The Ten Essentials For Every Outdoor Adventure


, by Charlie Boscoe

Photography by: Pavlo Glazkov

At the start of every backcountry trip, there’s a remarkable amount of discussion - even amongst experienced outdoors people - about what gear to take. Deciding whether to pack a tent or sleep under the stars, choosing between a gas or liquid fuel stove, debating which jacket to take - these are all decisions that need to be taken for every trip, and even after years of hiking, the answers aren’t always clear.

Even day hiking comes with conundrums, but consensus has been reached over the last few decades around “The 10 Essentials”, the items that should go into every backpack every time you venture further afield than the local park. Today, I’ll run through the items, explain their importance, and suggest how to tailor each to your specific trip.

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Of all the 10 Essentials, navigation is the one that has changed the most over the last decade. Even 10 or 15 years ago, a paper map, a compass, and the ability to use them were non-negotiable essentials in any pack, but the creation of FATMAP has completely changed all that. These days, you can simply download the required area of the world map and get a real-time location on your cell phone's screen, with terrain overlays, topo map layers, and advanced navigation planning available at the click of a button.

Believe it or not - it started raining less than hour after this photo was taken and I was glad of FATMAP! Lago Maggiore, Switzerland. Photo Boscoe Collection.

Certain areas of modern life feel like they may have been worsened by technological developments, but navigation is not one of them—the ability to make quicker, easier, and better decisions in the backcountry has been a revelation in recent years. That said, carrying some analog mapping is still a good idea, even if it’s just a laminated square of 1:50,000 mapping.

My approach with navigation is to have as many electronic devices as possible and take one paper map in my group. For example, on a trip like the Wapta Icefield ski traverse, everyone on the trip had FATMAP’s offline map on their cell phones, and we all plotted the route on our emergency beacons (most of which offer some very basic navigation tools), and then one person carried a paper map. To need the paper map, four cell phones and four beacons would all have to fail, so it’s an incredibly low probability event, but the potentially dire consequences of being mapless mean that carrying that one paper copy is still worthwhile.

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Another area that has changed beyond all recognition, headlamps have gone from heavy and bulky to tiny and light. Those of us of a particular vintage will remember carrying headlamps with a big, heavy lamp and a battery pack with 4 AA batteries, and don’t miss those days one bit! Modern headlamps come in all shapes and sizes, but plenty that weigh under 100g will do the job just fine. Deciding which one to take is still a dilemma, but it usually comes down to whether you’re expecting to need a headlamp or just taking one in case of an emergency. I always carry a mini headlamp, and it works just fine for a few hours, but if I know that I’m going to be using it for longer than that, I take a slightly larger, heavier, and more powerful one. Headlamps are now so light that there is nothing to lose from taking one and an awful lot of potential problems from being caught without one! As Mark Twight put it in his seminal book, Extreme Alpinism, “You can also try taking one (headlamp) between you, but you’ll only try it once.”

Feeling pretty good about bringing a headlamp! Caught out by darkness on the Bonnington ski traverse, BC. Photo Boscoe Collection.

Sun Protection

There is not much insight needed here—sunburn is painful and dangerous to short and long-term health! Consider high-factor sunscreen and a baseball cap as must-haves.

First Aid

Now, this is an area that divides opinions! Some people take substantial first aid kits, with gear to deal with just about anything, but when creating my kit, I asked myself two questions when considering each item - do I know how to use it, and will it make a difference? When I was doing my Wilderness First Responder course, the instructor told us that there are two types of casualties - those who’ll live or die regardless of what you do to help them, and those for whom you can make a difference. I try to only carry first aid gear that will make a survivor more comfortable or could save a life. First aid is such a complex topic that offering advice on what to take isn’t appropriate - get as trained as possible and then make your calls.

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Descending back to Neustift in Stubaital, Austria. Photo Boscoe Collection.


I’ve used my knife to cut a casualty’s Gore-tex trousers off (she had a broken femur, so destroying a pair of trousers wasn’t a big concern), shaved wood off to get a fire started, and carried out countless repairs. Carry a little knife and keep it sharp.


Waterproof matches and a couple of lighters should be in every pack every day. Not many things are genuine lifesavers, but a fire on a cold night is certainly one of them!

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On overnight trips, you’ll likely be carrying a tent, so you’re covered for shelter. On day hikes, meanwhile, carrying something that would provide some shelter in case of an emergency is essential. Tiny bivvy sacks weigh virtually nothing, and being inside one overnight sure beats being out in the elements!

Extra Food

The recommended amount of extra food is one day’s worth, and while that might be overkill on a day trip, carrying enough to not be super hungry during an unplanned night out is sensible. When choosing emergency food, disregard nutrition and aim for maximum calories per gram of weight! Salami sticks are hard to beat, but nuts and chocolate are also good.

Descending to the Ymir Lodge at sunset, and luckily not requiring any of the emergency supplies we carried! Photo Boscoe Collection.

Extra Water

Given the non-negotiable weight of water, carrying something to turn non-potable water into liquid you can consume is a more efficient idea than carrying extra water, but does obviously rely on you being somewhere with a water supply of some description. Assuming that you’ll have access to a water source, taking purifying tabs or a water filter covers you, but if you’re going somewhere dry, there’s no avoiding a bit of extra “just in case” water weight.

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Extra Clothes

Like most items on this list, the details of this one are open to discussion! If you’re ski touring in the depths of winter, carrying enough clothing to survive an unplanned night out will be pretty heavy, but if you’re operating in summer and the nights don’t get too chilly, you can push your luck a little. Look at the forecast and plan accordingly.

So that’s the 10 Essentials covered - now you can start debating every other item on your packing list!