Getting into the routine of packing the 10 hiking essentials for any trip, being it a day walk or a longer 5 day trip, is a is a good habit. Yes you might not need all or even any of the items on the list, but when things go wrong you will truly appreciate the value of packing the items as it could mean the difference between life and death.

The original list of 10 essentials dates back to the 1930’s and was assembled by The Mountaineers, a Seattle-based organisation for climbers and out outdoor enthusiasts. The idea was to help people be prepared for outdoor emergencies. The original list included; map, compass, sunglasses, sunscreen, extra clothing, flashlight, first-aid kit, matches or fire starter, knife and extra food.

Over the years this list evolved more into a “systems” approach rather than just including items and has evolved into what it looks like today.

Updated Ten Essential Systems

  1. Navigation: map, compass, altimeter, GPS device, personal locator beacon (PLB) or satellite messenger
  2. Headlamp: plus extra batteries
  3. Sun protection: sunglasses, sun-protective clothes and sunscreen
  4. First aid: including foot care and insect repellent (as needed)
  5. Knife: plus a gear repair kit
  6. Fire: matches, lighter, tinder and/or stove
  7. Shelter: carried at all times (can be a light emergency bivvy)
  8. Extra food: Beyond the minimum expectation
  9. Extra water: Beyond the minimum expectation
  10. Extra clothes: Beyond the minimum expectation

You can remove items from each of the systems to suit the trip you will be doing. On a short day hike you might not need a GPS with altimeter and might only need your map and compass. However for a longer exploration type trip you might want to take most if not all for the essentials. Remember that factors like weather, difficulty duration and distance from help, will determine what you will want to bring with.

Navigation: Navigation tools will include the following 5; a map, compass, altimeter watch, GPS and PLB (personal locator beacon – very new in South Africa).

Map: A topographic map of the area your hiking in should accompany you on any trip that involves anything more than a short, impossible-to-miss footpath or frequently visited nature trail. Be sure to know how to read a topo map.

Navigation skills is essential in bad weather
Navigation skills is essential in bad weather

Compass: A compass, combined with map-reading knowledge, is a vital tool if you become disoriented. Although many smartphones, GPS devices and watches include electronic compasses, but it’s wise to also carry a standard baseplate compass because it weighs next to nothing and does not rely on batteries, making it an indispensable backup. Ensure you know how to use a compass.

GPS: A GPS is a useful tool that will allow you to accurately find your location on a digital map. Most is designed specifically for outdoor use and are often built rugged and weather proof however they run on batteries that can get affected by cold weather, and you need to always monitor your use or carry spare batteries. Never just rely on your GPS and always have your map and compass as back up.

Altimeter: Most GPS units and modernoutdoor watches have a barometric sensor to measure air pressure and/or GPS data to provide a close estimate of your elevation. This info helps you track your progress and determine your location on a map.

Personal locator beacon (PLB) or satellite messenger: These gadgets can be used to alert emergency personnel if you need help in and emergency. When activated in an emergency, they will determine your position using GPS and send a message via government or commercial satellites. This is really useful especially in areas where cell reception is not all that great or reliable. This technology is at time of writing still relatively new and expensive in South Africa but it is available.

Headlamp: Finding your way on a trail at night, in the dark is not easy and having a light source makes things a lot easier. The preferred choice is a head lamp as this allows your hands to be free for other tasks. Remember to carry fresh batteries and some extras as well on longer trips.

Sun Protection: Always pack and wear sunglasses, sun screen and sun-protection clothing. There is nothing worse than being sunburned after a day’s hiking and the long term damage that could lead to skin cancer and cataracts.

Sunglasses: A good quality pair of sunglasses will help protect your eyes from the damaging UVA and AVB rays and should be rated to block 100% of ultra violet light.

Sunscreen: Being outdoors for extended periods of time can expose you to ultraviolet rays, the cause of sunburn, premature skin aging and skin cancer. Wearing sunscreen is recommended to help limit your exposure to UV. When selecting a sunscreen, choose a formula that offers a SPF of at least 15, though SPF 30 is recommended for extended outdoor activity and it should block both UVA and UVB rays. Apply sunscreen generously and thoroughly to all exposed skin.

Sun-protection clothing: A lot of the newer outdoor clothing will have a ultraviolet protection factor that will help form a effective barrier against UVA and UVB light. You will still need to put sunscreen onto exposed skin. Wearing a wide brimmed hat is essential to help keep the sun of you face, neck and ears.

First Aid: It is important not to carry a first aid kit but also know how to use the items in your kit. You can purchase pre-assembled first aid kits however many people prefer to personalize their kits. All kits should include the following – treatments for blisters, adhesive bandages of various sizes, several gauze pads, adhesive tape, disinfecting ointment, over-the-counter pain medication, pen and paper and pair of nitrile gloves. The number of people in your group or the duration will also impact on the contents and amount of items in your kit.

Knife: A knife is handy for repairs, food preparation and other emergency needs. It is suggested that each adult in the group should carry a knife. A basic knife will most likely only have one fold out blade where as a multi tool will have multiple different “tools” to choose from. Remember that a multi tool will also weight considerably more than a basic knife and I personally carry a No8 Opinel and in my first aid kit I have a Leatherman T3 multi tool. Including a knife, a small gear repair kit can get you out of a sticky situation while out hiking. A few common items you can include is; duct tape, cordage, fabric repair tape, zip ties, safety pins and repair parts for, tent poles, stove, and sleeping pad repair kit.

Fire: In an emergency you will need a reliable source for starting a fire – remember that NO FIRES are allowed in the Drakensberg or any cave. In the Drakensberg your only source of heat will thus be your stove. The easiest and most practical way to always have fire available is to have a few mini BIC lighters or matches that’s in a water tight container. I carry at least 2 lighters and a Light my Fire, fire starter, as it works even when wet and works great to light a gas stove. In areas where you can have open fires, you will also need some type of fire starter and for that you can have some form of dry tinder or cotton wool covered in petroleum jelly as a good fire starter.

Emergency Shelter: It is advisable to always carry some form of shelter that will be able to protect you from wind and rain in case of and emergency or unplanned stop over. Good options will include a light weight tarp or ground sheet, emergency space blanket or even black trash bags will work. Other emergency shelters will include bivvy bags, emergency storm shelters ect. Remember your tent will be your primary shelter and emergency shelter if you have it with you.

Extra Food: On long trips it’s always good to carry an extra days’ worth of food just for in case you get delayed due to bad weather or an injury. On day trips it’s also a good idea to have a few extra snacks or energy bars, nuts, dried fruit even biltong, as a backup in case or emergency.

Camp Kitchen
Camp Kitchen

Extra Water: Always carry enough water with you for the outing or have some means to get extra water. In the berg we are lucky to be able to drink straight from a stream but if you are not sure about the safety of your drinking source, use a filter or chemical treatment to treat your water before drinking. Remember that most people will need about half a litre of water per hour doing moderate activities. Remember that the hotter it is, you water intake will increase. Carry at least one water bottle or a water bladder to start off with and fill up at regular intervals to keep hydrated.

Extra Clothing: You might have to stay out for the night due to injury or other emergency and some extra clothing will come in handy during this time. What you will bring along will be determined by your duration and trip length. A good place to start on overnight trips is to have at least extra socks, light jacket, thermal underwear, beany and gloves. For day walks you might only need a extra warm jacket, gloves and beanie, as the weather can turn cold very quickly.

Your need will differ from trip to trip so adjust and rearrange your essentials to meet your needs as well as that of the trip and of the group.

Remember the saying; rather have it at hand and not need it than needing it and not having it at hand.

 Copied and adapted from REI – Expert Advice – The Ten Essencials