February 13, 2012

The 10 Essentials of (Ultralight) Hiking

The Ten Essentials is a list of gear to help keep you safe on any outing. It was developed in the 1930s by The Mountaineers, a Seattle-based hiking, climbing, and conservation organization.

You need to stay found, hydrated, fed, dry, and warm (or cool in desert regions). The best and lightest things to take on your adventures are expertise and good judgement.

With some planning most of the 10 items can be kept to under an ounce in weight, so they are not a burden to carry.

The Ten Essentials are:
1. Map
2. Compass (Could be supplemented with GPS receiver)
3. Sunglasses and sunscreen
4. Extra food and water
5. Extra clothes
6. Headlamp/flashlight
7. First aid kit
8. Fire starter
9. Matches
10. Knife

1. Map - To stay found, you need a map and you need to know how to use it. Know how to use a topographical map with your compass. It’s an easy skill to learn. You can trim the weight of your map by taking only that part of the map in which you’ll be hiking. Be sure to keep the legend intact, and keep enough of the map to show emergency exit routes and water sources.

2. Compass - A good compass doesn’t need to be a big, heavy item. There are several quality brands that have models that weigh less than an ounce. If you require reading glasses, take them and don’t lose them, because they are crucial in reading small print on most maps. If you add a GPS device, shop for weight as well as the features you want.

3. Sunglasses and sunscreen - These become more important at high altitude where sun and snow can cause eye damage. Shop for weight as well as quality when you buy sunglasses. A good pair of sunglasses can weigh less than an ounce. Keep the weight of your sunscreen very light by taking only a small amount in a ¼ or ½ ounce container. Don’t forget lip balm that has sun protection.

4. Extra food and water - Since your survival depends on water, it’s as important as anything on this list. You can save weight by carrying your water in light plastic bottles. By knowing your map, you can plan for water stops and not carry excessive amounts. Your water treatment can be ultralight by carrying iodine tablets or Aquamira tablets in small containers. For your extra food, take things that are dense in nutritious calories. You can last a long time without food, but your extra food will help you stay warm, give you energy, and help you make better decisions.

5. Extra clothing – You need to stay warm if temperatures drop. Extra clothing should include rain gear. A light skull cap keeps heat in, and can weigh less than an ounce. Polypropylene gloves can weigh less than an ounce, too. Avoid cotton clothes. Synthetic clothing is more functional because it dries more quickly. Clothing weights vary greatly. A digital scale can be helpful when purchasing backpacking clothing because it’s difficult to estimate clothing weights.
6. Headlamp/flashlight - It’s not a bad idea to take both, especially if you have a lightweight version of both. A headlamp let’s you work with both hands. The lightest headlamps are only about 1 ounce. The lightest “squeeze” lights are only ¼ ounce. Remember to take spare batteries and bulbs. Your light also functions as a signaling device.

7. First aid kit - Start with a very small first aid kit. Then personalize it. To keep it light, store it all in a ziplock bag. Add butterfly bandages, packets of triple antibiotic ointment, and extra moleskin. A small roll of surgical tape will help you treat large wounds. Take aspirin, ibuprofen, biodegradable soap, and personal medications. Repair gear, such as duct tape can be part of your first aid kit. Your best first aid equipment, planning and knowledge, are better than ultralight. They’re weightless. Keep in mind that handling your stove and hot water are times you need to be alert, especially when you’re tired. On unsteady ground, plan how you might fall to your hands and knees to avoid an ankle sprain. Simply making sure your hands are washed with water and a little biodegradable soap, especially after defecation, will help you avoid some of the most common physical ailments that backpackers encounter.

8. Fire starter - Having a fire on a cold night can be life-saving, both for warmth and signaling. Extra toilet paper can double as a fire starter. A butane/propane stove can be a fire starter. Chemical heat tablets, a little fire starter paste, or a small magnesium stick can start a fire. Dryer lint is one of the lightest fire starters. Keep it dry in a ziplock bag.
9. Matches - Always carry windproof and waterproof matches. A package of 20 matches weighs only 6/10s of an ounce.

10. Knife – Use it for first aid, cutting shavings for fire, or for repairs. Your knife doesn’t have to be big and heavy. You can find a quality knife that weighs less than an ounce.

You’ll notice that the list of Ten Essentials differs from list to list. Some people put the map and compass together. Some put the matches and fire starter together. Others separate the food and water. You’ll notice that some lists add items like an emergency blanket or signaling devices such as a mirror and whistle. An emergency blanket weighs only 1.8 ounces. A 3” by 4” mirror made of lightweight acrylic weighs only .8 ounces. You can use a whistle far longer than you can shout, and it carries much farther. An ultralight whistle weighs only .2 ounces. If you have cell phone coverage, you have a great signaling device. In some areas, insect repellent may be considered essential.

Carrying these basic items increases your chances of being prepared for an emergency. Your gear selection should always be based on your level of experience and local conditions.

Plan carefully so you always carry the 10 essentials of hiking. And have more fun by keeping them ultralight.

Steve Green of www.hikelight.com. Steve is an avid hiker who has enjoyed trimming his backpack weight for over 40 years.

More information on Ultralight Backpacking Gear, Tips, and Techniques can be found at Onestep's Ultralight Backpacking Resource  “section hiking the Appalachian Trail with a 10 pound pack”.

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