For decades self-proclaimed backpacking experts have mindlessly regurgitated the Seattle Mountaineers “Ten Essentials” like brain washed cult followers. In October of 2007 REI posted an article proclaiming a “New Ten Essentials” list, and the brain dead adherents of the so called “classic lists” immediately got out their credit cards and starting ordering their “essentials.”
The problem with both the original and new ten essentials list is that they mislead backpackers, novices and experienced alike, down a path of pending disaster while spuriously imparting a sense of security. Their defect is that instead of focusing on a list of needs to survive, they focus on a list of equipment one might imagine would be useful (but not necessarily so) to a survival situation.
Trash the “Ten Essentials” unless you are the type that likes to walk around in a backpacking outfit at the mall while sipping on your latte. Instead, before you go into the woods for even a day hike you need to secure the survival essentials that will fulfill your survival needs should you not be able to proceed or return as planned.
The survival essentials are not a list of specific equipment. Rather they are a list of needs that have to be fulfilled to survive an unexpected night in the woods. You fill in the appropriate equipment based on the circumstances of your hike.
The survival essentials are based largely on the rule of 3’s: You can survive 3 hours exposed to the elements, 3 days without water, and 3 weeks without food, but only 3 minutes without a positive attitude. The survival essentials focus on what one needs to survive rather than equipment lists. .
The Survival Essentials
- You need a plan for survival. This includes leaving information about your route and expected return time with a responsible person.
- You need knowledge of how to use your equipment. Test it and become familiar with it before heading into the wilderness.
- You need to control injuries and illness. You may have to stop bleeding, prevent infection, reduce fever and pain, and eliminate diarrhea.
- You need protection from the elements to maintain a proper body temperature and prevent injury to your skin from sunburn or frostbite.
- You need to stay hydrated. This includes collecting and purifying water or a water substitute.
- You need to stay energized. This includes both conserving energy and supplementing it.
- Because you have provided for the above essentials, you will have confidence that you will be able to survive until rescued.
The first survival essential is the single most important item that every day hiker, backpacker and even road traveler can use to increase their chance of survival should the unexpected occur. The sooner a search and rescue effort commences the more likely you will be found alive.
The lack of any mention of this survival essential in the Seattle Mountaineers and REI list is, quite frankly, irresponsible and appalling. It leaves little doubt that the Seattle Mountaineers drafted their list of “ten essentials” while hanging around the Eddie Bauer store, and REI drew up its list while browsing its catalog.
Moreover, the suggestion that a map and compass is a survival tool is laughable. A map and compass will help you to avoid getting lost. You are lost when you don’t know where you are and how to get where you want to be. If you can figure that out with a map and compass then you are not lost. You may be delayed and still need to survive an unexpected night in the wilderness, but you are not lost.
If in fact you are truly lost, then it is time to put away the map and compass and stat focusing on surviving until you can be rescued. The last thing search and rescue teams want you to be doing is wandering around aimlessly in the wilderness while they are trying to find you. The closer you are to the route you expected to take the more likely they are to find you.
Another glaring defect in the “ten essentials” lists is the designation of equipment and supplies as “extra.” Until you get into a survival situation, survival supplies and equipment you carry are not “extra” – they are essential components of your adventure. . If you get into a survival situation nothing in your possession is “extra.” I never carry anything “extra” in my pack. Everything in my pack either adds to my enjoyment of the wilderness adventure or is essential to my survival of it. I leave the “extra” stuff on the store shelves.
The next time you are in an equipment store and a clerk ask if you have the “ten essentials” tell them you don’t need them because you are acquiring the survival essentials instead. And tell them the most important one can’t be purchased at their store and doesn’t even go with you on the trip. It stays home with a responsible person.