#39 Ten Essentials

S.afety O.n S.ummits

By: Rick Hartman

#39 The “Ten Essentials” Revisited (Part Seven of Seven)

“Five Embry-Riddle students are safe after hiking to the top of Granite Mountain last night and getting stranded. At 10:50 PM 9-1-1 operators received a call from the students who advised one was weak, dehydrated and unable to descend back to the trailhead. They had started up at 4:00 PM not using the trail system and summated at dusk. The group failed to bring water or warm clothing for the cooler wet weather. They had started to descend using the light from their cell phones, but had to stop. Rescuers with food and water hiked five miles to the stranded party. After which, the group was able to hike out on their own at 5:00 AM.”                                  Prescott Daily Courier 8/22/14

This is an update of the “Ten Essentials” and is an appropriate topic for closing the series on SAR. This recent Prescott, Arizona SAR case (above) reveals a continuing pattern of conduct and requires revisiting the “10-E’s”. Perhaps, after the previous six SAR articles, it remains fair to say one should not leave home without them!

The concept of the “Ten Essentials” originated in the 1930’s and began to appear in mountaineering literature in the late 1950’s. The items were deemed essential for comfort or even survival in unplanned delays or overnighters while hiking in the wilds. There are now Twelve Essentials. However, it is a constant: one person’s essential, is often another’s junk! So in reviewing the concept, here are the former “Ten” plus the updated “Two” (or more)!

The “Essentials” allow us to be responsible and self-sufficient while in the back-country. These “Essentials” should always be brought along in the wilds, whether it is a day hike, an overnight backpack trip, a solo trek, or even a group assault. Each member should have their own dedicated “12-E Insurance” and not be dependent upon others for any of the “Twelve” items. Perhaps some of the “Essentials” are already carried with us, such as prescription glasses with photo-gray tinted lenses or the sleeping bag/bivy sack in one’s backpack. This realization reinforces the concept: any gear carried on a well planned backpack trip should address two or even three purposes. For example, a jacket becomes a pillow and a mid-weight capline pullover works double duty as a pillow case, keeping the jacket formed. As long as the “Essential” item is represented somewhere within your backpacking or expedition gear, you are set!

One may discover some “Ten Essential” lists having up to fourteen items! Thus, as in all of life: the insurance you decide to carry becomes a continual debate on whether to expand or decrease. Consider that any one “Essential” item can be a lifesaver in any emergency. This updated “12-E” kit should remain compact, as stand-alone system while day-hiking, and be a confidence inspiring possession. When the chips are down and your “Essentials” have become your final option, the foresight of having created a sturdy “12-E” foundation can become a critical component for survival.

1) Emergency Shelter. This can be a simple reflective emergency blanket, purchased at an outdoor shop, a small painter’s clear plastic drop cloth, a “6 mil” black plastic sheet or a formal bivy sack. What is selected should be large enough to cover you or create a small lean-to shelter. A word of caution, the metal in the reflective blanket could attract lightning!

2) Extra clothing. Have an extra layer of insulation for head, chest, hands, legs and feet. These items should be available to replace the sweat saturated clothing from the day’s activity and assist in surviving the long inactive hours of an unplanned night in the field. Realistically consider the worst conditions that one could encounter for the season and region.

3) First Aid Kit. Again, avoidance is the key! However one should have a small, waterproof personalized kit.  Additionally pack personal prescription drugs, while including any allergy, diabetic medications, and blister healing remedies. Realize, a formal first aid kit is a large item and as such, a team project to have along. Wilderness First Aid Response training is a worthwhile investment and all of us should consider attending a course. (See:  S.O.S.  #9 “First Aid Kits”, A-2-Z #69, 2nd Quarter 2005).

4) Fire. Have the ability and knowledge to safely make a small fire (See S.O.S. # 29 “Camp Fires”, A-2-Z #102, 3rd Quarter 2013). Waterproof matches and fire starter should be stored in separate waterproof containers. The matches and fire starter should be completely dedicated to the “12-E” kit. Know: butane/propane will not enter into a gaseous state in sub-freezing temperatures; so expect a lighter to fail in the snow storm! Body heat will warm the lighter sufficiently for it to function. Also, new Transportation Safety Administration regulations, “strike anywhere” matches are forbidden on airplanes. A great fire starter can be made from the home laundry dryer! Take some dryer lint and soak it with lighter fluid. Maintained in a small, screw capped/airtight container, it will last years! Using a small wad of lighter fluid-soaked lint placed under pine needles and tiny sticks, add a squirt of some alcohol hand sanitizer, and it is a sure fire every time!

5) Illumination. Remember, you may have to spend an unplanned night out. So you must pack a small headlamp (the best choice) or a small flashlight. Put some thought into spare batteries and a bulb. All the better if these are compatible with your normal trip illumination gear! Stomping around bushes in the dark, with a glowing stick from a fire, is not a good idea! Consider the new LED hand-held and head-lamps; they are light weight, bright, provide long burn times and are nearly indestructible. Leave the batteries out of the device, so as to not draw them down while stored.  Alkaline batteries will last the longest in a “12-E” kit.

6) Knife. As an “essential” this is an item that must be seriously considered and selected with two conflicting concepts in mind: weight and multi-task ability. The conflict: the more tasks capable and the stronger built, the more the multi-tool will weigh.  The lightest choice, a single blade pocket knife, is very limited in its potential. Screwdriver and can opener options are good. Personal experience has taught the saw blade option is paramount! A multi-tool with the first-aid kit’s tweezers can solve just about any field issue.

7) Navigation. This is where most back country adventures really begin! The ability to use, read and interpret a map, a compass and a G.P.S. device is where a hiker can excel in the back country! The mere possession of these items without the knowledge of how to use them is perhaps the fly in the ointment! Know where you are and know how to get to where you want to go, and the time required to do it! As one Army axiom goes: “There is nothing more dangerous than a Second Lieutenant armed with a map and a compass…” The “compass and map” concept should be mastered sufficiently to be able to orient oneself in the right direction.

8) Nutrition. Any food selected should be by personal taste, seasonal and weight criteria. Select items that are light, tasty, store well for months in your “12-E” stuff-sack and are appropriate for the climate you are in. This “12-E” food is intended to get one person through one night, or if rationed, through slightly more. A good secure storage device is a consideration as mice or other vermin could ruin your stash before it is ever needed.

9) Repair kit. This is a concept that should relate to the items brought along and also, the length of the trip into the back country. Examples: a button repair is critical to an extended expedition, but not for a day trip gone array and the repair kit for a Therma-rest should be team-oriented or if solo, minimized. Do not forget: Duct Tape! It is the choice of the masters! Duct tape possibilities are endless! Wrap a bunch of it around your staff, ice axe or water bottles!

10) Sun protection. Here is an item that can be considered as already possessed, as with one’s prescription glasses. However, a sample sized tube of sun screen is easily carried in the “12-E” sack. (See upcoming S.O.S. # 40 “Skin Cancer” and #41 “Sunblocks and Sunscreens”).

11) Water treatment method. In the back-country, one should not carry less than two quarts of water. The only exception would be the trail is known to follow a stream. Then, one additional empty container should be carried for the times the trail leaves the water or you are committed to a location for an extended period. In the “12-E” concept, water treatment should be for emergency situations only. Iodine tabs are ideal, but read the label! Cold stream water must be allowed to warm before the iodine will be effective!  A new water purification product now available is MSR’s: “Aquatabs” which claims to kill bacteria and viruses.  Thirty tablets will treat 60 quarts of water. Also there are Aquamira’s purification drops. Both companies offer new technology that offers light and highly effective protection against waterborne protozoa, viruses and bacteria.

12) Whistle. One can blow louder and longer, than yelling. Nothing is better than the whistle as an emergency locating device. Further, with companions, one can utilize the whistle as a communication tool. A series of agreed upon blasts can indicate “Up rope!”… “Slack!”… or any command necessary; even in the wind! Obtain a plastic device, as in freezing temperatures a metal one will freeze your lips.

Finally a quote; discovered while researching this article: “People talk about the ‘10-Essentials’, but the most important essential is what is between your ears!” With that in mind be comfortable in modifying these “essentials” for your own circumstances.

S.O.S. once more extends unending gratitude for Bill Jacobs’ devotion in editing this column!

Stay Outside Safe!

For further reading:

High Point Adventures, First Edition, Charlie and Diane Winger; “Be Prepared”, Page 514.

High Point Adventures, Second Edition, Charlie and Diane Winger; “Be Prepared”, Page 270.

Mountaineering Freedom of the Hills, Fifth Edition, The Mountaineers, “Essential Equipment” Pages 29-34.