Be prepared

There are 10 essentials that will keep you prepared for any accident, emergency, or outdoor situation


Most people can survive a night out on the town but few are able to survive a night out in the woods. This is the time of year when headlines often highlight search and rescue missions for lost hunters, hikers, or campers.
   If you want to avoid being one of these statistics there’s a list of simple items that you should carry in your pack. Known as The Ten Essentials, this list was developed back in the 1930s by the climbing club The Mountaineers, and hasn’t changed too much over time. The list should guide you in preparing for any trip in any season.
   The purpose of the list is to answer two basic questions: 1) Can you respond positively to an accident or emergency? 2) Can you safely spend a night, or more, out?
   Nights are now getting down into the 30s and even 20s in the higher mountains, plus the weather is more unpredictable this time of year so being prepared for anything is essential. This is as important on short, local trips as it is on long, backcountry trips. It’s easy to forget a first aid kit or a warm jacket on a short trip, but it could quickly turn into a long trip if you get lost or injured.
   Here’s the list of The Ten Essentials:
   1. Navigation
   2. Sun Protection
   3. Insulation
   4. Illumination
   5. First Aid Supplies
   6. Fire
   7. Repair Kit
   8. Nutrition
   9. Hydration
   10. Emergency Shelter
   For navigation, a topographic map and compass are essential. A GPS and wrist altimeter could also be included. A compass, along with map-reading skills, is a vital tool if you become disoriented in the backcountry. Unlike a GPS, a compass weighs next to nothing and doesn’t rely on batteries. Many compasses are equipped with a sighting mirror, which can be used to signal a helicopter or rescuer during an emergency.
   Sun Protection
   On any outing, you need to protect yourself from the sun. This involves sunglasses, sunscreen, lip balm and lightweight, skin-shielding clothing.
   The sun’s UVB rays can burn your skin and have also been linked to the development of cataracts. For added protection, consider wraparound lenses to keep light (and wind) from entering the corners of your eyes. If you plan on being in the snow you’ll need extra-dark glacier glasses.
   When choosing sunscreen, get one with a sun protection factor (SPF) of least 15 through SPF 30 and one that blocks harmful UVA and UVB rays. Most people apply too little and not often enough. Dermatologists recommend one ounce to cover your arms, legs, neck and face. You should apply it before your outing and at least a few hours later. As for lip balm, get one with an SPF rating.
   Today’s outdoor clothing is now made with lightweight, synthetic material that comes with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF). Of course when the weather gets colder your heavier clothes will block the sun but you’ll still need sunscreen on your face and neck.
   When considering what type of clothing to wear on a trip you should ask yourself, “What’s needed to survive the worst conditions that could be encountered?”
   Remember that conditions can change quickly to wet, windy, and cold so it’s smart to carry an extra layer of clothing in case you get lost or hurt and have to spend more time than planned exposed to the elements.
   You can always wrap a fleece jacket around your waist or put it in the bottom of your pack. When the weather does get colder you definitely want to pack some kind of insulating hat since it can provide more warmth for its weight than any piece of clothing.
   A small flashlight or headlamp is lightweight and doesn’t take up that much room in your pack. Headlamps are the top choice since they offer hands-free operation. Lights with light-emitting diodes (LEDs) are more advantageous over those with incandescent bulbs since they offer longer battery life, can handle rougher conditions, (no filaments to break) and provide comparable light output.
   Most headlamps today offer a strobe mode, which is a great option to have for emergency situations. Headlamps offer their longest battery life while in strobe mode. And don’t forget to pack spare batteries and a spare bulb, if your light is equipped with an incandescent bulb.
   First Aid Supplies
   Whether you build your own kit or buy a first aid kit, be sure it includes treatments for blisters, adhesive bandages of various sizes, several gauze pads, adhesive tape, disinfecting ointment, over-the-counter pain medication, pen and paper. It’s also a good idea to carry some sort of compact guide that deals with medical emergencies.
   One of the best options for starting a fire has always been waterproof matches stored in a waterproof container. The typical matchbooks are often too flimsy and are worthless if they get wet. A lighter can be handy, but always carry matches as a backup.
   There are lots of firestarter tools on the market today, such as the nanoStriker (, that work even when wet and can produce up to 1,000 fire-starting strikes. Potential firestarter material includes dry tinder in a plastic bag, candles, priming paste, heat nuggets (chipped-wood clusters soaked in resin) and even lint trappings from the clothes dryer.
   Repair Kit and Tools
   A knife or a multi-tool that has a knife is handy for gear repair, food preparation, first aid, making kindling or other emergency needs. A knife or multi-tool should have at least one foldout blade, one or two screwdrivers, a can opener and a pair of foldout scissors. Duct tape is always handy. You can wrap strips of it around a water bottle or a trekking pole for easy access when needed.
   Experts advise packing at least an extra day’s worth of food in your pack. This could include a freeze-dried meal, or extra energy bars, nuts, dried fruits or jerky. Since digesting food helps keep your body warm, it’s best to eat something just before having to spend a cold night out.
   Depending on the length of your hike, you should carry one to two quarts of water per person. On longer outings, you should consider a collapsible water reservoir and some sort of water treatment such as a filter/purifier or chemical treatment. Try to remember the last water source you passed in case you need to return to it.
   Emergency Shelter
   If you ever have to spend an unexpected night out in the woods, you’re going to wish you had some sort of shelter, especially if there’s wind, rain or snow. Some possible shelters include a bivy sack, an ultralight tarp, an emergency space blanket or even a large plastic trash bag.
   Other Options
   In addition to The Ten Essentials, other items that could assist in an emergency situation include a whistle for summoning help, a communication device such as two-way radios, a cell phone or a satellite phone and a signaling device such as a signal mirror.
   The Ten Essentials are not just for those hiking in the woods. They can also form the core of your car or home emergency-preparedness kit. Someday they could potentially save your life.