Essential Emergency Gear for Hikers and Outdoorspeople

In the 1930s, the Mountaineers, a hiking, climbing, and conservation organization based in Seattle, Washington, started evaluating mountaineering accidents and the role of gear in survival. The result was a list of ten essentials – items of emergency outdoor equipment – that no climber should be without.

New technology has added some elements to the list and different authors combine the elements differently. The list below includes the original ten essentials, plus a few more, like cell phones and GPS, that reflect recent developments in technology.

Essential Hiking Gear and Clothing to Carry in a Backpack or Daypack

  • Navigation equipment. GPS’s are great, but batteries can wear out and electronic equipment can be damaged in a storm or during a fall, so a compass is a necessary backup. A map is also essential. While a GPS can tell you where you are, a map is better for planning your route, giving you information about elevation, obstacle, water sources, campsites, and emergency exit routes.
  • Clothing, including rain gear. A hot day won’t necessarily stay hot, and a dry day won’t necessarily stay dry. Above treeline, conditions can change rapidly, even in summer, and in many mountain ranges, it can snow. Extra clothes are essential, including a hat, gloves, and waterproof outerwear. Don’t bring cotton: it doesn’t retain warmth when wet, and doesn’t wick moisture away from your skin. Some experts suggest bringing a plastic sheet or garbage bags, for use in inclement weather. In cold weather, when hypothermia is a potential issue, having extra clothes is especially important.
  • First aid kit. Start with a prepackaged first aid kit, available from outdoor stores, and modify it to meet your needs, including any medication. A first aid class is a good idea; a wilderness first aid class is a better one. Or bring a small first aid manual that fit easily into a pack.
  • Multi-purpose tool. Multi-purpose army knives can help with a variety of tasks, including cutting bandages, removing splinters, opening cans and bottles, and fixing broken gear. A roll of duct tape is handy, too.
  • Flashlight. A flashlight with fresh bulbs and batteries will help if you’re unexpectedly stranded in the dark.
  • Sun screen and sun glasses. In snow, above treeline, and in deserts, these are essential. .
  • Cell phone. Cell phones don’t always work in deep wildernesses, but they work in many areas, and are always worth taking. Leave an itinerary at home with fiends and relatives, just in case the cell phone doesn’t work or gets damaged. In very remote areas, consider taking a satellite phone.

Essential Food, Water, and Related Accessories for Backcountry Survival

  • Water and a way to purify it. Adequate hydration is probably the most important thing hikers can do stay healthy, especially at high altitudes, in hot weather – and, surprisingly, in cold weather. Without enough water, human bodies are more susceptible to environmental afflictions such as hypothermia and altitude sickness. Carrying purification tablets, water filters, or purifiers means that hikers don’t have to worry about whether the water is safe to drink.
  • Food. Hiking takes a lot of energy, and sometimes more time than expected. A detour, a wrong turn, an injury, inclement weather, or trail damage can turn a short hike into a long one. Bring extra snacks such as granola bars, nuts and raisins, dried fruit, or energy bars.
  • Firestarter and matches. Fires can help prepare food and hot water, and can also fend off hypothermia and signal for help. Bring waterproof matches and firestarter (either commercial fire ribbon, or collected bits and pieces of pine needles, birch bark, paper, lint from pockets).

By carrying these items and applying common sense, hikers and other outdoors people can stay out of trouble, even when conditions turn inclement.