Essentials for outdoor safety

Most Alaskans love to hike and be outdoors; it is something that brings us together and is a reason so many of us live here. The Alaska wilderness is one of great beauty and awe-inspiring power, yet can also be harsh and dangerous place where many people make mistakes throughout their journeys.

A group of mountaineers in the 1930’s started compiling a list of the “top ten essentials” in order to educate the public what to bring on their adventures.

Over the years, these essentials have expanded, changed and even contracted. Some people believe less is more, or that it changes with the climate and seasons. Sometimes these lists are built around personal preference and others try to hold everything you will ever need.

The Mountaineers, a Seattle-based organization for climbers and adventurers, were the authors of the original list and said the purpose of the list is to be able to respond safely to an accident or emergency. It also starts preparing you to safely spend a night, or more, outdoors.

The original list was composed of: a map, compass, sunglasses and sunscreen, extra clothing, a headlamp or flashlight, first aid supplies, a form of fire starter, knife, extra food and shelter. Most people have deemed this list a little out of date and have built on it. The Sierra Club has published their version of the ten essentials, which tries to be a bit more encompassing. Their list adds to the original with more details and adding a new criterion: a signaling device.

Karen Berger, a GORP expert hiker, made her own as well. GORP is an organization that works to educate and show the public adventure travel and outdoor recreation. Berger’s list is slightly slimmer that the normal lists, making one believe that she thinks less is more. Her list is comprised of a knife or multi-tool, first aid supplies, extra clothing, flashlight with extra batteries and rain gear. It also includes a water bottle, map and compass, matches and fire starter, sun protection and trail food. It leaves behind shelter and a signaling device while providing something more specific like rain gear. Her list seems to be more for a day hike than a weekend trip.

The Mountaineers published and updated a modern list in 2003 that puts the criteria in “systems”. REI promotes this list on their website. This lists puts things in groups such as navigation, sun protection, insulation, illumination and first aid. It also has fire, repair kit and tools, nutrition, hydration, and emergency shelter.

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The navigation system is defined as a topographic map and a compass, while the sun protection shows sunglasses and sunscreen. Insulation should be extra clothing, according to the season, and illumination is a headlamp. Nutrition is extra food and hydration means extra water along with a filter or chemical treatment to acquire water. These lists all suggest that each member of the group carries their own gear in case of separation.

Wil Rickards, UAA’s own outdoor education professor, doesn’t necessarily have his own list, but says things are purely situational.

“If its one thing you’re going to bring, it’s an open mind, thinking things through,” Rickards said.

Rickards said it is about when and where, rather than having an all-encompassing list for everything. You shouldn’t have to carry the same amount of gear on a hour-long hike as you would for a weekend trip. Rickards offers his own guidelines with clothes and layers protecting hands and head, shelter, food, water and means to get it, fire starters and signals.

“That original list- we don’t have to carry it all now,” Rickards said. “You want to cover your bases.”

With winter coming, many differences go into gear selection. In an Alaska summer, you might not need a headlamp but you sure need sunscreen. In the winter, you might leave behind a sun hat for extra layers. With the changing of seasons, especially in Alaska, everything changes. Your nutrition should be much different with more fat and calories in the winter. The types of clothing and layers differ, as does your shelter.

If you’re always following lists and thinking less, you will get yourself into more trouble, Rickards said. You need to look at and choose your gear for an outing based on whether you can rescue or look after yourself in the type of environment and season you’re going out in.

“Number one: engage your brain,” Rickards said.