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Survival Skills: The Ten Essentials, Then and Now

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July 07, 2014
Survival Skills: The Ten Essentials, Then and Now - 2

Ever heard of the Ten Essentials? The original list of Ten Essentials was drawn up in the 1930’s to aid mountain climbers and outdoorsmen. A Seattle-based group called the Mountaineers designed the list for two reasons. First, it gave people a list of gear to acquire in case of emergency or accident. Second, it provided resources in the event someone was forced to spend an unexpected night–or longer–in the wilderness.

In 2003, the Mountaineers updated the list by focusing on systems rather than ten specific items. Does this list work for hunters, anglers, survivalists, and other outdoors lovers? See for yourself.

The Classic Ten Essentials

1. Map

2. Compass

3. Sunglasses and sunscreen

4. Extra clothing

5. Flashlight

6. First-aid supplies

7. Fire starter

8. Matches

9. Knife

10. Extra food

The Updated Ten Essential Systems

1. Navigation (map and compass)

2. Sun protection (sunglasses and sunscreen)

3. Insulation (extra clothing)

4. Illumination (headlamp/flashlight)

5. First-aid supplies

6. Fire (waterproof matches/lighter/candles)

7. Repair kit and tools

8. Nutrition (extra food)

9. Hydration (extra water)

10. Emergency shelter

Side By Side

The original list includes some great choices, which could help anyone survive an unforeseen situation. Matches, knife, and food qualify as “can’t miss” survival selections. And while the woodland hunter or hiker may not need the sunglasses and sunscreen, they’re important to mountaineers who must battle through snow and ice.

Jumping forward eighty years: the updated list is conveniently compartmentalized, but it also reflects two game changers. Hydration and emergency shelter are the two most critical elements of survival (barring any first-aid items necessary for unanticipated injuries). Water and shelter are glaringly absent in the original Ten Essentials, and the new list thankfully spells this out for a new generation of outdoor adventurers.

My takeaway from this comparison is that the new list is unquestionably superior to its predecessor because it provides a great framework for any outdoor enthusiast to assemble the necessary lifesaving gear. That said, the old list is better than no list at all.

Some Extras?

You bet your pack should contain a few additions. Neither list includes an item for audible signaling. Though the flashlight could signal your position at night, a whistle will work day or night to help attract attention and possibly rescue. Similarly, a signal mirror can also help to signal your distress. But the best signal of all is some form of communication device. Two-way radios, a charged cell phone, or a satellite phone should allow you to call for help more effectively than any rudimentary tool. Add some water-purification items and cordage, and you’ll have a fairly complete survival kit based on the Ten Essentials. 

So, what are your own Ten Essentials?

Comments (2)

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from ozarkghost wrote 1 week 3 days ago

I could get along with either list but what I did not see on either was a signal flare. Pen flares can be used in both daylight and low light conditions for signaling and don't take up much room or weigh a whole lot.

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from Tioughnioga wrote 1 week 3 days ago

I'm no huge fan of TV survival shows or YouTube "bushcrafters" (no big critic of them, either; some are pretty good), but I do like to think of kit-building in terms of Dave Canterbury's 5 C's: A form of cutting tool, container, cordage, cover, and combustion. That's the basic survival kit. Then he adds 5 more to make the 10 C's, survival plus multi-use items to make the surviving easier: Candle, cotton (not to wear, but use for char cloth, bundling, bandages), cargo (duct) tape, a canvas (sail) needle, and compass. I do think that the second 5 of Canterbury's 10 Cs include some debatable items (sure, a cotton bandanna can make a bandage, but you should still have a more thorough first-aid kit in the backcountry; similarly, I go with more fire aids than just a candle), but I also think that he expects you to modify it according to your own needs and experiences. My personal essentials include more food than most people probably take, simply because I can't think if I'm hungry, and that would not be good in a bad situation (I also get really crabby, and I'd want to be able to give a friendly hello to the SAR team when they show up). I always have vacuum-packed meat snacks, CLIF bars, etc. salted all around my kit and person.

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from Tioughnioga wrote 1 week 3 days ago

I'm no huge fan of TV survival shows or YouTube "bushcrafters" (no big critic of them, either; some are pretty good), but I do like to think of kit-building in terms of Dave Canterbury's 5 C's: A form of cutting tool, container, cordage, cover, and combustion. That's the basic survival kit. Then he adds 5 more to make the 10 C's, survival plus multi-use items to make the surviving easier: Candle, cotton (not to wear, but use for char cloth, bundling, bandages), cargo (duct) tape, a canvas (sail) needle, and compass. I do think that the second 5 of Canterbury's 10 Cs include some debatable items (sure, a cotton bandanna can make a bandage, but you should still have a more thorough first-aid kit in the backcountry; similarly, I go with more fire aids than just a candle), but I also think that he expects you to modify it according to your own needs and experiences. My personal essentials include more food than most people probably take, simply because I can't think if I'm hungry, and that would not be good in a bad situation (I also get really crabby, and I'd want to be able to give a friendly hello to the SAR team when they show up). I always have vacuum-packed meat snacks, CLIF bars, etc. salted all around my kit and person.

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from ozarkghost wrote 1 week 3 days ago

I could get along with either list but what I did not see on either was a signal flare. Pen flares can be used in both daylight and low light conditions for signaling and don't take up much room or weigh a whole lot.

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