What you carry in your backpack could save your life. That’s the thinking behind the 10 Essentials, an ever-evolving list of items created by the mountaineering community to keep you safe when the unexpected happens. “These items are necessary — essential — to be able to respond to an emergency and/or to safely get you through an unexpected night outside,” the Sierra Club’s Angeles Chapter website says.
1. Navigation: Bring a map and compass, and know how to use them. You can take a class, such as the local Sierra Club’s intensive 10-week Wilderness Travel Course, which includes navigation and other life-saving skills ($395 to $430, class instruction plus field trips; wildernesstravelcourse.org). REI (rei.com) and A16 Outfitters (adventure16.com) lead classes on navigation and other wilderness skill-building.
2. Illumination: Bring a flashlight or headlamp, with extra batteries and a fresh bulb.
3. Sun protection: Sunscreen and sunglasses are a must, particularly if you’re at high elevation.
4. Nutrition: Pack a lunch and extra food just in case.
5. Hydration: Same goes for bringing extra water. Don’t worry about your pack getting a little heavier.
6. Insulation: Bring extra clothes, maybe a fleece, down or rain jacket. Even a lightweight large garbage bag can keep you warm in a pinch.
7. Fire: Carry a fire starter and matches. They aren’t recommended to create a signal fire in Southern California or other fire-prone areas. They could, however, save your life if you are on a winter hike.
8. Emergency shelter: This can be anything from an emergency blanket to a full-on bivy tent.
9. Repair kit and tools: Bring along a knife, duct tape, multitool, things that could come in handy if you need to repair a boot or your backpack.
10. First-aid kit: You can buy a ready-made kit or make your own.
One other item to consider from the electronics world: personal locator beacons or satellite communication devices, which can send an SOS signal from places where cellphones don’t get service. Check out a comparison of two devices at REI.com.