Every year, there is a least one story that makes the local press about an individual who got lost in the Smokies for a day or two until the park service found them, cold and hungry. Recently, there was a family of four who spent a miserable cold night up on Mt. Le Conte. It seems despite the fact that the trails are well marked and the availability of good maps, people still manage to venture out in street shoes with a small water bottle and little else.
In full disclosure, I must admit that I have been lost once. The map I had was several years old and the Lakeshore Trail had more recently been rerouted. The campsite we were bound for did not materialize within the expected timeframe and the topography on the map indicated a much different terrain than what we were currently hiking. We were supposed to be on the Lakeshore Trail and the last sign we passed confirmed that in fact we were… on the Lakeshore Trail. We were just on the wrong Lakeshore Trail according to my obsolete map. Fortunately, we encountered a fellow wayfarer who was in possession of a newer and more accurate map. Given that we were backpacking, we were never really at risk and we were soon properly oriented and back on track. The point is, everyone gets lost, sooner or later.
Much of my hiking is done solo for personal and spiritual reasons and 900 milers hike trails that are in the far reaches of the park where the maintenance crews rarely visit. The possibility for an obscure trail without a sign is there. Even with a hiking companion, water bottles are lost and food is forgotten. And in the case of injury, one of the party may have to get help while the other party hunkers down to wait for rescue. With proper planning, the folks at home should know where you are going and when you plan to return. So if you are somehow lost or injured, you need to be prepared to survive a night in the backcountry.
The concept of the Ten Essentials was originally developed and published in the book, Mountaineering, Freedom of the Hills in 1974. The idea was to develop a fundamental list of gear one should always have in the outdoors to facilitate a night’s survival in the wilderness in the case of injury or disorientation. Bearing in mind, the list was developed well before the advent of the smart phone, it is understandable that the device failed to make the list:
The Classic Ten essentials
- Sunglasses and sunscreen
- Extra clothing
- First-aid supplies
- Extra food
My first encounter of the Ten Essentials was through the Boy Scouts. Every checklist of camping gear starts with the Ten Essentials and their list is quite similar:
The Boy Scout Ten Essentials
- Pocket knife
- First aid kit
- Extra Clothing
- Rain gear
- Sun protection
- Map and compass
New developments in gear and the movement toward lightweight have refined the concept into more of a systems approach and the list is now a set of categories rather than 10 specific pieces of equipment. Also, there are seasonal and geographical considerations. Here are the updated 10 Essential Systems along with some personal commentary:
- Navigation – To date, the National Geographic map of the Smokies has proven to be a stellar method. I also carry a compass although it is rarely consulted. My watch has an altimeter feature and a compass so with the map, I can usually locate my position within a quarter mile or so. I have yet to be enticed to acquire GPS systems. Cell phones can work but they cannot maintain a battery charge for very long.
- Sun Protection – Hat and sunglasses. If I anticipate spending an afternoon on a bald, I may carry sunscreen as well.
- Insulation – At the very least, even in summer, I take a fleece and my rain jacket. In the winter, I add layers, gloves, a warm hat (beanie, toboggan, ski cap, skull cap, or touk, eh?), rain pants and a down jacket.
- Illumination – Headlamp, always.
- First Aid Supplies – The outfitters have small lightweight individual first aid kits with all the essentials. I typically add Vitamin I (ibuprofen), a small tube of Neosporin, and a chaffing cream of some sort.
- Fire – Waterproof matches in a plastic waterproof case. I also cary a lighter but the matches are lightweight and a good failsafe. i also carry a couple sticks of fire-starter material. It rains all year in the Smokies. Scoutcraft aside, it helps to have a quick way to start a fire.
- Repair Kit and Tools – A lightweight pocket knife and a small bit of duct tape.
- Nutrition – I always throw in extra granola bars and plenty of GORP and nuts.
- Hydration – a water bottle and a Sawyer filter.
- Emergency Shelter – Interestingly enough, this list did not specifically call out rain gear, which is a serious oversight. Although I included rain gear in the insulation discussion, I always carry a rain jacket. In cooler situations, I’ll throw in the rain pants. The advice here also calls for a light tarp, something which I rarely have carried on day hikes but I do have silnylon rain poncho that could serve as a tarp.
- Knowledge – There is always the “plus one”. In this case it’s knowledge. a compass won’t do you any good if you don’t know how to use it. Starting a fire in a fireplace with dry newspaper and a lighter is easy at home, but in the rain with wet wood is a whole other matter. Setting up a tarp in the wind requires some skill. Proper planning identifies routes and return times.
All of these items stay in my day pack or in close proximity. The list helps to make sure the down jacket makes it in the pack. There are most certainly other items you may consider essential so feel free to modify the list to include those. And lightweight considerations need not be sacrificed. My day pack rarely weighs more than 7 lb., even with water and winter gear.