The 10 Essentials for Hiking. What Everyone Should Bring

10 essentials for hiking
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So you’ve decided to go hiking. Whether you decide to go on a day hike or a 6-month thru hike, there are certain items everyone should be carrying. The 10 essentials for hiking are the bare necessities that will get you home in case of an emergency.


This should include a map and a compass. This is especially true for longer hikes, and for hikes in remote areas. Ideally a map will be in a waterproof case so you will have no trouble reading it if you get caught in the rain.
You will also need a compass. There are several types of compasses which you can use. An orienteering or lensatic compass will be best for hiking.

A phone might be okay on short hikes, but on longer hikes you have to rely on the battery not running out for it to work properly. It is better to have a compass as they are a lot less likely to fail on you.

Sun Protection

Sunscreen may not seem like it should be an essential item, but trekking long distances with a sunburn is not ideal.
To get full sun protection you will need, sunscreen, sunglasses, and a wide brim hat.

Sun protection is even more important when hiking in mountains. The higher elevations will mean that there is more UV exposure. Even during the winter months you may need sun protections, as snow can reflect sunlight directly into your eyes.


Your insulation system will essentially be the clothing that you will wear. This system will have to serve several functions.

  • Breathability- the ability of the material to draw sweat away from your skin. This will prevent overheating.
  • It needs to trap air, which allows your body heat to keep you warm.
  • Protection from the elements. This can include wind, rain and snow.

To achieve all of these functions, hikers usually use a layering system.

  • Base layer. This in the layer that is in contact with the skin. Its main function is to be breathable.
  • Mid layer. This layer is the insulating layer. It traps air in between layers and allows your body to heat up. If you need extra warmth then you can add several layers. Each layer will trap its own air and heat it up.
  • Outer layer: The outermost layer will protect you from the elements. It should be wind and waterproof and highly durable. This layer does not need to have any insulating properties, but it can if desired. Most of the time this layer will stay in your back until it is needed.

When deciding on how much insulation to bring, I like to consider what the worst possible conditions might be. I will bring enough insulation to be comfortable in those conditions, as well an extra layer just in case it gets a bit colder. For example, if the coldest weather I might expect is 5C, I will pack enough clothing to be comfortable at 0C.


Having a head lamp will do more than just help you read a book when you make it to camp. It can also act as an essential survival tool if you end up hiking after dark.

Headlamps will work the best because they will allow you to use your hands. If you do not own a headlamp, a flashlight will also work.
Remember to pack extra batteries, ideally in a waterproof container.

First Aid Kit

Accidents happen. When they do, you need to be prepared. Your first aid kit should live in your pack.

You can usually buy lightweight first aid kits from your local outdoor shop. These kits will have everything you need and take the guess work out of what to put in it.

You need to have bandages of various sizes, blister treatments, disinfecting wipes, gauze pads, adhesive tape. I always pack some pain killers as well.

Fire Starters

Fire starters can come in handy if you get stuck on a trip overnight and need to keep warm. Starting a fire can also be useful for cooking and purifying water to drink.
I would recommend waterproof matches, just in case your gear gets wet.

Repair Kit and Tools

I usually pack a multi-tool such as a Swiss army knife. This can come in handy for a lot of reason that are useful in survival situations.

A knife can be useful in food preparation, first aid, repairing gear, or making kindling to start a fire.

If you are traveling with an air mattress, you will also want to bring a patch repair kit so fix any punctures. Duct tape is very handy for this as well as repair jobs.


For longer trips I always try to pack a couple extra day’s worth of food. This is just in case something happens and I am taking a couple extra days to get back. Or maybe I am enjoying my time so much that I want to delay my return to civilization.


Hiking can be a very strenuous activity, and is a good way to work up a thirst. Bringing enough water on a trip is a no-brainer. You should also bring a method to purify water on the trail if you run out or plan on resupplying along the way.

If you do not know of any places to get more water, you will have to bring enough to last the entire trip, plus extra in case something goes wrong.

Emergency shelter

If you will be camping then you are already going to have a shelter with you. If not, an emergency bivy sac can go a long way and does not add any weight to your pack. Even when I do bring shelter with me, I still carry an emergency space blanket. I do this as a back up in case my sleeping bag gets soaked as it will lose its insulation properties.

Other Considerations

There are probably a dozen other options that could be considered essential and will get an honourable mention.

  • A communication device. This can be useful to call for help, but it has to rely on having cell service. If you are hiking far away from civilization it will not be feasible to use.
  • Personal locator beacon. These are devices that can send your GPS coordinates to a search and rescue team.
  • A whistle can be used to signal for help. It takes a lot less energy to blow a whistle than to yell for help.

Is there anything else you would add to the list?

The Most Important Item Needed in the 10 Essentials for Hiking

Knowledge is the most important tool you can possess. Sure it is great that you have all this gear, but if you have no idea how to use your first aid kit, or how to read a compass, then they are pretty much useless. Take the time and learn how to use these items before you head off on a trip.

I always like to do a test run of all my gear before I use it. That way I can figure out what works and what doesn’t before heading out on the trail.