The Ten Outdoor Essentials

Now that it’s mostly sunny, many of us are feeling compelled to hit the trail and explore our beautiful region. While it is relatively easy to access outdoor recreation opportunities in the Pacific Northwest, going on any outdoor excursion takes a bit of planning. Besides deciding where to go and what delicious beverages you’ll enjoy when you reach your destination, there are a few other logistics that need to be covered before lacing up the boots. Having the right gear with you to be prepared for the unexpected will give you peace of mind and help you enjoy the outdoors more. Even if you’re a seasoned hiker or if you’ve been to a certain location many times before, things can change at a moment’s notice — just ask any of the 150 hikers who got trapped on the Eagle Creek trail when the forest was set ablaze last summer. 

First developed in the 1930s by a group called The Mountaineers, the Ten Essentials list has been adopted or slightly modified by many outdoor recreation and enthusiast groups over the years. The list addresses two primary questions: Can you respond positively to an accident or emergency, and can you safely spend a night (or more) outside? The list has evolved from individual items to a system of considering your trip and situation.

Assuming you are someone going out to have fun and not a trained mountaineer, here is what the Ten Essentials might look like for you.

While the first thing that comes to mind might be your cell phone’s GPS capabilities, remember that not everywhere has reception. For this The Mountaineers recommend an analog map and compass. Handheld GPS units and altimeters are also helpful, but be sure to carry extra batteries for these technological wonders.

Sun Protection
While the Pacific Northwest isn’t necessarily known for its high number of sunny days, the sun still poses a risk to your skin and eyes. Remember the sun may be more intense while around snow or in high-altitude areas. Sunblock, sunscreen and sun-protective clothing will have you covered (pun intended) for this one. When selecting these items, make sure they protect from UVA and UVB rays.

This comes mainly in the form of extra clothing. The Mountaineers suggest asking yourself the following question: “What extra clothes are needed to survive the night in my emergency shelter in the worst conditions that could realistically be encountered on this trip?” Packing proper insulation can make the difference between a quick stop to change into dry clothing and a ruined trip.

We’re talking headlamps for this one. Headlamps range widely in terms of technical features and brightness, but whatever features it has it won’t work without batteries. Be sure to carry spares or make sure you leave the house with a full charge if you go with a rechargeable battery. A good old-fashioned flashlight will do the trick.

First aid supplies
The National Outdoor Leadership School recommends the following items go in a good first aid kit: trauma sheers, tweezers, safety pins, patient assessment forms, oral thermometer, CPR mask, 2nd skin dressings, antibiotic ointment, knuckle and fingertip fabric bandages, 3×4 nonstick gauze pads, self-adhering bandage (AKA coban wrap or vet wrap), 1-inch cloth tape, wire or SAM splint, gloves, irrigation syringe, povidone-iodone solution, antiseptic towelettes, sterile scrub brush, wound closure strips, tincture of benzoin swabs, moleskin dressing, 4-6 inch elastic wrap, 1×3 fabric bandages, 4×4 sterile gauze pads, 30-inch conforming roll gauze, transparent film dressings, and triangular bandages. Got all that? At the very least carry bandages, gauze pads, adhesive tape, antimicrobial ointment, over-the-counter pain relief, gloves, pen, and paper. No matter what you carry in your first aid kit, make sure you know how to use the items. Enrolling in a Wilderness First Aid course is a great idea and will help you feel prepared and empowered. The Adventure Leadership Institute at Oregon State University offers Wilderness First Aid courses each term that are open to anyone to enroll in. 

Carry weatherproof matches in a watertight container. Go the extra mile with these; lighters and flimsy matchbooks can fail in the backcountry. A fire starter such as cotton balls covered in petroleum jelly or dryer lint are inexpensive and can help ignite damp wood in an emergency. Commercially-prepared fire starters are also available. 

Repair kit and tools
Most experts recommend carrying a multitool or knife as well as a repair kit for your gear. Items for your repair kit will depend on the activity, so the contents could range from extra cord, buckles, or special tape. A bare-bones approach will involve duct tape wrapped around your water bottle a few times.

For short trips, keep at least a day’s worth of food with you. Ideally these items are non-perishable, require no cooking, and are nutrient-dense. Fruit, nuts, jerky, and freeze-dried food are all good options.

A person can go a while without eating, but water is a different story. The amount of water needed while out enjoying nature will vary depending on the activity, but it is wise to carry some water with you. Check in advance if there will be water sources where you are going, and plan accordingly. Since giardia is a great way to ruin a good time, be sure to carry a water filter or other means to treat water, such as iodine tablets. 

Emergency shelter
If you’re carrying a tent with you, then you can check this one off the list. For day trips where you are likely not carrying a tent, bring along an emergency space blanket. These are inexpensive and widely available. A tarp or trash bag can also be used in a pinch.


By Erica Johnson