Thoughts on the 10 Essentials

Being an Eagle Scout, the one thing that stuck in my head over everything else was the Boy Scout Motto: Be Prepared.

When camping, backpacking or any other activity when you’re far from the comforts of civilization, they say you should always carry the Ten Essentials. These have changed over the years, some by wording and also by content. Here are the modern Ten Essentials and my thoughts on a few of them:

  1. Navigation
  2. Light
  3. Sun Protection
  4. First Aid
  5. Knife
  6. Fire
  7. Shelter
  8. Extra Food
  9. Extra Water
  10. Extra Clothing

Navigation (and the ability to use it!). In Boy Scouts we practiced orienteering, which is basically the use of a map and compass. Today, everyone seems to rely on their phones and GPS, and for good reason: you already have them on you anyway and they’re really accurate. However, knowing how to use a map and compass comes in very handy if you phone drops in water or the batteries are dead. Unfortunately physical maps are getting harder to find, but there are some out there.

First Aid. Most small first aid kits come with wipes, adhesive bandages, maybe some antibiotic ointment. Anyone who’s done any strenuous outdoor activities knows how well band aids last. I keep gauze (both pads and a roll) along with medical tape and a tube of bacitracin. I also keep a couple small tubes of WoundSeal. This is a powder that almost instantly clots wounds. It burns like hell when you apply it, but works well. I would also suggest packing a square or triangular cloth for sprained ankles and more serious wounds. We used to use our Scout neckerchiefs for this (but keeping it clean in a plastic bag is probably more sanitary).

Fire. A cheap way to make waterproof matches is to take regular strike-anywhere kitchen matches and dip the ends in nail polish. Once they dry, there’s a waterproof coating over the match. They are more difficult to light, because you have to wear off the nail polish before you get to the match part, but they do work.

Shelter. Even if you’re just on a day hike, and you’re not packing a tent, take a survival blanket along just in case. Back in the day we called these space blankets. They’re made out of reflective mylar. They’re light and compact. You can make a shelter out of them or use them to conserve body heat in cold weather.

Extra Water. No one today should need a lecture on water and hydration. If you’re stranded anywhere, a source of potable water is the first thing you should secure. I take water purification tablets when I go camping. They make water taste terrible, but the last thing you want is a horrible intestinal parasite when you’re lost.