10 Essentials for Hiking
I really don’t want you to be overly impressed here. I have to be honest: I knew barely anything about outdoor excursions before I started adventuring in Washington, and I still recognize there is tons to learn. Between local REI classes, getting outside to play, and having trusted friends as guides, I definitely feel more adept in outdoor survival, from preparation to execution of single/multi-day adventures.
So how do we prepare for outdoor adventures in the backcountry? Well, there are “10 Essentials” to consider when wandering into the wilderness, which focus on necessity. A fun fact? The Mountaineers in Seattle actually first named these 10 Essentials in the 1930’s! Since they haven’t changed much, I guess they’re pretty important.
I’m going to add my twist on this, mentioning: (1) Special considerations in the Pacific Northwest, (2) KConn additional essentials, and (3) HOW UNIMPORTANT IT IS TO COLOR COORDINATE YOUR GEAR.
Read on, adventurer…
The 10 Essentials Overview
Basically, I have learned to use the “10 Essentials” as questions to guide me toward what I may need for a trip into the backcountry (day trip and/or overnight). Below are the ten essentials’ systems, along with some questions I may ask when deciding how to fulfill the need:
- Navigation: How will I know where I’m going? How will I prevent getting lost?
- Sun protection: How will I protect myself from UV rays, squinty eyes, and peeling lips?
- Insulation: How will I stay warm? How will I be prepared for temperature changes?
- Illumination: What if it gets dark? How will I see?!
- First-Aid: What if I get a cut? A blister? A headache? A toothache? A bug bite?
- Fire: What if I want to cook s’mores, or eat warm food, or just… survive?
- Repair kit/tools: What if things break?!
- Nutrition: How do I keep my energy level up? How do I prevent getting hungry/hangry? What if I’m out longer than I expected and get a grumbly tummy?
- Hydration: How do I quench my thirst? Are there water sources available where I’m going?
- Emergency shelter: What if I need to sleep where I’m going?
How I Use The List
Below, I’ll talk about what my thought process is with each of these items. I will again remind you that COLORS ARE NOT IMPORTANT. I don’t pay attention to the colors of anything I buy. I don’t like colors. I don’t like matching things, at all. It’s totally irrelevant. Approximately 150% irrelevant.
I have serious insecurity with getting lost, and am fearful I will get lost, and nobody will find me, and I’ll be out on the trail forever… which wouldn’t be terrible if I were always prepared for this circumstance. Regardless, the things I do to lessen the chances of getting lost are as follows. Please note I did not promise I still do not get lost, and circle around the trail a few times before finding the way…
- Bring a map and compass! It sounds simple, but don’t forget it! Even though I am not entirely proficient at using a compass (yet), I still always have one. A map is also super helpful, and I recommend a waterproof and tear-proof one like the one above (Green Trails Maps).
- Read trail reports! This especially applies if you have a site like the oh-so-amazing Washington Trail Association at your fingertips. This site in particular outlines the path for various hikes, and people post their trip reports (i.e. things to look out for, such as wildlife and weather/trail conditions). I usually screenshot the site’s navigational instructions since I don’t usually have cell phone service in the mountains (thank goodness) so I can refer back to recent posts and navigation pointers. There’s also other applications you can download for trail information, see this article!
2. Sun protection.
Even on a cloudy day, bring sunscreen with you! Also, it usually doesn’t suffice to just put it on in the car, because you’ll probably sweat it off like I did after climbing 2,500 feet in 1.6 miles to Mt. Ellinor. Also, you won’t have lovely sunglass sunburn lines (because you’re wearing your shades, right?!). And please don’t forget your lips–they need sun protection, too! I have literally no idea what I’d do without my Burt’s Bees, which is soothing for my lips… but my favorite original flavor doesn’t have SPF! So make sure you bring one with some sun protecting goodness.
This is a biggie! Weather can change pretty quickly, especially in the Pacific Northwest. So, it’s important to stay insulated. This means considering ALL WEATHER POSSIBILITIES! When traveling to higher altitude, remember there could be snow, hail, and entirely different conditions than below. I once started a hike in the rain, soaked up some sun, and then was hailed on for about 2 hours (for real). It’s also SUPER important to bring layers! Here’s what I usually bring:
A rain jacket is a no-brainer in the Pacific Northwest. Gore-tex is preferred because it’ll keep you super dry, and I’ve found Marmot to be one of the cheaper brands! Also, having air pockets in the armpit area are helpful to keep air circulating… it can get pretty toasty!
Hiking pants are fun! These also take some consideration on comfort/warmth. I will sometimes wear leggings (see right), and sometimes more loose-fitting hiking pants (like the photographed prAna pants, which are AWESOME because they can roll up to capris, and are NOT water resistant, but wick away moisture relatively well).
Layers on top! Of course, of no particular color, these options above are ALWAYS with me. I usually start with a base layer (left) of a comfy t-shirt that has sleeves long enough to NOT get chaffing with my pack if I’m warm. I choose one of a synthetic-made material because it dries faster and is easier to care for (no special wash considerations with laundry). Next, I’ll bring my smartwool long sleeve, which is pretty thin, but perfect for staying warm during exertion. Merino wool tends to take longer to dry, but it doesn’t get as smelly, and works well for multi-day excursions to decrease the amount of clothing needed. I’ve enjoyed this smartwool A LOT and have brought it on every day hike/overnight trip so far! Third is a synthetic long sleeve base layer. The one photographed is from REI, and is another one of my favorite pieces! Finally, the puffy jacket on the right is one of my best purchases so far! It’s compact when packing, and provides pristine insulation when getting into altitude! I love this jacket a lot. Plus, I feel like an astronaut when I wear it.
Don’t forget your feet! I just recently bought a pair of waterproof boots, which have been super fun to walk through running creeks with! It took a little effort to find a good fit because I have insanely narrow feet, but these Vasque hiking boots seem to be working out so far! Sometimes, I’ll even throw my Keens in my bag (or attach them to the outside with a carabener) if I know I’ll be in a wet area, or am going camping and will walk to get out of my sweaty boots.
Extra socks! Just because our boots say they’re waterproof doesn’t mean our feet aren’t getting wet! I always bring an extra pair of socks with me. My current favorite socks are Darn Tough Merino Wool socks because they come in awesome colors… I mean, because they are super practical and comfortable (seriously, they are).
How cold will it be, exactly? This is important, and super specific to YOU! I tend to get colder hands, especially when wet, so I’ll make sure to have gloves with me. If I’m going to be in higher altitude, I’ll also throw a hat into my bag just in case, because heat evaporates from our heads, and I like to keep my body heat to myself!
I particularly like the above Swany Index gloves because they are touchscreen compatible. I will usually wear these soft shell gloves UNDER the North Face mittens if it’s going to be very cold. I like the mittens because they have a pocket on top for a hand warmer, and snot-wiping capabilities on the thumbs (don’t lie, you know you need that).
Unless you have night vision capabilities, it’s always important to be prepared for seeing in the dark. This is probably more apparent for an overnight trip, but on a day hike, it’s best to pack your headlamp if you’re at risk of being in awe at a sunset, and hiking down 2 miles solo in the dark (guilty as charged). I love my Black Diamond Spot headlamp because it allows for red light, various intensities of white light, and seemed to be the most affordable for its strength. (Even though other headlamps came in different, more fun colors…)
I’m still working on my First-Aid kit, but I now always have the following:
Blister care: my preference is 2nd Skinwhich I learned to love being a competitive runner from freshman year of high school to sophomore year of college. This is best used when covering up an already-forming blister. Moleskin is great for preventing blisters in areas we are more prone, such as our Achilles (heel) and other areas of increase friction.
Band-Aids: obviously the Avengers made an appearance into my pack! All superhero nerd comments aside, however, it’s important to have wound care. I need to up the ante on this part of my packing, because I recognize it’s important to have a FULL First-Aid kit. I could probably do a whole post just on this, but I’ll save the nerdy medical commentaries for another day.
Eye care: I already said one of my fears is getting lost? Well, an even greater fear I have is losing my eyes. Without my contacts, I’d see nothing. I would never survive in the wilderness. So, I always have a spare pair of contacts with me and solution just in case!
Pain mediation: Definitely necessary. I’ve used it for mild headaches and soreness after day one of hiking (with a hellish day two repeat).
Bug spray: Mosquitoes tend to love me no matter how much bug spray I put on, but I still use it. Picardin is my new favorite, because it does not have DEET, and therefore does not stain clothing/burn plastic/harm our health. How do you determine what bug spray to get? Check this article out.
I’m definitely lacking in this area currently. However, I’ve been overnight with my dear friends who have supplied the red flower (Jungle Book, anyone?). It’s also important to know fire regulations in the area before heading into the backcountry. An open flame may not be permitted, so something like a Jetboil or other camping stove may be necessary. A knife and flint would probably be helpful, and these items are next on my ‘to purchase’ list! I’ve been searching around on REI’s fire-starting gear, too!
7. Repair kit/tools.
Be prepared to fix stuff. ‘Nuff said. Duct tape does wonders.
Okay, this one is really important for me. I eat… a lot. So, I pack accordingly. On my first backpacking trip, I’ll admit I planned very poorly in this area. Now, I bring snacks that will energize me during exertion, and then refuel me afterwards! Some of my favorite snacks and backpacker meals are below:
Oh gosh, this is also incredibly important! Why is it all the way at the end? Are you still with me? Good. STAY HYDRATED! I find that using my 3L Camelbak bladder is the best way to stay hydrated on the trail, because I have the straw accessible at all times (both my day and overnight packs have a spot for the bladder). I also bring an empty Nalgene bottle with me to fill with water if there are sources on the path (i.e. running streams). I also put a little splash guard on my bottle because, for some reason, I can’t seem to take a sip without spilling water all over myself either during or immediately after drinking water. No joke. Oh, also, the Nalgene bottles are super fun to decorate with stickers…
At this time, I don’t have a water sterilizing system, but I’ve used my friends’ steriPENs, and am looking into purchasing one. There are also squeeze bags, LifeStraws, water treatment drops, and water treatment tablets to choose from. Tons of options, all with special considerations, so it’s best you consult with someone awesome at your local REI.
10. Emergency shelter.
What happens if you need to sleep on the trail? Or, you got injured and now need to stay put? This is where some of the insulation considerations come into place because we always need enough layers to stay warm. However, we may also want to pack overnight gear if there is a potential we will be spending the night. My choices for sleep supplies are the REI Joule 20-degree sleeping bag and the REI AirRail 1.5 for a sleeping pad.What I like about the Joule is that it cocoons your feet really nicely! I don’t need a lot of room to move around in my sleeping bag, so I’m quite happy with it so far. The sleeping pad doesn’t make any noise (some of the others sound like a potato chip bag), plus it’s super comfy and has barriers on the end of it so you don’t roll off! For a pillow, I usually put some clothes in a dry sack bag and fluff it up. If I’m feeling fancy, I’ll pack a travel camping pillow, but I don’t currently own one I particularly like.
Another option for sleeping arrangements is the holy HAMMOCK! If I see I’m going to be in an area where hammocking is a possibility, this baby is always coming with me!
11. KConn’s Additions
These are not essential, but they are items I always bring with me on the trail to some extent! As I become increasingly inspired by the mountains in the Pacific Northwest, I feel more inclined to write and do artwork on the trails. Thus, I bring the following:
Journal. I’ll always bring either a weather-proof outdoor journal, or my most favorite Moleskine journal in a plastic bag. Oh, and don’t be fooled by the one pen photographed. Usually I have a few…
Art supplies! This watercolor discovery is quite new, and I’m still playing around with bringing them on backpacking trips/day hikes. However, the Koi water color set is wonderfully convenient, and comes with a refillable water brush. With this system, you don’t need a water cup! It’s really wonderful and I love the quality of the watercolors. I’ll either bring a few pieces of mixed media paper, or bring the full journal. Also, I usually bring Micron and/or Staedtler pens. I have a pen slight (large) obsession. But that’s a conversation for another day (pictured above is recent Tombow discovery!).
These are a few of my favorite things… The items that (almost) never miss a journey are lavender and peppermint oil, my Lokai bracelet (Make-A-Wish colors), and hematite. Why?! Lavender is great for relaxation, bruises, and aiding in sleep. Peppermint is awesome for headaches and bellyaches. The Lokai bracelet reminds me of all the children I have worked with and those who have disabilities. I dedicate my step to these beautiful people and their families. I’m always inspired thinking of all the incredibly joyful children I’ve worked with as a Physical Therapist, and this gives me strength. Hematite is a gemstone to protect me in my travels, and provide a sense of grounding (read more on my initial hematite encounter here).
Final Considerations (For Now)
Other questions you may find yourself wondering on the trail:
What if I want to wear a onesie?
Why does Kristen have color-coordinated gear? Is she OCD?
What if I want to sit, but the ground is wet/hard/uncomfortable? Is there something I can sit on that also looks like the outside of a spacecraft, or insulation to a home?
Leave No Trace
Disclaimer: I am not sponsored by anyone or anything, and nobody has told me to say how awesome any of these products are. I also am obsessed with colors, and somewhat effortlessly found all gear that matches and looks darn cool on the trail together. Also, I will make no profit from you clicking the above links. They’re simply to give you sources for more information!
Post Updated: September 2016