Survival – What Are the Ten Essentials?


If you are going mountain trekking, rock climbing, trail running, hiking or otherwise exploring in the wilderness then this is a great way to get fit, experience the great outdoors and feel a greater connection to your roots. At the same time though, any trek into the wilderness also carries with it a certain risk. Being this far from civilization means that you won’t easily be able to find help should you get lost, become hungry or need medical aid, and it will take a long time for anyone you call to reach you as well.

To this end, it is important to be prepared if you are heading into the wild and to take with you several items that can aid you in an emergency. This is precisely what the ‘ten essentials’ alludes to. These are ten essential items for survival originally described in the book ‘The Mountaineers’ published in the 1930s, but despite the age of the book the ten essentials are still regularly referred to and considered to be necessary for safe travel and navigation. Here we will look at the ten essentials and why they are ‘essential’ as well as what else could be added to this list today.

The Ten Essentials – The List


A map is of course an essential for navigation and is perhaps still the most useful thing you can carry in terms of finding your way around. Combined with the next item on this list – a compass – it’s possible to at least work out what direction you should be heading in and so make good progress when lost. Of course you could also today consider a GPS device to be equally as useful. However the downside of a GPS is that it can sometimes lose signal and that it requires charge. At the same time not everyone can afford a GPS and in this respect a map is probably more ‘essential’ still.


As mentioned, the combination of a map and compass ensures that you should always be able to at least head in the correct direction – and in fact even without a map it is normal to know at least the direction you should move.


Having protection from the sun is very important and being stuck in the middle of nowhere with no such protection can otherwise cause severe burns or impair your vision which can lead to accident.

Food and Water

Food and water are of course very important, but it’s also important to take more than you think you are going to need in the form of emergency supplies in order to ensure that you don’t start to go hungry if you can’t find your way home. It’s important here to get the balance right between keeping your load lightweight while nevertheless ensuring you have enough supplies to keep you going. Some particular types of food can help you to achieve this – such as freeze dried foods which are food items that have had the moisture removed from them via a process of first freezing them and them subjecting them to a partial vacuum.

Extra Clothes

Extra clothes are important in case you find yours get wet or torn and are no longer able to keep you warm and dry. At the same time the material from spare clothes can be used in a variety of ways – for instance to make makeshift bandages and slings or to stop the flow of blood.


A headlamp or flashlight is important for being able to see when night falls, and this is crucial to avoid falling or tripping which could be potentially fatal. By using a headlamp or torch you can ensure that you always are able to see where you are going and by using the former you can do so while keeping your hands free.

First Aid Kit

A first aid kit needs to encompass everything you might need to tend to an injury or illness. This should include things like activated charcoal which can chase down foods and drinks that may contain bacteria or toxins, and things like bandages, analgesics, antiseptic cream, adrenaline, plasters, scissors and any specific requirements that you or members of your party may have such as insulin or asthma inhalers.

Fire Starter

Some kind of fire starter gives someone lose the ability to cook food, keep warm and scare away wild animals. This will typically mean heat tabs, canned heat or a magnesium stick.


Matches are an important back up for fire starting and are light and easy to carry.


A knife is a highly important tool and can be used for self defense, for cutting yourself free from clothing or shrubs, for cutting a path, for skinning and cutting meat, for first aid and much more.

Other Suggestions

Since the suggested ‘essential ten’ many other sources have suggested additional extras or modern additions, and even the textbook itself included some suggested supplements. These might include:

Portable Water Purification and Water Bottles

For drinking from potentially unsafe water sources such as rivers or puddles to prevent dehydration.

Ice Axe

When climbing through glaciers or snowfields.

Repair Kits

For repairing things like bags, tents, clothes etc. This should include basic sewing materials and duct tape.

Insect Repellant

Particularly when traveling places that have dangerous insects or disease carrying mosquitoes.

Signaling Devices

This is anything that can be used to signal for help and that could mean a whistle, a flare, a signal mirror (unbreakable signal mirrors are recommended) or a two way radio.

Plastic Tarp and Rope

This can be used to provide emergency shelter where the individual does not have a tent or more permanent form of shelter.


In the current day and age most people carry mobiles and this is particularly expedient for those who want to go on hiking expeditions.

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Richard Landry

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Richard Landry