The 12 Essentials.

While I live in Alabama, I hike, paddle, camp and participate in other outdoor adventures throughout the U.S. and the world. I recently saw this interesting information about a popular outdoor destination. The State of Colorado has 61 all volunteer Search and Rescue Teams, and these groups, located state-wide, are a busy group of men and women. The average year takes these groups on more than 1,400 calls per year, that’s about 23 per group. If you consider these are volunteers and then some rescues are multi-day affairs, this is a highly dedicated and skill group of people.

What they are saying is that too many times their calls could be prevented, and literally, lives saved, if people venturing into the backcountry would just be a bit better prepared. A recent death was reported in the Denver Post noting that a young man was attempting a highly technical climb while wearing Skateboarding shoes and jeans. Getting older can make us smarter, so if you want to not only look smart, but be smart on the trail, be prepared. As we age, we do tend to plan a bit more before venturing off, and that’s a good thing.

And, they note that too many people believe if they encounter trouble, help is but a phone call away. It’s just not true. So these teams have listed what they consider the Essentials to carry and I’ve added a just a couple from my experience. These 12 Essential items are available at most any hardware or outdoor store and will all fit easily in a small day pack. Let me add one other item, I’ll call it the unwritten 13th Essential – your medications. If you take daily medications, on the trail always carry enough for three extra days. That should see you through any calamity that might arise.

The 12 are:

1/2. Navigation tools, map and compass or GPS or both;
3. Sun protection (sunglasses and sunscreen);
4. Clothing for the coldest/warmest possible weather;
5. Illumination;
6. First-aid;
7/8. Fire-making tools (flint and steel as well as matches);
9. Repair kit and multi-tool;
10. Extra food;
11. Extra water (usually 2 liters is enough for an extra day stuck in the woods); and
12. Emergency shelter.

Sure, my iPhone has a compass app, but what happens when you have no cell coverage? If you’re hiking at altitude especially, the sun gets hotter at 10,000 feet than at sea level, unless, of course your sea level jaunt is in the tropics. Being nearer the sun whether from elevation or equatorial proximity means sun exposure, and with that dehydration, are real problems.

But, if you’re not in the tropics, high mountain areas can have 30 and 50-degree temperature changes between high noon and the hours between midnight and sunrise. But being damp and without sun almost anywhere can make you cold. You need to be able to see, and putting a simple Band-Aid on a blister can be the difference between walking and limping. Most of us move faster at a walk than a limp.

Fire…. yes, it changed man’s position in the kingdom, and fire for heat, for signals and even for protection can be the difference between life and death. The fabled multi-tool – well the name says it all, multi-tool for multiple needs. Extra food, both energy bars, gels and the like, but a few freeze-dried packets weigh next to nothing, and with water and fire, you can live pretty well for a few days. Water, and I might add a water filtration tool, I always carry one if water is abundant, but water quality is questionable. Even in high mountains, those crystal-clear rushing streams can carry giardia (link to Dreaded Giardia). Lastly, emergency shelter, just like the firefighters use. A solar blanket will protect you from both heat and cold.

So, there you have it. 12 items to not leave home or enter the wilds without.