Staying Safe: The 10 Essentials

This is the fourth installment of Staying Safe. This series tackles common safety issues in being active and enjoying the outdoors safely and responsibly. Have a suggestion or a topic you’d like to learn more about? Send me an e-mail at!

A great way to spend some time outside is to get out for a day hike. Day hikes can be a quick jaunt, or a full-day adventure, and that’s the beauty of them – pick a place nearby and go!

As I mentioned in our last installment of Staying Safe, Plan Ahead & Spread the Word, being prepared is the first step to staying safe. Certainly, passing along information about your plans is a critical piece of planning ahead, but so is having the essentials close at hand. These 10 items are useful in typical outdoor living, but having them on hand can head off a bad situation entirely or help you safely find your way out of one.

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  1. Map & Compass: Pretty self explanatory – to know where you going (and how to get out!), ya gotta have a map, and a map is nothing without a compass. Having the knowledge and skills to use them together is key, so boning up on your navigation skills is always a good idea. Check back in a couple weeks for a crash course to get you started!
  2. Matches: I store my strike anywhere matches in a watertight case with an extra striking surface. If your day hike unexpectedly turns into an overnighter, starting a fire can go a long way to keeping you warm, dry and in a good frame of mind.
  3. Whistle: Whistles are a useful signalling tool that can help rescuers find you more quickly.
  4. Food: Obviously you’ll need fuel for your planned hike, but bringing along extra food is never a bad idea and can make an unexpected detour more bearable and more safe. This doesn’t mean carrying an entire days worth of extra food, but having a few extra granola bars or a bag of trail mix can not only keep you fed but keep you alert and optimistic.
  5. Water: Same  goes with water, more is usually better. It may be also prudent to carry Potable Aqua tablets – they’re a small, easy to carry way to purify water on the go.
  6. First Aid Kit: You can find basic prepackaged first aid kits at just about any big box store. Having a few basics on hand can (at the very least) make your hike more comfortable and (in extreme cases) can be a literal lifesaver. Couple this with some basic skills in a first aid or a wilderness first aid course, and you’ll be set.
  7. Sunglasses & Sunscreen: To protect yourself from the elements. Adding a sunburn to the equation will certainly do you no favors.
  8. Pocket Knife: A good pocket knife or multi-tool has a multitude of uses in the outdoors, in both outdoor living and emergency situations.
  9. Light Source: A headlamp is probably best since it frees up your hands, but a small flashlight would do in a pinch as well.
  10. Extra Clothing: Even on day hikes, bring along an extra layer of clothing – preferably something water resistant. Staying dry is the key to avoiding hypothermia, and while it may not be the most restful night’s sleep, some extra warmth can make the difference if you’re forced into a night outside.

The 10 essentials are just that – the bare necessities. This list is based on the version found in Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills, the bible of all things outdoors. Different situations may call for slightly different essentials  – for example, you may want to place heavier emphasis on water if your hike is in desert terrain, or on extra clothing and food if you’ll be hiking in a mountainous, snowy area. Use common sense and your best judgement.

Now, get out there and enjoy!


One thought on “Staying Safe: The 10 Essentials

  1. I went out on a day hike in the snow and got moded by my family but because they feared for my safety against mankind. Guess I will need to borrow someones dog next time. But I will tell you, that hike was the most peaceful experience I’ve had in a Long time. Loved it!

    But as far as safety due to a slip or if one became lost on the trail… this is a great list!

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