Before stepping onto a hiking trail or setting up your campsite, it’s important to ensure you have the ten essentials with you. The ten essentials for hiking and camping are crucial components to having a safe trip.
Having these 10 Essentials loaded into your backpack will help you conquer everything from starvation, dehydration, and injury to illness, sunburn, and disorientation. You’ll be able to see in the dark, fuel your body, fix your gear, protect yourself from hypothermia, and much more!
In this guide, I am going to share with you what the 10 Essentials for hikers and campers are, why they are necessary, examples of what you can buy, and links to other guides on my blog that dive deeper into many of them.
The 10 Essentials For Hikers and Campers
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Whether hiking two miles or twenty-two miles, food is one of the ten essentials you should always have inside your backpack.
You may not think that you need food if you’re just doing a simple two-mile hike in a local park, but what if you get lost and find yourself stuck in the woods for longer than expected? What if you’re having a great time, and you decide to push it just a few miles further, and hunger creeps in?
Keep your mind and body sharp by giving them the fuel they need to conquer the trail.
The type and amount of food you take will depend on how long you will be out on the trail, how challenging the terrain is, etc. I have a Complete Guide to Eating on the Trail blog post that dives deep into the topic of food on the trail. I reveal how much food and water you should be consuming, trail food packing tips, shelf-stable foods that can survive in a backpack, an extensive list of trail breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack, and dessert ideas, trail food hacks, and tips for dehydrating your own backpacking food.
Also, practicing these eight eating and drinking habits while on the trail will improve your overall hiking health!
Our bodies need water even more than we need food. You can survive weeks without eating, but only mere days without water. Staying hydrated is crucial to your survival, especially when you’re exerting a high amount of energy.
An average hiker climbing at an average pace in average terrain should consume about half a liter of water per hour. That amount will vary depending on your body type, the terrain, your pace, and the weather, but make sure to sip on water throughout the entire duration of your hike. (Yes, even when it’s cold outside!)
Carrying more than a liter of water can get pretty heavy, so that’s where water filtration comes in handy. If you don’t want to carry a large amount of water or you find yourself in a situation where you need more water, you will want a filter to purify any water source that you can find on the trail.
But even if you are just day hiking, shelter is necessary. Say you find yourself unexpectedly lost in the dark and you need to spend the night in the woods; you’ll want a way to keep warm and protected. Even if you don’t spend the night in the woods, having that extra layer of warmth could save you from the harsh elements of an inclement storm or cold front.
I carry an emergency blanket on day hikes, but you can also opt for a bivy sack, lightweight tarp, or simply a large plastic bag. Anything that will keep the elements off your body.
Carrying layers is crucial for every hiking and camping trip! Since Mother Nature has a mind of her own, most hikers have been known to get caught in a pop-up storm or a rapid fluctuation in temperature. You’ll need to be prepared for whatever she throws at you!
To ensure that you are prepared for a variety of conditions, bring the three layers: base (wicking) layer, mid (insulating) layer, and outer (waterproof/windproof) layer.
Depending on the weather and terrain, you might need extra layers like a heavy coat, hat, gloves, etc., or an extra (dry) pair of socks. Always pay close attention to the weather. While it could change, at least you’ll have an idea of what to expect and what to pack.
5. First Aid
A variety of things can happen to you on the trails and at camp, ranging from minor injury to major illness. I discuss how to recognize, prevent, and treat the most common hiking injuries and illnesses in this blog post, so give that a read if you’re interested!
To be prepared for those injuries and illnesses, it’s important to carry a first aid kit in your backpack. There are many pre-packed kits that you can buy online, but my suggestion would be to only take what you need. Those pre-packed kits are often bulky and filled with a lot of unnecessary and “extra” items.
I carry a small pouch with a handful of band-aids, gauze, medical tape, blister pads, tweezers, wipes, sting relief, bug spray, sunscreen, bivvy, electrolytes, cold packs, and a small assortment of pills (ibuprofen, anti-diarrheal, and Benadryl). With this first aid kit, I can treat bites, allergic reactions, sprained ankles, upset stomachs, blisters, headaches, cuts, and more. Your kit may look different, and that’s okay; tailor it to your specific needs!
🩹 Read my First Aid Basics for Hikers and Campers guide that goes over how to build a first aid kit, the most common hiking injuries, and how to prevent and treat them.
A knife has multiple uses on the trails and at camp. From opening food packaging and cutting bandage tape to starting a fire and protecting yourself from predators, a knife is versatile and absolutely necessary for both your safety and survival.
Some 10 Essentials lists include “repair tools” underneath the knife category. I would highly recommend carrying repair kits for any tents or air pads you may have in your pack, and duct tape for simple, temporary repairs. If your hiking boot suddenly falls apart, a hole is punctured into your tent wall, or your sleeping pad begins to leak, you’ll want to have these repair tools in your pack!
Knowing how to start and build a fire is not only great for social camping situations but could save you from hypothermia in an emergency situation.
🔥 I wrote a guide on Campfire Safety where I share information on fire danger levels, how to build a safe campfire, and some alternatives to campfires should you be in a fire ban region.
You never know when you’ll find yourself disoriented in the woods. When this happens, it’s important that you have a way to correct your path and reroute yourself. Carrying a compass, paper map, and electronic navigation will help you stay on the trail. Electronics can fail, so having that extra backup or two will give you peace of mind.
I also carry my Garmin inReach Mini for longer trips. With this device, I can text loved ones, send my current location, check the weather, and press the big red SOS button all on the satellite network, from any location in the world. Even the most remote location that doesn’t have a single bar of service. For just $14.99/month, you can activate this device for your trip and have ultimate peace of mind. Suspend service when you come home so that you don’t pay for it when you don’t need it.
Another helpful navigation tool I use is Gaia GPS. For $39.99/year, this app can help you stay on track. You can record your route, download maps offline, and navigate through the most remote trails using this very useful app.
AllTrails is another useful trail app for navigating offline. Hundreds of thousands of trails are loaded on this app, along with directions to exact trailheads, photos and reviews, current trail conditions, and your current location so that you always stay on the trail.
Finally, most established trails have some sort of markings, whether they are blazes painted on trees, rocks stacked on slabs, or posts embedded in the ground. In my “How to Avoid Getting Lost on Trails” guide, I share five helpful tips on trail navigation, how to read trail markers, and what to do if you do get lost on a trail.
Most day hikers probably don’t think to carry this essential in their pack because they think they will never need it. If you’re hiking during the daylight hours, why do you need a headlamp?
If you underestimate the amount of time it will take you to complete the trail, you may find yourself losing daylight. Or, if you find yourself lost in the woods and are forced to navigate the wilderness in the dark, you are risking your safety and you may become even more disoriented if you have no light source.
Carry at least one headlamp with some spare batteries so the path in front of you will always be illuminated.
Headlamps and solar lanterns are also super useful for backpacking and camping. You can find your way through the thick, pitch-black woods in order to use the bathroom or be able to see inside your tent and around your campsite.
10. Sun Protection
Did you know you can get sunburnt even in the winter? And UV rays intensify the higher you travel in elevation? Sun exposure isn’t just dangerous in zero-shade, above-tree-line hikes.
No matter what conditions you’re hiking in, sun protection is important. Wear long sleeves and long pants even when the weather is warm to protect your skin (there are light, summer UPF clothing specifically designed for warm weather!), slather sunscreen on your body, and wear sunglasses and a sun hat to prevent exposure.
Whether you are backpacking the High Sierras, thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, day hiking to Angel’s Landing, camping in a frontcountry campground, or taking a casual hike through your local state park, make sure to carry these 10 essentials with you to help ensure you stay as safe as possible on the trails and at camp.