The Ten Essentials: A Foundation for Outdoor Adventure

. August 1, 2017.

Seasoned outdoor enthusiasts know that preparation is fundamental to creating safe and memorable outdoor adventures. Each trip challenges you to refine checklists, equipment, gear, experience and then to adapt all these elements to suit your children’s needs. Consider the basics as you pack for your next family trek. Start with the Ten Essentials.

Experienced outdoor adventurers known as The Mountaineers coined the original list of ten essential items in the 1930s. In Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills, 8th ed., the author’s state, “The point of the Ten Essentials list has always been to help answer two basic questions: First, can you respond positively to an accident or emergency? Second, can you safely spend a night—or more—out?”

Since the classic list was created, abundant adaptions have evolved. Recently, I visited my local REI store to stock up on my own essential items. The sales person was very familiar with the practice of carrying the ten essentials. In fact, while we were talking, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a list that the store distributes. As is often the case with adapted versions, this list included fourteen items.

The Mountaineers now view the Ten Essentials as a list of functional systems. Consider the type of environment, season, skill levels, and the particular outdoor activity your family will participate in when applying the systems list to packing your personalized ten essentials pack. Ask the question, “What is needed to survive the worst conditions that could be realistically encountered on this trip?”

1: Navigation: Map and Compass.

Which way is north and how do you know? As the most fundamental orienteering skill, finding north with acompass takes practice and can be a fun skill to learn for the whole family. As preparation for outdoor outings, classes and orienteering clubs are worth the time in honing map and compass skills.

Basic maps with line drawings of roads or trails are usually available at outdoor visitor centers but atopographical map has the richness of detail necessary to identify your precise location in the context of the landscape you are visiting. Carry yours in a protective case or plastic covering.

2: Sun Protection:

Sunny days are often what lure us outside with our children in the first place. Developing sun safe habits offer protection while you and your children explore and romp through these days safely. Slop on some SPF 30 or higher sunblock or sunscreen before going out into the sun. Even cloudy days require protection that should be reapplied every two hours. Sunglasses come with straps for a better fit on busy heads.

Choose lightweight, close-weave clothing specifically designed for sun-protection. Many of these fabrics carry an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) rating. A hat that your child finds comfortable and cool will top off her readiness for adventure.

3: Insulation: Extra clothing.

Weather can change abruptly during any outdoor activity so bring an extra layer of clothing that fits the season. In her book, “Babes in the Woods,” outdoor educator Jennifer Aist recommends wool and polyester fleece as the best fabric choices for extra layers.

Since 70% of heat loss occurs through our heads, a hat layer serves an important heat regulating function. Extra socks can provide welcome comfort for the ride home when feet get wet.

4: Illumination: Headlamp or Flashlight.

Headlamps are cool by most kid standards. Hands are free and the miner’s light easily points the way. Such alight source is critical should you find yourself making your way back to the car after dark. Whatever light you carry, remember the extra batteries.

5: First Aid Supplies.

A compact and sturdy first aid kit may be found commercially or created at home. Any first aid training that can be acquired adds value to the first aid kit that you carry.

A good first-aid kit should include moleskin for blisters, adhesive bandages of various sizes, butterfly bandages, gauze pads, roller bandages, triangular bandages, adhesive tape, scissors, disinfecting ointment, over-the-counter pain medication, non-latex gloves, pen and  paper. Personalize the kit to suit your individual needs with items such as bee sting medicine or insulin.

6: Fire:

The means to start and sustain an emergency fire is especially important in the event that your party unexpectedly needs to spend the night out. Matches should be waterproof or in a waterproof container. Butane lighters are handy in addition to matches. Just make sure that the igniter is absolutely reliable.

Candles are commonly carried as fire-starters. Dryer lint tucked away in a plastic bag or wood clusters soaked in resin can also be used to get a fire going. Practice making fires so that when you need one you know how to reliably start one.

7: Repair kit and tools, including knife.

The safe use of a knife as a tool is useful in first aid, food preparation, and repairs. A Swiss Army Knife or Leatherman type tool with additional gadgetry (pliers, screwdriver, awl, and scissors) can be especially handy. Depending on the nature of your outing, a repair kit might also include shoelaces, safety pins, needle and thread, wire and duct tape.

Outdoor outings are a great place to emphasize that a pocket knife is a tool and not a toy. As the adult guide and caregiver you choose if and when your child is ready to carry their own. Just make sure knives stay out of school backpacks or luggage that goes through security at the airport.

8: Nutrition: Extra Food.

For most outings pack at least an extra day’s worth of food and realize that your children will likely be expending more energy than normal while playing in the great outdoors. Extra food items should be high energy, easily digestible, non-crushable, and store well for long periods. Author of popular Hiking Guidebooks, Bonnie Henderson, suggests that you bring a combination of jerky (dried meats), nuts, candy, granola, and dried fruit.

9: Hydration: Extra Water.

A normally active person needs to drink at least two quarts of water each day. Hot environments and intense physical activity can double that amount. Jennifer Aist advises, “Encourage children to drink water throughout the day. Small hydration sips on the go are helpful along with regular snack and sip breaks.” Though water is available at many campsites, carry a water filter and/or water purifying tablets in case you unexpectedly get caught short.

10: Emergency Shelter.

A jumbo trash bag is the simplest and most readily available form of emergency shelter that can be used to protect from rain and wind. A reflective emergency blanket is another possible emergency shelter and is also useful in various first aid situations.

Make sure to have some fun choosing what to carry your essential items in. A day pack with some stretchy side pockets works well. Dangle a whistle from one of the rings. Go prepared to enjoy your anticipated outing and know that you have the tools to keep your cool in any situation.