The 10 Hiking Essentials

Certain equipment is so important it deserves to be carried on every hike. This list of 10 hiking essentials can be a lifesaver if you’re ever in an emergency in the wilderness. The equipment you should carry will depend on your individual needs and experience.

The Ten Hiking Essentials was derived in part from the book Mountaineering The Freedom of the Hills 9th Edition.

How to Patch a Jacket

map compass and smartphone is a fundamental part of the hiking essentials

1. Navigation is a fundamental part of the Hiking Essentials

Backcountry navigation has changed dramatically in the last decade with the adoption of smartphones. Smartphone navigational guides like our app, Guthook Guides, work completely offline and show you exactly where you are along the trail. It points hikers to important resources like water, camping sites, and resupply points.

However technology can fail or break. This is why hikers should always carry a map and compass as a backup.

different headlamps shown

2. Headlamp

A headlamp is a great light source because it frees up your hands. It makes it easy to use trekking poles, cook, or even read a map in the dark. If you plan on hiking at night, you should consider a headlamp that puts out at least 300 lumens. This should provide enough illumination to safely hike on uneven terrain.

sunscreen and lip balm shown

3. Sun Protection

It is important to protect yourself from harmful ultraviolet radiation. Hikers should wear hats, sunglasses, sun-protective clothes, and broad-spectrum sunscreen rated at least SPF 30.

A first aid kit spread out including gloves, bandages, and medicine. This is an important part of the hiking essentials

4. First Aid Kit

A first aid kit should be compact and be carried in a waterproof container like a sealable plastic bag. A basic first aid kit should contain bandages, gauze pad, butterfly bandages, antiseptic, nitrile gloves, tweezers, non prescription painkillers, anti-inflammatory, antidiarrheal, antihistamine tablets, antibiotic cream, and personal medication.

The type and length of your hiking trip will dictate the complexity of your first aid kit.

repair kit

5. Knife & Repair Kit

A knife is super important to have in the wilderness. Whether it’s big or small, I think every hiker should carry one. A popular knife for thru-hikers is one that has a blade, scissors, and tweezers.

A repair kit should include duct tape, a needle, thread, and some type of chord.

fire starters like a lighter, matches, birthday candle are all part of the hiking essentials

6. Fire Starter

It is important that every hiker carry means to start a fire. Most thru-hikers carry a disposable lighter, but you can also carry matches if you keep them in a waterproof bag or container.


7. Shelter

Hikers should always carry something to shelter themselves from rain and wind. If you’re a day hiker it is recommend that you carry a lightweight emergency poncho. If you’re going on a thru-hike, you may want to carry a rain jacket or something that will last for your entire trip. 

extra food

8. Extra Food

It’s important to carry extra food that does not require cooking and that will be easy to digest. A combination of granola bars, dried fruit, beef jerky, and nuts are examples of foods that you can bring.

extra water

9. Extra Water is a fundamental part of the Hiking Essentials

Hikers should always carry sufficient water while hiking and have a means to purify additional water if needed. Hikers should always carry purification tablets or a water filter.

emergency blanket

10. Extra Clothes

It is important to carry extra clothes that would keep you warm if you become inactive or if you ever get stuck in freezing weather temperatures. An emergency blanket only weighs a few ounces and can save your life.


These 10 hiking essential items can be a lifesaver in an emergency. The equipment you take will depend on the trip you are taking. A short day trip in a familiar area will likely require less gear than a longer more complex hike. Exactly what equipment you will need for your particular hike will depend on the type of trip, weather, difficulty, duration, distance, and your experience level. Everyone must determine for themselves what they need to carry to be safe in the wilderness.