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10 Essentials: Budget Edition

10 Essentials: Budget Edition

June 22, 2022
By Erin Trombley

The 10 Essentials are items widely regarded as essential for a safe and successful day hike. With these in your pack, you’ll have a good foundation for addressing backcountry challenges and emergencies during spring, summer, and fall.

We recognize that gear costs money, and that can be a barrier for some, so these suggestions include lower-cost alternatives. These items are important for safety, but that doesn’t mean they have to be expensive.   

Without further ado, here are the 10 Essentials—budget edition: 

  1. Navigation equipment 

An up-to-date paper map & compass can help you find your way in the backcountry.  And they don’t rely on batteries, so they won’t die on you! You can get a basic, decent compass for between $5 and $10, or look for a compass built into another item on this list (like a safety whistle). 

To learn how to use a map and compass, check out some of our upcoming workshops. 

  1. Sun Protection 

Pack sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat or visor. If you don’t already have these on hand, the local dollar store or other discount retailers should have everything you need for just a few dollars.  

  1. Insulation 

An extra set of non-cotton clothes can make the difference between a nice day in the woods, and an emergency. You might need an extra layer as you go up in elevation, if the weather changes, after the sun sets, or if you get wet.  

It’s important to avoid cotton because it absorbs and holds moisture against your skin, increasing the risk of hypothermia. Wool and synthetics like polyester draw moisture away and dry more quickly. Even if you’re only planning a day trip, bring clothes for an overnight. Nobody expects to be injured or lost, but it does happen. 

  1. Illumination 

Have you ever been in the woods after dark? If so, you know it gets DARK out there. Even if you’re just planning a day hike, your outing could take longer than planned and you can be out past sunset. Rangers rescue hundreds of people each year who get lost in the dark, so always carry a light source. 

You can get a headlamp that will do the job for between $1 and $10, depending on the features you want. A flashlight will also work just fine. Whichever you choose, remember to also bring replacement batteries. Your cell phone is not a reliable alternative, as it will quickly run out of battery. 

  1. First aid 

For first aid, we recommend some of the following:  

  • Bug repellant
  • Supplies for treating scrapes, bug bites, and blisters 
    • Antiseptic/antibiotic liquid or ointment 
    • Adhesive bandages 
    • Gauze and surgical tape 
    • Tweezers
    • An elastic bandage
  • OTC painkillers and allergy pills  
  • An instant cold pack.  

A basic pre-made kit costs about $10, but you can assemble one from supplies at home and supplement the rest for a few dollars. Put it into a zippered makeup or freezer bag to keep it dry. Carrying a whistle in your kit is a good idea too, in the event rescuers need to find you. 

  1. Repair kit 

A needle and thread, safety pins, and duct tape are the MVPs of the backcountry. Whether it’s a tear in your pants or a splintered fiberglass pole, you can patch it up with one of these. Duct tape can also be used to make a splint and for other first-aid uses. A pocketknife or multi-tool is handy too.  

  1. Bathroom kit 

A bathroom kit includes a trowel, toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and a zip-seal bag for carrying & disposing of used paper and hygiene products. You can get a trowel at the local dollar or hardware store.  

In some situations, digging a cathole 150 feet off-trail and away from water sources may not be possible. In that case, you might want to use a Biffy Bag or W.A.G. bag. You can get these for about $3 each. 

  1. Water 

We recommend bringing at least 2 liters of water for a day hike. Of course, everything from the temperature to elevation change can influence how much you should bring. The warmer it is and the harder you’re working, the more water you’ll need.  

A water filtration system and/or water purification tablets can lighten your load if you have access to water sources along your way. Water purification tablets run about $5-6, and water filter straws or other portable filters cost $10-20. Both will last a long time. Think of them as insurance in case you’re out longer or drink more than planned. 

  1. Food 

Fuel up before starting the day and bring enough food to have a bite to eat every hour or so to keep your energy up. Best choices are easily-digested foods high in carbs and good fats, as well as electrolytes. When you’re planning your trip, remember 2 things:  

  • Bring extra. If you’re planning a long hike, pack extra food in case your trip takes longer than expected.  Even if you don’t need it yourself, you might come upon someone who is injured or out of food, and you’ll have enough to share. 
  • Carry out all of your trash. With that in mind, you may want to repackage some of your foods into re-usable or collapsible containers and bring a dedicated bag or container to carry waste in.  
  1. Shelter 

If you find yourself needing to take shelter or sleep overnight, an emergency tent, tarp, or mylar space blanket will all work to keep you dry and relatively warm. Prices vary widely, but a basic tube tent starts around $6, emergency mylar blankets can be under $1, and a 6′ x 8′ tarp goes for under $5. Don’t forget to bring some rope or clothesline so you can suspend the middle of the tarp if you go that route.  

Need to rent a bear can or other gear? Need advice or help planning? Contact our expert staff at the High Peaks Information Center (518-523-3441, ext. 121), or at Cascade Welcome Center (518-837-5047).

Now get out there and have fun! 

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