Developed by The Mountaineers (a Seattle-based organization founded in 1906), The Ten Essential Systems are critical pieces of wilderness survival gear that every outdoor enthusiast should carry on every trip. With these items, you should be able to cope with a minor emergency or survive in the wilderness for at least one night. When would such a need arise? When you get lost or injured, or are detoured/delayed due to inclement weather (snowstorm, thick fog) or a natural disaster (mud slide, avalanche, flash flood). Here are the essentials that live in our packs and give us peace of mind.
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The Ten Essential Systems
Formerly known as the ten essentials, there are now ten essential systems to cover your basic needs. While I've tried to stay true to the original systems, please note that I have combined Insulation and Sun Protection in order to include signalling devices. You have a much better chance of being rescued if you can let others know where you are! I've also added bear spray to the list since bears live in more of our province. For more details - and the original Ten Essential Systems - please see Mountaineering, The Freedom of the Hills.
- Navigation: A topographic map & compass/GPS (plus extra batteries for the GPS) are essential, but only useful if you know how to use them. Practice frequently in familiar territory. Copies of route descriptions from guidebooks (photocopied and placed in a Ziploc bag) are good to have also.
- Recommended topo maps: Gem Trek waterproof maps. If your map isn't waterproof, keep it in a Ziploc bag.
- Recommended compass: Suunto A-10 or Silva Ranger. Call me an old school geographer, but I prefer a compass to a GPS as it doesn't rely on batteries (and is a lot smaller and lighter!). The sighting mirror on the Silva can be used for signalling too!
- Recommended hiking books: Kananaskis Country Trail Guide, Take a Hike With Your Children, Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies, Wilderness Navigation: Finding Your Way Using Map, Compass, Altimeter and GPS, Rich Johnson's Guide to Wilderness Survival
- Recommended post: How to Avoid Getting Lost
I always carry a Gem Trek map and compass.
- Recommended products: Katadyn Hiker Microfilter, Potable Aqua PURE Hydrolytic Water Purifier, Steripen UV Water Purifier, LifeStraw Personal Water Filter (for emergency use - light enough to put one in each of your kids' packs).
- To learn more about the Potable Aqua PURE device and how it compares to filtration and UV purification, please see: Potable Aqua PURE Electrolytic Water Purifier Review.
- Special Note Re Cold Weather: When it's around/below freezing, I carry my ultralight backpacking stove, so we can melt snow for hot drinks. Don't forget a pot, cups, and cocoa!
The Potable Aqua PURE can treat up to 20L at once!
- Recommended first aid kits: We have Adventure Medical Kits in various sizes. 0.5 is good for day trips; get the 0.7 or 0.9 for family multi-day trips. All items are packed in high quality zipper sealed bags and the outer silnylon bag is waterproof, made of ripstop fabric, and ultralight.
- Recommended insect repellents: PiActive contains picaridin which does not dissolve synthetic clothes like DEET. Ben's is a concentrated 30% DEET formula which protects against ticks and comes in a small pump bottle which is just the right size to keep in the top of your pack.
- Recommended post: Which Tick Repellents to Use and How to Use Them.
Adventure Medical Kit Ultralight 0.7
- Recommended insulating layers: MEC Spicy/Commix Down Hoodie or Patagonia Down Sweater. A Primaloft or fleece hoodie is a more affordable option that is very warm for its weight (but not as compressible as down).
- Recommended outer layers: MEC Goretex shell, Patagonia H2No shell, Outdoor Research Clairvoyant /Axiom Jacket - basically, you should get something durable, waterproof, and breathable.
- Recommended sunscreens: Soleo Organics All Natural Sunscreen, Goddess Garden Natural Sunscreen, Banana Boat Natural Reflect Sunscreen Lotion.
- For more information, please see Keeping Warm in Spring/Fall and Keeping Kids Warm in Winter.
Toasty warm on the summit of Mount Fairview
|Siltarp Gear Shed|
- Recommended whistle: A high quality, pealess marine whistle like the Storm All Weather Safety Whistle, Ultimate Survival Technologies Jetscream Whistle, or Fox 40 Classic Whistle.
Every person in your party should have a whistle. Storm whistle shown above.
- Recommended fire ignitors: UCO Stormproof Matches, butane lighter
- Recommended fire starters: dryer lint, DIY waterproof firestarters, tealights (get the bag of 100 from Ikea - cheap!)
|UCO Stormproof Matches & Waterproof Case|
|Petzl Tikka XP|
|Snacks my kids like|
- Tip: Make paracord into a paracord bracelet or tie it onto your knife handle for easy transport.
BONUS: Throughout most of Alberta, bear spray is a must, but there are many precautions you can take that will minimize the chance of ever needing to use the spray. For more information, please read 10 Bear Safety Tips for Hikers and Backpackers.
|Bear spray in holster & large grizzly prints|
Storing Your GearI have a system for the systems with food in one stuff sack, extra clothes in a waterproof stuff sack, and survival gear in a large Ziploc bag for visibility. Compartmentalizing makes it easy to transfer items if you frequently change packs (I use a 60L for family adventures and a 33-40L pack for kid-free trips) and ensures nothing important gets left behind.
- Recommended stuff sacks: Outdoor Research Ultralight Stuff Sacks.
ConclusionThink of The Ten Essential Systems as insurance. You will hopefully never have to use all of them, but if you do, you'll be glad you packed them!
Have you ever had to make an unplanned bivouac? What do you wish you knew then that you know now?