What are the 10 hiking Essentials?

The 10 hiking essentials are a tried and true list of items that you should consider packing every hike. Find out which you should include in this guide.

The 10 Hiking Essentials Are Not Just For Beginners

Either you’re just starting out on your hiking journey or need a quick review, but the 10 essentials are important items that you should take with you EVERY time you go out on a hike or campout.

Are there going to be exceptions? Here’s my general rule. If you’re hiking somewhere you’ve been to multiple times and you’re just going with your water because it’s more of an exercise trip than a hike you can probably leave these items behind.

But if you’re heading out on a traditional hike then these are definitely items you should be taking with you no matter what.

The 10 Essentials were first printed in 1974 in a Mountaineering magazine, and it laid the groundwork for anyone wanting to spend time outdoors, and informed enthusiasts what were key items that should be taken.

Over the years the quality of these items have changed a little, but the ideas behind them remain set in the hiking mentality of many. If there are things you’ve used that you never thought you would I invite you to leave a comment below!

The 10 Hiking Essentials:

Navigation

I wrote about GPS devices and why they’re so important to traveling long distance. But even for short hikes- knowing where you’re at and where you’re going are just as essential. Most people carry their cell phone while hiking, and that’s a start, but maps, GPS, and a good ol’ compass (and knowing how to use it) are imperative.

If you’re relying solely on cell phone usage, ensure that it’s at a park you’ve been to before, so you know how reliable the cell service is going to be. Otherwise ensure you have apps like Hiking Project, GAIA GPS, and the like to use just in case service is spotty.

Headlamp

I know it’s hard to pack a headlamp when you’re going to be doing 2 miles in the morning. But let’s say you’re hiking somewhere new, you get lost, and whammo: it’s now nighttime and you’re lost.

Think it’s funny? It totally happens, and you’ll be happy that you have something brighter than your phone to guide the way. Remember: the essentials are going to be a mix of must-haves, and things you’ll be happy you have, but may never need.

Sun Protection

Not just carrying around sunscreen, but protective clothing as well. In Texas the summer is brutal, but even in other seasons UV rays can do severe damage to the skin with prolonged exposure. I’ve grown accustom to wearing fishing clothing when I hike as it provides ample UPF protection and features quick-dry materials.

First-Aid

If you don’t think having a first-aid kit is essential when you’re out for a hike then I don’t think you’re ready to be out on the trails. There are plenty of kits created for being out on the trails for any length of time, but shoot for taking more than you need. I adapt my kits depending on where I’m going and for how long.

Obviously if you’re going on a backpacking journey you’re going to be carrying much more than you’d normally would, so take the time to learn about where you’re going and the terrain. I’d look to take ankle wraps if it’s hilly, and bug repellent if there’s water nearby to where I’m camping.

Knife

There’s nothing that I use less, but feel more confident having than a knife. I keep a pretty basic $20 knife from Gerber (pictured) with me at all times whether I’m hiking or not, so remembering to take one with me while hiking is a no-brainer.

The 10 Essentials

Knife

Knives serve a a handful of purposes while hiking, so don’t think of them as just a cutting tool. If you think about a multi-tool than you can find many more uses for a knife like getting out a splinter, cutting rope or splicing wood , or digging a hole in the ground. The majority of the time I use my knife for opening up my sausage at the end of a long hike.

Fire

Speaking of using knives to make a spark for fire…

Fire, or the ability to start a fire, can be something that’s not considered while doing a short hike. Look– I’m not judge or jury, so if you’re going to a park you’ve been to multiple times to do a quick 3-mile hike then no, I don’t think you’d need a way to start a fire. But these 10 items are essentials for all other purposes, so make you’re own judgements, and look back at my flashlight usage. If I’m going somewhere I’ve never been I’d rather have at least matches and not need them rather than need them and not have them.

So ways to start a fire can be from a various amount of ways. Your knife and flint stick, 9V battery and steel wool, or just good plain ol’ matches will do. If you’re going camping or long-distance hiking then a way to start a fire is mandatory.


Read More Gear Guides:

Shelter

If you’re not going to be packing a rain jacket then a way to create a shelter is going to be important if you get caught in an unexpected rain storm. It can also double up as an emergency blanket if you’re hiking in colder temp and need to get your body warm.

Something as simple as a trash bag can be used, and it’s great because it can hold random gear, or hold wet clothes if you need to change!

Extra Food

Extra Water

Extra food and water pertains to packing EXTRA food on top of what you think you’ll need. I’m notoriously not eating enough before a hike. Usually because I end up hiking more than I think I’m going to pretty much every time.

I’ll see a trail that I wasn’t expecting to take, or I get lost, or I just decided to go a different direction, but all of those circumstances are great opportunities to be reminded that taking more food or water than you think you’ll need will help you in a bind. Especially during Texas summer where you’re going to sweat out way more nutrients than you think you’ll need.

My extra items are usually saltier and sugary snacks than I’d normally eat during a hike to replenish energy, but also replace some of what was lost in sweat. Stay tuned for an upcoming post on trail mix brands, and recipes on how to make your own.

Extra Clothing

Back to needing shelter to plop in wet clothes after a storm. See? There are circumstances you may not think can happen, but definitely DO happen. That’s what makes the 10 hiking essentials, well, essential.

I also pack extra clothes because after a long hike in the summer I like to change clothes before I head home for the day. So while I have them for vanity reasons, if I’m ever in a situation where I find a nice river to swim, or need to take my shirt off to use as a face covering, I know I’ll have additional items.

Even if you aren’t the type to take a nice shower after a hike, even something as little as an extra pair of socks is a great feeling after a long day out on the trails.


The 10 hiking essentials are a tried and true list of items that should be considered for every hike. Even if it’s just a day hike because you never know the circumstances you’re going to end up in.

Recommended items:

Here are some recommended items to take with you on your next hike. All links are affiliate links. By purchasing anything from this site The Texas Trailhead will receive a small commission that helps maintain the free content at no additional cost to you.

Navigation

When your phone doesn’t have service a compass will help you find your way.

Headlamp

A headlamp packs in your bag easily and a good one can brighten a large area

Sun Screen

Tips on what to look for that make or break a trip

First-Aid

When your phone doesn’t have service a compass will help you find your way.

Fire

I’m the fire starter. I’m the instigator.

Shelter

The SOL emergency Bivy is a great option for shelter, warmth, and storage.

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