Regardless of whether your backcountry adventure is short or long in duration, it’s essential to always be prepared. You never know when the unexpected might become a reality. Below is a list of The Ten Essentials every backcountry traveler should carry.

  1. Navigation Be sure to carry a map of the area you intend to travel, a compass, and the knowledge of how to use them. If you use a GPS unit, be sure you are familiar with the unit. Bring a map and compass as a backup as electronics can malfunction unexpectedly.
  2. Sun Protection Sunglasses and sunblock should be carried, even on cloudy days. Eye protection should be worn during snow travel to prevent snow blindness which is a painful and debilitating condition.
  3. Insulation Weather can change suddenly. Be prepared for the worst possible weather you could encounter. Items you should include are a waterproof jacket, an extra layer of warmth (such as a fleece sweater, extra socks, gloves, and a warm hat.
  4. Illumination In the event your trip lasts longer than anticipated, you could find yourself on trail in the dark. Having a flashlight or headlamp could be the difference between getting off the mountain tonight or having to wait until the next day.
  5. First Aid Supplies There is no exact list of what a person should carry for a particular trip, but here are some suggestions that would be appropriate: Bandages, adhesive tape, gauze pads, tweezers, over-the-counter pain reliever and antihistamine, compression bandage (such as an Ace bandage, and a triangle bandage to act as an arm sling.
  6. Fire It can become very cold at night and an emergency fire could be a lifesaver. Some suggestions would be a lighter, matches, firestarter, chemical heat tabs, etc.
  7. Repair Kit & Tools Items can and will break. Build yourself an emergency repair kit to deal with backpacks that won’t zip, tears in clothing, tent poles that snap, etc. Some suggestions are duct tape, knife, safety pins, fabric patches, etc.
  8. Nutrition Besides bringing a regular amount for the expected duration of your trip, be sure to bring extra in case you are out longer than planned. Foods that require no cooking such as nuts, bars, etc will store well for long periods.
  9. Hydration Remember that we drink more when we are expending extra energy so account for that when you are deciding how much water to bring. If you plan on filtering or treating water on the way, verify that water will be available and that your filtering system is working correctly before you go.
  10. Emergency Shelter For day hikers, this doesn’t have to be a full tent, but something that will provide some warmth and help protect from the elements. Even an emergency space blanket or bivy will provide additional protection.

Other Important Items

  1. Ice Ax – Indispensable on snowfields, glaciers and very useful on snow-covered alpine trails.
  2. Insect Repellent – Protecting yourself from mosquitoes, biting flies, “no-see-um” gnats, blackflies, ticks, chiggers, etc. you could wear heavy clothing, including gloves and head nets in really buggy areas. In hot weather, long sleeve shirts and pants made of netting may prove worthwhile. A good alternative to the heavy clothing could be the use of DEET. Be aware that DEET is a potent toxin. Unfortunately, DEET is not effective at repelling biting flies. There are many repellents on the market.
  3. Signaling Devices – Whistles, radios, avalanche transceivers, and cell phones may be lifesavers in some situations but useless in others. Whistle: Exceeds the range of a human voice. Whistle signals such as one sound of the whistle for “Where are you?”; two for “I’m here and OK”; and three for “Help”. Cell phone: Technology is constantly changing. Cell phones can dramatically shorten the rescue time depending on your location. Handheld radio: FRS radio is good between group members and possibly making contact for help on channel 1 with no subtone. FRS radios have a limited distance , distance given on package is line of site. HAM: HAM radios have more power and can extend a great distance if help is needed. A license is required for use. For licensing information, see: http://www.microhams.com.