10 Essentials for Hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains

Packing the 10 Essentials for Hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains is like your insurance policy for a back country emergency. Ninety-nine percent of the time you will not need them but when you do, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

The 10 Essentials were originally conceived in the 1930’s by The Mountaineers club based in Seattle, WA. For over eighty years the 10 Essentials were the standard until 2003 when the group updated the list to a “systems” approach instead of an individual items list. This systems approach categorizes necessities allowing a more thorough level of preparedness.

10 Essential Systems for Hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains:

1    Navigation (map/compass/GPS)
2    Sun Protection (sunscreen/sunglasses)
3    Insulation (extra dry clothing)
4    Illumination (headlamp/flashlight)
5    First-aid Kit/Supplies
6    Fire (waterproof matches/lighter)
7    Repair Kit and Tools
8   Nutrition (extra food)
9   Hydration (extra water/water purification system)
10 Emergency Shelter (Mylar blanket)

Here are the many advantages to the systems approach to the 10 Essentials for Hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains.

Navigation – Map and compass are viewed as a single necessity. Know how to use them. Unless you plan to walk an impossible to miss footpath, invest in a quality topographic map for the area you plan to explore. A GPS is great as long as the batteries last and you know how to operate it.

Sun Protection – Especially at the higher elevations in the National Park, this can be critical. There is nothing worse than a nasty sun burn after a great hike. Even on a hazy day, your skin is at risk for overexposure.

Insulation – Conditions change fast in the Smoky Mountains and hypothermia is a real threat year-round under the right conditions.  An abundance of rainfall is what makes the Smokies so lush and biologically diverse, so there is always a good chance for rain. Always carry rain gear and wear quick-dry clothing; avoid cotton clothing.

Illumination – At HeySmokies we prefer headlamps over flashlights. Headlamps leave your hands free for other things and many come with a strobe feature to signal for help. Always make sure you have a new battery or extra batteries for your light.

First-aid Kit/Supplies – Pre-assembled first-aid kits are inexpensive and take the guess work out of what to include. We like the REI Day Hiker First-Aid Kit for two. It contains an assortment of bandages and gauze with tape, Moleskin, antiseptic wipes and ointments, medications like ibuprofen and antihistimine tablets, a pair of little scissors and tweezers. The REI kit even includes a guide for CPR and first-aid on the trail. Of course, you can always put together your own kit but remember the longer your hike and the more hikers involved the more first-aid supplies you’ll need. We also suggest carrying a whistle for emergencies.

Fire – Waterproof matches, lighters, and magnesium sticks are all good options.

Repair Kit and Tools – A multi-tool is a great resource anytime. At HeySmokies we also recommend a supply of duct tape wrapped around your walking sticks or water bottle. You’ll be amazed how handy this can be. We once had a boot literally fall apart at Charlies Bunion. We wrapped it tight with duct tape and four miles later through the wind and snow of a bitter March day we made it safely back to Newfound Gap to the car and a spare pair of shoes!

Nutrition (extra food) – Yes it is heavy, but bringing an extra meal or day’s food can make a big difference if you’re caught unexpectedly overnight in the wilderness. Calorie dense foods like nuts and dried fruits are lightweight and nutritious.

Hydration (extra water) – Always carry at least one water bottle (wrapped with duct tape) and a collapsible water container. Having a way to purify additional water (filter/purifier or chemical treatment tablets) is essential in the backcountry. Never drink untreated water or you may pay for it later. We also like to bring along some of the little Gatorade packets for energy and emergency electrolytes.

Emergency Shelter – Shelter is a new addition to the 10 Essentials and it seems obvious it should be included. Mylar blankets, tarps and bivy-sacks are all great options and some weigh only a few ounces.

And we think there is one last essential that should be noted and that is good judgement and common sense. Let someone know your route and when you plan to return. Having the right equipment won’t help at all if you have poor judgement and don’t use common sense out on the trail. Read books, take courses, and learn from others about how to safely enjoy the wilderness. Hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains is our absolute favorite pastime and we hope that you’ll hike a trail or two and see for yourself why this is the greatest place on earth!

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