Ten Times Two, Plus One: Essential(s) Reading by Tamia Nelson

How much gear is too much? How little is enough? When deciding what to take and what to leave behind, many trekkers find themselves mired in indecision. Luckily, help is at hand in the form of a celebrated list: the Ten Essentials. But unlike other celebrated decalogues, this list has evolved over the years. Moreover, each of us has her own ideas about what is really essential. Tamia is no exception. She has two lists, in fact — her Top Ten and her Second Eleven. And today she’s counting them down.

Back in 1974, a mountaineering textbook stuck the label “Ten Essentials” on a short list of vital items of gear. That description was apt. The Essentials were light enough not to burden anyone who needed to climb high and fast, but if you had them in your pack, you knew you had everything you needed to survive a short, unplanned bivouac. To borrow a testimonial from a 19th‑century manual of seamanship, the Ten Essentials contained nothing that was superfluous and all things that were useful. The idea wasn’t new, of course. Similar lists had been kicking about since the 1930s. But the “Ten Essentials” tag had legs. The list was soon embraced by all manner of backcountry travelers, including canoeists and kayakers, and it survives to this day. Its latest incarnation has been rechristened the “Ten Essential Systems,” however, and to distinguish the old from the new, the original list has also been rebranded. It is now the Classic Ten Essentials.

Call me old‑fashioned, if you will, but I was perfectly happy with the original list, though I’ve modified it from time to time to suit my own perceived needs. I’ve even gone so far as to add eleven additional items. But first, here’s my take on the Top Ten:… Read more…

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For half a century, Tamia Nelson has been ranging far and wide by bike, boat, and on foot. A geologist by training, an artist since she could hold a pencil, a photographer since her uncle gave her a twin-lens reflex camera when she was 10, she's made her living as a writer and novelist for two decades. Avocationally her interests span natural history, social history, cooking, art, and self-powered outdoor pursuits, and she has broad experience in mountaineering, canoeing, kayaking, cycling, snowshoeing and skiing.