It’s a hot day in the city, so a hike in the mountains sounds like a cool idea.  You, your friend and your dog arrive at midday and start your ascent up the trail to a mountain summit.  The day is perfect and wonderfully cool.  You take lots of pictures along the way.  At the summit you are rewarded with a breathtaking 360 degree view.  More pictures and movies of your victorious climb are taken.  You hang out on the summit soaking in the view, resting and enjoying the cool breeze.  Suddenly you realize how late it is.  It is time to head back to the trailhead and your car.  Halfway down the mountain, darkness overtakes you.  A cold breeze is now blowing down the mountain.  With no light to guide your way you sit down to think about your options.  Spending the night is not an option for you do not have the clothing or equipment to do so safely.  Pressing on in the dark would be foolhardy and dangerous on this steep trail.  Fortunately you brought your Smartphone.  You decide to call 911 for help.  Oops, NO BARS!  Well you did download all of those cool Apps.  You have GPS, trail maps, a compass, even a flashlight app, but after a full day of picture and movie taking your batteries are shot.  You can’t climb higher to get better, if any, bars.  If you do, you risk climbing in the dark and exposing yourself to colder conditions.  Even if you got there and had bars, the battery is running on empty.  You are tired, cold, and scared.  It is dark and no one knows your plight.  HELP!

Smartphones have become the “Swiss Army Knives” of our culture.  We can’t imagine life without them.  However, ask anyone involved in Search and Rescue and they will tell you that away from the trailhead smartphones lose their usefulness quickly, especially in an emergency situation.  Regardless of the sophistication of our electronic toys, including GPS, smartphone apps, personal locator beacons, etc., nothing ever replaces what the Boy Scout motto says: “Be Prepared!”  Search and Rescue professionals are seeing an ever increasing number of people who enter the woods unprepared both on the gear side and the knowledge and skill side.  The costs of these expensive search and rescue operations are being billed to the victim.  One recent hiker in New Hampshire received a bill for $7,000.  Throw in a helicopter and the smartphone becomes the not-so-smartphone.

For decades, experienced outdoors people have never left the trailhead without ”The Ten Essentials” and the knowledge and skill to use them effectively for the “what if” situations that Murphy seems to spring on us.

The Ten Essentials

To Find Your Way

  • Map (paper, not electronic)
  • Compass (not electronic)
  • Flashlight or headlamp (extra batteries and bulb)

For Your Protection and Comfort

  • Extra food
  • Extra water
  • Extra clothing (layers including a warm cap and rain/wind parka)
  • Sun protection (hat, clothing, sunscreen, sunglasses)
  • First aid kit
  • Fire starter (waterproof matches, fire sticks or heat tabs, magnesium stick, etc.)
  • Knife

Over the years that list has grown to include other essentials if you suddenly find you must spend the night or are in an emergency situation (unexpected weather change and danger of hypothermia).  They include the following:

  • Whistle (3 blasts at minute intervals means “HELP!”)
  • Signal mirror
  • Tarp and 50’ of parachute cord to make an emergency shelter
  • Insect repellant
  • Personal medications

You may decide other items are needed in your personal “Essentials” list.  All of these items will fit into a small daypack.  If you store everything in your pack at home, just add fresh water and food, grab it and go!

In order to learn the knowledge and skills to use each item, there are classes, great books and great advice at the Great Outdoor Provision Company.

So, be prepared!  Take your “Essentials” and know how to use them.  And don’t forget your Smartphone!