The 10 Essential Items to Pack for Every Hike


The 10 Essentials for hiking, backpacking, rock climbing, and other outdoor activities are a must. Why? We love the outdoors! Instagram and Facebook are flooded with absolutely stunning images of Mountains, valleys, arches, canyons, and every other masterpiece that Mother Nature throws at us. It’s an incredible phenomenon watching social media inspire people to make the move to spend more time outdoors.

Yet, social media has failed in properly preparing people for their next outdoor adventure. I have spent quite a bit of time hiking remote trails both solo and with friends. Like a lot. Within the past year, I’ve hiked everywhere from the “Mighty 5” National Parks in Utah, Mt. Washington in New Hampshire, remote mountain peaks in Nevada, sections of the Appalachian Trail, the Great Smoky Mountains, the deserts of Moab, and more.

It is without fail, I will see people hitting the trails completely unprepared. I’m talking no water, late departures with no signs of illumination, lack of gloves or hat, flip flops (not making this up!), and just the sheer physical inability to safely finish a hike. And this scares me; for the sake of their safety, the safety of rescue teams, and the preservation of keeping our trails wild. Setting off on a hike ill-prepared is dangerous.

Fact: Mother Nature does not care about you. She will murder you.

Okay, Nicki. You’ve made your point. How does an Explorer Chick go about packing for her next outdoor hike?

Easy! The 10 Essentials for hiking and other outdoor adventures. If you ask any hiker or backpacker what they carry in their pack, you’ll get as wide a variety of answers as there are miles on the Appalachian Trail. However, experienced hikers will be carrying the 10 Essentials for unexpected emergencies and survival. It’s a hiking checklist to help you pack and bring gear for your day hike, backpacking trip, or climbing expedition.

Are you a total hiking beginner unsure about the essentials you really need to get in the game? See our new hiking essentials for beginners post too! (Spoiler: there are many of these 10 essentials in there too.)

What are the 10 Essential Items for Hiking?

The 10 Essentials, originally developed in the 1930s by The Mountaineers, a nonprofit outdoor community founded in 1906. The 10 Essentials for hiking, backpacking and rock climbing are a list of supplies meant to answer two questions:

  1. Can you respond positively to an accident or emergency?
  2. Are you prepared to spend a night or more safely outdoors?

It has since developed into a systems approach outlined in the textbook Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills. (The new approach added emergency shelter and hydration.) Your next adventure packing list should include items from each of systems.

Of course, it’s not an all-inclusive approach. Depending on your trip, you’ll pack additional items. Overnight trips will require camping gear. Glacial traverses demand an ice axe and crampons. Ultralight travelers may chance risk and not carry some items to lessen their load and quicken their pace. However, this is a great basic list to refer to.

1. Navigation

Three women using a tool to navigate with the sun during a survival training course in VA.
Explorer Chicks learning to navigate using the sun during Survival Training and Hiking Weekend in Virginia.

Time to get back to the basics. Yes, our cell phones have GPS, Google Maps, and put us in touch with the outside world. They’re wonderful and our sidekicks in life. Yet, they are not 100% reliable for both battery life and service. Always carry with you a topographic map and a compass. Bonus points if you stick your map in a waterproof case.

2. Sun Protection

Woman sitting on rock in desert in daytime during a hike in Moab, UT.
An Explorer Chick taking a break in the sunny desert during our Las Vegas Vacation Weekend Adventure.

Sunglasses and sunscreen are not just for the beach and pool. They are especially necessary when hiking or climbing on snow, ice, water, and high altitudes. If you’re wearing sun glasses, then you should be wearing sunscreen and vice versa.

3. Insulation/Extra Clothing

A group of women cross country skiing in a forest in Canada.
Explorer Chicks cross-country skiing on our Canadian Winter Weekend Adventure.

Ask yourself, “What is needed to survive the worst conditions on a trip?” The answer varies according to season, altitude, and conditions. A hat, extra thermal layer, or rain gear take up little room and weight and can keep you warm and dry on an unexpected overnight. Keep in mind temperature changes as you ascend and at nightfall. A hot, July day can turn into a cold summer, night.

4. Illumination

Women standing on a rock wearing headlamps at night during a rappelling trip in WV.
Explorer Chicks wearing headlamps and gearing up for the Hocking Hills Rappelling at Night Workshop Mini Adventure.

Headlamp or flashlight and spare batteries. Even if you plan to return before sunset, be prepared. They’re small, compact, lightweight. Just toss them in your bag. Don’t rely on your cell phone flash light. Remember, we’re going back to basics!

5. First Aid Supplies

Two women standing in front of a door that says "first aid" during a survival training course in VA.
All of the rooms at the mountain lodge Explorer Chicks stay at for the Survival Training and Hiking Weekend are named after survival skills, including First Aid!

Go to an outdoor retailer and pick up a kit. Learn how to use it. Easy, peasy. They come prepackaged, so grab the one that fits your adventure style and length. Many come with a booklet with first aid instructions. Take the time to get to know your kit and booklet.

6. Fire

Two women kneeling down and building a fire during a survival training course in VA.
Two Explorer Chick practicing their fire-building skills during Survival Training and Hiking Weekend in Virginia.

Carry what is necessary to start an emergency fire. To get your fire started, carry butane lighters, waterproof matches, or whatever creates a spark as long as it works. Also, pack a fire starter such as candles, chemical heat tabs or canned heat. They’ll be your best friend when trying to start a fire with wet wood. If traveling in high altitude snow or over a glacier where firewood is non-existent pack a stove and extra water source.

7. Repair Kit and Tools

Different kinds of camping and survival knives on a table next to a purple bag.
Different types of knives and other survival tools Explorer Chicks learn to use during Survival Training and Hiking Weekend.

Knife. This is the big one. It’s so useful each traveler should carry their own. Other handy items include shoe laces, duct tape, cable ties, replacement parts for equipment, etc.

8. Nutrition

Trail mix, granola bars, applesauce and other hiking snacks lying on a gray sleeping bag.
Explorer Chicks on the Red River Gorge Backpacking Workshop take their snacking very seriously!

This should be a no-brainer. It’s one of the Big 3 required to sustain life. You know what makes your body tick. Pack what fuels you and then pack extra. Your extra food should require no cooking, be easily digestible, and store for long periods.

9. Hydration

Woman using a water filtration system during a backpacking workshop in Red River Gorge.
An Explorer Chick learning how to filter water during our Red River Gorge Backpacking Workshop.

Again, another no-brainer. We understand the importance of hydration. Carry sufficient water and have the skills and tools necessary for obtaining and purifying additional water. Bringing a wide-mouthed container is ideal because it is easiest to refill. Your research prior to your trip should include finding and knowing the locations of water sources.

10. Emergency Shelter

Two women sitting beneath a plastic tarp propped up with sticks during a survival training course in VA.
Two Explorer Chicks learn to build an emergency shelter during Survival Training and Hiking Weekend in Virginia.

If you’re not carrying a tent, pack something that will provide shelter from wind and rain beyond your rain gear. Think a plastic tube tent, emergency blanket, or even a jumbo trash bag. You can purchase an Emergency biovac (“bivvy”) sack at an outdoor retailer for under $20. It comes in its own little sack and weighs less than 4 ounces. Just toss it in your pack before every adventure.

Want to learn how to put the 10 Essentials for hiking to use? Join Explorer Chick for one of our weekend workshops or hiking trips for women!

join a women's hiking trip

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