The Ten Essentials
By Scott Stoddard
"DON'T leave home without it." But what good will a green plas
tic credit card do you 20 miles from the nearest paved road? What
do you really need when out away from civilization?
Experienced outdoor enthusiasts know what items are most impor
tant to bring - even for short walks or hikes out of base camp.
The "10 Essentials" are items that cannot be improvised from
materials lying on the forest floor. To be found without these
few items, even only a few miles from camp or cabin, can spell
The standard list of 10 essentials varies slightly depending
on which source you go to. The Boy Scouts have their list, the
Sierra Club has another, and the Mountaineers in their outdoor
bible, Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills, have come up
with another variation. They all incorporate the same basic
The following list is not to be considered cast in concrete -
each survivalist should customize his or her own kit for the
barest minimum of supplies. Note that the first three items are
for finding your way, the second three are for your protection,
and the last four are for emergencies.
1. A MAP of the area you will be hiking, canoeing, or camping
should be detailed enough so that you can find man-made items
like trails, unimproved roads, power lines, etc., and natural
features such as rivers, streams, hills and other terrain land
marks that will guide you. A U.S Geological Survey Topographical
map has all of these features and more. For an index to topo maps
in your home state contact: U.S. Geological Survey, Map Distribu
tion Section, Federal Center, Box 25286, Denver, CO 80225; (303)
236-7477. A 365 page book titled, The Map Catalog, (Every kind of
map and chart on Earth and even some above it), is available
from: High Country Enterprise, P.O. Box 746, Saguache, CO 81149;
2. A map without a COMPASS is almost useless unless you pos
sess a sixth sense in direction finding. I prefer the liquid
filled "Silva" or "Suunto" compasses. These have straight edges
that are useful in plotting bearings. Military lensatic compass
es are more bulky and don't have a clear base making map reading
through the compass impossible. With both map and compass you
should be able to "orient" the map by lining up magnetic north on
the compass with the magnetic north arrow printed on the map.
Once you do this, you'll be able to identify terrain features and
plot your course.
3. Be sure that the FLASHLIGHT you bring doesn't have a switch
that is easily turned on and off. You may find that it has been
accidentally on all day, and when you need it the batteries will
be already worn out. In that case don't put the batteries inside
the unit until you are required to use it. Even if you have the
most advanced, water proof machined aluminum light source, bring
a spare bulb and spare alkaline batteries just in case. A Mini-
Mag Lite will fit in the smallest of 10 essential kits but may
not be adequate for all-night travel. Headlamps are useful for
cave exploring and when the hands are otherwise occupied.
4. On one trip to the top of an 11,000 foot peak I forgot my
SUNGLASSES and I nearly went snowblind. After tiring of looking
through my balled-up fists I finally had to cut slits in some
cardboard and jury-rig some Eskimo sunglasses. Sunglasses are
available today that stop 99 percent of ultraviolet light. Poly
carbonate lenses with "wraparound" designs provide more protec
tion against wind and side glare. Glacier glasses are recommended
for snowy conditions. They usually have polarized lenses and
leather side shields to block out the side glare. Buy some re
taining straps when you purchase your sunglasses. Croakies or
Chums cost less than $5 and will prevent damage or loss of your
expensive eye wear. Add some sunscreen to your kit for total
5. EXTRA FOOD and WATER. This category puzzles me a bit. Does it
mean that I should have two water bottles filled with water and
two bags of trail mix? The amount of water you bring should be
determined by the length of the trip and the temperature and
physical demand put on your body. Water should be used as needed
and not rationed out,(i.e.,a few ounces now and no more for
another hour). If your body needs water, it needs it now not
three hours from now! Water purification tablets might help you
use other water sources. As far as food, some hikers throw cans
of sardines or tuna fish into their packs knowing that they
wouldn't eat it unless there was an emergency. Normal trail foods
(dried fruits, nuts, and granola) should be eaten at regular
intervals to resupply the body with energy. Pemmican is one of
the most concentrated high energy foods you can carry. See the
Oct. 1991 ASG issue on page 57 for directions on its preparation.
6. Once again, the EXTRA CLOTHING you bring is determined by
the time of the year and the weather. A breezy summer hike may
require only a poncho for rain protection and a light nylon wind
jammer for possible cold. A day snow hike gets more complicated.
An extra jacket or sweater may do, but if you will be in extreme
mountain conditions, a bivouac sack, insulation pad, and a winter
sleeping bag may be the only thing that will save you should the
weather go bad. In normal conditions you should at least throw a
metalized space blanket into your kit. This with a poncho can be
used to rig up an improvised lean-to shelter. Tape the space
blanket to the poncho for support, tie the poncho to trees to
form a lean-to and then build a fire in front. The space blanket
will reflect the heat of the fire back on to you.
7. Expensive WATERPROOFED MATCHES have always seemed a little
too gimmicky for my taste. Strike anywhere wood matches are a lot
cheaper and can be stored in a waterproof container such as an
empty plastic 35mm film can. If they're too long, just clip off
the ends to the right length. A more convenient item for starting
fires can be found at your local liquor or convenience store.
Throw-away plastic cigarette lighters work well and some have
adjustable flames in case you need "blow torch" action. Other
fire sparkers such as the flint/magnesium bars on key chains are
good back-ups should you lose your matches or lighter.
8. FIRESTARTERS. In this category you can include a regular
paraffin candle (store inside a plastic bag so it doesn't melt in
your pack), commercial firestarter tablets, Sterno, or my favor
ite - Hexamine tablets that are available at most Army/Navy
surplus stores. Hexamine tablets won't evaporate like Trioxane
Fuel Bars do when the wrapper is ripped, and come six tablets to
a small cardboard tube.
A firestarter is used only when conditions make it difficult to
start a fire. Preparation is the key to fire building. You need
plenty of kindling sticks or pieces of wood split thin with your
knife to make the larger diameter branches catch. Most people
begin their fires with inadequate supplies of tinder and kindling
and are frustrated when they can't get a three inch thick log to
9. A POCKET KNIFE is your most important 10 essentials item.
Among other things it helps in first aid, food preparation,
and fire building. As long as you have a knife you can make fire.
Striking steel on any flint-like rock will produce sparks that
can catch fire in carefully prepared tinder and kindling - mate
rials you have gathered and prepared using the knife. More elabo
rate versions of pocket knives contain a treasure chest of useful
tools: saws, tweezers, scissors, screwdrivers, awls, toothpicks,
can openers, etc A good Swiss Army knife will bring out the
MacGyver in all of us. Don't forget this item!
10. A FIRST AID KIT really isn't one item but a collection of
items that can contain the bare minimum of bandaids, aspirin, and
iodine or on the other extreme contain suture kits, chemically
activated cold packs and prescription drugs. This is where you
will have to really do some customizing and personalizing. I
store my first aid items in a plastic Zip Loc bag so that I can
see everything inside and protect them from the weather. Along
with an assortment of bandaids, gauze pads, and Steri-Strips, are
the following: insect repellent, sunscreen, lip balm with SPF 21,
triple antibiotic ointment, small bottle of Hibiclens Surgical
Scrub, Aspirin, Diasorb tablets for diarrhea, Actifed (decongest
ant), Bonine (motion sickness), and Benadryl (antihistamine).
Other items that are helpful are: a needle for splinter extrac
tion, moleskin or Spenco Second Skin for blisters, Ace bandage,
small needle-nose pliers, single-edge razor blades, and Calamine
cream for insect bites.
The "11th" item of the 10 essentials most people carry is
toilet paper. Other "essentials" I bring include: an Air Force
type signal mirror, 50 feet of parachute cord, mini-Leatherman
tool, and plastic fluorescent marking tape for trail marking. You
might want to add a pocket signal flare and other items such as a
smoke generator for signaling.
Your 10 essentials kit can be packaged in a number of ways. The
most convenient is a small day pack. Day packs will hold your
water bottle, extra clothing and food for most daytime trips. Get
one made out of Cordura nylon with padded straps.
For extensive mountain bike rides many cyclists like to use
waist packs or fanny packs to store their emergency gear and a
banana or two. A waist pack is generally cooler to wear and
provides for a lower center of gravity. Water is normally carried
on the frame of the bicycle, so the packs can be smaller and
The last essential that needs to be taken on all your trips into
the wilderness won't fit in a survival kit. It's called common
sense and is a prime commodity in both the city and in the out
doors. If it looks like rain - don't go. If it looks too high -
stay back. If it's getting dark - get back to your base. By
avoiding unnecessary problems and dangers you will save on your
own personal wear and tear, and probably get back home in one
piece. However, if something does come up, at least you know
you've got those 10 important items stowed away in your rucksack.
(This article was optically scanned from :American Survival Guide
/ January 1992