. It can also be used to trim branches and sharpen stakes for setting up your tent or tarp.
  2. First Aid: A knife can be used to cut bandages, dressings, or strips of cloth to use as tourniquets in case of injury. It can also be used to remove splinters, thorns, or other objects from your skin.
  3. Survival: In case of an emergency, a knife can be used to create fire starters, carve wooden tools and utensils, make shelter, or even signal for help.
  4. Safety: A knife can be used as a self-defense tool if you encounter dangerous animals or situations while hiking.

Overall, a knife is a versatile and useful tool to have in your hiking gear because it can help you with a variety of tasks that you may encounter on the trail, as well as provide a sense of security and preparedness in case of an emergency. However, it’s important to use your knife safely and responsibly, and to choose a type of knife that is appropriate for your needs and skill level.

Insect Repellent

Your most effective options are lotion or spray repellents containing DEET or Picaridin, and/or clothing that has been treated with permethrin (any clothing that is treated MUST be allowed to dry at least 4-6 hours before wearing !).

I prefer the Picaridin as it does not harm the plastics on my camera gear, DEET will permanently damage plastic items that it comes in contact with, including camera gear and sunglasses.

Sun Protection

Carry and use sunglasses, sunscreen for the skin and lips (or lip balm), and clothing for sun protection, if you are hiking above treeline or in an area with open sky, wear a long sleeve sweat-wicking shirt and a hat.


Wear non-cotton fast-drying clothing, underwear included, wool socks, moisture-wicking shirts and be prepared for the unexpected, 80 degrees at the trailhead can turn to 40 degrees or lower above treeline especially when there is a wind the 40 degrees can turn into below freezing temps very quickly (there is always wind, even on the lower peaks). The weather in the mountains changes constantly even in the summer months, and if you become injured and need to spend the night you need to have what you need to keep warm and dry as the temperature extremes can be quite significant, including items that can be layered.

Hypothermia can set in quickly if your activity is limited due to injury so always bring extra insulating items, fleece jacket, down or synthetic puffy jacket (they are compressible and don’t weigh hardly anything), hat, mittens or gloves, and raingear and a heat reflective bag or blanket.

Water crossings don’t always go as planned so include extra socks and waterproof boots do you no good when it comes over the top.


Most, if not all, day hikes are planned with the expectation of returning to the car at the trailhead before dark.  Don’t count on it.

Always carry two sources of light or more, and extra batteries for all the devices, I carry a LED headlamp and a LED flashlight. It is very hard to read a map in the dark, it is also very hard, if not impossible, to see the trail or trail markers or cairn’s to find your way in the dark, especially under the tree canopy during a rainstorm.

I recommend LED devices instead of incandescent as they are less likely to fail if dropped when on. (the filaments in incandescent bulbs are very fragile and consume far more power than LED)

DO NOT rely on your phone for light, it’s not bright enough, will kill your battery, and will make your phone useless if you need to call for help if injured or lost, assuming you have a signal – there is very limited coverage in the mountains, and when you need coverage there won’t be any.


Carry and know how to use a first-aid kit, that includes knowledge on how to use all the items in your kit.

Do not let a first-aid kit give you a false sense of security.


Be aware of the regulations regarding open fires in the area where you are hiking or camping.

Carry more than one tool to start and sustain an emergency fire.

I carry a butane lighter, a Ferro rod and striker, and waterproof matches in a sealed container as the last resort. I also carry a sharp knife that can be used to shave kindling when no other dry materials can be found.

Know and practice the proper way to start and maintain a fire.

Firestarter aids such as Wetfire tinder tablets, cotton balls dipped in vaseline, or fatwood are indispensable for igniting wet wood quickly to make an emergency campfire. Other common firestarters include candles and crayons.


For shorter trips, enough food for the “planned” hike and a one-day supply of extra food is reasonable.

You should always bring some food that should require no cooking, be easily digestible, and store well for long periods.


Carry extra water and have the skills and tools required for obtaining and purifying additional water, such as water purifying tablets and a water filter.

Always carry at least one water bottle/bladder.

Water consumption varies depending on current temps, exertion and how hydrated you were before starting the hike. Two liters daily is a reasonable minimum unless it is hot weather or you are hiking at high altitudes, much more will be needed, carry additional water.

Carry enough water to accommodate additional needs such as rehydration of meal packs and cooking, or emergencies such as wound cleaning.

Hydration is important in hiking for several reasons. When you’re hiking, your body is working hard, and you’re likely to sweat more than usual, especially in hot or humid weather. Here are some reasons why staying hydrated is crucial when hiking:

  1. Regulating body temperature: Water helps regulate your body temperature, and when you’re hiking in hot weather, you lose a lot of water through sweat. Drinking enough water can help keep your body cool and prevent heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
  2. Energy and stamina: When you’re dehydrated, your body has to work harder to perform physical tasks, which can lead to fatigue and decreased stamina. Staying hydrated can help you maintain your energy levels and perform better on the trail.
  3. Preventing dehydration: Dehydration can lead to a variety of symptoms, including dizziness, headaches, muscle cramps, and even organ failure in severe cases. By staying hydrated, you can prevent these symptoms and keep your body functioning properly.
  4. Reducing the risk of injuries: When you’re dehydrated, your muscles and joints are more prone to injury, and your reaction time may be slower. Staying hydrated can help keep your muscles and joints lubricated and reduce the risk of injuries.

Overall, staying hydrated is crucial when hiking to keep your body functioning properly, prevent heat-related illnesses, maintain energy and stamina, and reduce the risk of injuries. Make sure to bring plenty of water or other fluids with you on your hike, and drink regularly.


Carry some sort of extra shelter from rain and wind, such as a plastic tube tent, space blanket, mylar blanket, or a jumbo construction debris heavy-duty plastic trash bag.

A good choice is a large rain poncho that is big enough to cover you and your pack. also, a reflective emergency blanket that can double as an aid to an injured or hypothermic person, or rain and cold shelter.

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