Slimms’ 6 Essentials

The 10 essentials of backpacking has been around since the 1930’s. The list was developed in order to answer two very important questions every adventurer should ask them selves. Can I  safely spend the night (or more) where I am going? And, can I respond to an emergency situation? If you are brand new to the outdoor world, or you have been doing this for 30 years these are two critical questions you should think about while you are planning every trip you make. It is very easy to get caught up in all of the technological sales jargon of new and better items, and before you know it you will have the very coolest, lightest, most expensive bar of soap and not a single bandage.

If you have never seen or heard about the list here is the original

  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

Since the list’s creation there have been many varieties published and individuals will often tweak the list in order to fit their needs of the specific trip. However, the changes made should always revert back to the two questions.

Here is my list along with some explanations of why I have modified it:

1. Navigation – A map and compass go hand in hand, with today’s technology I would say the majority of novice hikers/backpackers rely on GPS devices to find their way. This is a mistake! I am not saying to not use a GPS, I have one and I love it but GPS can fail. There are many ways they can fail; a few would be, dead batteries, heavy cloud cover, electrical interference, mechanical malfunction, you could simply drop it and break it. A map and compass however are pretty much fool proof. If you do not own one, buy one. If you have not used it in a real world application, practice. Never rely on following a well marked trail; unexpected weather could turn your trail in to a flood zone, or a blanket of snow 2 feet deep.

2. Exposure Protection – Heat, Cold, Wind, Sun, Rain, there could be more and depends on where you will be going. Be sure that you have something to protect you from all of the elements. Shorts may not be the best solution just because its hot, and having 15 layers of summer clothes may not be the best choice during a blizzard. This also includes your shelter, but building a shelter is usually a simple task if ever needed.

3. First-aid – Bandages and aspirin are probably not going to cut it for this. First-aid is one of those checks and balances that you really should analyze. You will want to carry things that would be useful if needed, but it can be difficult to justify carrying the weight for something you ultimately want to never use. Whatever you decide to bring along be sure you or someone in your group knows how to use it. Some items I would recommend would be super glue, duct tape, needle & thread, tourniquet, and pain killer.

4. Fire – Fire can be extremely important depending on the surroundings and can be the difference between survival and death. Always bring 2 ignition sources, generally this would mean a lighter and matches as a backup. I would use waterproof, strike anywhere type matches if you have them available. I personally have never attempted to start fire without traditional ignition sources, but it is something I am planning on learning in the future, and would not be a bad idea if you did the same.

5. Food – I tend to include the knife (number 9 on the original list) into this category as this is when I will most likely “need” the knife. Always bring extra food; you don’t need a lot, but in an emergency situation you will be thanking yourself for having it. Make a plan on how you would ration food if needed and pay attention to the amount of calories your food offers. If you were to be stuck for several extra days you can then estimate the amount of energy you should be exerting through the day based on how many calories you can replace into your body. Study the general practices of survival hunting, fishing, trapping, etc. This would really only be needed in a severe case where you may be held for a week or longer, but it is a valuable skill.

6. Water – This is where I think the list really dropped the ball. Water is essential to life. Without water it is just a matter of time before death creeps in. It is always a good idea to plan your trip around water. Make sure you are passing drinkable water each day, if this is something you need to filter or purify be sure you have the necessary equipment to do so. If you are ever in an emergency situation water should be your number one priority. Learn techniques for digging ground water, desalination if you are near saltwater, collecting rain water, etc. An ideal situation would result in consuming 1 liter of water per hour of strenuous physical activity.

You can see I have left a few things off; the flashlight for example. I always have a flashlight with me, but I believe I can survive without it so I don’t consider it to be essential. If I was using it long enough the batteries would die and it would be useless anyway. With fire you can make torches if you need to travel by night. Even with those missing items I can still satisfy the questions mentioned earlier.

And of course, this is not some magic list that will keep you alive out in the wilderness, it is just a starting point. The most important thing you can bring to your trip, no matter where it is, would be common sense.

I would love to hear what your essentials are, how have you modified your list, do you think I am missing something you could not live without?

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9 thoughts on “Slimms’ 6 Essentials

  1. Great post! If I reblogged it, I could rename it: “List of reasons why Abbie will likely never spend more than a couple of nights away from civilization” 😉

  2. I’d add dry tinder of some kind to your fire starting kit. It’s only part of the equation to have the ignition source. Got caught in a rainstorm once where we had the matches and lighter but nothing to light 😦 I’m experimenting with making my own using dryer lint, steel wool and beeswax.

  3. I think your list is good, and I really like your Number 1 and the reasons you note. I think that is great advice.

    But I don’t believe it’s practical or realistic to list essential supplies in such a regimented manner like this. One’s list should be, for the most part, dictated by the nature of the environment one is heading into.

    Take, for instance, the cited list’s call for sunglasses as number three. That is pretty absurd, is it not? Unless of course you are heading into snow where one can suffer from snow blindness. Otherwise, in nearly all other environments I can think of offhand, sunglasses, while nice to have, are nowhere near essential to survive. Even if you didn’t have sunglasses, but had extra clothing, you could fashion a headband with the clothing somehow, and by making small holes or slits in the cloth probably make a functional set of makeshift eye protection.

    In my particular experience, I rarely pack more than a liter of water and always pack more food. Yet, all other things equal, a person will die from dehydration long before starvation and needs far more water than food to survive for any length of time. My reason for this seeming counter intuitive approach is because the vast majority of my outings are into areas with ample water. And water is heavy to carry. Enough energy bars to sustain me through the day is super light by comparison. The downside is that should I become incapacitated from an injury I have little water. But that’s where Spot comes in.

    For me, as a set of lose guidelines for my usual outings, my list would tend to look something like this:
    1. Navigation (a. Map b. Compass c. GPS + Extra Batteries)
    2. Protection From Exposure (a. Clothing b. Mylar Emergency Blanket)
    3. Spot Satellite Beacon Transponder (Depress the button and wait to hear the chopper blades of S&R.)
    4. First Aid (Not so much band aids and such, but serious stuff like suture material, alcohol, etc. . .)
    5. Knife
    6. Victuals
    7. Water
    8. Magnesium Firestarter
    9. Tinder (This is so light and small it’s very easy to carry a small amount in a waterproof container. Typically burnable material can be found in nearly all circumstances if you know where to look once you have a small flame going.)
    10. Headlamp

    I believe, in most circumstances, that the most essential requirement for survival isn’t anything physical or any material possession. It’s mental. It is the ability to maintain control of your mind once you’re in trouble and to think calmly and deliberately. One’s ability to think reasonably while under stress is the first necessity. You may have all the gear in the world, but if you lose control of mind and panic and act irrationally none of it will matter.

    • Thanks for your thoughts, it sounds like you have put some time into thinking about this. I believe it is very important to create your own “list” and tweak it to fit each indavidual trip based on location, conditions, etc.
      As for the sunglasses, that was on the original list that was created back in the 30’s and at the time it was for alpine mountaineering type expeditions so eye protection was necessary. I would not consider it essential in most environments, but I would tie it into my number 2 “Exposure Prtection”. If I am hiking in my home town environment (Arizona desert) sunglasses can be very important. Over the years I have talked with a few people that have burned their retna from over exposure to the desert sun. Water, somewhat the same, being in the desert there is almost no water availble depending on the time of year and rainfall, but this falls back to your original point that all of this depends on your specific plan for each trip!

      Great Comment!

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