Can you honestly say that you have NEVER forgotten anything? It is a humbling universal trait that we all exhibit. We all inevitably forget something that leaves us feeling unprepared. For some this is a daily ritual.

We repetitively forget. We forget birthdays, meetings, where we put our keys, or simply a mere thought, forgotten never to return again.

Although being absent minded usually serves as a mild annoyance, travelling outdoors can make a relatively simple act of thoughtlessness turn to a grave consequence. In some instances, it can strip you of life.

Luckily, there have been many before us to learn from. One of the most notable changes in outdoor industry standards came from countless trial and errors made by mountaineers or those that simply wanted to adventure for a few hours.

Historical incidents summoned by absent-mindedness, lead to ‘The 10 Essentials’. The Ten Essentials are survival items first identified by ‘The Mountaineers’ in the 1930’s. The club originally proposed the list for travelers to maximize safety and limit negative outcomes. It was not very long before this list attracted attention and was adapted to many other outdoor activities. They are the ‘must not leave home without’ items, no matter what the activity.

The Classic Ten Essentials

  1. Map

  2. Compass

  3. Sunglasses and sunscreen

  4. Extra clothing

  5. Headlamp/flashlight

  6. First-aid supplies

  7. Fire starter

  8. Matches

  9. Knife

  10. Extra food

The Mountaineers continue to set the highest industry standards in their publication of “Freedom Of The Hills”. They explain that the ten essentials were developed to answer two basic questions. First, “can you respond positively to an accident or emergency? Second, can you safety spend a night-or more without help? In 2003, The Mountaineers modified the list to recognize modern technologies and a wider range of activities.

A Systems Approach

  1. Navigation

  2. Sun Protection

  3. Insulation.

  4. Illumination

  5. First-Aid Supplies

  6. Fire

  7. Repair Kit and Tools

  8. Nutrition

  9. Hydration

  10. Emergency Shelter

You don’t have to take these items wholly at face value. There is some personal insight involved that goes into the direct planning of an excursion. Some of these items may be inappropriate for your specific activity and you may need to replace an item or two for one far more detrimental to your safety. That brings us to the 11th Essential.

So your planning a backcountry trip. You have all your 10 ten essentials packed and feel secure to face whatever the environment throws at you. What was supposed to be a clear sky adventure suddenly turned to a vicious storm. You are confident you can wait it out with your ten essentials handy but as the storm intensifies so does your situation. The storm washes out your path. It is now impassable. You are stuck, unaware of a way out.

The Freedom Of The Hills touches on answering questions in the immediate situation. They ask can you respond to an emergency? Are you prepared to spend the night? One other question that it disappoints to ask is the ‘What Now?’

11th Essential: Emergency Response Plan (ERP)

An Emergency Response Plan takes all the uncertainty out of an escalating situation. Over the last couple years I have completed many Emergency Response Plans for expeditions. Although it is a long and extensive package it prepares you to accurately look at all the potential objective and subjective hazards you might encounter on a trip, and most importantly how to respond to them.

A safety plan challenges you to complete a hazard assessment of your specific environment, potential escape routes, emergency contact information, and a protocol sequence modified at each waypoint of your trip.

Traveling with an Emergency Response Plan seems to be an afterthought for most expeditions. Many head out with the hopeful but naive thought that “it wont happen to me”. As much as we all wish this could be true, in the backcountry we are responsible for our own forgetfulness and lack of preparation. As a guide and a Wilderness First Responder, I now understand that I want to prevent, control and mitigate (PCM), all hazards. Our mere presence puts us at risk not necessarily because of our hazardous environment but because of the choices we make in the environment.

Before trekking out on your next adventure, I challenge you to not only carry your 10 essentials but to also consider the possibility of traveling with an 11th. You may be surprised at the situational awareness you develop by doing your homework.

I would love to hear how it turns out. Tweet me your experience or submit a story on the Submit Hazard Story Tab.

Happy Planning

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