Whether you are new to hill walking or a well-experienced mountaineer, it’s always important to sufficiently prepare for each hike to make sure you can complete it safely. There are a number of ways to prepare such as ensuring you are fit and able enough to do the hike, checking the weather forecast before taking off and ensuring you have the right equipment. In this article we are going to take a look at the classic list of essentials for mountaineering safety.
The Ten Essentials
The ten essentials list was officially developed in 1974 by the Mountaineers club and was based on two basic but key questions; First, can you respond positively to an accident or emergency and second, can you safely spend a night or more out on the mountain?. It’s important to remember that the essentials you pack should be based around the nature of your trip, but essential equipment can be a life saver in an emergency. Here are the mountaineers’ ten essentials.
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The first essential on the list is navigation- this includes equipment such as a compass, a map, a phone, altimeter and batteries. You don’t necessarily need all of these items, but it is important to make sure that you have the right equipment to safely navigate your way to the summit and back again. There are other navigational tools you could bring to assist you such as route markets, route descriptions and even photos.
Another useful piece of equipment to carry with you is a headlamp or torch because even if you plan to be back to base before dark, it’s better to bring something to illuminate the way just in case you get lost or come into a difficult situation which prevents you from completing your hike as quick as you expected. We would also recommend bringing a spare set of batteries and bulbs to the safe side.
Next on the list of essential items is sun protection such as sunscreen and sunglasses to protect the skin and eyes. This can be particularly important if you are climbing to high altitudes where the eyes are particularly vulnerable to radiation. If you don’t protect your eyes when climbing to high altitudes with areas of snow and ice you could be left with an excruciatingly painful condition called ‘snow blindness’.
Another essential item we would always recommend carrying with you on any mountaineering expedition is a first aid kit along with the knowledge of how to use it. Ultimately, which items you bring inside the first aid kit can vary depending on the nature of each trip including the difficulty level and the length of time the trip might take.
A versatile piece of equipment that is deemed an essential for mountain climbing is a knife as they can be useful when it comes to first aid, food preparation, repairs and even climbing. On smaller trips, many people prefer to carry a small multitool but there are a range of products available to choose from to best suit your needs.
Having the right equipment to start and sustain a fire in the case of an emergency could be the difference between life and death. Many climbers will carry a small butane lighter and firestarters to make an emergency campfire. If you happen to be climbing to a particularly high altitude with snow or a glacier trip where you will not be able to find firewood, many are advised to carry a small stove as an emergency heat and water source.
Another essential piece of equipment you should carry is a form of emergency shelter to protect you from rain and wind- this could be a tube tent or even a big plastic bag. If you want to be extra prepared and have the space to carry one, an insulated sleeping pad is a great addition to your emergency shelter as it can reduce heat loss whilst sitting on wet terrain and snow.
An essential for any high risk trip would be enough water or the means to obtain and purify water. It’s a good idea to always carry a minimum of one water bottle which is filled with drinking water
Another essential item to bring even on shorter trips is a supply of extra food you will be thankful for if your trip takes an unexpected turn, you get lost or have to slow down due to injury. For a shorter trip, one day’s worth of extra food should suffice, but for a longer trek you may require more. It’s best if extra food does not require cooking, is easily digestible and stores well for long periods. Examples include nuts, jerky, dried fruit and granola.
It’s always a good idea to bring spare clothes in case you need an extra layer for warmth or need something dry to put on. However, when it comes to bringing extra clothes for mountaineering, these layers could help you survive long, inactive hours that could occur on a longer trip. A good rule of thumb to follow is to ask the question ‘what clothes are needed to survive the night in my emergency shelter in the worst conditions that could be encountered on this expedition?’
Other ways to prepare for mountaineering:
Now we have covered the mountaineers ten essentials, we wanted to discuss some other ways you can prepare for a hike to make sure you are safe and protected. Prior to any climb, it’s important to work out whether you are physically able to safely reach the summit and get back down the mountain again- a good way to do this is to practise and build up your experience and fitness levels with smaller, less risky hikes.
We also recommend paying close attention to the weather forecast right up until when you begin your climb and where possible- throughout. This is because mountains are temprementale environments where the weather is unpredictable and can change quickly. You may set off from the foot of the mountain in what appears to be sunshine, warm weather, only to reach the summit surrounded by dark clouds, heavy rainfall and high winds. This also supports the reasoning behind bringing extra clothes and emergency shelter in case the weather takes you by surprise.
Finally, if you are an avid hillwalker, a regular mountaineer or work as part of a mountain rescue team for your occupation, a good way to prepare is by ensuring you have the right financial protection to cover yourself, your family and your home in the event of an accident or worse. One company who specializes in mountaineering life insurance, critical illness cover and income protection is Summit Financial Services. With close links to the British Mountaineering Council and other mountaineering bodies unlike other insurance companies, Summit Financial Services can provide the best quote which already includes cover for your mountaineering activities. This avoids any extra costs or exclusions arising after your application has been submitted to the insurer.