Dan's Hiking Pages: Hikes in the San Gabriels and Beyond
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With the wealth of information available today, there's no reason why a person should be unaware of the basic skills to enjoy the sport of hiking safely and comfortably. Here's some of my learnings to add to the knowledge base:

The Observant Hiker:
The SNAK Approach to Skillful Hiking
Years ago when my son was in Boy Scouts, I was tasked with presenting a talk on hiking. As I pondered hiking, it seemed that everything boiled down to one key skill — being observant. A good hiker is an observant hiker. He or she is aware and alert and takes care to observe, always. And as I contemplated what a hiker should be observant for, it fell into four areas. A good hiker should be observant for safely, navigation, knowledge, and appreciation. And those four items conveniently spell the acronym SNAK. Read full article.

winter iconSeasons of the San Gabriels
Minding the seasons is an important practice for safely and enjoyably hiking in the San Gabriel Mountains. Read more here.

kid iconTips for Hiking with Children
Helping childern gain a love and appreciation for nature and the great outdoors is a wonderful gift to them. Read my blog post for some helpful tips.

BooksHiking Books
There are several good guide books for hiking in Southern California. Read my book reviews here.

Hiking Essentials

Outdoor experts agree that there are essential items that must be carried along on outdoor adventures. These have been dubbed the "Ten Essentials." The origin of the Ten Essentials dates back to climbing courses in the 1930s developed by The Mountaineers, a Seattle-based hiking, climbing, and conservation organization. The Mountaineers formalized the Ten Essentials in 1974, when the iconic list debuted in the third edition of Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills (aka Freedom).

Now "Ten Essentials" lists are published in numerous places. The number of items, however, has grown to be around 15. To keep the iconic number of ď10,Ē various list makers group items together. For example, the 10 essentials published by the Boy Scouts of America combines matches and fire starters as a single item, as well as and map and compass. The Sierra Club lists those items as separately, but groups together extra food and water. Hiking guru Karen Berger lists extra clothing and rain gear as one item, while the Scouts list them separately. And so on.

This grouping of items together has become known as a ďsystemsĒ approach. Below are the systems as articulated by The Mountaineers. They call them "Ten Essentials: Freedom 9 SystemsĒ (from Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills (9th Edition, Nov. 2017).

Ten Essentials Systems (From The Mountaineers)

  1. Navigation: Map, altimeter, compass, [GPS device], [PLB or satellite communicators], [extra batteries or battery pack]
  2. Headlamp: Plus extra batteries
  3. Sun protection: Sunglasses, sun-protective clothes, and sunscreen
  4. First aid: Including foot care and insect repellent (if required)
  5. Knife: Plus repair kit
  6. Fire: Matches, lighter and tinder, or stove as appropriate
  7. Shelter: Carried at all times (can be light emergency bivy)
  8. Extra food: Beyond minimum expectation
  9. Extra water: Beyond minimum expectation, or the means to purify
  10. Extra clothes: Beyond minimum expectation

Here are some sources for more description of the essentials:

To reiterate, virtually all the lists that I have seen have nearly all of these items, it's just that they group some of the items to keep the list at ten. So no matter how you want to count them, consider carefully the importance of each item and realize that you are risking your health and safety, and maybe even your life, if you neglect to carry these items when heading off into the wild outdoors.

Also keep in mind that the amount of equipment you bring depends upon your hike. Not all hikes are created equal. For me, my bare minimum is the fanny pack I describe below. For example, if itís summertime and Iím hiking a short, easy trail close to home, I may carry only my fanny pack with water bottles in the side pockets. On the other hand, if Iím hiking in the remote high county, Iíll carry a full complement of gear. As The Mountaineers state, "The Ten Essentials is a guide that should be tailored to the nature of the trip. Weather, remoteness from help, and complexity should be factored into the selected essentials."

Other items: There are other items that I'm surprised that are not on some lists, but which I deem essential or, at least, standard equipment which I carry on nearly every hike. Hereís a list:

More Essentials or Real Important Items:

  • Whistle. This item is often mentioned in the literature, and I think that most everyone would agree that it is an essential item. It's just that itís often not included in the list of essentials. But in my book, a whistle is indeed essential. I think of the hiker who fell into a crevasse in Joshua Tree, and it took rescuers five days to find him. He had no whistle and no way of signaling his location! This point also underscores that even a short one-mile nature walk can turn out disastrous. Remember, three shorts blasts on the whistle is the universal signal for help.
  • Tissue. I suppose one could use a shirt sleeve, bandana, or a fig leaf, but I'd much rather use a tissue if I've got to wipe my nose or bottom. Some people may simply include tissue as part of the first aid kit, but I prefer to have it on the list, particularly since it's something I use often. I keep my tissue in a plastic baggy, and I carry an extra baggy for the used tissue.
  • Watch. A timepiece, to me, is an essential navigation aid. I never hit the trail without it. In fact, I use it more than most items on the list of essentials, including my compass.
  • Pencil and paper. I've seen this listed as part of the first aid kit, but I'd prefer to see it stand alone. I keep a hike log on every hike. Additionally, paper could be used to write a note in an emergency. I always carry a spare pencil.
  • Bandana. Maybe this is not considered an essential, or perhaps it's included in a first aid kit. But for me, I never hike without it. In fact, I carry two, a clean one in my first aid kit for emergencies, and one in my pocket for wiping my sweaty brow. Consider some of its uses: head band, handkerchief, water filter, sling, bandage, padding a hotspot, dust mask, flag, washcloth, towel, hot pad, etc.
  • Wet wipes. These are marvelous inventions which I list as must-carry equipment. I have some pre-wrapped towellets which are included in my first-aid kit, but I don't really use these. They end up getting tossed out and replaced with the regular rotation of first aid supplies. But I do use regular wet wipes a lot. Since we use them in our household, I put a few in a baggy and carry them in an outer pocket of my daypack. They come in handy for such things as washing my hands or face, cleaning up a skinned knee, or whipping off a piece of equipment. I put the used ones in the same baggy as used tissue.
  • Powder. My feet love to be powdered. I pack a little travel-size container and refresh my feet on a long hike. It rides in a baggy, just in case the container comes open.
  • Hand sanitizer. Another great invention! I carry a little half-once bottle of Purell (actually, originally it was Purell, but I refill the bottle with whatever brand we happen to have on hand). Again, I carry it in it's own little baggy.
  • Insect repellent. In some areas in some seasons, bugs can be a nightmare. A repellent with deet works the best.
  • Plastic garage bag. A small white kitchen trash bag can be a very handy item for such things as carrying wet clothing, protection from rain, catching rain, making a ground cover, or for cleaning up litter from the trail.
  • Space blanket. I'll toss this inexpensive foil sheet into my pack if I'm going on a hike into higher elevations or deep into the back country. Its few ounces of weight are nothing compared to its benefit in an emergency.

Other Items:

These are things I carry to enhance the pleasure and safety on a hike:

  • Camera. I love to have a photo record of my outings.
  • Binoculars. Great for looking at landmarks from a mountain peak, viewing animals, or scoping out a route.
  • Magnifying glasses. I started carrying a pair as my middle-aged eyes where not as good at reading the fine print on a map. But they also prove useful in getting a close-up view in removing a splinter or studying a flower or bug.
  • Trail guides. I usually make a copy of the trail description from the book I'm using — much lighter than carrying the book. I also sometimes carry nature study materials — field guides or plant lists, etc.
  • Cell phone. Often I don't get reception on a hike, but sometimes I do. Nice to have along just in case.
  • Two-way radios. I carry these sometimes, particularly if I'm with a group.
  • Gloves. If I suspect that the weather may be cold, I'll add some knit gloves to the pack. If I anticipate bushwhacking or rock climbing, I'll carry a pair of leather work gloves.
  • Prunners. Garden clippers have become a standard part of my hiking equipment. I carry them along if I'm going to be hiking an unfamiliar trail which may not get regular maintenance, or if I am exploring or anticipate forging through brush. Leather work gloves are a nice partner for the clippers.

Other Items to Consider:

  • GPS device. These high-tech navigational aids can greatly enhance the accuracy of knowing where you are, and they can be a lot of fun, too. But for me, I still find a map and compass do just fine, particularly if I am hiking established trails.
  • Altimeter. This tool is also helpful for navigation in telling your elevation.
  • Pedometer. I wear a Fitbit every day, thus it's included as a hiking tool. But I still rely on my map and watch to help me gauge the mileage, or a GPS.
  • Thermometer. I'm often curious of just how hot or cold it is. A thermometer can provide useful data to add to your learnings.
  • Trekking poles / Walking stick. Many hikers and experts extol the benefits of using hiking poles in your hands to aid in balance and traction as you hike. Others prefer a walking stick. Personally, I don't like either. I like my hands free. But as an exception, if I am going to be climbing a steep grade, doing a lot of stream crossings, or blazing off trail through brush or grass. I pack one or both of my retractable treking poles to use as may be needed.

How I Carry It All:

Fanny pack. I have a little fanny pack which is my hiking kit. It includes many of my essentials: compass, pocket knife, water proof matches (regular stick matches wrapped in plastic and carried in a 35mm film container), fire starter (candle), flash light, extra bulb, sun screen, lip block (extra one), bandana, emergency poncho, whistle, water purification tablets, repellent, extra pencil, coins, hand sanitizer, and my first aid kit, which includes, among the standard supplies, Benadryl stick (for bug bits), ace bandage, and Q-tips.

I pack everything in separate baggies, which keeps it all dry and clean, and protects against leaks (it's a real bummer, for example, if the sun screen gets all over everything). I check the batteries in the flashlight before a hike. I always have one battery in the flashlight flipped around in the backwards position, preventing it from turning on accidentally and using up the batteries. I always keep my fanny pack packed and ready to go. It makes it real easy to grab it whether I'm going on a long hike or a short stroll. It also makes a great go bag for emergencies!

Dan Simpson and his trusty Camelbak

Daypack. I use a Camelbak Trail Blazer. I love it. It has a two-liter hydration system, which sure beats the canteen I used to carry.

Main compartment:

  • long-sleeved shirt (2nd layer), synthetic-fiber fleece (3rd layer, if needed), weather-proof jacket (4th layer, rarely packed)
  • beanie, knit gloves, scarf (packed only on a rare cold-weather hike)
  • zip-on pant legs
  • extra socks (wool and polypropolean)
  • powder
  • adhesive tape (I keep the socks, powder, and tape in separate zip-lock baggies all in a one large baggy. Makes it real easy to pull out my foot-care bag when it's time to refresh my feet.)
  • Food (I keep my emergency food in a separate bag from my lunch.)
  • Extra water (besides the two liters in the hydration system, I carry one or two half-liter bottles of water.

Outer pocket:

  • tissue
  • wet wipes
  • extra baggies
  • extra pencil/paper, magnifying glasses
  • car keys
  • wallet (or just the vital items in a baggy)
  • camera (or sometimes in main compartment or pants pocket)
  • cell phone
  • bug repellent
  • trail mix

Side pockets/straps:

  • topo map (if it the full-sized rolled one)
  • prunners
  • garbage bag
  • jacket (when necessary)

Pant pockets (cargo pants):

  • hike log / pencil
  • trail notes and/or map
  • lip block
  • bandana
  • comb
  • Sometimes other things from the pack end up in my pockets (trail mix, camera, tissue, cell phone, two-way radio)


  • fanny pack with binoculars case fastened to the strap, and sometimes the camera. In recent years, however, I've been putting the fanny pack in my pack.


  • sun hat (with chin strap), or sometimes a baseball cap
  • sun glasses (with strap)

Be you. Be prepared. Be smart. Enjoy!

Ultimately, you'll want to find your own systems and do what works for you. Make good choices about what you need for any given hike. Continually be developing your hiking craft for a safe and enriching outdoor experience. icon

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This page was last updated January 30, 2020.