What good is fire starter when you don’t have the fuel? Growing up in Western Washington, I spent hours as a Boy Scout trying to light fires in the winter. After three months of soaking rain everyday, the wood in the forest is completely saturated. I decided at a young age to never be in the position to rely on a fire to get through a night. If you got the energy to be building shelters and fires, you have the energy to keep moving your way toward civilization.
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Are the Ten Essentials Really Essential?

What good are matches when snowshoeing with 10 feet of snow on the ground? I would never spend the energy to find some miraculous spot where enough fuel could be found to keep a fire going through the night or to dry out my clothing. One would do better to invest in clothing that will stay dry and hone their skills at staying dry while out hiking.
Matches 5%
Since my days as a Boy Scout, the mantra has always been to carry the ten essentials at all times. When I joined Search and Rescue, the ten essentials suddenly became like twenty essentials. According to many hiking articles I’ve been reading, there are now a dozen or so eleventh essentials. Now I like lists but this is getting ridiculous.

After years of hiking and climbing, I’ve been giving myself an examination on what I once believed and what I now practice while in the mountains. Of the 10 essentials, I usually only have about five of them on any given trip. I am comfortable with this and will continue to do so as I have seen no ill effects by my actions. Let’s take a look at each essential with a percentage of how often I bring them.
Fire Starter 1%
Extra Clothing 100%
Extra Food and Water 10% and 80%
Flashlight 40%
Sunglasses and Sunscreen 70%
I don’t have much issue with this as I hate to get cold. I’ll bring enough clothing on a trip to guarantee I get to my destination warm.
Extra food is not important to me. I can probably hike a good 50 miles without any food. If I break my legs and have to wait for help, I won’t be getting that hungry anyway. Water on the other hand is essential for human survival.
Is this for signaling at night? Why is this necessary? If you have the flashlight and are using it to find your way at night, then what was the point of matches and fire starter? The only reason I carry one is while doing trips that take over 10 hours to complete. If it is a short trip and I get into trouble having to bivi somewhere….do I have to have a light? Am I scared of animals or something?
These are important, essential is questionable. Millions have lived in the elements on this earth long before they were invented. Since you don’t live outside exposing yourself to the elements and probably have a day job to go back to on Monday, it would be best not to look like a freak in the office, wear them.
First Aid Kit 80%
I’m pretty cautious out there but accidents happen. Although never serious, I’ve gotten a few scrapes and cuts that healed much better thanks to gauze pads.
Knife 5%
Again, I’m not planning on building a shelter, nor am I going to catch and skin animals. My energy will be used to get out…as fast as possible. Let’s save the “Man vs. Wild” crap for the TV where it belongs. If you didn’t know, Bear Grylls show is fake!
Map 100%
By far, this is the most important item you can have while in the mountains. This is assuming you can understand and apply it to the topography around you. Following along with your map during a trip, you should never be lost or far off course. If you are always in control of your trip, you should be able to stay out of bad situations.
Compass 50%
Depending on the topography of the area, a compass may or may not be needed. There’s a big difference if you are hiking in dense forested mountains or an open desert mountain range were reference points are everywhere.
The Beginners Essentials
I would rename the 10 essentials the “Beginners Essentials” since experience is more valuable than anything you might be carrying in your pack. The real essentials are in your head…your ability to read the terrain, to know where you’ve been, what you saw and what you should expect ahead. To be a true essential, I would like to hear stories of how someone has died because they did not have that essential with them. Of the ten, I only know of three….extra clothing, water and a map.
So is there a Missing Essential?
Nope but I’ve been amazed at the places a cell phone can reach. I use to believe cell phones being used in the mountains was a mockery of oneself. The cell phone represented everything I went to mountains to get away from. Strange, since I often brought a radio…not just one with headphones but the kind I could have the whole campsite blasting too. I felt hikers and climbers were relying too much on them, not using good skills knowing they could always call for help if they got in trouble. My thinking changed some once I had responsibilities like a wife and children. Now, getting quick help if something goes tragically wrong would be irresponsible if I didn’t use such technology, go figure.

In the end, you must decide what is essential to you. Just because everyone says you must carry something doesn’t necessarily make it correct. A hiker in Arizona will have different essentials than the hiker in Alabama or the Northern Territories of Canada. Many outdoor clubs require their members to carry all 10 (if not many more) essentials on all club hikes. I always remember working at REI with the droves of people who would come in during the week because they had to purchase the correct map to have for the hike that weekend. Most confessed they had no idea how to read it. They certainly didn’t know how to use a compass.

These are just my thought on the 10 essentials.