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The Mountaineers was organized as a Club in Seattle in 1906 to meet the needs of men and women in the Pacific Northwest who hiked and climbed in the North Cascades. Their standard text for these activities is "Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills", now in its 8th edition. The Mountaineers club became active in introducing people to the Wilderness and they began offering their annual Climbing Courses in the 1930s. It was soon determined that each participant in their activities must carry certain essential equipment. This equipment became known as The Ten Essentials. It is now known as THE TEN ESSENTIAL SYSTEMS.

As a teaching aid in Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills, the original traditional Ten Essentials were listed as follows:
1. Maps of the area; 2. Declination adjusted compass; 3. Flashlight, extra batteries/bulb; 4. Extra food; 5. Extra clothing; 6. Sunglasses and sun screen; 7. First aid kit; 8. Pocket knife; 9. Waterproof matches; 10. Fire starter. Across the nation, over the years, hikers, backpackers, climbing club and outdoor program participants, by the hundreds of thousands have memorized this list. The traditional Ten Essentials have been listed and discussed in countless books and magazine articles.

"The Ten Essentials", however, is a list of individual items from the 1930s neither ten nor essential. A powerful indictment of the list is that it does not even include water. Dating from the days before the invention of 3 ounce stoves and 8 ounce cans of Propane, it presumes that you can start a warming fire - which is likely impossible in blowing snow or in a snow cave, unless you "burned the fire starter, the map, your sunglasses, and your plastic whistle". The Oregon Episcopal School Tragedy

What it all comes down to is that all members of an outing’s group must be individually prepared for the inevitable unexpected situations requiring stranding in one place. The pooling of this personal equipment carried by each individual such as a foot square insulating summer "shorty pad" or extra clothing layers may help save the life of a member of the group. Simply advising people to carry "Supplies" is irresponsible. The new "Ten Essential Systems" is an up to date standard framework!


Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills, 7th and 8th editions, ©2003 and©2010 by The Mountaineers now list the TEN ESSENTIAL SYSTEMS
(The items listed under the headings are by Robert Speik, for

1. Navigation
Added to the obligatory topo map of the area imprinted with the UTM Coordinant grid (a USGS quad, 1-24,000 $7.00) and the clear base plate declination adjusted compass  (such as the Suunto M3D at REI) must be the ability to use them together. This requires simple training, study, and practice. Navigating with a map alone is also a necessary skill. Attach a whistle to your compass lanyard. Almost everyone will add an accurate current $100.00 GPS receiver such as the Garmin Venture HC. Learn to "use map, compass and GPS together". A "smart phone" simply does not replace your map, compass and GPS! If you do not have a topo map and compass you could be charged up to $500 per person rescued, under Oregon Rescue Statutes.

2. Sun Protection
Serious sun glasses and a lotion sunscreen are an obvious addition to a pack. Sun protection should come from SPF 35 sun screen lotion, dark glasses approved for altitude and reflective snow fields, and long sleeves, gloves and hat rated for strong sun. Have a sun skirt on the hat or wear a bandana under the hat and over your neck and ears.

3. Insulation (extra clothing)
This brings us to extra clothing - the most essential of the list. In Central Oregon, the weather can change in a very short time, leaving people shivering in shorts on a 10,000 foot summit and vulnerable to rain, sweat and wind induced hypothermia. Hiking fast may keep your body heat up, until you "bonk" or "run out of gas" (glycogen), or have to hike slowly with others, go slow to find your way or have to stop and tend an injured companion or stranger, becoming stranded overnight.

Cotton clothing, soaked in sweat, dew, rain or melted snow, loses 70% of its insulating value by conduction and evaporation and has caused the frostbite injury or death of too many people.

Synthetic layers of polypropylene, pile, fleece and Gortex are the equivalent to the wool underwear, pants, shirts, sweaters and coated nylon jackets of the 1970s and before. Polypro, pile, fleece and softshells and Gortex had not been invented in the 1960s when Everest was first summited. However, climbers all used layers, 1. to wick body moisture, 2. to adjust insulation and 3. to cut off wind and/or rain and wet snow. Remember, layers must be “pealed” to avoid sweat soaked clothes! All of this essential seasonal sized personal clothing and equipment must be accommodated inside a light, simple, sturdy day/summit pack large enough to hold it. Garments or equipment tied to the outside are likely to catch on something or get wet or lost.

A larger day/summit pack is needed for the light but bulky pile or wool insulation layers in the winter. Plan for a five pound pack with the Ten Essential Systems in summer, ten pounds in winter.
Here is a Gear List.

4. Illumination
A small two ounce led headlamp can assist in finding a lost or injured person. Also, note that many hiking groups have returned to the trailhead after dark. For serious early morning "alpine" starts, check on the new $50 Black Diamond Storm, a waterproof led-based, multi-purpose, helicopter-signaling 3.9 oz. wonder.

5. First-Aid Supplies
A first aid kit sized to the trip is a must. First aid supplies can fit in a Ziploc baggie and should deal with cuts and scrapes with small and large Band-Aids, Neosporin and mole skin. In June and July, add mosquito repellent for the woods. Have OTC drugs and a personal prescription pain medication, prescribed by your doctor for that possible broken ankle. Weight can be 4 ounces. Don't forget the toilet paper!

6. Fire
Waterproof matches and a fire starter can be combined in an adjustable propane pocket cigarette lighter or two. Remember, when you most need a fire, it will be windy, wet and cold. Do not depend on being able to start a fire. Learn how to stay warm without a fire. Don't try to be a "survivalist".

7. Repair Kit and Tools
A small knife should be light and sharp - a tool kit knife is heavy and of little use. I carry the smallest Swiss Army knife and six feet of gaffers tape or duct tape.

8. Nutrition (extra food)
Extra food should be carbohydrates rich in the form of easily digested quick acting fat-free fig newtons, jelly filled breakfast bars or ClifBars - with a bit of protean to aid utilization. Glycogen (sugar or starch) is the one essential fuel that must be replaced during a hard hike or climb or an unexpected cold wet night under a tree  - most people have ample stores of the other essential muscle fuel: fat. Learn about "bonking": Carboration and Hydration .

9. Hydration (extra water)
Add extra water or the equipment to obtain it (stove for snow or a filter for summer), to your list. In the summer you may need to drink a gallon or more per day. In the winter you may be able to get by with three quarts if you are careful not to sweat. Use electrolyte replacement powder such as Gookinaid or Gatorade.  Remember that only two quarts of water weigh almost four pounds plus 12 oz. for the two Nalgene plastic bottles!  Instead, use Nalgene or Platypus plastic bags that weigh one ounce per liter. Purification tablets take to much time, particularly in ice cold water. I use the new Sawyer Mini filter, 2 oz, and $25 in combination with my Nalgene bags - best system yet! You must learn more: Google this phrase: - dying from Hyponatremia -.

10. Emergency Shelter
Emergency shelter can range from a 9oz. Emergency Bivy Sack sold by Adventure Medical Kits, to a BD "Firstlight" four season single wall tent for two (or three?), only two pounds, a 9 ounce full insulating pad and 20 degree sleeping bag. You can not shelter on snow without the use of an insulating pad such as the Cascade Designs RidgeRest three-quarter length, 9 ounce ensolite foam pad, carried strapped to the side of your day or summit pack. I now carry the new Big Agnes Fly Creek UL-1, a 1lb, 11oz double wall three season tent through REI.

(11.) Communication
Carry your common digital cell phone in a warm pocket! Expensive "GPS Navigation Program Applications" are not helpful or necessary. Several cell phones in a group are far better than one. Call rescuers on your cell phone and give them your exact UTM Coordinates read from your Quad map alone or from your GPS in UTM NAD27, your current condition and proposed plans. If you can not "call" 911, mobile phone Providers such as Verizon, under E911 Regulations, may find your geographic latitude-longitude Coordinants, triangulated from your cell phone ping records. Most cell providers do not use coordinates from DOD GPS Satellites found by an optional extra "GPS" receiver (and expensive monthly GPS service Application) in a much more costly cell phone device. Cell providers (such as Verizon) obtain your geographic coordinates by triangulation from cell towers, (misnamed “GPS Coordinates” by cell phone marketers and the un-informed). The Sense of Cell. Under Oregon Rescue Statutes, if you do not have a means of communication to 911, you may be charged up to $500.00 per person for rescue services.

An option for many is to carry a $100.00 SPOT-2 Satellite Messenger which can give your family, friends or SAR your exact geographic Lat-Lon location from the on-board Spot-2 hand held GPS.
The $100.00 SPOT-3 Satellite Messenger can give your family, friends and/or 911 your exact location coordinates and check in "OK", or "I need help from my friends" or "I need Rescue, exactly here on this map"! (The message comes by text message or by email and includes an adjustable Google Map and satellite photo image.)  SPOT-3 Satellite Messenger.

This message/map function can be tested by sending unlimited messages home. If these "I am OK and located here on this map" messages go through, so will your call to 911. (A PLB can not be tested in this way.)

Current FCC E-911 Regulations require that cell phone Service Providers give 911 (PSAP Centers) the geographic location of a calling or a listening cell phone. Wireless network operators must provide the latitude and longitude of callers within 300 meters, within six minutes of a request by a PSAP. (911) Accuracy rates must meet FCC standards on average within any given participating PSAP service area by September 11, 2012.

Location information is not only transmitted to the call center for the purpose of sending emergency services to the scene of the incident, it is used by the wireless network operator to determine to which PSAP to route the call.

The "Ten Essential Systems" (c), has now been adopted by the Deschutes National Forest and listed and described in their Current Trail Conditions Report. Conditions

Current Oregon State SAR Statutes require that you carry a "means of communication" such as a cell phone or other communication device (such as the SPOT-2 Satellite Communicator).
An ordinary digital cell phone and/or a SPOT-2 personal Satellite Communicator can take the 'Search' out of Search and Rescue! Yuppie 911 Devices
Copyright© 1995-2015 by Robert Speik. All Rights Reserved.


Another Comment

A recent Wilderness Ranger Report from South Sister:
"Spent 4 hours in a minor S&R situation with a woman who fell at 8000’ and injured her hip (completely unprepared – Shorts, t-shirt, no headlamp, no overnight preparedness)"
"A personal first for me: A woman hiking with just her purse over her shoulder, intending on summiting. I sent her home well below tree line, as she didn’t have nary one item of the 10 essentials in her purple purse."
--Chris Sabo's periodic Current Trail Conditions Report, late-summer, 2012




Read more . . .
Gear grist, an article written for The Mountaineer, the monthly newsletter of The Mountaineers
Robert Speik writes: "Use your digital cell in the backcountry" for The Mountaineer
Pomona College Magazine provides "Expert Advice" from Robert Speik Class of '50
The new Ten Essentials, a Systems Approach, explained by The Mountaineers

What are the Four Basic Responsibilities?
What are the Ten Essential Systems for each back country traveler?
What does experience tell us about Light and Fast climbing?
What is the best traditional alpine mountaineering summit pack?
What is Light and Fast alpine climbing?
What do you carry in your day pack?      Photos?    
What do you carry in your winter day pack?       Photos?    
What should I know about "space blankets"?
Where can I get a personal and a group first aid kit?      Photos?

Which light backpack do you use for winter and summer?    Analysis   pdf 
What would you carry in your backpack to climb Shasta or Adams?   
What is the best traditional alpine mountaineering summit pack?
Photos of lite gear packed for a multi day approach to spring and summer summits
Backpack lite gear list for spring and summer alpine mountaineering    4 pdf pages

What does Steve House wear for light and fast climbing?
What clothing do you wear for Light and Fast winter mountaineering?
What do you carry in your winter day pack?       Photos?   
Which digital camera do you use in the mountains?
What about Boots and Shoes?    

  About Alpine Mountaineering:
  The Sport of Alpine Mountaineering
  Climbing Together
  Following the Leader
  The Mountaineers' Rope
  Basic Responsibilities       Cuatro Responsabiliades Basicas de Quienes Salen al Campo
  The Ten Essentials         Los Diez Sistemas Esenciales

  Our Leader's Guidelines:
  Our Volunteer Leader Guidelines
  Sign-in Agreements, Waivers and Prospectus     This pdf form will need to be signed by you at the trail head
  Sample Prospectus    Make sure every leader tells you what the group is going to do; print a copy for your "responsible person"
  Participant Information Form    This pdf form can be printed and mailed or handed to the Leader if requested or required
  Emergency and Incident Report Form    Copy and print this form. Carry two copies with your Essentials 
  Participant and Group First Aid Kit    Print this form. Make up your own first aid essentials (kits)


Mountain climbing has inherent dangers that can in part, be mitigated



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