Questions? Call us at 360.393.8098 or email us at

Peregrine News

Earth: Contemplating the Ten Essentials

Posted by Joseph Anderson

Earth: Rules and Hard Skills

When was the last time you thought about the Ten Essentials when heading out into the Wilds?  Have you ever considered them?  Do you know what they are?  It is very likely that you are amongst those of us who feel like we should know what they are but somehow have managed to survive a lifetime in the great outdoors without them. So what is the deal with “The Ten Essentials?”

The Ten Essentials were first conceived of in the 1930s by the Seattle based mountaineering club, The Mountaineers.  From there it was adopted by the Boy Scouts of America and spread more effectively through the entirety of American culture and psyche.   The Ten essentials are a set of items that when carried give back country users a level of insurance especially in emergencies.  This original “classic” 1930s list included was:

Sunglasses and sunscreen
Extra clothing
First-aid supplies
Extra food

Looking over this list you may have your opinion about this that and the other.  Like for example, water?  But fear not, this list has never stopped changing since its arrival into the American consciousness.  For the most part the ongoing metamorphosis of this list has been compiled by none other than The Mountaineer’s: Freedom of the Hills, (no longer the same organization as the original club).  By the 1997 version of the Freedom of the Hills, the list had evolved into:

As the list evolved an important change occurred. Relevant items where often grouped together in systems.  Map, Compass and GPS are all part of one system as are Sunglasses and Sunscreen.  The list has continued to transform to it’s modern day form.  The Ten Essentials are no longer the ten essential items but the ten essential groups of items, or systems:

Navigation (map and compass)
Sun protection (sunglasses and sunscreen)
Insulation (extra clothing)
Illumination (headlamp/flashlight)
First-aid supplies
Fire (waterproof matches/lighter/candles)
Repair kit and tools
Nutrition (extra food)
Hydration (extra water)
Emergency shelter

What began as a list of articles has evolved into a list of topics that are consistently changing. The mountaineers, along with other clubs and organizations throughout the US are constantly updating and adding various things that put more than 10 topics on the list such as: Communication; insect repellent; ice axe?  Not only does this add to confusion but it also loses its main goal of creating a failsafe list that should always be adhered to.  So, if this list never really stays the same and is different depending on which organization you talk to than is there a Ten Essentials?  No.  The Ten Essentials do not exist and they never did.  As all of these topics are worth note it is essential to clarify that this attempt to objectify something that is inevitably subjective is counter-productive.  Furthermore I think that it is so engrained in the American psyche that there are a Ten Essentials that it’s constant shifting has created a general feeling of guilt.

So is this list obsolete?  Everything on the lists above is worth considering with reflection on the details of your proposed adventure, such as, who is the list for?  Where are they?  What time of year?  How long is the trip?   How much experience do the folks have?  Education? The Essential items are TBD (To Be Determined).  No trip is created equal.  Don’t know how to navigate with a map and compass?  Don’t go on solo traverse of the Alaska range.  Going on a ten mile trail run?  Maybe you could leave some things in the car.  Of all of the systems listed on this most consistent version of the list above one of the simplest things to do is not even a thing to bring but a habit to do.  Tell someone where you’re going. 

At the end of the day the first Essential item that should be on the list is not there.  That’s the item sloshing endlessly about between your ears.  And I’m confident that it will not let you down.