Camping 101: The Ten Essentials

Are you the “pack two weeks ahead of time” type or the “throw everything in the van last minute” type? Either way, packing for camping is the first step to embarking on your adventure, and you wanna make sure you’ve got what you need. Check out our film The Prologue, to get the preparation vibes flowing—
The Ten Essentials is your go-to guide for staying safe and comfortable outdoors. You can use it for backpacking, car camping, or even a long hike–it’s designed to get you through almost anything Mother Nature throws your way. The Ten Essentials first appeared in the third edition of Mountaineering Freedom of the Hills as a list of survival items recommended by hiking and scouting organizations for safe travel in the backcountry. It included:
  1. Map
  2. Compass
  3. Sunglasses and sunscreen
  4. Extra clothing
  5. Headlamp (or flashlight)
  6. First-aid supplies
  7. Firestarter
  8. Matches
  9. Knife
  10. Extra food
Not bad, eh?
Photo by Nic Castellanos, at Forest Springs, CA.
But since the 70s (by the way, put image searching “70s camping” on your bucket list), we’ve had a few new technologies emerge. The Ten Essentials were updated in 2003, and again in 2010, with a more categorical approach that includes more modern tools and accessories.
  1. Navigation. Topographic map and assorted maps in waterproof container plus a magnetic compass, optional altimeter or GPS receiver.
  2. Sun protection. Sunglasses, sunscreen for lips and skin, hat, clothing for sun protection.
  3. Insulation. Hat, gloves, jacket, extra clothing for coldest possible weather during current season.
  4. Illumination. Headlamp, flashlight, batteries. LED bulb is preferred to extend battery life.
  5. First-aid supplies, plus insect repellent.
  6. Fire. Butane lighter, matches in waterproof container.
  7. Repair kit and tools. Knives, multi-tool, scissors, pliers, screwdriver, trowel/shovel, duct tape, cable ties.
  8. Nutrition. Add extra food for one additional day (for emergency). Dry food is preferred to save weight and usually needs water.
  9. Hydration. Add extra 2 liters of water for one additional day (for emergency).
  10. Emergency shelter. Tarp, bivouac sack, space blanket, plastic tube tent, jumbo trash bags, insulated sleeping pad
Bogachiel River Campsites, WA (Donovan Jenkins)
If you’re going for s’more points, the guide also suggests doubling up on items in smaller kits you can carry in your pockets or daypack, plus the following supplemental items:
  • Portable water purification and water bottles
  • Ice axe for glacier or snowfield travel (if necessary)
  • Signaling devices, such as a whistle, mobile phone, two-way radio, satellite phone, unbreakable signal mirror or flare, laser pointer.
As you may imagine, campers have their preferences, and depending on things like experience, geographic location, season, and trip length—will often make additions and subtractions to the list. For example, lightweight hikers with the need for speed may take a calculated risk and leave some gear at home. Our suggestion is to make sure you feel confident when you camp. Feel no shame about being prepared. Camp enough, and you’ll be able to craft an essentials guide that works for you.
Kiran Umapathy

Writer, runner, and mixtape connoisseur — Kiran is an avid believer in forest bathing, skinny dipping, and leaving everything better than you found it.

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