The 12 Essentials for Wilderness Travel

Every time you head out for a hike there are some basic items you should carry with you to ensure you have a fun and safe time.

This list is adopted from the book Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills (Mountaineering Books, 2003) but has been modified specifically for Hawaii.

Map and Compass

A map and compass (and the skills to use them!) allow a person to find their way across a wilderness area without relying on GPS or cell phone maps, which can fail in many ways.

There are many different types of maps, but the most practical for wilderness travel is a Topographic Map, which shows both lateral and vertical scale through the use of contour lines.

Like maps, there are many different kinds of compasses, but an orienteering compass, with a clear plastic base that you can overlay on a map, is best for wilderness travel. 

Sun Protection

Sun protection, in the form of sun screen, long sleeved shirts and long pants, hats, staying on shaded trails, and avoiding traveling during the middle part of the day, is essential, especially in near equatorial environments like Hawaii.

Fun fact: Sun block does expire!

Extra Layers

The weather can change in a minute, and despite our generally warm climate, it’s very possible to get caught out in the wind and rain. Packing an extra layer or two, can keep you warm and dry in unexpected conditions.


Most people don’t plan for an unexpected overnight, or after dark hike out, but it happens. Be prepared by keeping a source of illumination in your pack for those times. Most cell phones have some form of flashlight (utilizing the camera flash) but it’s best to have an independent source of light such as a flashlight or headlamp. OSAR team members are required to carry three sources of light!

Don’t forget to check the batteries from time to time and carry an extra set if you think you’ll need them.

First Aid Kit

A first aid kit with basic medical supplies is an absolute must to have with you on the trails. You never know when you, somebody you are hiking with, or somebody you come across while out, might need to use it. What you carry in the kit is based on your medical skills, training, and knowledge. There are lots of great prebuilt kits out there, or you can make your own. 

Fire Starter

Although the risk of hypothermia is relatively low in Hawaii, it can happen, and having the ability to start a fire for warmth is very important. Additionally, fire (and the smoke it produces) can be used to get the attention of searchers.

NOTE: Starting a fire in high fire danger conditions in not advised and care should always be taken to contain any fire you start and to ensure it is fully extinguished before you leave it unattended. 

Repair Kit or Tools

A repair kit, in the form of a multitool or knife is an important component of any pack. The things that can break while hiking are pretty much infinite and the ability to fix them while still in the field is critical.


Extra Food

Food equals fuel for your body, and you should always carry a bit more than you think you’ll need to cover extra time on a hike, or other people that didn’t bring enough for themselves. 

Extra Water

How much water you’ll need is based on lots of factors including your own physiology, the hike you are doing, as well as the weather conditions you’ll be doing it in. It’s important to carry extra water to cover unforeseen delays or changes in the plan. 

Depending on where you are hiking there may be additional sources of water available in the form of streams or ponds. These sources aren’t generally potable (drinkable), but with a filtration or treatment system, you can get additional water without having to carry it with you.  

Emergency Shelter

A shelter to protect you from the elements during unplanned overnights is a key to surviving the unknown. A shelter can be as complex as a tent or as simple as a trash bag with a hole cut in the bottom for your head.

Shoe Spikes

Much of the hiking terrain in Hawaii can be slick with water or mud. Spikes that clip on to the bottom of your shoes can give you the grip to safely get across areas that you might not be able to otherwise. Originally designed for snow and ice, the metal teeth grip into mud, rock and other conditions, preventing the wearer from sliding.

NOTE: Spikes can do damage to the ground, and cause erosion. Use good judgment when wearing them.

Signaling Device

A signalling device can be used to attract attention at distances and for durations that a human voice can’t. A whistle can be heard much farther away than a person yelling, and can be blown at regular intervals far longer than most people’s voices will hold up for.

Other forms of signaling devices include mirrors for reflecting sunlight to attract attention, smoke from fires, and bright objects on the ground.