Here are some principles for your consideration that I hold dear in thinking about what is essential for wilderness travel, especially for dealing successfully with most wilderness emergencies that might arise.

1.    No one list of “essentials” (whether it is 10, 12 or more) will handle all situations for all wilderness travelers.

2.    Before each major trip, review the goals, weather, party makeup, terrain, etc. Get consensus within the party as to which essential gear items are needed. If consensus is not possible, try to convince everyone in the party to carry those minimum essentials you deem necessary for a highly successful trip.

3.    Rely only on yourself for survival gear; do not rely on others; generally, do not team up on this kind of gear.

4.    Safety is more important than comfort and convenience; never sacrifice  needed safety and survival essentials to save a few ounces of carried weight.

5.    The more skilled you are the less need there is for the classic list of 10 essentials; the more skilled you are the absolute essentials become water, shelter and warmth. All else is can be useful, but is not essential.

6.    Think in terms of functional systems rather than individual essentials. For example, an adequate communication system in case of emergency might include a signal mirror, flashing LED, fire starter, note pad and pencil. An minimally sufficient insulation system might include a space blanket, warm hat, gloves and a vest. Other potential systems for emergencies: hydration, nutrition, repairs, sun protection, shelter, fire.

7.    The bottom line essentials are not specific items of gear but individual knowledge, skill and experience (i.e., your brain).

8.   It is more important to focus on avoiding emergencies than to make sure you have the right gear for dealing with one. (Reviewing the several articles on this website in the “Safety and Prevention” category is highly recommended.)

9.    Because they are so light in weight, common sense dictates that you carry most of the following highly useful items most of the time, whether or not you see them as part of the “ten essentials”:

—  sun protection (e.g., sunblock, sun hat)

—   navigation aids (e.g., map, compass, watch, altimeter; LED lights)

—   repair kit (e.g., razor blade, duct tape, flossing string, needle and thread)

—   communication aids (fire making materials, flashing LED, pad and pencil)

—   water treatment chemicals.

Reader Participation: Preparing For Wilderness Emergencies

First, add any basic principles missing from the above list. Second, circle 3-5 principles that are most important to you. Third, flesh out those principles you deem most important.


This brief article has been excerpted from a much longer article. Click on this link to peruse the complete article: Seeking Truth About the Ten Essentials.

Preparing For Wilderness Emergencies—Basic Principles