What’s in your first aid kit? The basic first aid kit I’ve carried in recent years really has only two things: a roll of gauze and a small roll of duct tape. Say what? (It’s true. Well, not entirely. I’ll explain in a minute.)
The contents of a first aid kit (or a survival kit for that matter) are different for each person. My own choice of items for a first aid kit is based on its usefulness, the added weight of an item, and whether or not I already have something in my backpack that can do the same job.
My First Aid Kit Philosophy
We’ve seen first aid kits for sale that are loaded with all kinds of stuff, right? Much of it is redundant or completely useless. Take for example those cheap scissors included in most ready made first aid kits. Well, the scissors on a Leatherman Squirt S4 or a small Classic Swiss army knife are way better – and I already have them in my backpack. Forget those cheap ones.
First aid is survival. Your backpack is already loaded with stuff that you can use for surviving in the wilderness. Most of what you put in a first aid kit probably duplicates things you’re already carrying, or something you can improvise.
You see where I’m going here? My first aid kit philosophy works for me. I opt to carry less and think often about how I might use everything in my pack for first aid/survival. However each person needs to consider his or her own comfort level with this and do what seems reasonable.
The Dynamic Duo: Gauze and Duct Tape
My earliest first aid kits were chock full of Band-Aids in every conceivable size and shape. The simple gauze/tape combination that I now carry replaces those and can be used for hundreds of situations. It can cover abrasions, butterfly lacerations, reduce blister hot spots, cover blisters, create an eye patch, and much more. They are a versatile pair.
If the problem is minor, it can usually be treated with something in my pack or something that can be improvised. If not, then it’s probably a major deal, and chances are we’re talking about stabilization and rescue rather than treating a problem and hiking onward.
A Larger First Aid Kit is not Necessarily Better.
Just because you have more “stuff” doesn’t necessarily make you safer or improve chances for survival. Even if someone carries a huge first aid kit, it does little or no good if they don’t know how to use it. In fact, it’s possible to do more harm than good. The knowledge that we have in our head is way more important than any piece of equipment that we carry.
Would you believe that some Rambos have actually sutured their wounds in the field? Sutured wounds that are not properly cleaned and irrigated become infected, nasty, and painful. You can make butterfly strips out of duct tape that can close a wound very easily.
The Usual Contents of My Kit
OK, time for me to come clean. I actually do carry a few more things for first aid besides gauze and tape. (And sometimes I still do carry Band-Aids!) My basic first aid kit for several people on a short backpacking trip:
- 2″ gauze (a roll 2” x 4 yards and several 2″x2″ squares)
- several yards of duct tape
- Triple antibiotic ointment
- repackaged zinc oxide (diaper rash, irritated skin, sun block, poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac)
- Ibuprofen, 6 pills
- Imodium, 6 pills
- Benadryl 25mg, 6 pills
- Pepcid 20mg, 6 pills
- 2 pair Nitrile non-Latex gloves
Elsewhere in my backpack:
- Leatherman Squirt S4 or small Swiss army knife (Classic). Sharpen the Classic tweezers to a point to make it easier to remove splinters and ticks.
- Hand Sanitizer/First Aid Antiseptic Spray (I don’t like the gel stuff.)
- 3 large safety pins
- Water purification
- Sun screen
- One 0.35 oz tube Carmex lip moisturizing balm
- One page of personal info in a plastic bag photocopied with all of the following – meds, medical history, allergies, ICE (in case of emergency) contact info, driver’s license, and health insurance card (front and back)
Depending upon who I’m traveling with, I add other things to the kit.
Especially when kids come on a trip I actually do carry Band-Aids. They weigh next to nothing so adding a handful to the first aid kit is no burden. My extensive research has shown that the glow-in-the-dark SpongeBob Squarepants Band-Aids are excellent for comforting and distracting kids from their cuts and scrapes. This works for adults, too.
If someone in the group has had life-threatening allergic reactions in the past (anaphylaxis), we’d be sure to carry several Epipens. Regular medications also always come along for everyone. And depending on weather and expected exertion levels, we might carry drink mixes containing sodium and potassium salts to keep electrolyte levels in check.
- Meds, Their Uses and other Pearls by Greentick (via WhiteBlaze.net)
- The Thru-Hiker’s Medical Guide by Stewart Anderson, MD (via WhiteBlaze.net)
- Andy Held’s Wilderness First Responder (WFR) Cheat Sheet is a two-sided Quick Reference Card to the WFR protocols that you can print and laminate to carry in your 1st aid kit.