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What to do with your 10 essentials

If you’re carrying the 10 essentials when you hike, you’re prepared for the worst. But if it does, what do you do? The first thing to remember is not to panic. Take a deep breath and know that you’ve got what you need to get out of whatever sticky situation you’re in. Emotions like panic, anxiety, and fear can keep you from thinking clearly and making good decisions.

After that, remember the acronym STOP. First of all, Stay put. So often, rescuers find hikers who have exhausted themselves and their resources by walking in circles. Wandering around won’t change the situation and chances are better that someone will find you if you stay put. Then Think about what to do. Look around and assess where you are and what time of day it is. Hopefully, you’ve let someone know where you are and when you are supposed to be back. If you can call for help, do so now. Next, Observe where you are and what you have with you. If you need to be rescued, it might not happen until the next day. Therefore, are you in a safe spot to spend the night, or should you move to higher ground or a nearby clearing? Finally, make a Plan. If you are lost, injured, or stranded and it is late in the day, you might want to consider how to prepare for the coming darkness.

You’ll need three things to help you survive your current situation: a fire, shelter, and a way to signal for help. Building a fire is always a good line of defense against cold and loneliness. Gather tinder, kindling, and logs while you have daylight. Locate your emergency light source so that you have it when it gets dark. Once you’re ready to start your fire, start thinking about shelter for the night. Hopefully, you’ve packed warm clothes, an emergency bivvy, or a large plastic garbage bag to help shield you from the dropping temperatures. If not, you may need to construct a stick lean-to or shelter with a pile of leaves. Lastly, signal for help. Three of anything can alert someone of an emergency. Use the smoke from your fire to signal with three bursts of smoke, three blasts from a whistle, or three flashes from a mirror.

Staying calm and clear-headed could save your life. No matter the number of resources you have with you, your brain is the most valuable. Think through the situation and make the best decisions to keep yourself alive. Remember, you can go three days without water and three weeks without food, but only three hours without warmth. Therefore, hunger and thirst aren’t your priorities. Secure a fire and shelter first, keep sending signals, and then consider your options for water and food.


Being prepared with the 10 essentials is important, but so is preparing your body for the trail with hiking-specific training. If you're looking for help improving your hiking fitness, schedule a consultation and learn how you can be a better and healthier hiker!

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