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The Ten Essential Groups

An Updated Approach to Outdoor Safety by John Shannon


The ten essentials have a history as far back as the 1930's and were created by The Mountaineers, a Seattle-based outdoor organization. After new climbing students often showed up for a climb with inadequate gear, a list of essential items became necessary to require on trips. The original list included matches, fire starter, map, compass, flashlight (extra batteries and bulb), extra food, extra clothing, sunglasses, first aid kit, and pocket knife. Over the decades this list has undoubtedly saved lives. The problem with a single list of ten items is that any given trip may need more than ten items for safety or comfort. Nearly every ten essentials list seen today has ten items and then a few more.

In my weekly reading from backpacking and preparedness websites, the thought of making a list combining ideas from both of those groups came about. That list has turned out to be the "Ten Essential Groups" listed below. It is a grouped listing of items for review to determine what is best for a particular outing. For example, a backpacking trip to Arkansas in March might have one set of essentials, but a snowshoe trip to Taos in February will have additional essential items. Some items in the groups have multiple uses, and some items such as a map and compass should never be left out of your gearlist. Other trips (paddling, caving, biking or canyoneering) will have more items in the tools group specific to that sport. Gaining outdoor skills knowledge by taking a class specific to your chosen sport is recommended. In the worst case scenario, having the gear to remain dry, warm and hydrated until rescued is the goal.


The Ten Essential Groups


Medical - ID/medical tag, first aid kit, medications, insect repellant
In addition to the usual first aid kit contents, identification with pertinent medical information is good to have along. That information should include your next-of-kin's phone number, allergies, major diseases such as diabetes or hypertension, etc. Some people even carry an "ABC Kit" (Airway, Breathing, Circulation), an emergency kit stored in an accessible location (not in the bottom of your pack) that includes gloves, a pressure bandage, a mouth protector (for CPR), instructions on pressure points and rescue breathing, a Ziploc bag for biohazard materials, an accident report form, etc. Seconds may count in emergency situations.

Shelter - raingear, garbage bags, emergency blanket, bivy sack, tarp, tent, rope
A shelter from the elements might range anywhere from garbage bags to rain gear to a tent depending on the dayhike or overnight outing.

Fire - matches, lighter, sparker/tinder, fresnel lens, stove/fuel
Many preparedness websites recommend having three ways to start a fire. Even though fires are not permitted on most Sierra Club trips except in an emergency, fire making skills are essential to learn.

Hydration - water container, purification method
The importance of staying hydrated cannot be emphasized enough both for the enjoyment of an outing and for survival in the event of an accident or emergency.

Communication - safety plan, whistle, pen/pencil and paper, signal mirror, cellular phone, satellite phone, HAM radio, personal locator beacon
This group contains items that may allow you to, more quickly, get found if lost or rescued if injured. Simply leaving a safety plan with a loved-one will allow Search and Rescue to find you or your group quicker.

Navigation - map, compass, light, altimeter, GPS
Map and compass skills are mandatory. Other items such as a GPS can be a great addition.

Nutrition - extra food, fishing kit
An extra day of food is always a good idea. In a survival situation lasting days, some advocate a fishing kit small enough to fit inside a pill container.

Insulation - jacket, hat, gloves, footwear, foam pad
Proper clothing for the anticipated temperature range is necessary.

Sun Protection - sunscreen, sunglasses, wide-brimmed hat
Protection from ultraviolet rays is needed for the prevention of debilitating sunburn, skin cancer and snow blindness. Sunburn may also make one susceptible to thermoregulation problems as well.

Tools - knife, repair kit, wristwatch, bandana
This group includes miscellaneous items for cutting, repairing gear, and the multipurpose bandana. The listed items may change for other sports.