Ten Essentials for Hiking and Camping

Whether you are hiking, backpacking, kayaking or any other outdoor activity that takes you out into nature, you need to have some sort of emergency plan if things were to go wrong. Though the chances of something bad happening are slim, having a plan in place in the event something did go wrong, can be the difference between life or death.

Some scenarios that could happen while enjoying your favorite outdoor activity:

  • You get lost while hiking! Unable to find the trail you need to start planning on staying put. Do you have they needed supplies to stay the night?
  • While hiking you slip off trail and hit your leg on a rock. A large gash has formed and you are bleeding. Do you have a first aid to stop the bleeding?
  • A sudden snow storm reduces your visibility to almost none while snowshoeing. The trail is quickly lost in the new snow. What do you do?
  • You are on a 3 day back packing trip in the high mountains. You discover your water bladder has a hole in it and has leaked all your water. Do you have a back up water option?
  • Your group has misjudged the time it would take to hike that day. You are still 6 miles from your car and are loosing light quickly. Are you prepared to hike in the dark?

These are some of the more extreme scenarios. But it could be as simple as the weather changed and you need to be prepared to stay warm. Having a plan is essential. That is why we recommend carrying the essential ten items. This list first appeared in Mountaineering Freedom of the Hills Mountaineers. Below we will expand upon it and help give you suggestions for what items to pack.

    • Navigation
    • Hydration
    • Nutrition
    • First Aid
    • Insulation
    • Fire
    • Tools|Repair Kit
    • Illumination
    • Sun Protection
    • Shelter


(Basic Map, Topographical Map, Compass, GPS)

Unless you are going on a familiar short hike, some sort of navigation should accompany you. At the very least, print off a trail map or take a picture of the one at the trailhead. Handheld GPS’s are the Rolls Royce of trail navigation. Just be sure to carry spare batteries and know what to do if the GPS fails. We highly recommend basic compass and map understanding.


(Water storage and filter)

Without water, depending on the conditions, you could die within several hours. It is essential for survival. Having water storage and a way to filter water are a must have for any hiker. Another great suggestion is to study the map before heading out and highlight water sources that that are on or around the trail. This can come in handy if you become stranded and need to refill your water container.


A human can last several weeks without food as long as they have water. So this isn’t a must have but keeping energy is essential if you get lost and plan on having the energy to walk out on your own. Having the extra calories can do wonders to keep you warm at night as well. What do I bring? For short trips, generally some sort of jerky and energy bars. If I am doing a multi-day trip, I prefer MRE (Meal Ready-to-Eat) packs.

First Aid

Another essential for hiking, even for short day hikes is first aid. It should be fairly obvious why a first aid kit is needed. I recommend the bare minimum of gauze pads, ointments for cuts/burns, bandaids, tape and pain medication (Advil, Alive, Tylenol).


(Rain Gear and/or layers)

I learned this lesson first hand with hiking in the Pacific Northwest where weather can change quickly and dramatically. I was hiking on a beautiful 60 degree sunny day. About four hours into the hike, the weather quickly turned to rain. Then the temperature plummeted. I was soaked and freezing. Thankfully it was a short hike. I was not prepared.

What kind and how much insulation will really depend what time of the year you hike and obviously where you are hiking. Be sure to research the areas weather and be prepared for the worst. As they say, “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst”.


Insulation can do wonders in keeping you warm, but having the option to make a fire is a great backup plan. It will keep you warm and dry, keep the bugs away, and may help rescuers spot you (smoke). When selecting a fire method, I prefer to have backup plans. Also look for water proof methods. Having some cheap BIC lighters is always a good start. Then keep a few waterproof matches as backup.

Tools|Repair Kit

(repair kit, duct tape)

Duct tape has so many uses. It can patch a shoe or pack, fix a strap, create a rope, patch your shelter, patch rain gear, wrap a sprained ankle, and many, many more.

A multitool and/or knife are also great to have in any pack.


Lighting is crucial when you end up hiking longer then planned. Many times I have avoided spending nights on the trail thanks to having a headlamp. This gave me the ability to continue following the trail and make it safely to my car. A headlamp is also great so that you can gather fire wood, start a fire or assemble a shelter with both hands free.

I personally carry both a headlamp and a handheld flashlight. It is better to have backup plans if one fails.

Sun Protection

Whether it is hot or cold, sunny or snowy- you can get burnt by the sun. Being prepared will make your days on the trail and after the trail more enjoyable!

When choosing sunglasses, look for ones that block 100% of ultraviolet light (UVA and UVB). For sunscreen, choose “sport” versions which last longer when sweating. Having a hat to block the sun can also be a great idea.


Nobody expects to become lost or injured on the trail, but it happens. And if it does, having a light, small shelter can help tremendously with dealing with the elements. A tarp or shelter can be a great resource to keep yourself dry if a sudden storm catches you off guard.

On top of the 10 essentials we highly recommend investing in a solid pair of hiking boots and a backpack that fits. Though they may not be essential in terms of safety, they are essential if you want to guarantee a comfortable hiking trip. Nothing can ruin a trip faster then blistering feet or a backpack strap that constantly rubs and chafes. Keep in eye out for future articles where we will highlight how to properly fit and select both boots and backpacks.

Have any comments or suggestions on our list? Let us know!

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