wildfires-at-Cascade Locks - Eagle Creek Fire

I recently came across an article about a family that was trapped due to a wildfire in the Columbia Gorge and had to spend the night outside. They stated several times that they will carry essentials from now on:

      “I’ll never again set out on a trail without a few essential things in a pack,”

I am glad to hear that this family has learned the importance of carrying emergency essentials on a hike. What scares me though was that the article said: “The only hiker near the … group who was equipped for being on the trail overnight was a young woman … with day pack loaded with essentials.”

Maybe I was lucky to be raised in an environment where I was taught to carry the basic survival needs early on, and maybe I was even luckier to learn about the 10 essentials thanks to the employees at Next Adventure in Portland Oregon, but apparently this isn’t the case for many.

The 10 Essentials are the very basics of what everyone should carry on any hike, regardless of distance, proximity to your car, availability of water, amount of people, your capabilities etc. EVERYONE SHOULD KNOW that carrying water is ALWAYS NECESSARY. But apparently a lot of people aren’t even aware of that.

A lot of people think they don’t need to carry essentials, or emergency gear, because it’s an easy trail. Many people think that because they are an experience hiker that they won’t ever get lost, injured, or make a mistake. WRONG.

To put things in perspective. This article is about one family that was trapped, overnight, less than 3 miles from their car due to a fire that was started by someone else. They ended up having to spend the night outside in the Columbia River Gorge. Search and Rescue teams and the National Guard had to air drop supplies to over 140 people who ended up being stranded that night. Having a few of the 10 essentials could have come in handy, having all of them would have been better! Almost everyone on the hike was unprepared and must have thought that nothing wrong could happen to them. Yet it did. Suddenly having extra water, extra food, shelter, warmth, a flashlight or headlamp, rope and other items didn’t seem like such a bad idea.

So. Let’s look at the 10 Essentials and how they could have helped.

  1. Extra Water or Water Purification Device.
  2. Extra Food
  3. Extra Clothing / Insulation (Synthetic Materials, or Wool… NO COTTON)
  4. First-Aid Supplies (Splint, Anti-Itch, Antibiotic ointment, Latex Gloves, Bandages, Ibuprofen, Aspirin, Duct Tape, Safety Pins)
  5. Fire Starters (Matches, Candles, Lighter, Flint, FireSteel)
  6. Lighting (Headlamp / Flashlight)
  7. Navigation (Map / Compass …. your PHONE does NOT qualify as navigation)
  8. Emergency Shelter (Those Space Blankets / Emergency Bivy)
  9. Repair Kit and Knife and Tools (Duct Tape, Small Scissors, Muti-tool, Whistle, Signaling Device like a mirror, Rope)
  10. Sun Protection (Sunglasses, Sunscreen, Extra Clothes/Hat)



Obviously carrying extra water and food could have helped several of the people more comfortable overnight. If you didn’t bring anything you could have been in a lot of trouble without the help of others. If you only brought a small amount for a planned snack break you might have had nothing extra for the extra 24 hours that most people were stuck. Though I probably wouldn’t recommend fresh vegetables as your emergency rations.



Having extra clothing and insulation would have kept people warmer. Several people said they had trouble sleeping due to being cold. An extra layer, and shelter like a space blanket would have helped give you the best nights sleep possible in an emergency situation. This not only would have helped you be more comfortable, but helped you walk the extra 14 miles you had to do to be rescued. Just remember to be like Randy in A Christmas Story, lots of layers!

First-Aid supplies probably would have come in handy, I heard that several people suffered small cuts, scrapes, etc. due to hiking in the dark which was not expected. Of course, this might have been prevented with a headlamp or lighting so that they could have seen at night and hiked safely.

cast-away-1 I STARTED A FIRE

A fire starter was probably the one thing that nobody needed at this time. Clearly that was what got them all into this mess. Still, if a similar situation had happened 1-2 months later, having a way to start a fire can save your life. Not only does it provide warmth, but it also is great at increasing your morale, and signalling for help. You don’t want to be in a situation like Tom Hanks in Cast Away where it takes you days and days before you figure out how to start a fire.

The article mentioned someone using their phone to find a new trail and navigate people to safety. Those this worked in this situation, they were lucky. Often there will be no cellphone reception, or a battery will die. Having a map and compass can greatly help when shit hits the fan and you are stuck trying to navigate.

MAP Rope GPS First Aid Safety Hiking

A repair kit probably wasn’t critical for an emergency like this, but who knows if some tool could have helped. A rope definitely could have come in handy since they had to make a few stream crossings at night, and tying a rope across the stream is a great way to give people a handhold/guide line. Similarly sun protection might not have been necessary thanks to available shade, but it is never a bad idea and can help you keep from being burned, along with protecting you from dehydration.





5 thoughts on “The Essentials of the Ten Hiking Essentials

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