27 September, 2011

My Ten Essentials

The Ten Essentials

Organized by the Mountaineer Club in the 1930's, the Ten Essentials were designed to answer two questions:First, are you prepared to respond to an accident?  And second, are you prepared to safely spend a night outside?  The Ten Essentials have since become the standard pre-departure checklist for backcountry users.  However, there are different versions of the Essentials and I believe they can still be improved upon too remain relevant and the most useful tool for today's backcountry users to keep in the bottom of their packs.

The first known printing of the Ten Essentials was in "Freedom of the Hills", a seminal text on climbing fundamentals and backcountry techniques.  The original Ten Essentials are as follows:

1. Map
2. Compass
3. Sunglasses and sunscreen
4. Extra clothing
5. Headlamp/flashlight
6. First-aid supplies
7. Firestarter
8. Matches
9. Knife
10. Extra food

For a long time this list represented the current tools and thinking with regard to outdoor safety.  Recently though, the Essentials have been reorganized and altered using a systems approach.  The new list is in the updated 8th Edition of "Freedom of the Hills:"

1. Navigation (map & compass)
2. Sun protection (sunglasses & sunscreen)
3. Insulation (extra clothing)
4. Illumination (headlamp/flashlight)
5. First-aid supplies
6. Fire (waterproof matches/lighter/candle)
7. Repair kit and tools
8. Nutrition (extra food)
9. Hydration (extra water)
10. Emergency shelter (tent/plastic tube tent/garbage bag)

Some changes are subtle, eg-- navigation instead of map and compass; illumination instead of flashlight, fire instead of matches and firestarter. Maps and compasses belong together; matches, lighters, and firestarter belong together; these items need to be thought of together as a system.  And there is the addition of water (a glaring omission in the first list) and emergency shelter, the later wouldn't have been so light, portable, or affordable in the 1930's. 

This is as modern as the current Ten Essentials goes, but it needs to go farther.  The decades since the 1930's have proved the Ten Essential the standard ingredients to the prepared hiker's pack, but I will argue that they function in ways further reaching than answering those two questions of safety and emergency preparedness.  The Essentials represents "General Preparedness" for the outdoors--You should carry the Ten Essentials not for "fear-mongering", but for the pleasure of your hike as well as your responsibility as backcountry user.

Before further explanation, look at the expanded list of the Ten Essentials, very similar to the above list, but with greater modernization and applicability:

My Ten Essentials:

1. Navigation--  Map and Compass or GPS.  Lost hikers are perhaps the number one cause of search and rescue missions.  A map and compass gives you a cheap and usable tool to prevent this mishap.  A GPS is a modern tool that accomplishes the same goal, though expensive and heavy.  Either option require that the user know how to use the tools prior to use.  As a user of the wilderness it is your responsibility to find your way home safely.  Stay oriented.
2. 911-  Cell phone, locator beacon (SPOT).  Everyone has a cell phone in his or her pocket all the time anyway.  Don't leave it in the car now when it can do you the most good.  It is surprising how many spots in the wilderness actually can provide a signal, and a cell phone has the ability to accomplish one of the essential elements of any emergency: early activation of a 911 response.  Time is crucial in a backcountry emergency.  The chance of  finding a signal somewhere in to initiate a rescue is a chance worth having.  The tool is in your pocket--Don't lock it in the glove for safe keeping.  It is a ready-made rescue devise.  Spot-type satellite locator beacons accomplish the same end--initiating a rescue--with the advantage of nearly global coverage.  But they come at extra cost and transmit only prerecorded information.   But a great tool. Not an "essential' like the cell phone, but in the same system of thought.  The cell phone is a tool currently NOT on the Mountaineers list of Ten Essentials, but will be soon.
3. Insulation Raingear-- extra layer, wool hat, and gloves (some combination of these).   These are essential items to prevent hypothermia  if the weather turns foul or you or your party become stationary due to accident.  This gear can be heavy and bulky, but rarely goes unused.  This is gear that will keep you comfortable as the daily temp fluctuates, and gear that will keep you safe when you can no longer walk because of a twisted ankle.
4. Nutrition and Hydration--Extra food and water and purification tablets.  Sugary snacks are portable and good energy.  The amount of water you carry should depend on the environment, your level of exertion, and your ability to replenish your supply.  Iodine tablets are cheap insurance and should permanently live in your First Aid Kit.  Lack of either food or water leads to fatigue and decreased mental function and increases susceptibility to hypothermia.
5. Sun protection-- sunscreen, chapstick, sunglasses, and a brimmed hat. These items protect from the extremes of sun and heat.  Heat exposure can lead to heat exhaustion and heat stroke, the latter a life-threatening condition.  If in a snowy environment, sunglasses prevent snow blindness caused by the reflected light, which also increases the chances of severe sunburn.  Cover up.
6. Headlamp.  Today they are small, lightweight, and long-lasting.  There is no excuse for being caught without one.  A small pen light can live in your First Aid kit as a backup for forgetfulness.  A light in the dark is indispensable for safe travel.  However, a light is only as good as its battery power.  A set of spare batteries also belongs in your first aid kit.
7. First Aid kit.(or SURVIVAL KIT--discussed later).  You should never carry anything you don't know how to use.  Therefore,  take a Wilderness First Aid Course.  It is a weekend course that teaches the fundamentals of wilderness medicine--ie, how to use your first aid kit..  These procedures have greater implications for your ability to treat an accident victim than any tool in a first aid kit.  The Mountaineers in Seattle mandates that all members have this training before going on any trips with the club.  And they save lives.  Get  trained.  It is beyond the scope of this article to list or explain a good backcountry first aid kit, but even the most sparing kits contain:Pain medication, cloth tape, sterile pads, roller gauze, and cravats (bandanas).  Splinting material like a SAMSplint is nice as fall injuries are common, but trekking poles, ice axes, foam sleeping pads, and tent poles can serve just as well.  Know your gear.  A first Aid kit should also contain elements of the other essentials.  It is a convenient and permanent place to stow a pen light, spare batteries, a multi tool, a whistle, a compass, iodine tablets, a honey packet (for diabetics).. This "expanded" First Aid kit can be called a Survival Kit and will be discussed more later.
8. Repair Kit and tools.  On the original list, this was simply "a knife"  But as gear has expanded, so has our need to be able to repair it. The repair kit can be incorporated with the first aid kit as a Survival Kit  It should include: A tool--a multi tool is far more useful than a simple knife.  Heavy, but essential. They make small ones. Duct tape--wrap around a round object like a water bottle or hiking pole.  (This can be omitted for a good supply of cloth tape in the first aid kit.) Floss--thread, shoe laces, or cordage. Glue-- super glue or specific adhesive for air mattresses.  This list should be personalized to the gear you carry and depend on.  Should be small and versatile..
9. Emergency Shelter-- Emergency blanket, poncho, bivy, or garbage bag.  Ideally this needs to be waterproof and heat insulating.  Emergency blankets are cheap and small and effective.  Garbage bags are already in the kitchen drawer--waterproof, not insulating.  Bivies and ponchos can be more versatile, generally bulkier.  One of these should be in your pack.
10. Leave No Trace--toilet pager, trowel, lighter, hand sanitizer, blue bags, land stewardship.  As a user of any wild area YOU HAVE A RESPONSIBILITY not only to your own safety, but also to the public land.  Minimize your impact so it can continue to be a wild and pristine place.  Leave No Trace is a set of principles designed to help us recreate without destroying our playground.  (http://www.lnt.org/programs/principles.php)  Familiarizing yourself with this philosophy can effect where you choose to camp, wash the dishes or use the bathroom.  Anyone who has seen a beautiful trail marred with dirty paper trailing from underneath a rock should grasp the importance of this final Essential.  Be prepared.  Also, a high percentage of all backcountry illness is related to sanitation issues--use hand sanitizer.  Keep it with the tp, a lighter and the  trowel.

 The only item included on the other lists that is absent here is fire.  Where fire is important, I believe that is far simpler to include waterproof matches, a lighter, and a candle in the first aid kit, or survival kit, where you don't have to think about it.
The Survival Kit
The Survival Kit is a combination first aid and repair kit. It is a portable, accessible home for items already a part of the Ten Essentials, or that are small, light, versatile, or otherwise essential in the backcountry.  It can include the compass, iodine tablets, spare batteries, sun screen, chapstick, bug spray, a whistle, floss and a needle, toilet pager, lighter and matches, superglue, and an emergency blanket.

This can be tweaked by the season or by the trip.  In winter I would remove the insect repellant and add heat packets.  If I am camping I would add toothbrush and personal medication.

In this way, to pack for a trip into the woods, your checklist is simplified to your headlamp, sunglass, small sack of clothes, survival kit, a map or GPS, food and water, and a pocketknife.  Done.  Go have fun and know that you are prepared.


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