You never know when an emergency may happen. Carrying 10 essential items in your pack is important for the health and safety of yourself and others. In addition to the 10 essentials, I carry items for self defense, medical information and dog health and safety.
An emergency story
My husband, daughter and I were backpacking for several days in the Thomas Jefferson National Forest, completing 15 – 18 mile daily walks with 35 pound packs. It was an extremely hot and humid the last week of August. The Virginia terrain was hilly and we spent our days climbing up and trekking down mountainous paths.
We were closing in on our final miles of day 3, when my dog, Toro, stepped onto a ground hornets nest. Since I was directly behind him, the hornets swarmed and covered my bare legs, stinging me repeatedly. Toro had hornets on his back, but fortunately, they mostly landed on his saddle bags. When I was a safe distance from the nest, I dropped my pack and quickly pulled out my first aid kit with epipen. My husband and daughter avoided the nest and helped me open the bubble packets of Benadryl. I swallowed 2 caplets and they gave Toro a dose, too. My legs immediately began to swell and the earth began to spin. I passed out on the trail and was very weak.
We had less than 3 miles to get to our campsite and a water source. Under normal circumstances, the hike would have taken an hour., instead, it took us twice as long. My husband and daughter alternated carrying my pack in addition to their own. We walked single file, with me in the middle, so that they could keep an eye on me. We arrived at camp after dark and stumbled to set up our tents, filter water and eat.
I had enough medication to make me drowsy enough to sleep, but it did not eliminate the angry red hives or swelling. An antihistamine cream coated my legs and decreased some of the itching and pain. I slept on my back with my legs propped on the top of my backpack. That helped to stave off the swelling in my feet.
I was very uncomfortable walking 15 miles to a hostel the next day, but felt confident that we had the needed supplies to care for that unexpected event. We had an epipen, GPS device and emergency phone to get assistance had I gone into anaphylactic shock. First Aid training also provided each of us with skills to recognize an emergency and to work quickly to prevent the situation from escalating.
The 10 essentials plus 3
- GPS device
- Personal locator beacon (PLB) or satellite messenger and battery backup.
Carry a paper map, even if you intend to use a phone app for your hike. Digital devices may run out of battery and depending on the app, may not have service.
Pack a compass and know how to use it. If hiking at high elevations, carry and be familiar with an altimeter.
Let others know where you are hiking and your anticipated completion time. AllTrails Pro has a Lifeline feature that alerts others if you do not make your destination. Use a PLB or satellite messenger when hiking in the wilderness and away from cell service.
- Small flashlight
- Small light source to hang on a backpack
- Disposable batteries or recharger cord and battery backup
Wearing a headlamp provides light for hiking or setting up camp. It also keeps your arms free for tasks. Don’t rely on a cell phone as a light source.
I carry additional small lights on our packs and the dog collars. These are helpful to spot hiking partners in the dark woods, but they are not bright enough to serve as a major light source.
- Sun-protective clothes and hat
- Lip balm with SPF
I use a sunscreen in stick format to eliminate gobs of sunscreen on my hands. The sunscreen film on the palms of your hands can accidentally be rubbed into your eyes and can make hiking poles slippery, causing blisters or a loose grip. Also, washing sunscreen off hands in a water source isn’t a good practice, so use a wet cloth to wipe off the excess.
The sun’s rays are strong at high elevations, even when the air temperature is cool. Wearing sun-protective wicking clothing blocks dangerous UV rays that cause sunburn. UPF clothes are lightweight and cooling, decreasing your risk for heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
FIRST AID KIT (HUMANS & PETS)
- Supplies for wounds, blisters and infections
- Medications including anti-diarrhea, antihistamine, anti-inflammatory and pain relief
- Supplements such as electrolyte tablets
- Frost bite prevention hand and foot warmers
- Pet specific supplies including styptic powder, anti-anxiety medication
- Easily identifiable bag to hold the supplies
I avoid purchasing items that come in separate packaging to eliminate unnecessary waste for our landfills. My exception is first aid supplies. Mini-packets are lightweight and keep the medication and ointments fresh for first aid.
- Pocket knife
- Duct tape
Save space and wrap duct tape around your hiking poles. The tape can be used to repair your shelter, pack, shoes, etc. It can also be used as a first aid tool.
- Water proof matches
- Waterproof storage container
Keep all fire starters and matches in a waterproof container to make it easier to start a fire on wet days. Wind also causes a challenge, so using a lighter may provide better success than a match stick. Best practice? Pack both matches and lighters.
Carry a tent, bivy, tarp or emergency blanket for protection against weather: extreme heat, freezing temperatures, and rain.
If you are injured or ill during your hike, emergency shelter gives a place to rest and recover until help arrives.
- Enough ready to eat food for an extra day
- Energy gel
Always pack enough ready-to-eat foods for an additional day on the trail. Carry items that provide energy such as granola bars, trail mix, applesauce and freeze-dried fruits.
- Water bottle / water bladder
- Water filtration system
- Iodine tablets
- Pot and heat source (not pictured)
Carry filled containers and never assume there are water sources along your path. Check maps for water sources. Keep at least 4 ounces in the container until you find water to replenish your bottle(s).
Water filters remove large debris and microorganisms such as parasites and bacteria. To eliminate viruses, boil the filtered water for 1 minutes (under 6,500′) or 3 minutes (over 6,500′).
- Rain gear (pants and jacket)
- Additional clothing layers for warmth or as dry options
- Warm hat and gloves (even in the warm months)
Rain gear helps to keep you dry in wet condition. It also provides an extra layer of clothing to protect against wind. Carry additional clothing in a dry sack,, even if the starting weather is warm. Temperatures can drop quickly during a storm or as you reach higher elevations.
Carry a hat and gloves, even in the summer months. Low temperatures and illness can cause the body to lose more heat than it can generate, leading to hypothermia.
- Bear horn / bear spray
- Pepper spray
- Whistle – 100 decibels or higher
Know the potential predators in the area where you plan to hike. If in bear country, carry a horn and spray.
Pepper spray can be used on humans and smaller animals as self defense.
By carrying a whistle, you have the ability to call for help or answer someone else’s whistle call. The SOS whistle blast sequence is: 3 short, 3 long, 3 short
- Driver’s license or other ID
- Road ID: as bracelet, shoe tag or on the pack
- List of medications and allergies
- Emergency contact info
In the event that you become unconscious or are confused, a rescuer can share your information with an emergency rescue team. I use Road ID, a safety identification tag linked to my medical profile on a secure site.
- Light up dog collar plus extra batteries or recharger
- Collapsible bowl plus food and water
- Emergency carrier such as the Fido Pro Airlift
- Back up leash
- First aid supplies such as paw booties, soft muzzle, styptic powder, cooling bandana/collar, anti-anxiety medication as prescribed by a veterinarian
Click the Essentials Checklist image and download a checklist as a guide for gathering your hiking supplies.
This list is based on the original 10 Essentials from the New Hampshire Fish and Game Commission and the edited version provided by the National Park Service.