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The 10 essentials for hiking and camping

Wondering what to bring hiking? Even if you’re only planning to be out for a few hours on a day hike, it’s important to pack some essential items. Weather can change quickly outdoors, and something as simple as a rolled ankle might mean you’re out longer than expected.

The essentials for hiking and camping (or any activity in the backcountry) are often called “The 10 Essentials.” The 10 essentials list below is adapted from Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills, which groups the essentials into systems.

Before you start packing

Be a smart hiker by being prepared. Knowledge and skills won’t fit in your backpack, but they’re critical to have – if you’re a beginner, check out local hiking groups to learn skills and meet more experienced hikers. Know your route and plans before you leave, always leave a trip plan (like the AdventureSmart trip plan) with a trusted friend, and make sure your footwear is trail-worthy and comfortable.

The 10 essentials (plus 1):

10 essentials: map and compass

1. Navigation

Bring a topographic map and a compass. If you also carry a GPS, it’s still important that you know how to navigate by map and compass. An altimeter is optional but useful, since it gives your approximate elevation to help you figure out your location on the map. Make sure maps are in a waterproof case.

10 essentials: energy bar

2. Nutrition

Ever get hangry? It’s not fun – especially if you’re delayed or are dealing with an outdoor emergency. Bring extra food, like high-energy bars and dry food that could get you through one extra day. (And if someone forgets their lunch, you’ll be the food hero.)

Blue water bottle sitting on a rock with mountain view behind

3. Hydration

Carry water and additional water (about 1–2L more as a general guideline, though this varies greatly depending on weather and scenario) to cover you for extra time outside. Some people bring water bottles while others prefer a hydration bladder. A way to treat water – like tablets or filters – is also a good idea. Electrolyte drink crystals are highly recommended.

Person wearing sunglasses and a red bucket hat

4. Sun protection

Sunscreen is a good start – also remember sunglasses, lip balm, a hat with a nice wide brim, and clothing that provides protection from the sun’s rays. Even if there’s snow on the ground, you can still get sunburned.

10 essentials: insulation

5. Insulation

Even if it seems warm at the trailhead, you should always carry extra clothing. Weather can change quickly and unpredictably, especially in the mountains or if you end up out longer than planned. Dry clothes can be the difference between a few laughs and hypothermia. Think: jacket, gloves, hat, extra socks and waterproof outer layers.

Tip: Learn about clothing layers for being active outside.

Hiker wearing a toque and a bright headlamp

6. Illumination

Each person in your group should have their own LED headlamp (or flashlight), along with spare batteries. Even on a day hike, a delay might keep you out until sunset and beyond. Note: the flashlight on your smartphone is not an acceptable substitute – plus it uses precious battery life in an emergency.

10 essentials: first aid kit

7. First-aid supplies

The size of the first-aid kit you bring depends on the number of people, length of the trip, how far you’re going, and the level of risk for your trip. Before you go, make sure you’ve restocked all items and that nothing has expired. Items to always include in your first-aid kit are: protective gloves, bandage, scissors, blister dressings, pocket mask and SAM splint. Bug spray is also recommended.

10 essentials: fire starter

8. Fire starter

Matches (waterproof or in a waterproof container) or a lighter along with a commercial fire starter and/or a candle. A small folding saw is invaluable for fire and shelter building situations.

10 essentials: multi-tool

9. Repair kit and tools

Bring items like a multi-tool, scissors, knife, duct tape, cable ties, screwdriver, pliers and little shovel/trowel. Yes, you can use tools to slice apples for lunch, but they’re also handy for first-aid, minor repairs, building fires and shelters, and other random things that come up.

10 essentials: emergency shelter

10. Emergency shelter

If you’re on an overnight trip, you likely already have a tent and sleeping bag. But even if you’re on a day hike, it’s still important to bring something for emergencies. You can use a large orange plastic bag combined with an emergency blanket or use a pre-made emergency bivy bag. Crawl inside to stay warm and dry; the orange colour attracts attention and is highly visible.

10 essentials: whistle

11. Communication device

Finally, bring your fully-charged phone and keep it turned off in a waterproof case or bag to save batteries. Also carry a whistle – if you need to call out, it lasts longer than your voice.

For remote terrain beyond cell phone coverage, you may also want to carry satellite communication devices that allow you to send messages or summon help in an emergency.

Want to learn more? Check out our backpacking checklist for multi-day trips and find out how to plan for overnight hikes.