Ten Essentials

Ten Essential Categories: An Updated, Flexible Systems Approach

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”
– Theodore Roosevelt

My early outdoor training was based on the Original Ten Essentials, a group of 10 specific items carried as minimum equipment necessary for a hiker or backpacker to survive a backcountry emergency.

First recommended by The Mountaineers, a Seattle, Washington outdoor club, the list included Extra Clothing, Extra Food, Sunglasses, Knife, First Aid Kit, Matches, Flashlight, Map, and Compass. Source: “101 Hikes in the North Cascades”, Ira Spring and Harvey Manning, The Mountaineers, Seattle, 1970

Day Pack, Fanny Pack

A Day Pack (top) or Fanny Pack (bottom) may be sufficient for day hikes, or to carry ultralight gear.

Subsequent professional experience encouraged me to adopt a Systems Approach, where the Ten Essentials are viewed as Ten Essential Categories, rather than individual items.

Ten Essential Category items are grouped by function, rather than specific item titles.


  1. NAVIGATION– Map, Compass, GPS
  2. COMMUNICATION– Whistle, Signal Mirror, Cellular Phone, Note Pad and Pencil
  3. LIGHTING– Flashlight and/or Headlamp, Spare Batteries
  4. EXTRA CLOTHING– Base Layer, Middle Layer, Outer Layer, Head Covering, Gloves
  5. FIRST AID– First Aid Kit, Medication, Sun Protection, Blister Protection, Insect Protection
  6. FIRE– Matches in Waterproof Container, Fire Starter
  7. TOOLS– Knife, Pocket Saw, Tool Kit
  8. WATER– Water Container, Water Purification
  9. EXTRA FOOD– High Energy Food Items
  10. SHELTER– Poncho or Tarp, Bivy Sack, Sleeping Bag, Ground Pad, Space Blanket
Full Pack

Ready for a week-long adventure, this full pack contains the Ten Essentials (as Categories) among other items.

Some category titles are much the same as the original Ten Essentials list, others are entirely different. All allow flexibility to meet broad-ranging trip requirements.

Items within a category may be selected, increased, minimized, or modified based on personal or trip-specific needs.

The Ten Essentials, as Categories, are the foundation for outfitting simple day hikes to multi-day excursions.

Generally speaking, longer trips require you carry more gear in a larger pack. Consider carrying a small day pack or fanny pack with your large overnight pack. The minimum Ten Essential Category items can be carried on side trips without having to lug the big pack around.

Introducing the Ten Essential Categories

Continue for a discussion of each Ten Essential Category, beginning with Navigation.