Survival Skills

The Ten Essentials, Then and Now
Photo by Outdoor Life

by Tim MacWelch

Ever heard of the Ten Essentials? The original list of Ten Essentials was drawn up in the 1930’s to aid mountain climbers and outdoorsmen. A Seattle-based group called the Mountaineers designed the list for two reasons. First, it gave people a list of gear to acquire in case of emergency or accident. Second, it provided resources in the event someone was forced to spend an unexpected night–or longer–in the wilderness.

In 2003, the Mountaineers updated the list by focusing on systems rather than ten specific items. Does this list work for hunters, anglers, survivalists, and other outdoors lovers? See for yourself.

The Classic Ten Essentials

1. Map

2. Compass

3. Sunglasses and sunscreen

4. Extra clothing

5. Flashlight

6. First-aid supplies

7. Fire starter

8. Matches

9. Knife

10. Extra food

The Updated Ten Essential Systems

1. Navigation (map and compass)

2. Sun protection (sunglasses and sunscreen)

3. Insulation (extra clothing)

4. Illumination (headlamp/flashlight)

5. First-aid supplies

6. Fire (waterproof matches/lighter/candles)

7. Repair kit and tools

8. Nutrition (extra food)

9. Hydration (extra water)

10. Emergency shelter

Side By Side

The original list includes some great choices, which could help anyone survive an unforeseen situation. Matches, knife, and food qualify as “can’t miss” survival selections. And while the woodland hunter or hiker may not need the sunglasses and sunscreen, they’re important to mountaineers who must battle through snow and ice.

Jumping forward eighty years: the updated list is conveniently compartmentalized, but it also reflects two game changers. Hydration and emergency shelter are the two most critical elements of survival (barring any first-aid items necessary for unanticipated injuries). Water and shelter are glaringly absent in the original Ten Essentials, and the new list thankfully spells this out for a new generation of outdoor adventurers.

My takeaway from this comparison is that the new list is unquestionably superior to its predecessor because it provides a great framework for any outdoor enthusiast to assemble the necessary lifesaving gear. That said, the old list is better than no list at all.

Some Extras?

You bet your pack should contain a few additions. Neither list includes an item for audible signaling. Though the flashlight could signal your position at night, a whistle will work day or night to help attract attention and possibly rescue. Similarly, a signal mirror can also help to signal your distress. But the best signal of all is some form of communication device. Two-way radios, a charged cell phone, or a satellite phone should allow you to call for help more effectively than any rudimentary tool. Add some water-purification items and cordage, and you’ll have a fairly complete survival kit based on the Ten Essentials.

So, what are your own Ten Essentials?


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