I would like to call myself a backpacker. I don’t do it often enough – every few years or so – but as my children get older, I expect to be doing it more often. Anytime you go out into the backcountry, you take risks. It’s vital to know how to not only be safe in the wilderness, but also be prepared. You don’t have to be as experienced as Survivorman or Bear Grylls to survive, but it’s imperative to carry the essentials with you.
The list below was originally compiled by the Mountaineers of Seattle, and is also used by the Sierra Club. If you travel elsewhere than the mountains of the west (such as the desert or any tropical location), you will have to amend the list accordingly. With the help of the Wilderness Survival by Suzanne Swede (2006), here are the ten essentials of wilderness travel:
Extra food and water – This means extra: food and water that you do not plan on eating or drinking during the trip. Fill up your container with clean water at every location possible.
Extra clothing – This includes clothes that you do not plan on wearing. It’s also recommended to pack along a few extra garbage bags, as they are virtually weightless and can be used as rain protection and insulation.
Topographical map – This is essential for navigation. Be sure you know how to read these maps.
Compass – It’s preferred to have a compass with a mirror so that you can use it as a signal in case of emergency. Also be sure you know how to read the compass as well.
Headlamp or flashlight (with extra batteries and bulb) – This is primarily for reading your map and/or signaling for help. A light is usually not necessary for walking at night. If you allow your eyes to adjust to the darkness first, starlight should be enough illumination.
Sunglasses and sunscreen – Not only do you need to protect your eyes in sunny, windy, and higher elevations, but your skin as well. Sunburn can lead to dehydration.
Waterproof matches or matches in a waterproof container– It’s imperative to keep matches clean and dry. The strike-anywhere matches are preferred.
Fire starter – A magnesium and flint fire starter is essential to get a fire going in wet and windy situations.
Pocket knife or multi-tool– A multi-tool is preferred in this situation, as different tools assist in different ways.
First aid kit– Prescription medication, bandages, antibiotic ointments, antiseptic wipes, tweezers, and scissors should be included.
Water filter or purification device – The original list above was created when it was mostly safe to drink upstream mountain water. Now you can never be too careful. Pack iodine or a water filtration system.
Duct tape– This is used for everything from blister treatment to equipment repair.
Whistle – It is heard better than a human voice.
Wire– This can be used for repairs, as hooks, as tent pegs, or countless other uses.
Extra eyeglasses – Pack these if you are dependent on them, along with an eyeglasses repair kit.
Obviously, there are different lists out there that include other essential items. This is not the only list to live by. The goal here is keep you safe and in good condition before help arrives. Be sure to always pack these items for any hike. Even a short day hike can turn dangerous.