Ten Essentials of Hiking

Before you embark on your next hiking adventure, it’s crucial to be prepared for the unexpected. Whether you’re facing unpredictable weather, medical emergencies, or unforeseen challenges, having the ten essentials of hiking in your backpack can make all the difference.

Female hiker with day pack on standing in front of Mount Tahoma(Rainier)

When I first started hiking, I definitely put myself in some tough and dangerous situations, because I was not prepared. From not packing enough water to actually falling off of a cliff…yeah that one was tough. But as I spent more time on the trail, my understanding of what I needed to be safe increased. 

Now that I have been hiking regularly with my pup, Meatball, I have created a list of essentials for hiking dogs

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore these hiking essentials, why they’re essential, whether you need them on every hike and the ten essentials for hiking dogs.

Disclaimer: This page contains affiliate links which means that I might receive a small commission from purchases made from this page at no additional cost to you. Thanks for your support!

Everyone's Ten Essentials of Hiking

Female Hiker on a trail leading to Mount Tahoma(Rainier)

Everyone wants to hit the trail feeling happy and safe and no one wants to believe that something could go wrong on the trail. However, accidents happen and having the tools necessary to navigate even the toughest situations will ensure we get back safely after a day on the trail. That is where the ten essentials of hiking come in!

What are the ten essentials of hiking?

The concept of the ten essentials for hiking has evolved over time. It was initially introduced in the third edition of “Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills” and has adapted ever since. While variations exist, the core essentials remain constant. As you gain experience in hiking and become familiar with your hiking environments, your list may evolve to match your specific needs. 

For example, when I always bring an extra pair of socks on the trail with me and a filtering water bottle. The ten essentials I bring have also evolved with time. When I used to bring a paper map into the backcountry, now I opt to download the trails onto my GPS device.

Why Should You Pack the Ten Essentials of Hiking?

Understanding the importance of carrying these essentials is key to a safe hiking experience. Each item serves a vital purpose, ensuring you are well-prepared for any situation that might arise on the trail and there are several reasons why you should never hit the trail without them.

Female Hiker with day pack and emergency device
  1. Preparedness for Emergencies: Nature can be unpredictable, and emergencies can strike at any moment. Whether it’s a sudden storm, a medical issue, or getting lost, the ten essentials provide you with the tools to handle unexpected situations with confidence. In emergencies, these items can be the difference between a manageable situation and a dire one.
  2. Miscalculating Trail Length and Difficulty: It’s surprisingly easy to underestimate the length and difficulty of a trail, especially if you’re exploring a new area. If your hike takes longer than expected, the extra food, water, and clothing you’ve packed will keep you comfortable and fueled.
  3. Being Able to Help Another Hiker: Carrying the ten essentials not only ensures your safety but also allows you to assist other hikers in need. You might provide first aid, share extra supplies, or lend a helping hand when someone else faces difficulties on the trail.
  4. Setting a Responsible Example: By carrying the ten essentials, you set a responsible example for others. Encouraging responsible hiking practices contributes to a safer outdoor community for everyone. The number of backcountry rescues are increasing due to lack of preparedness! Let’s pack the ten essentials of hiking!
Man hiking with a dog following a trail along a mountain edge

In summary, the ten essentials are more than just items in your backpack; they’re your insurance policy for a successful and safe hiking adventure. They empower you to handle emergencies, assist others, and navigate the unexpected challenges that nature may present. 

So, as you plan your next hike, remember that these essentials are your trusty companions on the trail, ensuring you return home with unforgettable memories and stories to share.

The List of Ten Hiking Essentials:

Here’s the comprehensive list of the ten hiking essentials:

  1. Navigation: A map of the trail and the surrounding area, complemented by a compass
  2. Headlamp: A reliable light source, especially useful during low-light conditions.
  3. Sun Protection: Measures to shield yourself from the sun’s harmful UV rays.
  4. First Aid: A well-stocked first aid kit tailored to your trip’s length and nature.
  5. Utility Knife / Multitool: A versatile tool for various tasks, from gear repair to survival tactics.
  6. Fire Source: Equipment to ignite a fire for warmth or survival.
  7. Shelter: Emergency shelter options like tarps or blankets.
  8. Extra Water: Sufficient water supply, accounting for your hydration needs.
  9. Extra Food: Nutrient-dense reserve food to sustain energy.
  10. Extra Clothing: Appropriate clothing for various weather conditions.

Each of the Ten Essentials of Hiking

Let’s delve deeper into each of the ten essentials, discussing their importance and providing product recommendations based on personal experience.


Carrying a map and compass ensures you can find your way even in the most remote areas. For added reliability, consider a waterproof map(or carrying case) and a small, easily accessible compass.

I added a small compass to my pack for easy navigation, but if I’m being honest, most of the time I just use the downloaded map on my Garmin InReach for backpacking trips or the download map on AllTrails for day hikes. 

The safety features of my Garmin InReach like navigation, tracking, weather updates, and texting make it invaluable to me. Check it out here!


A reliable headlamp is indispensable, especially when daylight is limited. The Black Diamond Spot 400 headlamp with a rechargeable lithium battery is a personal favorite for its longevity and sustainability.

This headlamp has come along on countless sunrise and sunset hikes. A headlamp should absolutely be in your pack especially during the shorter daylight months.

Sun Protection

Protecting your skin from UV rays is crucial. Options like sun hoodies and SPF 50 sunscreen are excellent choices to avoid sunburns in high-elevation environments.

The Sahara Sun Hoodie from REI and the Echo Hoodie from Outdoor Research are two of my favorite items of clothing but I also carry a small container of sunscreen with me! Hot tip: use a travel bottle so you don’t have to carry the full sunscreen container.

First Aid

First aid kits should match your trip’s duration and the potential risks involved. Customize your kit to address common hiking injuries and ailments.

Adventure Medical Kits makes first aid kits for different numbers of people and trip duration. I keep one in both my hiking and backpacking pack at all times!

Utility Knife / Multitool

A multitool can be a lifesaver, offering tools like pliers, knives, and files for various tasks in the wilderness. While commonly looked over a multitool has come in handy for me on multiple occasions.

Fire Source

Carrying waterproof matches or fire-starting equipment is essential for warmth and survival during unexpected overnight stays or chilly nights.

Check your multitool, it could have a flint on it!


Emergency shelters, such as lightweight tarps or emergency blankets, are compact and indispensable for unexpected situations.

Emergency Bivys are extremely small. I forget that mine is even shoved in the bottom of my pack most of the time until I do a pack clean out!

Extra Water

A hiker should pack enough water to drink 1L every two hours depending on weather conditions. I carry my water for longer hikes in both a water reservoir and a water bottle with an electrolyte drink mix to keep me hydrated!

The Flux+ Water Bottle from HydraPak is the water bottle I bring on all of my trips! It is one of my favorite pieces of backpacking gear.

Extra Food

Nutrient-dense reserve food like almonds ensures you have the energy to keep going in case of delays or emergencies.

Most hikers will tell you that they have a crusty granola bar at the bottom of their backpack. Something like a Builders Protein Bar that is packed with protein and calories will be great in an emergency situation. 

Extra Clothing

Always bring clothing for different weather conditions, including rain gear, extra socks, and a mid-layer for cooler evenings.

Catch me packing a rain jacket, puffy jacket, and extra socks on every hike.

Bonus: Trash Bag

One of the principles of Leave No Trace is to dispose of waste properly. So by carrying a trash bag, you have the opportunity to leave it better than you found it and pack out your own trash! 

Hot Tip: Keep all of my essentials that I might not use regularly, or that I want to keep dry, in a dry sack so that I can easily transfer my essentials to different backpacks. This also ensures that everything you’re carrying with you stays dry and undamaged. 

Do you Need the Ten Essentials for Every Hike?

While the ten essentials are the foundation of safe hiking practices, there are situations where you might need to tailor your gear list to match the unique characteristics of a particular hike. Understanding when to adapt your essentials is crucial for efficient packing and preparedness. Here are some factors to consider:

Female Hiker with a day pack on a Mountain Vista
  1. Trail Familiarity: For well-marked and highly frequented trails, especially those close to urban areas, you might opt for a lighter load. In such cases, you could potentially omit certain items like a compass or emergency shelter if you’re confident in your familiarity with the route and anticipate no surprises.
  2. Hike Duration: The length of your hike plays a significant role in determining your essential gear. Short day hikes may allow you to carry a more streamlined version of the essentials, while longer journeys require a comprehensive kit to account for extended exposure to the elements and potential setbacks.
  3. Weather Conditions: The weather forecast and the time of year can influence your gear choices. On hot summer days, you might prioritize extra water and sun protection, while winter hikes demand additional layers and equipment for warmth.
  4. Group Size: If you’re hiking with a group, you can distribute the essentials among members. This might mean carrying fewer navigation tools or fewer first aid supplies if others in your group are adequately equipped.
  5. Seasoned vs. Novice Hikers: Experienced hikers often have the knowledge and skills to adapt to unexpected situations with minimal gear. Novice hikers, on the other hand, may benefit from a more comprehensive set of essentials to bolster their safety and confidence.
  6. Wilderness vs. Urban Hiking: In urban or suburban settings, assistance and resources are typically more accessible. In contrast, wilderness hikes often require a more self-reliant approach. Tailor your essentials accordingly, considering your proximity to help.
  7. Personal Comfort and Risk Tolerance: Your personal comfort level and risk tolerance also play a role in your gear choices. Some hikers may prefer to carry the full list of essentials for peace of mind, while others might make calculated decisions based on their experience and confidence in their abilities.
  8. Specific Hike Challenges: Assess the unique challenges of the hike. Are you crossing fast-flowing rivers or traversing steep, rocky terrain? These factors may warrant additional gear or a more comprehensive first aid kit.
Female Hiker with a day pack looking at Mount Tahoma(Rainier) carrying the ten essentials of hiking

While the ten essentials serve as a valuable baseline for hiking preparedness, adapting your gear list to the specific demands of each hike is a wise approach. It demonstrates a nuanced understanding of hiking safety and ensures that you are neither overburdened nor underprepared. Before embarking on any hike, take the time to evaluate these factors and adjust your essentials accordingly

Remember that safety should always be the top priority, and the goal is to strike the right balance between preparedness and practicality for each unique adventure.

Ten Essentials of Hiking for Dogs

Hiking with your four legged bestie can be an immensely rewarding experience as it is an opportunity for your pup to experience your world. However, it also requires some additional preparation to ensure your dog’s safety, comfort and well-being are met on the trail.

Here are some essential items for hiking with your dog: 

  1. Leash and Harness: Even if the trail permits off-leash hiking, it’s wise to carry a leash and harness for your dog. You never know what other dogs or wild animals will be on the trail.

I love using the Hitch Hiker Leash because you can walk your dog hands free regardless of the harness or collar that they use. Since we go backpacking with my dog, Meatball, I use the harness that is attached to his Palisades Dog Backpack.

2. Collar with ID Tag: Make sure your dog wears a collar with an ID tag containing your contact information. This is the simplest measure to take to keep your dog safe. It is like bring water when hiking in the heat, you just need to do it.

3. Dog Backpack: If your dog is accustomed to carrying a load, a dog backpack can be a valuable addition. This way your pup can carry its own water, food and other essentials. Ease them into it by just hiking with an empty pack and slowly adding weight to it!

There are so many options for dog backpacks, I went with a larger pack, Palisades by Ruffwear, since we go on longer, multi-day trips. The harness also fits my dog really well as a standard harness which has been really great for day hikes.

Smiling Dog on a hiking trail
Happy Dog on an off-lesh trail

4. Water and Food: Just like you, your dog needs hydration and sustenance on the trail. Pack enough water for your dog as well as a collapsible bowl. Bring their regular food or treats to keep their energy up!

Always check the trails for water sources along the way, but also ensure that you bring enough water. I have been using the Bivy Bowl for the last year and it has withstood the wear and tear of a tough trail dog!

5. Dog Booties: In rocky or hot terrain, dog booties can protect your dog’s paws from injury or burns. These take some getting used to so definitely don’t use them for the first time on the trail! 

Meatball uses the Grip Trex Dog Boots! His front paws are a half size larger than the back, so if you order boots make sure to measure properly. 

6. First Aid Kit for Dogs: Pack a dog specific first aid kit. This can include items like antiseptic wipes, bandages, tweezers, and medications. 

7. Waste Bags: Be responsible and pack out your dog’s waste. You can even get an additional smell-free bag for the used waste bags to mitigate smell on the trail. 

8. Tick and Flea Protection: Use preventative measures for Fleas and Ticks, but also make sure you do a tick check before leaving the trail at the end of the day. 

9. Dog-Specific Safety Gear: This includes things like a life jacket, reflective vest, and even an emergency harness. 

10. Comfort Items: Bring items that provide comfort to your dog such as a small blanket or mat for rest breaks, a favorite toy, and any necessary medications or supplements. 

Remember that hiking with your dog should be an enjoyable and safe experience for both you and your furry friend. By bringing the right essentials and considering your dog’s needs, you can create lasting memories together on the trail.

Let's Pack It Up

Incorporating the ten essentials into your hiking routine ensures you’re well-prepared for any adventure. From navigation to emergency shelter, each item plays a crucial role in enhancing your safety and enjoyment on the trail. So, before you set out on your next hike, remember the ten essentials and embark on your journey with confidence.

Ten Essentials of Hiking Pinterest Pin
Ten Essentials of Hiking including dogs Pinterest Pin

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