Monday, December 7, 2015

F is also for First Aid Kits

One of the Ten Essentials for any hiking trip, whether out for the day or a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, is a first-aid kit. You probably would want one for car camping trips as well, especially if you're going somewhere more remote or have plans for high adventure outings during the days. We even take one on long road trips because you just never know when you might need one.

But what to put in it? Especially when backpacking, balancing weight and bulk against being prepared is an art-science mix, but here are a few tips:

1)  Don't take anything you don't know how to use.  I mean, it's not like you're going to be reading the medical journal out on the trail to figure it out, right? If you are reading the medical journal, we need to go back to the weight and bulk discussion. Maybe a cast-iron Dutch oven would be more enjoyable for the weight.

2)  Consider the most likely scenarios.  How likely are you to need a tourniquet or to do surgery vs cut your finger or have a headache?  Do you need latex gloves if you're hiking with just your family?  This is admittedly tough for me, because my Scout instincts toward preparedness tend to outweigh my desire to cut ounces.  Note that you probably will want to take more if you are traveling with a group vs just 1-2 other people.

3)  What conditions are you going to face for your specific trip?  You probably don't need poison ivy cream if you're hiking in the desert.  Or, if you're already taking bug repellent, you don't need miniature blister packs.  Conversely, if you are traveling with someone known for allergic reactions, make sure they (or you) take Epi-Pens, and bring along some Benadryl as an additional precaution. 

4)  Don't take more of a particular item than you're likely to need.  For instance, while you should take some Motrin, you don't need an entire bottle.  I recommend keeping it down to about 2 per day and storing it in a small ziplock bag, labeled appropriately.  In fact, consider buying a box of small ziplock bags or buying sealed individual-use pouches of first-aid items from retailers like REI.

Miniature Medicine Bags to Cut Down on Weight and Bulk
For all that talk about what not to bring, what should you bring?  There are some basic non-negotiables:

- Band-aids -- Different sizes are great, distributed across the likelihood of needing them
- Motrin -- Works great for both pain management and anti-inflammation
- Tylenol -- Only if you (or one of your traveling partners) has something against Motrin for pain management (since there's no need for duplication)
- Tums/Pepto Bismol Tablets
- Immodium -- You'll definitely appreciate it if you're out on the trail and get the runs
- Antibiotic Ointment -- Needed for cuts
- Burn Cream -- This can be difficult to find, but you can usually pick up small blister packs at outdoor retailers, like REI
- Gauze (2-inch Roll) -- Better than gauze pads because you can roll off what you need
- Medical Tape -- Use to tape gauze on
- Moleskin -- It is quite likely someone will get a blister
- Leukotape -- It's incredibly sticky and works wonderfully to hold moleskin in place.  Consider also using it to tape gauze in place in lieu of medical tape

A few other things to give serious consideration to:
- Alcohol Pads
- Hydrocortisone
- Heat Pack
- Cold Pack
- Emergency Electrolyte Mix

Below are a couple of pictures of my first-aid kit.  I originally purchased this kit in the camping/hiking section at Wal-Mart.  As I mentioned, I tend to go a little heavier to ensure that I'm prepared for the possible-but-unlikely as well as the probable.  My kids have similar but smaller commercially-purchased kits, but many hikers opt for a quart-sized ziplock bag for their first-aid kit. 

My Hiking First-Aid Kit (iPhone shown for size comparison)
Additionally, as I mentioned at the beginning, we also take a first-aid kit when we travel.  We converted an unused toolbox into one that we can grab and go to be used on the road if/when needed, or, if not, I always have my hiking kit in the car.  After all, you want to be prepared, right?

Our Large Travel First-Aid Kit

Blogging Through the Alphabet” style=


  1. And my personal favorite - bring your inhaler!! Got half way up the side of a (ozark)mountain with some students and one suddenly needs her inhaler, which she left at home!!! Fortunately I had mine! :-)

    1. Yeah, I'm always amazed at the people that don't realize the consequences of leaving civilization behind.

  2. This reminds me to check our First Aid kits and inventory supply levels :)