The 10 Essentials for Hiking: How To Stay Safe on the Trail

Being prepared is key when you head out to hike in the great outdoors. There are countless stories of people not having critical gear, and bad things happen. The Ten Essentials for Hiking list helps hikers prepare for emergency situations and is a great foundation.

While many of these are nice to bring, bringing each one for each outing is not mandatory. For example, the repair kit isn’t needed if you’re taking a leisurely stroll with family. And for almost all of these, an emergency shelter isn’t necessary either.

That last one is geared towards those tackling tough terrain and long days where a delay may force them to spend the night on the mountain.

The Ten Essentials of Hiking

Navigation Tools

Getting lost is less of a worry when you’re well-prepared. Always bring a detailed, waterproof map of the area and a compass as your primary navigation tools. Having a GPS hiking watch can also help too.

While smartphones and GPS devices are handy, they can fail or run out of battery, so knowing how to use a map and compass is invaluable. Consider taking a basic navigation course if you’re unfamiliar with these skills.

hiking trails in california mt whitney
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Sun Protection

The sun can be relentless on the trail. Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30 before you start, and reapply it every two hours or after heavy sweating or swimming. Wear sunglasses that block 100% of UV rays to protect your eyes, especially at higher elevations where UV exposure increases.

A lightweight, wide-brimmed hat can shield your face and neck from sunburn.

Insulation (Extra Clothing)

Weather in the outdoors can change swiftly and without warning. Pack extra clothing based on the worst expected conditions. This includes synthetic or wool layers that retain warmth when wet, an insulated jacket, and rain gear.

Don’t forget a hat and gloves—even in summer, evenings can be chilly. This is one of the most important of the ten essentials for hiking.


Trails are much more challenging to navigate in the dark, and sometimes, hikes take longer than expected. A reliable headlamp or flashlight with extra batteries is essential. A headlamp is handy as it keeps your hands free for climbing or balancing.

First-Aid Supplies

A first-aid kit is a must-have. Customize your kit based on the length of your trip and the number of people involved. Include treatments for blisters, adhesive bandages of various sizes, sterile gauze, adhesive tape, and any personal medications.

A small booklet on first aid can be a lifesaver if you’re unsure how to treat injuries.


Having the means to start a fire can be crucial, especially if you get stranded or injured. Waterproof matches, a lighter, and a fire starter (such as dry tinder, candles, or commercial fire starter) should be packed. Fire provides warmth and a means to cook food and can also be a rescue signal.

Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Repair Kit and Tools

Things break, and having the right tools can make the difference between a minor inconvenience and a trip-ending scenario. Pack a multi-tool that includes a knife, plus a few repair supplies like duct tape, zip ties, and some spare parts for your gear (like a buckle or sewing kit).

Nutrition (Extra Food)

Another critical one of the ten essentials for hiking is always to pack extra food. In case you are delayed by emergencies, bad weather, or just a slower-than-expected travel pace, this will give you a good way to stay alive. Choose foods that are easy to prepare and high in energy.

Energy bars, jerky, nuts, and dried fruits are excellent because they’re lightweight and nutritious.

a hiker holds his hands up at sunset
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Hydration (Extra Water)

Never underestimate the amount of water you’ll need. A general rule is about a half liter per hour of moderate activity in moderate temperatures. Bring more if it’s hot.

Additionally, pack a means to purify water, such as a water filter or purification tablets, especially on longer hikes where carrying large amounts of water isn’t feasible.

Emergency Shelter

An unexpected night out can be uncomfortable at best and life-threatening at worst. Pack lightweight emergency shelter options like a space blanket, a bivy sack, or even a large plastic trash bag. These can protect you from wind and rain if you’re stuck overnight.

A hiker walks on the trail with a large mountain behind him.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Final Thoughts on the Hiking Essentials

Packing these essentials will help ensure that you’re prepared for fun and safety on the trail, no matter where your adventures take you. Always remember to let someone know your itinerary and expected return time before heading out. Enjoy the hike, and take in all the beauty and tranquility nature offers!

Until next time, adventurers, take care and be safe.

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Author: Alec Sills-Trausch

Title: Founder of Explore with Alec

Expertise: Hiking, Backpacking, Photography, and Road Trips

Alec Sills-Trausch is a hiker, backpacker, landscape photographer, and syndicated travel writer. He enjoys showing off the beauty of the world through his photos, videos, and written work on Alec is also a 2x cancer survivor and bone marrow transplant recipient, showing the world that there is a future from this terrible disease.

He lives in Washington, where he gets to enjoy the stunning PNW mountains in addition to all the other places he attempts to visit each year! You can see more work on IG at @AlecOutside