Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills

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After I posted my Ten Essentails Infographic a reader (thanks Andrew!) pointed out the ” Ten Essential Systems”  approach from The Mountaineers. I like the idea of a system’s oriented approach rather than just a list of gear:  could you respond to emergencies and safely make it through one or more unexpected nights in the wilderness? (Read on,  more about the ten essential systems is quoted below.)

I’ve looked at lots of ten essential lists. Based on what I learned from them and, perhaps more importantly, 40 years of camping experience, developed the ten essential approach in the infographic.

I think want we need to do as Scouters is look at the most common problems (that’s why I differentiate between contingency and emergency) and get Scouts equipped to deal with them. 

The eleventh essential is knowledge, otherwise the first ten won’t help much!

The Mountaineers is an outdoor education non-profit formed in 1906 aimed at teaching mountaineering skills. The Mountaineers first published the definitive text on the subject,  Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills,  in 1960 and the 50th anniversary 8th edition was released in 2011.


I have always had a copy of the text since it first came to my attention couple of decades ago.

Most of the book is dedicated to climbing skills, but there’s a wealth of general information that Scouters will find useful. To my mind the most important knowledge is not in the specific skills (as valuable as they are) so much as the overall tone and approach to wilderness travel and mountaineering. If you dedicate some time reading Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills you’ll soon become familiar with both helpful specific knowledge and the general mindset earned from a century of experience and knowledge.

There are very valuable chapters explaining the geology and climate of the mountain environment, outdoor fundamentals, and emergency prevention and response.

Not all of us will have the opportunity to apply the technical skills required for climbing explained in the book, but it’s worthwhile knowing something about them, if only to understand why your Scouts shouldn’t be climbing without the proper knowledge and gear required.

Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills 8th edition is available in Kindle, hardback and paperback editions at Amazon

Mountaineering is many things. It is climbing, panoramic views, and wilderness experience. For many, it is the fulfillment of childhood dreams; for others, an opportunity to grow in the face of difficulty. In the mountains await adventure and mystery and lifetime bonds with climbing partners. The challenge of mountaineering offers you a chance to learn about yourself by venturing beyond the confines of the modern world.

To be sure, you will also find risk and hardship, but despite the difficulties sometimes faced— or maybe because of them—mountaineering can provide a sense of tranquility and spiritual communion found nowhere else. In the words of British climber George Leigh Mallory, “What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy.” But before you find joy or freedom in the hills, you must prepare for the mountains by learning technical , physical, mental, and emotional skills . Just as you must take a first step in order to climb a mountain, you must also take first steps to become a mountaineer. And though becoming skilled in the mountains is a process that continues as long as you spend time there, you have to begin somewhere. This book can serve as your guide and reference in acquiring those skills and, as such, your passport to the freedom of the hills.

Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills 




The point of the Ten Essentials list (developed by The Mountaineers, with origins in the climbing course taught by the Club since the 1930s) has always been to help answer two basic questions: First, can you respond positively to an accident or emergency? Second, can you safely spend a night—or more—out? The list has evolved over time from a list of individual items to a list of functional systems; the updated Ten Essential Systems list is included in Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills, 8th Edition.

Ten Essentials: The Classic List

  1. Map
  2. Compass
  3. Sunglasses and sunscreen
  4. Extra clothing
  5. Headlamp/flashlight
  6. First-aid supplies
  7. Firestarter
  8. Matches
  9. Knife
  10. Extra food

Ten Essential Systems

  1. Navigation (map & compass)
  2. Sun protection (sunglasses & sunscreen)
  3. Insulation (extra clothing)
  4. Illumination (headlamp/flashlight)
  5. First-aid supplies
  6. Fire (waterproof matches/lighter/candle)
  7. Repair kit and tools
  8. Nutrition (extra food)
  9. Hydration (extra water)
  10. Emergency shelter (tent/plastic tube tent/garbage bag)

1. Navigation
Always carry a detailed topographic map of the area you are visiting, and place it in a protective case or plastic covering. Always carry a compass. Climbers may also choose to carry other navigational tools such as an altimeter or global positioning system (GPS) receiver; other aids include route markers, route descriptions, and other types of maps or photos.

2. Sun Protection
Carry and use sunglasses, sunscreen for the lips and skin, and clothing for sun protection.

3. Insulation (Extra Clothing)
How much extra clothing is necessary for an emergency? The garments used during the active portion of a climb and considered to be the basic climbing outfit include inner and outer socks, boots, underwear, pants, shirt, sweater or fleece jacket, hat, mittens or gloves, and raingear. The term “extra clothing” refers to additional layers that would be needed to survive the long, inactive hours of an unplanned bivouac.

4. Illumination
Even if the climbing party plans to return to their cars before dark, it is essential to carry a headlamp or flashlight, just in case. Batteries and bulbs do not last forever, so carry spares of both at all times.

5. First-Aid Supplies
Carry and know how to use a first-aid kit, but do not let a first-aid kit give you a false sense of security. The best course of action is to always take the steps necessary to avoid injury or sickness in the first place. At a minimum, a first-aid kit should include gauze pads in various sizes, roller gauze, small adhesive bandages, butterfly bandages, triangular bandages, battle dressing (or Carlisle bandage), adhesive tape, scissors, cleansers or soap, latex gloves, and paper and pencil.

6. Fire 
Carry the means to start and sustain an emergency fire. Most climbers carry a butane lighter or two, instead of matches in a waterproof container. Either must be absolutely reliable. Firestarters are indispensable for igniting wet wood quickly to make an emergency campfire. Common firestarters include candles, chemical heat tabs, and canned heat. On a high-altitude snow or glacier climb where firewood is nonexistent, it is advisable to carry a stove as an additional emergency heat and water source.

7. Repair Kit and Tools
Knives are so useful in first aid, food preparation, repairs, and climbing that every party member needs to carry one. Leashes to prevent loss are common. Other tools (pliers, screwdriver, awl, scissors) can be part of a knife or a pocket tool, or carried separately—perhaps even as part of a group kit. Other useful repair items are shoelaces, safety pins, needle and thread, wire, duct tape, nylon fabric repair tape, cable ties, plastic buckles, cordage, webbing, and parts for equipment such as tent, stove, crampons, snowshoes, and skis.

8. Nutrition (Extra Food)
For shorter trips, a one-day supply of extra food is a reasonable emergency stockpile in case foul weather, faulty navigation, injury, or other reasons delay the planned return. An expedition or long trek may require more. The food should require no cooking, be easily digestible, and store well for long periods. A combination of jerky, nuts, candy, granola, and dried fruit works well. If a stove is carried, cocoa, dried soup, and tea can be added. There are many possibilities.

9. Hydration (Extra Water)
Carry extra water and have the skills and tools required for obtaining and purifying additional water. Always carry at least one water bottle or collapsible water sack. Daily water consumption varies greatly. Two quarts (liters) daily is a reasonable minimum; in hot weather or at high altitudes, 6 quarts may not be enough. In dry environments, carry additional water. Plan for enough water to accommodate additional requirements due to heat, cold, altitude, exertion, or emergency.

10. Emergency Shelter 
If the climbing party is not carrying a tent, carry some sort of extra shelter from rain and wind, such as a plastic tube tent or a jumbo plastic trash bag. Another possibility is a reflective emergency blanket. It can be used in administering first aid to an injured or hypothermic person, or can double as a means of