The 10 essentials are ten types of gear you should bring with you on any trip to the mountains. The list is designed to allow you to respond positively to any emergency – this means you are able to take some kind of action to resolve it instead of relying on help. In situations where search and rescue responses are hours or days away, this makes all the difference. Remember to adjust the specific gear you bring in each category to fit the situation. For example, in summer a light bivy is adequate for emergency shelter, while in winter a tent and sleeping bag would be best.
The origin of the Ten Essentials dates back to early climbing courses in the 1930s, and the purpose has always been to answer two basic questions:
- Can you respond positively to an accident or emergency?
- Can you safely spend a night (or more) outside?
Certain equipment deserves space in every pack. Mountaineers will not need every item on every trip, but essential equipment can be a lifesaver in an emergency. Exactly how much equipment “insurance” should be carried is a matter of healthy debate.
Some respected minimalists argue that weighing down a pack with such items causes people to move slower, making it more likely they will get caught by a storm or nightfall and be forced to bivouac. “Go fast and light. Carry bivy gear, and you will bivy,” they argue. The other side of this debate is that, even without the extra weight of bivy gear, a group may still be forced to bivouac. Each party must determine what will keep them safe.
Most members of The Mountaineers take along carefully selected items to survive the unexpected. Whatever your approach to equipment, a checklist will help you remember what to bring.
Over time, the Ten Essentials list has evolved from a list of individual items to a list of functional systems.
TEN ESSENTIALS: THE CLASSIC LIST
- Sunglasses and sunscreen
- Extra clothing
- Headlamp or flashlight
- First-aid supplies
- Extra food
TEN ESSENTIALS: FREEDOM 9 SYSTEMS
- Navigation: Map, altimeter, compass, [GPS device], [PLB or satellite communicators], [extra batteries or battery pack]
- Headlamp: Plus extra batteries
- Sun protection: Sunglasses, sun-protective clothes, and sunscreen
- First aid: Including foot care and insect repellent (if required)
- Knife: Plus repair kit
- Fire: Matches, lighter and tinder, or stove as appropriate
- Shelter: Carried at all times (can be light emergency bivy)
- Extra food: Beyond minimum expectation
- Extra water: Beyond minimum expectation, or the means to purify
- Extra clothes: Beyond minimum expectation
The Ten Essentials is a guide that should be tailored to the nature of the trip. Weather, remoteness from help, and complexity should be factored into the selected essentials. The first seven essentials tend to be compact and vary little from trip to trip, and so they can be grouped together to facilitate packing. Add the proper extra food, water, and clothes, and you’re ready to go. This brief list is intended to be easy to remember and serve as a mental pre-trip checklist.
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About the Author: Alex Derr
Alex Derr is a mountaineer and blogger based in Denver Colorado. He is working to climb Colorado’s highest 100 peaks, and the 20 tallest peaks in California. He created The Next Summit to share advice, stories, history & reflections from the Colorado Rockies & Sierra Nevada. When not climbing, he is managing the Communications strategy at Visible Network Labs.