In July 2017, the Spokane Spokesman-Review ran a story called “What’s in your daypack?” It’s premise was that when heading out on anything other than the easiest trail (and maybe even then), you should have with you what’s needed to survive an incident or accident. This was basically another take on the now ubiquitous 10 Essentials.
Still, I felt more than a little vindicated after reading it. My years spent hiking, climbing, and mountaineering taught me (usually the hard way) to be prepared, to be ready to self-rescue if possible, to have some means of mitigating the suffer-fest (either mine or someone else’s), and – above all – to not put others (like SAR folks) at risk because I was poorly equipped for prevailing conditions.
However, in February 2022, Backpacker Magazine ran an article questioning the essentiality (and hence the sacredness) of the 10 Essentials. This article reminded me that the original essentials (they weren’t called the 10Es until 1974) first appeared (as simply the “essentials”) in the 1960 edition of Freedom of the Hills – and can be traced back to The Mountaineers in the 1930s.
Their goal was to have you equipped for a backcountry mountaineering (as opposed to a hiking) trip, one where you could easily get well beyond the chance for quick help (there being no GPS, satellite or cell phones, InReach, or SPOT way back in 1960).
This presumed remoteness justified a list of stuff for (almost) every eventuality and an insistence on always carrying that stuff. But most of today’s hikers aren’t going way out back of beyond or going without modern means of communication. So while I still carry the 10Es (it’s now an old habit), it’s probably unnecessary to insist that all 10 be carried by every hiker on every hike.
But if you are going on a longer, more remote, off-trail, or “exploratory” hike (or backpack), particularly if cell service is questionable, please consider taking along the 10Es. Because, well, life is, and always will be, a little (or a lot) like shooting craps. May you always roll sevens; but if (or when) a challenging hike rolls you snake eyes, the 10Es could be really, really nice to have along. Think of them as a hedge on your hiking bet.
REI’s Updated 10 Essentials List
Back in the day being “equipped” often meant carrying around what felt like a sack of concrete – actually, it probably did weigh that much. Now, however, thanks to the continual evolution in outdoor gear toward lighter, stronger, and more compact, it’s easier than ever to carry just enough to avoid censure (or doom) due to insufficient equipage.
So, excluding food and water, and depending on which optional items are taken, you should be able to be appropriately clothed (gear worn) and have the 10Es (gear carried), along with a pack to carry them in, for under about 8 pounds (3.6 kg). This should include enough of the right stuff to have a very good probability of covering any unforeseen issue you’re likely to experience (or have experienced) on a day hike.
If a hike goes sideways, you may not be comfortable, but you (probably) won’t die. Another plus (beyond staying alive) is that it’s only a few more pounds (depending mostly on the amount of food taken and whether you cook it or not) from gear for a dayhike to that for a 5+ day backpack (10Es included). 😁