The Ten Essentials
This is a modified winter version of the Ten Essentials, originally developed by The Mountaineers in Seattle. Always have these items with you. We also recommend reviewing our 3-Season Gear Checklist and Winter Conditions Gear Checklist for advice on layering and group gear. Cold weather considerations are noted below in italics.
Note: No checklist is infallible. Before you head out on an adventure, it is important to check the weather, prepare for the worse possible conditions and make a plan based upon your personal and/or your group’s abilities in mind. Plan an alternate route in case of bad weather, injury, illness or slower than expected travel time. Before departing, make sure someone at home knows your plan: where you are going, with whom, and when you plan to return. And make sure you know how to use the gear you carry.
Map and compass/GPS (NAVIGATION): A map and compass help you identify where you are and how far you have to go, and they can also help you find campsites, water, and an emergency exit route in case of an accident. While GPS units are very useful, always carry a map and compass as a backup.
Extra water and a way to purify it (HYDRATION): Without enough water, your body’s muscles and organs simply can’t perform as well. Carry at least one quart of water with you (two is better), take time to drink often, and bring along a method for treating water in the backcountry. When considering options for treating and carrying your water, remember to account for the impact of cold temperatures on the effectiveness of a water treatment method or hydration system.
Extra food (NUTRITION): Getting lost, enjoying the beauty of a winter landscape, suffering an injury, or encountering difficult terrain can all make a day longer than originally planned. Extra food will help keep up energy and morale. Remember bars can become hard enough to break teeth on a cold winter’s day.
Lighter/matches/fire starter (FIRE): The warmth of a fire and a hot drink can help prevent hypothermia. Fires are also a great way to signal for help if you get lost.
Flashlight/headlamp (ILLUMINATION): If the day is longer than planned, a flashlight/headlamp is a must-have item to see your map and where you’re walking. Extra batteries are especially important in cold temperatures, as is keeping them close to your body so they stay warm.
First aid kit (FIRST AID SUPPLIES): Prepackaged first-aid kits are available at any outfitter. Double your effectiveness with knowledge: take a first-aid class with the American Red Cross or a Wilderness First Aid class. Many people will also include a whistle in their first aid kits. A whistle is a more effective way to call for help than your voice (use three short blasts).
Knife or multi-purpose tool (REPAIR KIT): These enable you to cut strips of cloth into bandages, remove splinters, fix broken eyeglasses, and perform a whole host of repairs on malfunctioning gear. Duct tape is an all-purpose fix-it item carried by nearly every backcountry adventurer.
Waterproof/wind gear and extra clothing (INSULATION): Dressing in layers allows you to adjust to changing weather and activity levels. Two tips: avoid cotton and always carry a hat.
Sun screen, ski goggles and sunglasses, lip balm (SUN PROTECTION): Protect yourself against the sun’s bright rays and the reflection off snowy surfaces.
Tarp, bivy sack or emergency blanket (EMERGENCY SHELTER): Any of these items can provide a way to protect yourself, or others, from the elements and survive in an emergency situation.
AMC’s Highland Center and Pinkham Notch Visitor Center carry basic last-minute clothing and gear items, as well as guidebooks and maps. You can also find a number of items in the 10 Essentials Section of the AMC Online Store.