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Man looks across snowy mountaintops

The 10 Essentials for Hiking Safety

While you might not think of hiking as a high-octane, adrenaline junkie activity, it does carry risks. After all, you’re stepping out into the wilderness, which is anything but predictable.

Even if you’re embarking on an easy, well-trodden trail, things can quickly go awry. What if you set off too late and darkness falls before you’ve finished? What if someone rolls an ankle and can no longer walk? What if the weather unexpectedly closes in, meaning you lose your way?

As with all ‘what ifs’, these things may never happen. But they could do. And they could happen to you. That is why you should always carry the ‘10 Essentials’ on each and every hike. Although these won’t guarantee your safety, they could save your life if something goes wrong.

The 10 Essentials

The idea of the 10 Essentials was devised in 1974 by The Mountaineers, a climbing and mountaineering group based in Seattle. Since then the list has developed into 10 ‘systems’ rather than 10 individual items.

You need to bring items from each of these 10 systems on your hikes. Precisely what you bring depends on the nature of your hike. For instance, if you’re taking a short, well-marked trail, you might only need a map and compass. But if you’re striking out into the unknown, you will want a GPS too.

The 10 Essentials are –


Having a source of illumination can make the difference between being able to finish a hike safely in the dark, and having to take shelter for the night. A head torch or flashlight (with spare batteries) will do the trick. Do not rely on your mobile/cell phone – the light is not sufficient and it uses up valuable battery.


Take a map of the area and a compass – and know how to use them! You might also want to take a GPS unit. Again, do not rely on your mobile/cell phone as a means of navigation. Even if you have signal (which you might not), the maps do not provide enough information. What’s more, physical maps you can hold don’t require battery.

First aid kit

First aid kits can vary in scope. At the very least you should have scissors, bandages, plasters, blister kits, dressings, protective gloves and a SAM splint. Antiseptic solution and painkillers can also be useful, but make sure they are not past their expiry date. Also, remember to replace any items that you’ve used before heading out on the trails.

Sun protection

Being exposed to the elements all day can quickly lead to sun stroke and severe burns. Prevent this by taking, and frequently applying, high factor sun screen. Wear a wide-brimmed hat and wear clothing that covers your skin but still keeps you cool.


Situations may arise which necessitate the use of a tool. For instance, you might need to saw wood, build a shelter or open a tin of emergency food. A multi-tool such as a Leatherman or Victorinox Swiss army knife can perform most of these functions. Otherwise, a pocket knife with a strong, sharp blade will do.


If you need to stop for the night, a fire will keep warm. Unless you have excellent bushcraft skills, you’ll need a lighter or waterproof matches to ignite your kindling. A fire starter will also help to get things going.


If you’re going on a day hike and something goes wrong, it could well turn into an overnight hike. This is a terrifying situation to be in, especially if you don’t have any shelter. So, be prepared and carry an emergency bivy bag or something similar. This will help you stay warm and dry.

Extra food

You may already be taking food on your hike, but you need to take extra supplies, over and above what you think you need. That way, if you end up being in the wilderness for more time than expected, you’ll still have something to eat. While Bear Grylls may be able to catch a fish with his bare hands, it’s not actually that easy – best just take more energy bars in case.

Extra water

The same goes for water. Being dehydrated can quickly lead to exhaustion, hypothermia and other issues. Along with taking your own supplies, check the potential water sources before you go, taking into account that they can run dry in warm weather. If you do refill while in the great outdoors, take a water purification system or tablets.

Extra clothes

Finally, take extra clothes. While it might be warm at the bottom of the trail, it can be significantly colder at the top, especially if you’ve worked up a sweat or fallen in water. And if you are outdoors when night falls, things can get very chilly, very quickly. A hat, gloves, jumper and down jacket will keep you snug.

Other things you must do

Along with carrying the 10 Essentials, you should also –

Carry a communications device – such as a fully charged mobile/cell phone in a waterproof case or bag. Know how to find your GPS coordinates on your phone. Of course, you cannot always depend on phone signal, so a personal locator beacon is also a good idea. Also, take a whistle so you can attract attention. It’s louder and more durable that your voice.

Tell someone where you’re going – give a friend, family member or colleague your trip plan. If you don’t return when you’re supposed to, they can raise the alarm. Because they know your general location, search and rescue teams will be able to focus their efforts on a specific area.

Wear the correct footwear – which means hiking boots with a good tread. Not trainers! Shoes that are not made for hiking will be much more slippery and have less ankle support, significantly increasing the chances of injury.

Wear the correct clothes – preferably you should have base layers which wick away moisture, with warmer layers to put on top, as and when needed. Cotton is not a good material for hiking because it absorbs moisture, making your clothes wet, heavy and cold.