The Ten Hiking Essentials List contains the 10 survival items that you should bring with you on every hike or backpacking trip. These are what you will need in case of emergencies or unexpected situations. Even though they may not all be used every time you hike, they could be essential for your survival if the need arises.
This is a “system”, so several of these may not be specific items but rather concepts. You have the flexibility to choose what specific method is best for you and your environment.
This list is based on the National Park Service’s Ten Essentials list but I have expanded on the descriptions and sprinkled in some of my own experience.
If you are questioning the need for some of these ten essentials, I explain why I needed them on my most recent backpacking trip on the Kalalau trail along the NaPali Coast in Kauai. Its environment is a mixture of beach, mountain, and rainforest so keep that in mind when comparing my experience with your future hikes.
A topographical map (in a waterproof map bag or a ziploc bag) and a compass are basic navigation essentials. Other options are a GPS, a phone app with downloaded maps, a satellite messenger phone, or pictures of the local trails from a guidebook or sign (either saved on your camera/phone or printed out).
My Hiking Essential – Satellite Phone:
The trail we followed was very obvious (the Kalalau Trail is right between steep mountains and ocean so there’s only one way to go), but during our day of rest we chose a “quick” 2-mile hike to a waterfall. We got lost and never made it to the waterfalls… Our backup satellite phone had maps on it that we used to learn that we were going in the wrong direction!
#2. Extra Hydration:
Of the hiking essential 10, this one is especially important for your well-being and success. Prepare beforehand by learning if there are water sources that you can collect and treat water from. Remember that hiking and especially backpacking long distances will make you much thirstier than normal, so hydrating is very important for your resiliency out on the trails. If you are treating your water with filters, consider bringing more than one. If you are disinfecting water with chemical tablets or liquid drops, bring extra tablets. If you are using UV lights to purify water, bring extra batteries.
My Hiking Essential – LifeStraw & Katadyn:
We researched our specific trail beforehand to learn that there were plenty of streams along the trail that we could use with water filters. We used LifeStraw water bottles for personal use and Katadyn flexible water bottles to purify water for cooking or to add to our water bladders. Both of these filter out 99.9% of bacteria and parasites.
#3. Extra Nutrition:
Pack an extra meal that doesn’t need preparation. In an emergency that keeps you from returning in the planned time frame, some granola bars, nuts, and energy-rich snacks are backpacking emergency essentials. They are good backups when you need a boost in energy to carry on.
My Hiking Essential – Extra Freeze-Dried Meals:
On our way out to our destination, the state park employee that checked our permits warned us that if unexpected rainy weather occurred that caused dangerous flooding, slick hiking, or landslides we should be prepared not to return when initially planned. It was at that moment I was glad we packed an extra day of food in the form of freeze-dried meals as one of our ten essentials.
#4. Sun Protection:
To protect your eyes and skin from sun damage, bring multiple forms of sun protection. Sun-protecting clothing like long-sleeve shirts and long pants, sunscreen for exposed skin, and a hat for your face and eyes are all options for this essential for hiking.
My Hiking Essential – Sunscreen & Sleeves:
I did not need to bring sunglasses on the Kalalau Trail because most of it is covered by trees. A hat protected my eyes when the trees didn’t. I also decided to skip the sunglasses because I didn’t want any extra gear to keep track of. We wore sunscreen and some of our group wore long sleeves to protect their arms. If you are wary of long-sleeves (for fear of overheating) then at least choose short-sleeves rather than a tank top to protect your shoulders.
A source of light is a must-have in every backpacking (or emergency hiking) situation. A flashlight, lantern, or headlamp will work. The universal preference is the headlamp because of its hands-free functionality. With any light source, make sure to bring extra batteries or a power bank and the appropriate charging cords.
My Hiking Essential – Rechargeable Headlamps:
We used rechargeable headlamps to be able to walk around and cook once the sun went down. We also brought a solar-powered inflatable lantern that compressed down and charged in the sun on the outside of our packs during the day as we hiked.
The lantern was handy to place in the center of our group so we could see everyone without being blinded (like a headlamp can do).
#6. First Aid:
You need a first aid kit in as one of the ten essentials when packing for hiking. Rather than trying to think of all the emergency medical supplies you may need, just purchase a pre-assembled first aid kit. Make sure it includes pain medication, adhesive bandages, gauze or gauze pads, adhesive tape, disinfecting ointment, and blister treatment.
You can add to this as you think of other potential necessities like some sort of antacid (Tums or Pepto-Bismol).
My Hiking Essential – Blister Bandages:
On the full day of hiking back to our car, my husband had severe and unexplained stomach pain for most of the 7 or so hours of hiking. I had forgotten to pack tums which could have helped him! Instead he had probably the most painful and difficult trek of his life.
Sometimes dehydration can cause stomach pain as can the different foods you are eating while backpacking, so do yourself a favor and bring something for stomach pain. On the brighter side, one thing our group did have was blister bandages, which all of us were thankful for!
#7. Emergency Shelter:
Besides your go-to shelter (a tent or hammock & rain tarp), an emergency shelter should come with you too. If you go on a hike away from your main shelter there’s always a chance you could get lost, stranded and injured. An emergency back up shelter may include an emergency space blanket or an ultralight tarp.
My Hiking Essential – Rain Tarp:
Since the hubs and I decided to sleep in hammocks, we had rain tarps with us that could have kept us dry and served as a small shelter anywhere in a survival scenario.
You may not be planning to have a traditional “campfire”, but at least bring the bare minimum to start a fire to comply with the the ten essentials system. A fire can be used as an emergency signal, cooking source, or for warmth. An easy option is to bring a ferro rod or flint.
For a rainforest hiking trip, make sure you bring waterproof matches and fire starters (something that is dry and will catch on fire) since most things in a rainy ecosystem will be too wet to light. Eco-friendly fire starters can be wood shavings and wax (you can buy these online) or even the lint collected from your dryer (strange, but true)!
#9. Repair Kit & Tools:
Think of all the items you’re bringing and which ones you would need to bring repair supplies for. Try to anticipate damage to your rain tarp, tent, hydration bladder, trekking pole, or hiking boots. Actually all of those can be fixed with duct tape.
To avoid bringing a whole roll of tape, just bring a duct tape roll that is close to finished, take out the cardboard middle section, and squish the roll flat.
Consider also bringing cordage, a pocket knife and/or multi tool, safety pins, fabric repair tape, and stove repair parts.
#10. Extra Clothes:
Because you can’t control the weather or even predict it perfectly, it’s best to be prepared by bringing extra clothes that will offer protection from the most extreme weather you might encounter in your location.
Depending on your location, this may entail an extra outfit, another lightweight jacket, long underwear, or gloves. If your clothes get soaked during the day you will definitely want that extra set of clothing so you can stay dry for the rest of your trip.
My Hiking Essential – Extra Socks:
Extra clothes on the ten hiking essentials list includes socks! I only brought one pair of socks for the hike back. I incorrectly assumed I wouldn’t need any socks for our day of rest.
Even though I washed one of my two dirty pairs of socks, the rain prevented them from drying by morning. I had to wear stinky and muddy socks for the long hike back out. In a rainforest environment, you should not count on being able to wash and dry out any clothes, so just bring extras.
And there you have it! The 10 hiking essentials.
Whether you are beginner or an avid hiker, you need to know these ten essentials for hiking.
You can use the clipboard checklist below to enjoy and stay safe on your next adventurous hiking trip.
Do you have a fun or crazy story about needing any of these ten essentials? Where are you going hiking next?
Let me know in the comments! I’d love to hear 🙂