10 Essential Gears Every Hiker Should Carry Always

10 Essential Gears Every Hiker Should Carry Always

10 Essential Gears Every Hiker Should Carry Always

I’m Sigourney Costa-Johnson, a hiking addict who’s passionate about the outdoors. As someone who spends a lot of time on the trails, I can’t stress enough the importance of always carrying these 10 essential gears – even on day hikes. Sure, on a routine trip you may not need any of ’em. But it’s when things go wrong that you’ll be glad you packed these potential lifesavers.

The original Ten Essentials list was put together in the 1930s by The Mountaineers to help folks be prepared for emergencies. Back then it included a map, compass, sunglasses, extra clothes, a headlamp, first-aid kit, fire starter, matches, knife and extra food.

Also read: The Importance Of An Emergency Solar-powered Rechargeable Radio For Wilderness Hiking

Over the years, the list’s evolved to a “systems” approach rather than individual items. Now it looks like this:

Updated 10 essential gears

  1. Navigation: map, compass, altimeter, GPS device, personal locator beacon (PLB) or satellite messenger
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  2. Headlamp: plus extra batteries
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  3. Sun protection: sunglasses, sun-protective clothes and sunscreen
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  4. First aid including foot care and insect repellent (as needed)
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  5. Knife plus a gear repair kit
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  6. Fire matches, lighter, tinder and/or stove
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  7. Shelter carried at all times (can be a light emergency bivy)
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  8. Extra food Beyond the minimum expectation
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  9. Extra water Beyond the minimum expectation
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  10. Extra clothes Beyond the minimum expectation
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The exact items from each system I take can be tailored to the specific trip I’m doing. For example, on a short day hike that’s easy to navigate, I might just bring a map, compass and personal locator beacon, but leave my GPS and altimeter at home. On a longer, more complex outing, I’ll probably want all those navigation tools to help me find my way. When deciding what to pack, I consider factors like weather, difficulty, duration and distance from help.

The key here is having multiple ways to stay found if you get turned around or lost. Options include:

  • Map and compass
  • Altimeter
  • GPS
  • Personal locator beacon (PLB)

Having redundant navigation tools provides critical backup in case one fails or you accidentally lose one. I always carry at least two.

I always pack multiple navigation tools in case I get lost or turned around on the trail. My essentials are:

  • Map: I never head out without a topographic map for any hike beyond a short, well-marked path. It’s critical for route-finding if I lose my way.
  • Compass: A compass and map skills have saved me more than once when disoriented. I always carry a basic baseplate compass as a backup since it’s lightweight and doesn’t need batteries. A mirror compass can also signal rescuers.
  • GPS device: I rely on my GPS to show my location digitally on a map. For hiking, I use a rugged standalone model instead of my phone. I monitor the battery and bring extras.
  • Altimeter watch: This shows my elevation using air pressure and GPS data. It helps me track my progress and pinpoint my position on the map.
  • Personal locator beacon: I bring my PLB to quickly alert emergency responders if I’m in real trouble. It uses GPS satellites so works where phones can’t.

Having redundant navigation tools is critical in case one fails. I never hit the trail without at least two ways to stay found.

2. Solar Radio / Headlamp

Having a reliable light source is essential for hiking at night. As an expert, I always pack a headlamp to keep my hands free for setting up camp, cooking, or using trekking poles. A headlamp is the top choice for most backcountry travelers. I always carry spare batteries too. Being able to see after dark could be critical if I get caught out longer than expected or need to work on gear repairs.

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3. Sun Protection

Julbo Camino Sunglasses for Men and Women | Protective Spectron Lens with Side Shields for Mountaineering and Glacier Travel

To avoid sunburn, snow blindness, and long-term eye and skin damage, I always wear and pack sun protection when hiking. My essentials are:

  • Sunglasses: Quality shades are critical to protect my eyes from radiation. I wear extra-dark glacier glasses in snowy conditions. I ensure my sunglasses block 100% of UVA/UVB rays, which can cause cataracts. I carry spare sunglasses for others who may have forgotten theirs.
  • Sunscreen: Long hours outdoors expose you to UV rays that cause burns, premature aging, and skin cancer. I wear SPF 30 or higher, reapplying every 2 hours, to limit UV exposure. I apply it thoroughly on all exposed skin since UV reflects off snow and water. Lip balm with SPF is also a must.
  • Sun protective clothing: Clothes can block UV without needing as much sunscreen on covered skin. I opt for lightweight synthetics with UPF ratings to effectively block UVA/UVB. A wide-brim hat is key for protecting my face and neck.

4. First Aid

I know having a well-stocked first aid kit is vital for treating injuries. Pre-assembled kits take the guesswork out of building one. I personalize my kit with essentials like blister care, bandages, gauze, medical tape, ointment, pain meds, gloves, and an emergency guide.

The length of my trip and number of people dictate what I pack. For short day hikes, I carry just the basics. For longer treks, I add more supplies to handle issues like diarrhea, infections, and sprains. No matter what, I always have materials to treat blisters, cuts, and pain so I’m prepared if someone gets hurt on the trail.

Also read: The Importance Of An Emergency Solar-powered Rechargeable Radio For Wilderness Hiking

5. Knife

Having a good knife and repair kit is essential in case I need to fix gear, prepare food, make kindling or handle first aid. I make sure every adult in my group carries a sturdy knife.

For basic needs, a knife with one foldout blade works. But for leading less experienced hikers, I opt for a multitool with screwdrivers, a can opener, scissors, and other features. I also always pack a small repair kit with duct tape, cord, fabric tape, zip ties, pins and spare parts for my stove, tent, pad, and other gear. Having the ability to fix broken equipment when I’m far from help could be critical.

6. Fire

Having a reliable fire-starting gear can be critical in an emergency. I always carry both a waterproof lighter and matches in a sealed container – never flimsy store-bought matchbooks that can fail.

I also pack firestarter material that ignites quickly and keeps burning, even when wet. My go-to’s are dry tinder in a plastic bag, priming paste, heat nuggets, and even pocket lint. For above-treeline or snow trips without firewood, I bring a stove as an emergency heat/water source. With the right supplies, I can start a fire to keep us warm if conditions take a bad turn.

7. Emergency Shelter

Never hit the trail without an emergency shelter in your pack. Getting stranded or injured far from camp means I’d need protection from wind and rain. I pack an ultralight tarp, bivy sack, space blanket or even a heavy-duty trash bag. My regular tent doesn’t count unless I’m carrying it with me. Having some type of small, portable shelter could save my life if I get caught out overnight without my full camp gear.

8. Extra Food

I always pack at least one extra day’s worth of food in case my trip gets extended. I choose things that don’t require cooking and have a long shelf life like energy bars, nuts, dried fruit and jerky. For longer treks, I pack even more reserves.

9. Extra Water

I also carry enough water for each outing and a way to treat more, whether that’s a filter, chemicals or a stove for melting snow. As a rule of thumb, I plan for about a half liter per hour based on the temperature, altitude and exertion. At minimum, I bring one water bottle or reservoir and fill up from a safe source of water at the start.

10. Extra Clothes

Merrell Men's and Women's Wool Everyday Hiking Socks - 3 Pair Pack - Cushion Arch Support & Moisture Wicking

those were the 10 essential gears you should always carry with you

Since conditions can turn nasty and wet quickly, I pack extra clothing beyond what I expect to wear. I think about what I’d need if I had to survive stalled out in bad weather. My emergency clothes include extra socks, gloves, a hat, jacket and insulation layers. Having the right spare gear could save me if I’m forced to spend an unplanned night outside.

Also read: The Importance Of An Emergency Solar-powered Rechargeable Radio For Wilderness Hiking

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