Learn More - Ten Essential Systems

Ten Essential Systems
1. Navigation
2. Sun protection
3. Insulation (extra clothing)
4. Illumination
5. First aid supplies
6. Fire
7. Repair kit and tools with knife
8. Nutrition (extra food)
9. Hydration (extra water)
10. Emergency shelter
©2003, Ten Essential Systems reprinted with permission from Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills, 7th edition, edited by Stephen M Cox and Kris Fulsaas, The Mountaineers, Seattle.

The Ten Essential Systems Expanded
Why do I need so much stuff??
The first reason is basic risk management and goes back to your scouting days – be prepared. A sudden shower, a skinned elbow, a creek crossing, a twisted ankle – all are unsurprising events in the backcountry. WTS helps prepare you so that these are minor blips and not disasters. Second, if you or someone in your party cannot safely get back to the trailhead before nightfall, you need to be able to spend a night unharmed in the backcountry. With luck, you will never need many of these items in your pack. Consider them life insurance.

1. Navigation (map, compass, flagging tape)
The foremost necessity to avoid getting lost is a topographic map (in a protective case or baggie) along with the skill to read it. The maps available at visitor centers or entrance stations are typically line drawings of trails and lack the topographic details needed for routefinding. A compass is necessary, especially if you get off course or seek a particular destination in the backcountry. It is reliable, lightweight, and battery-free. A GPS receiver may be nice, but requires working batteries, user skills, and reliable electronics. Flagging (surveyors’) tape can mark a rescue site and the return route for search and rescue.

2. Sun Protection (sunscreen, sun glasses, lip balm, hat)
Sunglasses and sunscreen are indispensable at Colorado’s altitude. Ultraviolet (UV) rays penetrate clouds and can burn your skin or eyes even on cloudy days. Wraparound lens are useful. Your sunscreen should be rated sun protection factor (SPF) 30 or higher and block both UVA and UVB rays. Your lip balm should be at least SPF 15. A hat or cap plus clothing with ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) offer added protection.

3. Insulation (extra clothing)
In the Colorado mountains, you must plan for a change in the weather! Afternoon storms, wind, and sudden cold fronts are the norm throughout the year. Prepare for the worst conditions that you could realistically encounter, including staying overnight. Raingear, a hat, mittens or gloves, and extra socks are necessities. Since we lose 40% of our body heat through our heads, a cap is a major aid in staying warm. Long underwear and a vest are light in weight and take up little room. Your pack may not be waterproof. Carry a pack cover or trash bag to protect it or place your gear in a trash bag in your pack.

4. Illumination (flashlight or headlamp, extra batteries, extra bulbs)
A reliable light source can save your life! It is essential if you need to travel or set up camp after nightfall. High output LED lights (1- and 3-watt) use little power and are very long-lasting. A headlamp is very useful. The strobe mode uses little power and is useful in an emergency. Red modes preserve night vision. Alkaline batteries lose power in extreme cold – keep them insulated or close to your body. Carry extra batteries and check your lights regularly to be sure they are still working.

5. First aid supplies (plus toilet paper)
Your first aid kit is for YOUR use on YOURSELF. Group trips may necessitate combining resources based on number of people, duration, and potential risk. Preassembled kits are handy, but they are over-priced and often do not contain the most useful items. Zipper baggies can serve as waterproof containers. A compact guide for wilderness first aid is very helpful. Knowledge weighs nothing. CMC recommends you take at least basic first aid and CPR courses, and preferably, wilderness first aid.

6. Fire (waterproof matches, lighter, fire starter)
Starting a fire in the wind, rain, and/or dark is not as easy as it sounds. Carry plenty of stormproof matches in a waterproof container. A windproof, water-resistant lighter is useful. You need a product that works the first time, every time. You will also need something that will burn for several minutes to start tinder and twigs –tea lights, birthday candles, fire ribbon, petrolatum-saturated cotton balls. Your instructors will demonstrate various fire starters on the Survival Field Day.

7. Repair kit and tools (knife, whistle, signal mirror, repair tape)
Your knife should be very accessible and operable with one hand – picture yourself trapped under a rock in a stream, needing to cut off your pack. A multifunction knife or tool is useful for cutting up tinder, basic equipment repairs, food preparation, and first aid. Your whistle to signal an emergency should be very accessible and loud enough to be heard at a distance. Your compass mirror can also serve as a signaling device. An easy way to carry duct tape is to wrap it around your water bottle or trekking poles; electricians’ tape is light and compact.

8. Nutrition (enough for your expected trip plus extra food)
Carry enough food that you can stay overnight. Digesting food helps keep you warm and provides energy for muscles and brain. Ready-to-eat items with long storage life – energy bars, nuts, dried fruit, and jerky – are calorically dense.

9. Hydration (enough for your expected trip plus extra water)
Dehydration can cause apathy, confusion, nausea, and fatigue – and occurs before you have a sensation of thirst. High altitude increases the amount of fluid lost through respiration; cold weather or wind may cause you to underestimate the amount of fluid lost through perspiration. You need to carry at least two liters or quarts per day, enough that you can consume a few ounces every 20 or so minutes. A collapsible water container and a means for treating backcountry water will enable you to obtain an emergency supply from a local stream.

10. Emergency shelter (pad, tarp and cord, bivouac sack or plastic bags)
These items will help keep an unexpected overnight stay from becoming fatal. They may include a closed-cell foam pad for insulation from the ground, large lawn bags, space blanket, lightweight bivy sack (fabric or high-tech breathable material), lightweight tarp and 100 ft. of cord to lash it into place.