What's Your Eleventh Essential? Celebrating the Ten Essentials

In this feature from Mountaineer magazine, hear about one watercolor artist's take on the Ten Essentials, and why it's important to personalize your own list of essentials; sometimes even including that special eleventh essential.
Claire Giordano Claire Giordano
Watercolor Artist
March 20, 2021

The last patch of shade disappears in a wavering blue line, distorted by the heat. I sit on the scorching sand in exasperation. We are still five miles from the car, and I feel like garbage. I’m dizzy, a bit nauseous, and have a headache. After a year of hiking in the Northwest, I’ve forgotten about the unrelenting desert sun and my 2.5 liters of water was not nearly enough... I am dehydrated, and badly.

This is my first experience with bad dehydration, and what started as a great day hike has deteriorated into a sufferfest. I know better. It is scary to think that my simple oversight could be much worse if it weren’t for my hiking partner, who prudently carried more water than I did and gave me everything they had left. Bringing extra water is one of the Ten Essentials, and for good reason. As I later learn in a first aid course, dehydration takes time to develop, and even longer to bounce back from. I’m surprised by how many hours it takes to feel better.

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Field sketches created by Claire at the HJ Andrews Experimental Forest in Oregon, in Greenland, and in Arches National Park.

The Ten Essentials

I first learned about the Ten Essentials when I was six years old. My dad made a child-sized emergency kit that I carried with pride in my small backpack. Understanding how to take care of myself outside was a rite of passage in our house, and choosing the right gear was a family activity before every trip.

Today, as an avid outdoorswoman and plein air watercolor artist, I spend a lot of time outdoors. I still have the kit my dad gave me, which has grown substantially in size as I cultivate my own outdoor knowledge. After a ten-day wilderness first aid class my medical supplies doubled in volume, and since my desert experience I always bring more water than I think I’ll need (and purification tablets, just in case). It brings me comfort and confidence to know that I always have the essential gear I need to spend an unexpected night outside and to care for myself and others. I also see each mistake or forgotten item as a learning opportunity to refine my essentials kit for next time.

What I love about the Ten Essentials is that, while everyone has the same key categories, the specifics are incredibly personalized. Some of my friends count the grams of their emergency kit and scour the internet for the lightest pair of tweezers. Personally, I go the other way. I always carry two warm puffy jackets in the mountains because I paint beside glaciers; the katabatic winds that blast off the ice are incredibly cold, especially when I sit still for three hours.

I also love that every good Ten Essentials list usually has a story like mine, with items added based on an outdoor mishap or a never-forget-again omission. I once spent a night outside without a pad of any kind and vividly remember waking up in the middle of the night sliding on the tent floor. My sleep-addled and overly-imaginative brain was momentarily convinced a bear was pulling me out of the tent, and I am still amazed that my friends weren’t woken up by the massive ruckus I made. I never forgot a sleeping pad again, and today you’ll find an ever-evolving pre-trip checklist on my phone.

One of my favorite questions to ask people is, “What’s your eleventh essential - the one thing you can’t live without on a trip?” For me, this is my small palette of paints, quickly followed by a sleeping pad. Do you have a good Ten Essentials story? Share on Instagram or Facebook and tag The Mountaineers. And, for today’s creative exercise, I invite you to join me by drawing, painting, or writing about your Ten Essentials!


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10essentials6.png10essentials7.png10essentials8.png10essentials9.png10essentials10.png10essentials11.png10essentials12.png10essentials13.pngClaire Giordano is an environmental artist and writer following the interwoven patterns of people, place, and climate change. See more of her work at www.claireswanderings. com or follow her on Instagram at @claireswanderings.


This article originally appeared in our Spring 2021 issue of Mountaineer Magazine. To view the original article in magazine form and read more stories from our publication, visit our magazine archive.

LEAD IMAGE OF Claire painting at Lac Blanc, a popular alpine lake above Chamonix in the French Alps. All images courtesy of Claire Giordano. 


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