The 10 Essentials: Boost Your Chances of Survival if you get Lost in the Woods

Could you safely spend a night (or more) in the woods if you happened to get lost on a day hike? You could if you’ve packed the 10 essentials. Compiled by the Historic Mountaineers (they founded REI) back in the 30’s, it’s a list that is taught and shared often by reputable outdoors and rescue foundations. Survival to the most prepared.

“DID YOU KNOW…  Each year, more than 400 recreational outdoor enthusiasts are reported missing or injured in the State of Oregon? The worst thing you can do is assume that it won’t happen to you.”  ~ Deschutes County Search and Rescue Foundation. Not sure what the numbers are in north Texas, but the dangers are just the same… minus the bears and high altitudes.

I’ve always been an overpacker. I don’t see it as a weakness. I see it as being prepared. But you kind of can’t overpack… well, you CAN if your back can take all the weight on a hike! Not to be confused with 10 items, the 10 Essentials are what will keep you safe, warm and alive… because in hiking, anything can happen and anything will happen. Adjust your items according to season, area climates and what you can carry. REI offers a fabulous (and FREE!) Lightweight Backpacking course where they also discuss the 10 essentials… this list is highly honored.

1  Navigation. Because technology can fail, a map (preferably covered to protect it from the rain) and compass are your best bets. If you’re hiking at a State Park, grab a trail map at the visitors center or where you check in. REI offers a hands-on class to learn the old-fashioned find your way.  When you’re in the woods, could you find your way back without a compass? Knowing where you’re going before you ever set out will help with that internal compass… do your research! And tell someone where you’re going and when you should be back.

If you prefer the cellphone GPS route, will you be able to charge your phone battery when it dies? Backpacks are made to house solar charging panels which is cool, but then you must consider how the sun will reach the panel long enough to charge it to be able to charge your phone. There’s also the portable chargers that require an outlet to charge and for day hikes, they’re perfect and would perhaps get your phone through the night possibly into some of the next day finding your way back if you use your phone battery wisely. Turn on the low power mode function (I turn it on when beginning a hike) and leave the Stories and Snapchat alone until safety!

Here’s some great apps…

  • Garmin Earthmate: $29.95/year for downloadable topographic maps and unlimited cloud storage for them. Also unlimited route planning. Available for iOS and Android.
  • AllTrails: This one is nice (and free, unless you want to download topo and terrain maps) for finding trails near you. You can favorite the ones you love and record any to add to the 50,000+ trails already on the app. You can also add photos while on the trail, write and read reviews, and get driving directions there!
  • Hiking Project: REI also has an app that works even if you have no signal. This one also allows you to record trails. You photography buffs will love the website for the amazing photos and videos.

2  Sun Protection.

  • Cute hats/baseball caps are always in style!
  • Clothing is also available with ultraviolet protection factor (UPF).  Fashionable high tech sun protection!
  • The expert recommended sunscreen for the outdoorsy types is SPF 30. Don’t forget to apply behind your ears, the tops of your ears, backs of hands and up into your hairline a bit. Lip balm is also something I use faithfully.
  • And sunglasses. REI sells them with a 100% block of  UVA and UVB rays. Consider wraparound for protecting the corners of your eyes from not only sun, but wind.

3  Insulation. Weather changes happen. Know what potential changes could happen where you’re going… Check the weather. According to the Mountaineers, “Extra clothing should be selected according to the season. Ask this question: What is needed to survive the worst conditions that could realistically be encountered on this trip?”

  • Carrying a beanie or a Buff is highly recommended by the experts for head and/or neck warmth and they take up very little room in your pack. This one item packs a powerful warmth punch if it gets cold on you. May as well just leave in in your pack permanently.

  • Layer up for the cold.  Extra clothing items should be chosen according to where you’re going… such as extra socks and a synthetic jacket or vest.
  • Your lungs isn’t the only thing that needs fresh air for good health! Experts recommend ExOfficio and Patagonia underwear.
  • Merino Wool is a technical fabric that helps keep you dry, controls odors and body temperature. It is recommended for socks and leggings.  Base Layer tops also come in Merino wool.
  • DO NOT WEAR COTTON! That warning is in capital letters on a Search and Rescue Foundation’s site… so weigh that.
  • At least 1 extra pair of socks… 3 pairs for a thru-hike. One pair to sleep in and the other two to interchange on the trail. Recommended… SmartWool Outdoor Ph.d and Darn Tough Light Hiker
  • Rain Jacket or Poncho.
  • Gloves
  • Consider what shoes you will need. Will you be crossing streams to necessitate some sort of water shoes? Do you prefer boots that are heavier but have more ankle support? What would you do if they got wet? Or do you prefer more lightweight trail runners with less ankle support but break in easier and dry faster than boots? Vibram, Frixion or Conta-grip soles are recommended for rugged trails.

4  Illumination. Hands free, hands down… get a head lamp. One with a red light for night usage. Fear the wrath of a hiker who gets blinded by a head lamp in the dark. Another good reason… longer battery life than hand held flashlights. However, carry extra batteries and a bulb if your lamp is equipped with an incandescent bulb. Every person in the hiking party should carry their own light (and all other supplies… BYOS).

5  1st Aid Supplies. REI has pre-assembled kits so that you don’t have to buy everything separate. Of course, include any medications you are taking.

6  Fire. I carry a box of waterproof matches, a Bic and a small baggie of dryer lint. Or you can be fancy and buy a firestarter. But lint is lighter (or even Vaseline… doubles as a chafed skin soother) and takes up less space!

7  Repair Kit & Tools. I carry a Swiss Knife. It has many different shapes of blades, a pair scissors (sharp little boogers!), a cork ( for my bottle of wine celebration at the end lol,) a toothpick, and a tiny pair of tweezers. Think gear repairs, food prep, kindling making, opening that bag of trail mix that didn’t open on the perforation and has proven impossible to get even the tiniest tear going, or for getting beef jerky out of your teeth.  Also, wrap some fix-anything-duct-tape around your water bottle or trekking poles. The less you carry, the more room you make for other needed items (or luxury items such as a camera and journal).

8  Nutrition.  Pack at least an extra day’s worth of food. Since I really have to watch my sodium and sugar consumption, I’m considering purchasing a dehydrator to make my own dried fruits and whatever other foods I can dehydrate. If you go the freeze-dried route, you’re going to need extra water, stove and fuel. I always carry a few protein bars and some almonds and pepitas and dried fruit or trail mix.  200 calories per hour of hiking is recommended by the Deschutes County Search and Rescue Foundation.

9  Hydration.  1 liter of water = 2 lbs

According to the Deschutes County SAR, take at least 1 liter for short outings and at least 2.5 liters for all-day excursions. Remember that extra water will be needed for hot or cold weather, drink continuously during your outing. Don’t wait until you are dehydrated!”  So if you plan to do a day hike, you would need to expect to carry at least 5 lbs of water. Also, is there a water source along the way for refilling? I carry a filter. The Sawyer mini is recommended by REI and conveniently fits onto a Smart Water or a Fiji Bottle!

10  Shelter. It is not recommended to travel in the woods at night. Make camp before dark. Gather wood if needed and create a shelter. It would make you much more comfortable (and perhaps alive) to have protection from any potential rain and/or wind so you can get some good rest and be able to focus to get back home at sunup.  Even summertime’s in north Texas can produce chilly nights, and if you’re in shorts and a tank and have to hunker down for the night, it’s going to be a long one. The following are good options for protection from the elements.  Use your good judgement to choose which clothing and/or shelter items to pack.

I also carry a whistle (it’s part of my compass), a small bottle of bug spray and pepper spray because I’ve had too many aggressive dogs come after me or my rescue pup. What comfort items will/do you add to your pack?

Are you ready to go hiking?

Do you carry the 10 essentials with you on a Day Hike? Could you survive a night in the woods if you were to be stranded? Learn what the experts and Search and Rescue Foundations advise to carry with you at all times in the woods.


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