Whether you’re hiking for a few hours or a few weeks, there are certain items that you must have before you start your trek. Leave without them, and you could find yourself lost, cold, sore, or worse. Make sure you have everything you need to survive with this hiking essentials list.
The top 10 hiking essentials list was developed in the 1930’s by a hiking organization as a general list of things you shouldn’t be without. We’ll take a look at the classic hiking essentials list, then add on a few to make an updated version. Not that theirs is outdated, but a couple more items would be a good idea to carry.
The Classic Hiking Essentials List
- Sunglasses and sunscreen
- Extra clothing
- First-aid supplies
- Extra food
Our Expanded Hiking Essentials List
A map and a compass are both part of navigation – so both should be included as hiking essentials. But since they’re so similar we can lump them together as one. Plus we have a lot of new technology that they didn’t have in the 30’s like GPS and altimeters that can be counted as one item as well. Oh and pack a real compass, the last thing you need is your battery-powered one running out of juice if you’re lost.
2. Sun Protection
This covers all things that protect you from the sun. It can include a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, and sun-protection clothing (lightweight & breathable). The last thing you want to do is deal with a sunburn if you’re trying to survive in the wilderness.
3. Extra Clothing
This one goes unchanged, though there is new gear available that’s light and still insulated well. The hiking essentials definition of extra clothing can vary depending on season and location, but the basics are a layer of underwear (tops & bottoms), extra socks, a synthetic jacket, and a very well insulated hat (not just a ball cap). You’ll lose the most heat through your head, so a good hat is essential.
It’s going to get dark no matter where you go. Depending on the season and location it could get dark much sooner than you want. Make sure you can still see and function when the lights go out by packing a flashlight or headlamp. LEDs are the best to get, since they are tougher and won’t break on you. Always bring extra batteries. If you have a tent to setup or need to work with your hands, a headlamp is one of the hiking essentials that you shouldn’t go without.
5. First-aid Kit
Injuries happen even though you hope they never will. You can find pre-assembled first-aid kits made for hiking that have all the essentials are and still lightweight and easy to carry. Your basic kit should include treatments for the common hiking injuries like blisters, plus an assortment of gauze pads and adhesive bandages, disinfecting ointment, pain medication and a pen and paper.
Instead of 2 items being firestarter and matches, we can compress these into one item on our hiking essentials list. Matches should always be part of the gear you take hiking. They should be waterproof matches and carried in a waterproof container. Matches are light, so take a lot, they are one essential you don’t want to be without.
Firestarter is more of an emergency item to get or keep a fire going. Don’t depend on matches alone – a good firestarter will ignite quickly and sustain it’s heat for more than just a few seconds. It’s a good idea to have a firestarter and a fire sustainer (candles, chipped wood soaked in resin, wax covered cardboard)
7. Multi-tool (with Knife)
While a knife is an important part of our hiking essentials list, we have better options today than they did 80 years ago. Get a good multi-tool that has a knife or 2 in it, but also other things that will be very handy like pliers, screwdrivers, can opener.
Other items that could be included in #7 are repair kits for your air mattress and strips of duct tape.
8. Sustenance (food & water)
Packing extra food is essential whenever you go hiking. If you’re going backpacking for an extended period, pack an extra day or two of food just in case. Yes it will weigh more, but it could save your life. The more nutritious the food you bring the better.
The other side to food is water. We can go much longer without food than without water, so be sure to bring extra water or at least some way to purify water you come across. You can get a collapsible water reservoir that is easy to carry, but can hold water in a pinch if you need some extra. Always plan to carry too much water so you’re not caught off guard by an long stretch of waterless country.
9. Emergency Shelter
Since we compressed our hiking essentials list by including multiple items together, we have room to add two more. The first is emergency shelter. This can be a tent or as little as a emergency space blanket. Those little blankets are compact and weight very little and could be your key to survival if you spend the night in the woods.
10. Signaling Devices
The last hiking essential to make the list is a means to be found if you are stranded and lost somewhere. Bringing something as simple as a good whistle will help you find help much better than yelling alone (You’ll get tired of yelling fast).
Another great item you can use to signal help is a small mirror. Many compasses come with a sighting mirror which will do the trick.
Our New Hiking Essentials List
Now we’ve got a top-10 hiking essentials list that includes everything on the classic list, as well as some new gadgets that will help us stay alive and keep trekking no matter what. Put together your bag of hiking essentials (at least the things that won’t expire) and keep it handy for your next hike. Just be sure to check the bag for everything before you head out the door. You’ll also notice this list is very close to the backpacking essentials list.