I’M NOT HARD to spot on a trail: Just look for the guy walking around wearing what looks like a Volkswagen Beetle with shoulder straps on his back.

Can’t deny it. I like to bring along some gear, because, you know, stuff happens.

“Got enough stuff there, Judd?” some wiseacre will invariably crack as we head up a hill, and my Spartan, approximately 98-pound daypack shifts, and my knees and spine creak and groan like a rusty screen-door hinge on a shack in Twisp.

“As a matter of fact, I do,” I will snort back. “And one of these days, you’re going to thank me.”

Confession: Across numerous decades of tromping around in the Northwest outdoors — who counts after one? — I’ve only really needed a goodly share of the emergency gear I carry on one or two occasions. I’m speaking of the famed “Ten Essentials,” a list of gear originally formulated by Seattle’s Mountaineers club that every newcomer to outdoor travel is scolded into carrying for treks ranging from 1,000 miles to about 6 meters.

Sure, there are times when I dip into the waterproof bag for an item or two: a knife or multitool to fix a pack strap, snowshoe binding or tent pole. Some minor first-aid supplies. And, of course, my trusty compass, with its mirrored sight — not normally to navigate anywhere, but to see how truly awful I look after gasping for air on some summit.


But usually, that gear kit is just a passenger, never seeing the light of day.

The Ten Essentials, when it comes down to it, really are, should you be forced to spend an unplanned night or two out in the bush. It’s gear you don’t need until you need it, and in the Northwest, it seems like many of us tend to either over- or underprepare, blissfully marching forward or warily awaiting the worst-case scenario.

We’ll leave the psychological take-aways from that to the professionals, while we have fun with the subject and shoot for some middle ground.

Today, with the beginning of missing-hiker season drawing near, it seems fitting to offer a review of what those essentials are and how essential they really might be and, more important, add on some additional true essentials that can be worth their weight, and then some.

I don’t often use most of those, either. But one day, I just might. And yes; I’ll be thanking myself profusely.