The 10 Essentials

If you search the 10 essentials, you will get more articles on the subject than you could read in a lifetime. The articles, for the most part, list the same items. The original list has been around since 1939. 

The Original List:
  • Map
  • Compass
  • Sunglasses and sunscreen
  • Extra clothing
  • Headlamp/flashlight
  • First-aid supplies
  • Firestarter
  • Matches
  • Knife
  • Extra food
As the article continues, they will list other items to carry. It might be listed as a nice item to take or something like that.

Then there is the essential system.

The Essential System:
  • Navigation- (map & compass)
  • Sun protection- (sunglasses & sunscreen)
  • Insulation- (extra clothing)
  • Illumination- (headlamp/flashlight)
  • First-aid supplies
  • Fire- (waterproof matches/lighter/candle)
  • Repair kit and tools
  • Nutrition- (extra food)
  • Hydration- (extra water)
  • Emergency shelter- (tent/plastic tube tent/garbage bag)

Which, I would describe as categories or different words for the same 10 items.

Now, if you did that same search but looked at the images tab you will see that folks carry far more than the 10 essentials when they are talking about just the 10 essentials. I don't think a Hatchet and an 8-inch fix blade knife are part of the list. But let’s face it, we just like gear!

When I was in the infantry we would carry our ruck (backpack) on the approach and then we would drop or cache our ruck before moving forward to the objective. I carried a small pack that was called a buttpack. This small pack might have some food, a poncho, and some other items that I would need. Once I got cut off from my ruck for 3 days. I learned from that point to have the items on me that I would need to survive.  You might not get cut off from your main pack like I did, but the point is to have the essentials on you.

So how is my post about the 10 essentials going to be any different than the other 10 thousand other articles out there on the subject? That would be a level system. 

Mission or activity dictates the gear, and I want you to think about the 10 essentials in four parts.
Base Level, 1- Level, 2- Level, and 3-Level which is based on time.

Let’s just start with mission or activity dictates the gear. If you are going out to get a 1-hour mountain bike or road ride, do you need the same gear for a 5-hour ride? Do you need the same gear for a 1-hour hike as you need for an all-day hike? The answer to both of those questions is mission or activity dictates the gear. Using parts Base Level, 1-Level, 2- Level, and 3- Level.

This is more of a military concept for mission-essential equipment.  I believe we can adopt this same concept for any of your outdoor pursuits. 

Base level:

The base-level is normally your clothes and some equipment worn by the individual. Examples of these items would be your hat, jacket, belt, socks, and boots. It would also include items such as a knife, multi-tool, wristwatch, and mobile phone. It also might include items from our essential list, such as the fire essential category (carrying a lighter in your pocket). You might also carry the navigation essentials on you, and not in your pack.

Level 1: 

This level would be items that you would need for your short-term activities. By short-term, I mean from 1-hour to a multi-hour, but not all day. An example of these items would be a map, water, food, repair-kit, and tools. 

Level  2: 

This level would be items that are needed for mid-term activities. By mid-term, I mean from multi-hour to all-day (epic), but will not stay overnight. This level builds off of the base level and level 1. An example of items would be, headlamp, water purification, and first -aid kit. Items might be carried in a small day pack or hydration pack.

Level 3: 

This level would be items that you would need for the long-term. By long-term, I mean that you would be staying overnight or multiple days. The term sustainment might be used for this level. You would carry all the essential system items, plus items for sustainment and they would be carried in a backpack or panniers 

In the scope of this post, you would only be concerned with the base level, level 1 & level 2.


I added time because the essentials will need to change with the amount of time that your mission or activity takes.  This will mostly affect nutrition and hydration.  The longer you are out the more food and water you need to take. For example, on a 1-hour bike ride, you might only need to carry one water bottle with you. If you are to ride 5-7 hours then you might need two water bottles or a hydration system and energy bars. You also might need some cash to stop at a store to purchase more water and food. 

I like the base level concept because it allows me to be able to adjust the list based on my mission or activity. I can pick and choose items from an essential category that I think I need. This also takes knowing your skill level and pre-mission and activity planning.

Remember, mission or activity dictates the gear. Only carry what you need.

I didn't add pictures to this post for a reason. I didn't want folks to get wrapped up on the gear in the pictures. I want people to think about the essentials and what you need to have with you. The brand of gear items I might select might be different than what you might select. The point is to have the essentials, and have a successful and safe outing.

I will do a follow on post on the base level system concept and what the gear would look like for level 1 and level 2 set-up.