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Ultralight and the 10 Essentials
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Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Ultralight and the 10 Essentials on 05/29/2013 19:18:17 MDT Print View

I can drink from the UL Kool Aid on light tents, packs, sleeping gear and clothing systems on the most part, but that last sip that causes some to eliminate the classic hiking essentials doesn't taste good to me. Of course everyone can hike their own hike, but I think touting going a hike minus rain gear, shelter, map and compass or any of the other core essentials is irresponsible and just plain bad advice. As I've said before, that doesn't mean loading up with a lot of junk or an excuse to carry something like a huge knife or a shovel. We can cover the bases while still following the UL principles. The spreadsheet isn't going to keep you warm and dry, nor is an arbitrary weight goal. There will be some items that will go unused, and in the long run that is a very good thing!

Here's my typical basic day hiking essentials kit:


Synthetic insulated vest, fleece beanie and light gloves

Water container and water purification tablets


Insect head net

First aid kit

Compass and map

Sewing kit and duct tape

I forgot the spare line-- always something


DEET in dropper vial


Match case with button compass

Ditty bag

Pocket kit on a mini carabiner:
Swiss Army knife
LED Flashlight
Waterproof capsule with tinder


Space blanket bivy sack

This isn't an enormous amount of stuff and much of it would be considered everyday hiking items, like water, warm clothing and rain gear. With this small assortment of gear I could survive in most three season conditions in North America. Very little of it would actually go unused on an ordinary trip and I'm perfectly happy to accept the extra weight and bulk of those items that aren't regularly used. Most of that is in signalling, first aid items, repair items and redundant fire starting options. We're talking about a few ounces.

As far as training, I think everyone who travels the backcountry should make an effort to gain the following skills. They are good to have if you have kids or experience a natural disaster too.

First aid and thermoregulation: hypothermia and hyperthermia issues, clothing layering systems

Compass and map navigation


Hydration and water purification

Camp site selection and emergency shelter making

Fire making

Knot tying

Or join the Boy Scouts :)

The one thing that will help save your life that is weightless and free is to always let a trusted person know where you are going and when you will be back or a contact time. If you change plans, you let that person know. If you can't contact them, you don't go.

We must remember that this is about recreation. The goal is to have an enjoyable time in the wilderness and survive to do it again. There is nothing associated with backpacking that is worth a major injury or dieing over. If things aren't right, turn around and go home. Wisdom and discretion are not defeat.

[I did move this from another thread to make it more appropriate]

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
Ultralight and the 10 Essentials on 05/29/2013 19:58:23 MDT Print View

The interesting thing is that these items are, in some way or other, already part of normal gear when you're backpacking. There's no need to duplicate them as separate items, as long as the "Essentials" are there in some form or other. The one exception is dayhiking--the "essentials" should be in your daypack or whatever you take with you. They do not, however, have to be in the form suggested here. I take two fire sources--a mini-Bic to light my stove and a few of those REI emergency matches (the kind that can't be blown out)--no need for a third or fourth item. Whether dayhiking or backpacking, I always have enough insulating clothing and rain protection (in lightweight versions) to stay reasonably warm and dry (not necessarily comfortable) if caught out overnight. I don't need an emergency bivy, and certainly not when carrying my shelter and sleeping bag. If you backpack, you already have these items or their equivalent. Just don't forget to take them along on a dayhike.

The best list and explanation of the "Ten" Essentials I've seen is here:
Just take them in iightweight versions. For example, ditch the Nalgene in favor of a bottle less than half the weight. Some things are seasonal; you aren't going to need insect repellent in October in the northern hemisphere! And for the past 7 years I've taken insect repellent but never used it--the headnet and permethrin-sprayed clothing seem to to the job, except for biting flies which DEET doesn't repel anyway. It's staying home after this, unless I'm going to a particularly notorious "mosquito heaven" (Dale undoubtedly knows about that one!) right after snowmelt.

The one "essential" I don't take is "extra food." That's because no matter how inedible an item seems when I pack up, I inevitably eat it for lunch! Probably as a result of my eating habits, I have enough extra poundage that going several days with no food would do me more good than harm. I would not, however, suggest this method for those who are underweight!

Edited by hikinggranny on 05/29/2013 20:10:19 MDT.

Craig W.
(xnomanx) - F - M
Ultralight and the 10 Essentials on 05/29/2013 20:15:10 MDT Print View

What about running?

It gets me when people accuse others of being "irresponsible" for not carrying the "Ten Essentials".

Running is freedom. That has always been the appeal to me. I'm slow and hardly gifted at it, but the first thing that hooked me was the simplicity and feeling of freedom of being able to cover large distances with absolutely minimal, if any, gear.

Running is the exemplary minimalist sport. Here at BPL we like to imagine SUL and its variations as the epitome of simplicity, but nothing can hold a torch to running.

Slip on a flimsy pair of shorts, a t-shirt (or not), maybe a hat...lace up the shoes, and you're gone. 5 miles. 10 miles. 15 miles. Drink from a stream while you're out.
20 miles...
How far can you go?

Leave the fears at and worries home. You're fit. You know your body, when you can push harder, when it's time to turn around. You do this every single day, rain or shine, hot or cold.

Distances and terrain may alter what you have to carry, but not by much.

It's a beautiful feeling, to not have anything, to not need anything, but cover distances that may take others- weighed down by gear- days.

Out the door for a quick 6 miles of trail right now.
Total gear:
running shorts
shoes (no socks)
Petzl Zipka in my pocket.



I loved it when Joe Grant posted the following photo. This was everything he carried during an unsupported run of the Wonderland Trail, nearly 100 miles.

Beautiful and inspiring. Humans are such bad@ss creatures when we're fit.


Edited by xnomanx on 05/29/2013 20:18:57 MDT.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Ultralight and the 10 Essentials on 05/29/2013 20:20:20 MDT Print View


Right on with many of the items being "regular" parts of a hiking kit, except for all those people I see on the trail with *nothing*. With UL gear lists, knives seem to be contentious and the depth and breadth of first aid kits has been kicked around. There are lots of fire starting options and I don't think my way is the only way for sure. Omitting navigation gear concerns me.

Day hiking does call for different shelter options. I like the space blanket bivy approach and it's just 3.4oz, which I think is a pretty cheap insurance policy. It can be used for someone else in trouble on the trail too.

I've included hard candy in my essentials kit at times for the extra food option.It's more of an attitude adjuster than a real source of calories. I got all packed up for an overnighter and left the dehydrated dinner behind. I was really glad to have an extra granola bar that night. I too have missed very few meals and I'm in little danger of starving over a few days. A little food can make a big psychological difference.

See the Mountaineer's revised essentials list using a systems approach at They have done a nice job I think.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
What would John Muir take? on 05/29/2013 20:21:00 MDT Print View


Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Running on 05/29/2013 20:27:48 MDT Print View

Sorry, I can't agree with that. If I step off the pavement, I have my kit. The list I show could easily fit in a hydration pack. Run your own run, but I think it is wrong to recommend it in a general way. There have been a couple local cases where runners got themselves in a bind. Falls are big.

Get it as light as you can, but do try to cover the basic systems:

Sun protection
First-aid supplies
Repair kit and tools
Emergency shelter

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
running on 05/29/2013 20:34:01 MDT Print View

several rescues with people just out jogging ... or with basically running gear ... this is from high traffic areas where you can see the city with well groomed and marked trails

A North Vancouver trail runner had to be rescued Saturday evening after losing his way in deep fog.

Jones said the hikers wore running shoes and were poorly equipped to spend a night in the wilderness. He said the group might have done OK in summer, but reminded people that winter conditions still exist in the local mountains.

people do what they want ... i mean ive climbed the long multies with minimal emergency gear ... but thats a decision between you and your partner

at the end of the day its a judgement call ... as long as you do your best not to put others at risk .. its yr choice ...


Edited by bearbreeder on 05/29/2013 20:35:35 MDT.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: What would John Muir take? on 05/29/2013 20:34:41 MDT Print View

I hear that. He was a tough cookie. As a kid he would take turns with other kids whipping each other so they wouldn't cry when the adults took a switch to them.

We live on a different planet. Take your essentials so we can make fun of you when SAR brings you home-- alive :)

Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Re: running on 05/29/2013 20:36:57 MDT Print View

its yr choice ...

You reverted.

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
Ultralight and the 10 Essentials on 05/29/2013 20:38:10 MDT Print View

Unfortunately, your intended audience ("all those people I see on the trail with nothing") are not here on this forum! I see them a lot, too, especially in the Columbia River Gorge--starting on a hike at 7 pm, no water, no extra clothing, no light. Unfortunately, there seems to be no way to reach those folks--maybe better just to let Darwin do his thing?

I did notice Ryan going without navigation tools, but that was in a region with which he's very familiar. I don't bother with maps when I'm going on a trail I've hiked several times a year for the 24 years I've lived here. I didn't think much of his leaving those out of his published gear list that others not familiar with the situation might copy, though.

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
Re: Re: running on 05/29/2013 20:38:43 MDT Print View

its yr choice ...

You reverted.

no doubt thats more important on BPL than anything else here .... lol


Edited by bearbreeder on 05/29/2013 20:39:25 MDT.

Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Re: Ultralight and the 10 Essentials on 05/29/2013 20:42:32 MDT Print View

You have to find entertainment where you can.

Some good discussion here though. Would suck to die having fun.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Re: running on 05/29/2013 21:28:51 MDT Print View

I reverted? Mais non! I don't want to say categorically "You can't do X" but I am concerned when I see poor advice.

Here's the gist: I know most UL hikers have some sort of gear and aren't going up the trail as empty handed as some I see. BUT, there is a weak middle ground actually well expressed by Craig W's post, where he expresses the freedom of going without the basics. We've all seen plenty of gear lists that are really quite weak on the essentials and core items like rain gear and appropriate insulation, all in the name of being the kid with the lightest pack. It's just not worth it if you get hurt.

I think UL hikers tend to be iconoclasts and have learned to look at the "rules" with a skeptic's eye. It was necessary to reject "conventional wisdom" that specified heavy rugged gear with multiple redundancies to get to the UL loads, but somewhere in that process, you need to put the brakes on. My intent is to caution taking things too far and especially when speaking a wide audience that might not all handle the results well. I am concerned that someone will take leaving critical items behind as sage advice and really get themselves in a pickle.

My post was in partly in reaction to Ryan's video and gear list. I just can't agree agree with a major player in the hiking world giving an example of a kit that has a major omission like navigation gear.

The idea of not taking a compass on a familiar trail has some flaws. Trails change, weather can cause visibility issues and even the experienced can make mistakes. In fact experienced and well trained professionals often make errors in judgment due to overconfidence and ignoring the sings right in front of them. Laurence Gonzales' book "Deep Survival" is a fascinating read on the subject.

I would play the movie with the other ending: an experienced hiker who has the gear and knows how to use it gets themselves lost, wet, cold, and dead because they left a few ounces of critical gear behind. Bad ending. Darwin hands out awards for such things.

Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Re: drift on 05/29/2013 21:36:29 MDT Print View

@ Dale. Not you, Eric with the yr

Sorry about the drift. The 10 essentials. Smart. Not a burden either.

I like the new system list.

And please let someone know where you are going.

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
Re: Re: Re: running on 05/29/2013 22:27:33 MDT Print View

I just can't agree agree with a major player in the hiking world giving an example of a kit that has a major omission like navigation gear.

this is right where i live ... there were no more than 1000-2000m from a major trail/picnic/beach area and very close to a power generation station and houses ... the weather sea level was pretty balmy ... in no way should this be considered anything more than an "easy" dayhike ... definitely not what people would consider mountains or alpine

n Sunday May 19th, Coquitlam SAR members had just returned from assisting Ridge Meadows SAR in the search for a missing man in Maple Ridge, when we were paged by Coquitlam RCMP at 19:00. Three 23 year old male hikers reported themselves lost. They had been hiking on the Dilly Dally trail out of Buntzen Lake, and had somehow missed the trail due to snow at the top of Eagle Ridge.

The subjects indicated that although they had all done this hike before, they had lost the trail in the snow, and had attempted to navigate to where they believed the trail to be. This turned out to be the wrong route, which left them stranded where they were found. They did not have a GPS, and carried minimal equipment with them.

Several weeks of warm weather has melted much of the snowpack, but hikers should be aware that snow lingers on Eagle Ridge well into June, and can obscure trails and trail markers, make for very slow travel, and presents a risk of slip-and-fall injuries. We would also like to remind people that navigation items such as a wilderness GPS, a map and a compas, along with knowing how to use them, can make finding your way much easier. Remember to always take enough clothing and food to handle an emergency, and to call for help early when you know you are lost.

from the exact same trail in JUNE a few years ago

Edited by bearbreeder on 05/29/2013 22:33:28 MDT.

Josh Brock

Locale: Outside
Gloves, Deet, Head net? on 05/29/2013 22:45:56 MDT Print View

Are those "essentials" to surviving?

I usually carry food head lamp knife whistle stove(usually to cook food) and appropriate clothing for the season. and that's about it for a day hike. I don't usually bring navigation(probably should) but I don't often go day hiking places where getting lost easy. no emergency bivy either(ouch) but if it was a day hike and I got lost chances are I would keep hiking but a bivy is smarter. I have brought a tarp but mostly for shade hahaha.

Guess I'm that idiot. oh well I can always just start screaming help and some one will bring me all that stuff.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Gloves, Deet, Head net? on 05/29/2013 23:42:17 MDT Print View

I gave the example as "my typical basic day hiking essentials kit." Not the absolute, the epitome or the one and only, just my attempt at staying warm, dry, hydrated, fed and oriented :)

I should add that I go solo most of the time: if I don't do it, nobody else will. The bivy is for when I'm really hosed, like I broke an ankle or something. Chances are if I can't walk I'm not going to be much good at pitching a tarp or gathering firewood, but I should be able to crawl into a big plastic bag.

Insect protection is a classic part of the ten essentials. That little bottle of DEET goes a long way and the head net doesn't need batteries ;) Besides, who wants to lie there with a throbbing ankle while being eaten alive by bugs?

Josh Brock

Locale: Outside
Re: Re: Gloves, Deet, Head net? on 05/30/2013 09:14:38 MDT Print View

Oh sorry I mistook the purpose. I thought that these were survival "essentials" because in the first post you stated its is bad advice and irresponsible to go out with out these things. I personally don't think its irresponsible to head out for a day hike with out a few of the items you listed.

I agree with most of the items listed though and thought process behind the stuff you bring.

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
Ultralight and the 10 Essentials on 05/30/2013 09:42:43 MDT Print View

A little common sense doesn't hurt.

Bug repellent isn't needed in November, although it's really great to have in early July.

More "extra clothing" will be needed in November, though, and on through the winter months. That also depends on location--a lot more will be needed in Minnesota in January (think -40*) than in the Columbia River Gorge, where it's more likely to be +20*--but with 60 mph winds.

Some folks wonder why sunglasses and sunscreen are "essential." While they may not be immediately essential (except where snow-blindness is a threat), 20 years from now when you develop skin cancer and early-onset cataracts, you will be sorry you left the sunglasses and sunscreen at home. I had the early and rapid onset of cataracts, which left me unable to drive for almost a year (unfortunately, despite the rapidity with which they developed, I had to wait almost a year for the surgery, considered "elective"). My daughter-in-law had most of her upper lip removed a year ago due to skin cancer. That's why I'm a bit paranoid in that regard.

I do think that, for hiking the same trails I've already hiked many times per year for many years (basically my "training trails"), a map and compass can safely be dispensed with. I certainly won't remove them from my daypack if they're already there (the compass always is and my "Trails of the Columbia Gorge" map usuallty is) A topographic map printout of the area you're in for a weekend usually fits on one piece of 8.5x11" paper. That plus a Silva Starter compass together weigh a whopping 1.2 ounces. Pretty cheap insurance (especially if you might decide at the last minute to go to a different, less familiar trail).

Edited by hikinggranny on 05/30/2013 09:46:59 MDT.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Re: Re: Gloves, Deet, Head net? on 05/30/2013 09:49:42 MDT Print View

Gloves would generally be considered as extra clothing. Insect control is included on many essentials lists. Certainly some items are more critical than others.

I take a hygiene kit with TP, trowel, hand cleaner and soap too. It's not survival gear, but it can improve the ummm quality of the trip :)

The whole idea is to have some forethought and planning in the items you take so that you are well prepared, not only for emergencies, but also the quality and comfort of the hike.

IMHO, light gloves and hat really help with the perception of cold and are as much a psychological aid as maintaining core temperature. Cold ears and fingers make me think I'm colder than I am.

With the prospect of Lymes Disease and West Nile virus, I think insect control is a pretty good idea, not to mention the comfort issues. That headnet isn't very heavy and the small vial of DEET is nearly nothing.

I think that knife, compass, fire starting, lighting, and signaling are sacrosanct and should be on your person (like in your pockets) at all times.