SWO Approved: OLD School Essentials

The Outdoor Leadership and Discipleship School is Snowbird’s wilderness semester. If you’re going to head out on a day hike or spend the weekend backpacking through the mountains, here are 10 essentials that Old School recommends you always bring with you.

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1) Map and Compass

Even if you are just mountain biking or taking a day hike, a trail map of the area can bring great peace of mind. You can pick up trail maps at your local hiking store or buy them online. If you are going to carry a map and compass, it is important that you know how to use the compass! There are many great resources online where you can learn the basics. You could also enroll in an Old School Semester and get some real life practice with us!

2) Water

Water is an absolute essential for any trip. Plan on drinking at least four liters of water a day for strenuous hikes in hot weather (about 4 Nalgenes). Since you will not be packing that much water for longer trips, you need a reliable method of purifying water. Boiling is the most basic, but requires a fire or camp stove. The easiest solution is to bring a few iodine tablets to drop in your Nalgene.

3) Fire

Most rangers would frown on bringing a lit torch into their park. So, for this one, just pack a few good lighters, a box of matches, and simple fire starter. Fire has an amazing ability to lift your spirits when you are in the backcountry. It’s nice to have on a camping trip with friends, and it can be a lifesaver in an emergency situation.

4) Shelter

Shelter is a broad item and needs to be customized depending on the trip. The most basic form of shelter would be the clothes you are wearing. Bringing a good rain jacket and proper insulating clothing might be all you need for a day hike. Along with insulation, make sure you have a means of protecting yourself from the sun: sunscreen, sunglasses, hat, etc. You can also consider packing an emergency space blanket or just a basic trash bag if you’re on a.

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5) Proper footwear

This one is huge because blisters hurt! Your hiking trip will be much more enjoyable if your feet and warm and dry. If you don’t have quality hiking boots, stop by your local hiking store and get fitted there.

6) Game plan

If you’ve seen the movie 127 Hours, you know it’s a bad idea to go off into the backcountry without telling someone. It is very important to let someone know where you are going and when you expect to return (or else you might end up stuck under a boulder and have to cut your arm off!) This is where a cell phone can come in handy. Old School is a strong advocate of removing distractions while in the backcountry and spending time alone with the Lord, but we also want you to make it home safely. Cell phones can be an excellent resource. You can download and view topographic maps, use it as a handheld GPS, and even link to certain satellite communication device to send text messages! So, bring a cell phone, but leave it in your pack.

7) Food

This one is pretty basic. Pack plenty of nutrient-dense foods that are non-perishable and plan on eating way more food than you normally do. You can burn a lot of calories hiking, especially if it’s cold out.

8) First aid kit

A small first aid kit with basic materials will handle most scenarios. Be sure to include moleskin or some type of blister tape (in case you didn’t listen to #5)


9) Headlamp

This is one item I personally never leave home without and something I use almost every day. More often than I can even count, I have been out on adventures in the backcountry that lasted way longer than I anticipated. Having a headlamp that is easily accessible prevents those adventures from becoming too epic.

10) Pocket knife or multi-tool

You don’t need to carry a Rambo sized knife on your day hikes, but a small fixed blade knife has unlimited uses. From slicing vegetables and cheese to splitting kindling for firewood a small knife is an invaluable tool.


If you want to know more, check out Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills 8th edition. They have changed up the classic 10 Essentials into a Ten Essential Systems. Stay tuned for our next blog where we will list the items Old School uses in the field.


Ten Essential Systems:

  • Navigation (map & compass)
  • Sun protection (sunglasses & sunscreen)
  • Insulation (extra clothing)
  • Illumination (headlamp/flashlight)
  • First-aid supplies
  • Fire (waterproof matches/lighter/candle)
  • Repair kit and tools
  • Nutrition (extra food)
  • Hydration (extra water)
  • Emergency shelter (tent/plastic tube tent/garbage bag)
Snowbird Wilderness Outfitters