10 Essentials of Hiking

All of us talk about it, and we think we are prepared and ready. Let’s be honest, do you really have your ten essentials nailed down? You’re going for a hike, what’s in your day pack? I would venture to say (pure guess) over half of us on the trials are not carrying the essentials. If you are going on a well-traveled trail, let’s call it a 1-2 mile loop… Do you even worry about the 10 essentials? At what point do you consider packing a day pack for a quick jaunt into the woods? I am hosting a 47 second survey and would love for you to share your honest thoughts/responses to these questions. After I have a few hundred results, I will create an update to this blog. If you leave your email at the end of the survey, we will enter your name for a giveaway (items related to the 10 essentials)! If you do not want to be entered in the giveaway, your email is not required, …do it for science, do it for the love of the outdoors, or even do it for the giveaway entry. This blog is meant to be a review of the 10 essential items along with some insight I have gained over the years.

First, what are the 10 essentials:
1. Navigation
2. Light/Headlamp
3. Sun protection
4. First aid
5. Knife/multitool
6. Fire starter
7. Shelter
8. Food (extra)
9. Water filter/water (extra)
10. Clothes (extra)

There are other variations of this list, for example the American Hiking Society throws footwear in the mix but I will stick to these 10 and what I recommend. If you want a simple gear checklist for various types of hikes (day, overnight, desert,) Kuhl made some fantastic lists, "Hiking Checklist: What to Bring on A Hike."  

Navigation: There’s nothing like an old school topography map and compass. I grew up an Army brat, and my dad used to teach an orientation class every year to a group of scouts. However, this is the 21st century so I’m not opposed to a GPS device, personal locator beacon (PLB) or satellite messenger. I have grown to love the All Trails app. It will show you your trail (assuming you are following a trail) and show your location even when your phone is on airplane mode.
Keep in mind, a compass and a map weigh very little and require no batteries. The earth is technically due for a polar swap (reversal), where your needles will point the opposite direction, mitigating birds will fall from the sky in confusion, the earth’s magnetic field will be weakened allowing more cosmic rays to penetrate the earth causing unthinkable damage…polar ice caps will melt away and we will have a lot more forest fires. But I’m not a doom-and-gloom person, so pack a compass. It’s pretty fun learning how to read a topo map and navigate with your compass. Call it a hiking date and become a better prepared hiker.

Light /Headlamp: There’s something about the dark in the woods. Everything comes alive. I love listening to the wind whistle through the trees. I have also found it critical to have a reliable light source when navigating through the dark (especially when nature calls.) I have found Petzl makes a fantastic headlamp. The picture shows a Tikka headlamp providing 300 lumens of light. The high beam will get you 200 plus feet of vision. The low setting will provide over 30 feet. Keep this bad boy on low and it will last 5 days. This leaves you hands free and the light follows your eyes/head. At 3-ounces, everyone should have a headlamp. If you want to up your game, check out what Kogalla is doing with lighting. If you’re actively hiking/running in the dark, it can be a game changer. My daughter ran a night half marathon with this and loved it.
When you have the approval of a teenager, you know you’re doing something right. 800 lumens of flood light illumination. Plus this company makes killer battery packs. I replaced my Goal Zero Venture 70 with something almost half the weight and with more charging capacity.


Sun protection: Don’t forget about your eyes (sunglasses)! I have worn $150 to $5 dollar shades. As a runner, I have become picky. I like them light, non-slip, and must be polarized. You can tell if they are polarized when you, take them off, look at your cell phone through them and rotate them 45-60 degrees. If they are polarized, the screen should change colors. This will take away the snow glare or the glare off the water. You only have one set of peepers, keep them protected. I have settled on Knockaround sunglasses. These are the Fast Lanes series at 0.8 ounces and $25. They are perfect. Sunglasses don’t need to be expensive, they just need to work. Don’t stop with your eyes, my lips and ears are also pretty sensitive. Always carry some lip balm. I recommend the cherry flavor. If you need first aid treatment, maybe your first responder will thank you later for it. In addition, Chap Stick is a petroleum-based product. Rub it on an old cotton shirt or other tinder and cast a spark, and it becomes an accelerant to get
your fire going. The All Good sunscreen is perfect for my ears and neck and easy to pack. Along with some proper clothing, you are ready to enjoy the sunbeams. No one likes sunburns or worse skin cancer and cataracts (doom and gloom).


First aid: You’re hiking, so you will be on your feet. Think about foot care and insect repellent. This will look different depending where you live. I really like MyMedic. They are founded by some good peeps and have serious quality in their product line. Plus, they make kits for different types of adventures. I have a doctor buddy that loves this company. As you go out more and more it’s totally fine and encouraged to add and tweak your first aid kit. I like to add self-adhering bandage wraps and tiger balm. You can pick up this type of bandage just about everywhere. I think I picked this one up at Walgreens. Plus I have used it on a couple of strangers.… on the trails, we are all family.

Knife/multitool: I tend to carry a couple. Pictured is a Phoenix Feather (I designed it). It’s a lightweight workhorse. It is made from D2 steel so it holds an edge extremely well. With the Kydex sheath is weighs about 2.3 ounces. It’s always a good idea to carry a multitool. This Micra Leatherman was gifted to me over 15 years ago and I can’t believe how often I use it. I actually met Tim Leatherman at the Outdoor Retailer Show a few years ago and had him sign a multitool for me…and I lost it within a week. If you find it, let me know. I really want it back. This guy is a legend in my eyes. I love their product.

Fire starter: In the art of making fire, “two is one and one is none.” Always carry at least two ways to make fire…and practice your skill. In times of emergencies, we tend not to rise to the occasion, rather we fall back on our training. Fire is a game changer. Be warm, be seen, be found. There are so many options. I carry my Fire Escape, and the Woolly Mammoth (both of them I designed). If you choose to carry a lighter I will not be offended. But carry two of them! Also throw in some tinder. If I’m hiking any significant distance, I’m bringing a simple camp stove (MSR Pocket Rocket is my go-to stove.)

Shelter: I struggle here. I tend to call my NASA inspired emergency blanket my “shelter.” This is included in the MyMedic kit listed above. SOL also makes a light emergency bivvy which basically becomes a sleeping bag for an unexpected night. Do you have any recommendations for shelter?


Extra food: When I hiked my first winter 14er, I brought more than double of what I thought I would need. This doesn’t have to be complicated. I’m a fan of Lara Bars and RX Bars. I prefer to be able to read all the ingredients and know what I’m eating. I also like corn nuts. That salt becomes electrolytes and keeps me firing on all pistons. An injury or bad weather can always eat up an extra day. Unless you are packing a stove, it’s best practice to bring extra items that don’t require cooking. (i.e. I brought this extra Mountain House or Backpacker’s Pantry meal…does anyone have some boiling water?)

Extra water/water filter: My preferred rule of thumb is to drink half my weight in ounces a day. I read an article that states 75% of Americans are chronically dehydrated and we don’t even know it. Here is a couple of sources: Source 1, Source 2. Hydration means clear thoughts, a boost in metabolism, healthy kidneys, less headaches. Water allows those electrolytes work in your body! It also helps with healthy skin. I know what you’re thinking, I think it too…water is heavy! One gallon of it is 8.3 pounds! …bring a filter. Aquamira makes a nice inline filter for bladder pack systems and water bottles. 
Random Pro tip: Drop a straw in your standard Nalgene bottle. I saw my kid do it once and I called her crazy. Then I tried it. Have you ever been driving or walking and try and drink from these wide mouth bottles? …then find your neck and crew collared shirt wet? You’re not alone. I use a stainless straw with a silicone tip. It pokes out when I take the lid off and I never spill on myself. I wish I could take credit. I typically drop in 5 drops of Adventure Athletics Yukon
electrolytes in my bottle. I prefer not to cramp up in my hikes. This stuff works great.


Extra clothes: I was hiking Blanca Peak (Colorado 14er) and for a solid 20 minutes a couple of my buddies and I were pelted in a hailstorm as we were fully exposed above tree line with no large boulders to take cover under. Weather conditions can flip on you in a matter of minutes in the backcountry. When you are wet and finally get back to base camp, there is nothing like a fresh pair of dry socks and undies. At a minimum consider these basic extra layers. I also own a couple windbreaker jackets that are literally 1-ounce and smash down to nothing. Check the weather, think about bodies of water, and plan accordingly. By the way, I discovered these Mammoth Wool socks by Kim and Elliott. To quote them, “There is no question that happy feet make a happy hiker…” Now that these socks have seen numerous adventures, I can testify, these socks are fantastic. Merino wool is padded and supported in all the right spots, they help regulate foot temps and keep your toes dry, they made these right!
Another pro tip! I have no idea where I got this Gobi Gear sack. All I know is, I love it. They have 4 compartments in this ripstop Cordura super lightweight bag. At first, I thought, who cares? Then I used it a couple of times. I put first aid in one section, clean clothes in another. It forced me to be organized on a camping trip and I realized how useful it was. Check ‘em out, you might thank
yourself later.


I hope you found one or two golden nuggets from this. Do you have any favorite items in your 10-essential list? I would love to hear about them. I dare you to drop a line and start a conversation.

See you on the trails and explore with confidence,

Mike Mojica


  • Thanks for the info!!

    Rose Sams
  • rain gear . a signaling device in case of injury in a no signal area such as a whistle .

    Steven Cummins
  • Regarding shelter: one “shelter” that never leaves my day pack is a 3-5mm thick contractor trash bag. If you’re caught out unexpectedly for the night, or in worse weather than you’re prepared for, it does a good job. If you cut off one corner of the bottom, then put the trash bag on over your head with the corner hole in front of your face, you can scrunch down in it and be waterproof but still able to see and breathe. Also you can curl up in them like an emergency bivvy sac. I work as an outdoor guide, and I love handing out contractor bags to participants on day hikes because they’re inexpensive, they don’t usually tear or get holes, and they’re amazingly helpful if the day goes bad.

    Also on my list of personal favorite shelter items: emergency tarp (like the UST Survival Blanket/Tarp 2.0) with a couple lengths of parachute cord to tie it off if needed; and a rectangle of closed-cell foam pad. The foam can be cut from a cheap sleeping mat to the dimensions of the back panel of your day pack and slid right in the back, so it’s not bulky and messing with your gear space. Especially in winter or in the mountains, being able to get part of you off the cold ground makes a big difference.

  • Great update of the 10 essentials! As a 73 year old woman with Rheumatoid Arthritis who’s not willing to give up the outdoor life I appreciate your focus on light weight gear. I’ll be replacing a few of my 10 with some lighter versions.
    My gear suggestion is the “universal splash guard”. I’ve used them for years at home work &on the trail. No wet face or clothes, they dont fall out, easy to clean & you don’t have to fish them out of the bottle. And who doesn’t like a happy face (or other pretty design) facing you.


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