10 Essentials For Safe Hiking


Chances are you’ve probably heard people saying to always carry “The 10 Essentials” when going for a hike, which refers to the 10 things (at minimum, so BC AdventureSmart now calls it “The Essentials”) people should always have with them while recreating outdoors. Regardless of what activity you’re doing, what time of day it is, what time of year, the length or difficulty level of the hike, or even how familiar with the trail you are, you should ALWAYS have these 10 things with you. They could literally save your life. As the saying goes, no one goes out expecting to get hurt or lost or worse.

Read on below for more details, but the 10 essentials are: light, signalling device, fire starter, extra clothes, pocketknife, shelter, food & water, first aid kit, navigation and communication, and sun protection.

While it may seem overkill, it’s really not. All these things are necessary, quite small, and not very heavy. They’ll easily fit in your backpack. Do yourself a favour and toss them in your backpack right now if you have them, or go online and buy them right now so you don’t put this off yet again (or is that just me, procrastinator extraordinaire?). Do it!

Bringing the essential gear for outdoor survival is one of the “Three T’s” for outdoor safety. Make sure you also always leave a trip plan and be prepared. Learn more at AdventureSmart.ca

The 10 Essentials

Below are the 10 essentials, listed in order of importance. Click the pictures for a link to buy this stuff online.


Flashlight or headlamp with extra batteries. Bring a small LED light as emergency back-up. Lack of light is the most common reason hikers need to call Search and Rescue. Cell phone flashlights are UNACCEPTABLE. They require you to use your hand to hold it, they are not bright enough, and they lose power too quickly. Search light sources here.

headlamp 10 essentials

Whistle (North Shore Rescue recommends the with a lanyard) and a .

fox 40 whistle, 10 essentials

Matches (waterproof or in a plastic bag), lighter, or flameless firestarter like below. I also keep some cotton pads soaked in Vaseline (petroleum jelly) as well as a small candle with me as they have a slow burn to get a fire going especially when it’s difficult like in wet conditions.

Extra Clothes

A good rule of thumb is to pack what you would want if you got totally drenched in what you’re currently wearing and had to sleep outside tonight. While this depends on the season and location, generally make sure you have some extra items of warm clothes ie toque, , midlayer and/or puffy jacket, Goretex (waterproof) jacket, good quality (non cotton!)



A is best, but a good pocket knife with a quality blade will suffice.

This is the brand I use, Victorinox Swiss Army:


Warm emergency shelter: ie thermal tarp or ideally.

Extra Food & Water

Make sure you have more food and water than you plan to consume on your hike. Gatorade crystals recommended (or something with electrolytes), and high-energy food bars are great.

Your first aid kit should include at minimum: pocket mask, Sam Splint, bulk dressings, protective gloves, bandages, scissors and blister dressings.

. It’s lightweight and waterproof. I add a ton of other stuff to it like ibuprofen, antihistamine, immodium, tums, hand sani, sun screen, safety pin, chapstick. See my highlight on my Instagram account for a full walk-through of everything I added to my kit.

first aid kit

Navigation &  Communication

Good quality compass with built-in declination adjustment, and both topographic and interpretive maps. An electronic GPS device only in addition to a compass and map (technology can and often does fail!).

bc backroads mapbook vancouver coast and mountains

I use a 3 HR watch for my electronic navigation and tracking.

garmin fenix3 hr

Fully charged cell phone with extra batteries, a two-way family radio system (FRS), and a Personal Locator Beacon is ideal. I use a Garmin InReach Mini for this purpose, in addition to making sure I always have a fully charged battery pack w cord to be able to recharge my phone. You can get these really cheap and they’re small and light to carry.

Sun Protection

Sun glasses, a hat, sunscreen.

Some other things to know:

Search and Rescue is a great service we’re so lucky to have, but they should not be your sole plan for safety. Don’t be that idiot. It is ludicrous the number of stories I read about rescues happening because people do idiotic stuff like venturing into snowy terrain wearing a t-shirt and running shoes, heading out for a hike just before dusk without bringing a headlamp, or not bringing water on a super long hike in the scorching hot sun. Bring the 10 Essentials with you every time and your chances of getting into a dangerous situation is reduced enormously. Regardless of how you got into a sticky situation though, call 9-1-1 as soon as you realize you’re in trouble. Don’t put yourself or your rescuers in a dangerous situation by not staying put or waiting too long to call. All rescues are FREE, regardless of the circumstances so call right away. You can not reach search and rescue directly; you have to call 9-1-1 first and they will deploy SAR.

Know your GPS coordinates. These days everyone has a cell phone. Open your compass app and the coordinates will be displayed at the bottom of the screen (ie 49° 14′ 46.6512” N and 123° 6′ 58.4136” W). It will be very helpful to Search and Rescue if you can give them this info.

Avoid getting lost. Here is a great article by North Shore Rescue.

How to treat hypothermia:  http://www.northshorerescue.com/education/treating-hypothermia/

Learn more by reading our Hikes Near Vancouver blog posts at http://hikesnearvancouver.ca/blog/

Safety Resources

Adventure Smart https://www.adventuresmart.ca/

North Shore Rescue http://www.northshorerescue.com/

Avalanche Canada https://www.avalanche.ca

Avalanche Safety Resource Guide: http://www.tripbuzz.com/avalanche-safety-guide/

BC Provincial Emergency Preparedness, Response & Recovery https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/safety/emergency-preparedness-response-recovery

Weather https://weather.gc.ca/

Canada West Mountain School https://themountainschool.com/