The Ten Essentials were first described in the 1930s by The Mountaineers, a hiking and mountain climbing club. Many regional organizations and authors recommend that hikers, backpackers, and climbers rigorously ensure they have the ten essentials with them. However, some expert lightweight hikers do not always carry all of the items.
- Compass (optionally supplemented with a GPS receiver)
- Sunglasses and sunscreen
- Extra food
- Extra water
- Extra clothes
- Headlamp / flashlight
- First aid kit
- Fire starter (matches, chemical heat tabs, canned heat, or a magnesium stick)
These are now referred to as the "classic" essentials. While still valid and widely used they do not reflect modern outdoor sports and all of the new gadgets that now are common.
In 2003 The Mountaineers revised the essential list as part of the 7th edition of "Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills" to keep up with modern equipment. The current edition, 8th edition continues with the new essentials list with no major revisions. The new list takes a "systems" approach.
- Navigation (map and compass)
- Sun protection (sunglasses and sunscreen)
- Insulation (extra clothing)
- Illumination (headlamp/flashlight)
- First-aid supplies
- Fire (waterproof matches/lighter/candles)
- Repair kit and tools
- Nutrition (extra food)
- Hydration (extra water)
- Emergency shelter (tarp, bivy bag, space blanket)
The textbook recommends supplementing the ten essentials with:
- Portable water purification and water bottles
- Ice axe for glacier or snowfield travel (if necessary)
- Insect repellent (or clothing designed for this purpose)
- Signaling devices, such as a whistle, cell phone, two-way radio, satellite phone, unbreakable signal mirror or flare.
Not every expedition will require the use of an essential item. Carrying these basic items improves the chances that one is prepared for an unexpected emergency in the outdoors. For instance, if a hiker experiences a sudden snow storm, fresh clothes and fire starter may be used to keep warm, or the map and compass and headlamp will allow them to exit the wilderness quickly; otherwise they might succumb to hypothermia and perhaps even death. In addition, what you carry on a short summer trip on a popular trail is much less than a snowshoe trip in winter where you do not expect to see other people because the chances of being benighted are higher and because the risk of suffering hypothermia are greater.
Other outdoor organizations have variations of the Ten Essentials pertinent to local conditions. For example, Utah's Wasatch Mountain Club lists extra water in place of food, as Utah is mostly desert terrain, and water is more difficult to find.
The Spokane Mountaineers list "thirteen essentials", which supplement the list with emergency shelter such as a space blanket, signaling device, and toilet paper and trowel (for sanitary disposal of human waste; the toilet paper also doubles as tinder for starting a fire).
The "Ten Essential Groups" is an alternative approach to essential gear selection. Items from each group should be chosen depending on the season, geographic location, and trip duration. In 2011, Columbia Sportswear adopted the "Ten Essential Groups" concept for their iOS app "Take Ten to the Greater Outdoors."
- "Ten Essentials". Great Outdoor Recreation Pages.
- Jardine, Ray (2001). Beyond Backpacking. Arizona City, Arizona, USA: AdventureLore press. p. 124. ISBN 0-9632359-3-1.
- Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills, 6th edition, Mountaineers, pages 35-40, (1997), ISBN 0-89886-427-5
- Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills, p. 38
- Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills, 7th edition, Mountaineers,(2003), ISBN 0-89886-827-0
- Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills, 8th edition, Mountaineers,(2010), ISBN 978-1-59485-137-7
- "Precipitation in Utah". Retrieved 2009-06-06.
- "The 13 Essentials of the Spokane Mountaineers". Spokane Mountaineers. Archived from the original on 2007-09-28. Retrieved 2007-08-26.
- "Ten Essential Groups Article". Texas Sierra Club.
- "Take Ten to the Greater Outdoors". Columbia Sportswear.