Whether you are new to hiking or have been hiking since you could walk, everyone who heads out on the trail should carry the 10 Essentials. These items can help protect you from the elements, may get you out of an emergency situation, and will make hiking overall more comfortable.
You will see many different variations of the 10 Essentials out there on the internet, but they all reference the same ten principles.
You should carry a topographic map of the area you are hiking in and a compass, but more importantly, you need to know how to use these items before heading out on the trail. Know how to set the declination of your compass, orient your map, and take a bearing. You should also study your topo map and know how to read the contour lines. Your local REI offers Maps and Navigation classes if you want hands-on training, or you can find many websites explaining how to do so online.
2. Sun Protection
There's nothing worse than getting sunburned on the trail and it could lead to problems on the trail. Bring and apply sunscreen frequently. Consider bringing lip balm with sunscreen and sunglasses.
This is an extremely critical element of the 10 essentials and you should pay close attention to how much water you are bringing. As a general rule, you should be bringing at least half a liter of water per mile you hike, but you should always bring a little bit more than you think you need because weather conditions, your health, and the hike difficulty can cause you to require more. Use a hydration pack, Nalgene bottles, or regular plastic water bottles. You can carry a water filter or treatment system, but you need to know how to use it, and know exactly where sources of water are on your hike.
You should carry nutrient dense snacks that are high in carbohydrates and salts like trail mix, nuts & seeds, crackers, beef jerky, granola bars, durable fruits (like apples), and a sweet item. You should be eating something every hour or so of hiking, and it is a good idea to bring a sandwich for lunch on your hike. Be sure to pack enough food for an extra meal and snacks if the day hike goes longer than planned.
Having a proper first aid kit is critical and can prevent smaller things from becoming emergency situations. You must know how to use all of your items in your first aid kit. At a minimum, your kit should include treatments for blisters (moleskin patches), adhesive bandages of various sizes, gauze pads, adhesive tape, antiseptic wipes, disinfecting ointment, over-the-counter pain medication, and nitrile gloves. There are many pre-made kits out there that you can add to or subtract from, or you can make your own.
You may plan on going out on just a day hike, but unforeseen circumstances can cause you to need some kind of illumination if you are still out at dusk, or later into the night. Bring a headlamp or flashlight and have extra batteries.
You must carry some way to make fire, even if you are out for a day hike. If you choose to carry matches or a lighter, make sure they are kept in a waterproof container - they are useless to you if they get wet. You can also carry flint, but make sure you know how to use it before heading out on the trail.
You never know when you may need something to keep you warm, so bring a packable jacket or emergency reflective blanket just in case. Your hike may be warm during the day, but if you end up being out later into the evening, you may just need this warmth.
This essential is more critical for those who are doing longer, multi-day hikes as they may need additional tools for their stoves, mattresses, or sleeping pads. However, for the day hiker, you still should carry a knife and a small length of paracord as these two things have many uses for navigation, first aid, and protection. You can also bring a multi-tool if you want additional tools.
10. Emergency Shelter
Although you are taking a day hike, it is still a good idea to bring something that can be used as a shelter in case of quick weather changes, or if your hike goes longer than planned. You can bring a tarp, reflective blanket, or even a plastic trash bag that you can fit over you to protect you from rain.
These 10 essentials can make the difference between a fun hike and an emergency situation, so make it a habit to have these items in your pack whenever you go out on the trail. Experiment with the items you need while you're on the trail and figure out ways to pack them lighter. You won't regret having these items, and you may even help a fellow hiker along the way.