I recently evaluated my backpacking first aid kit and realized I’m missing several important items. Usually my husband, Nat, and I pack adhesive bandages, bug spray, tweezers, and pain pills. Not bad – however, there’s certainly room for improvement. New backpacking season = new goals.
You can purchase pre-made first aid kits in a variety of sizes with different levels of equipment. A quick online search will bring up a lot of options. Most likely your local pharmacy and sporting goods store carry first aid kits, too.
If you decide to assemble your own first aid kit, I recommend storing most of your items in a sealed water-proof bag. This protects against leaks and makes everything easily accessible. Though, I suggest keeping certain items you use more often in outside pockets of your pack, such as bug spray. It would be annoying to take off and open your pack every time you want to apply bug spray.
Quick note: I did not intend this list to be all inclusive. I encourage you to do further research and ensure your first aid kit includes all items applicable to your needs.
10 First Aid Kit Items
1. Adhesive bandages
Also known as the brand Band-Aid. This is probably the first thing you think of when someone says first aid kit. These will come in handy for minor cuts and scrapes you encounter on your adventures. I like the variety packs – the bandages come in different sizes to fit large areas and awkward places like knuckles. You can just grab a handful from the box to save on space in your first aid kit bag. I personally like the fabric bandages since they seem to stay put for longer. However, this backfires when trying to take them off. ;]
2. Antiseptic wipes
These usually come packaged individually or in small packs. This makes it super convenient to pack a handful with the rest of your first aid kit. Antiseptic wipes will come in handy to clean up a wound prior to applying any ointments and bandages.
3. Antibiotic ointment
You might recognize the brand Neosporin, but there are plenty of other brands. Antibiotic ointment helps to prevent infection and (for certain varieties) sooth the injury. You can apply it directly to the cut or scrape prior to placing the adhesive bandage. Plus they’re available in travel-size tubes.
4. Self-adherent wrap
Self-adherent wrap is a great multi-purpose tool. You can wrap joints as well as fingers and toes for extra support. In addition, it helps secure larger bandages and pads in the instance of a more severe injury. Self-adherent wrap usually comes in rolls at varying sizes. A smaller roll would tuck nicely into a first aid kit.
5. Gauze pads
These are helpful for more severe injuries. Gauze pads are very absorbent and are available in a variety of forms – from rolls to square pads. You can secure them to a wound using self-adherent wrap or other medical tape / wrap. Just be sure to confirm whether the gauze is sterile or not. Sterile gauze is best for open wounds that are prone to infection, whereas non-sterile gauze works well for closed wounds such as blisters to add comfort.
6. Bug spray
There are so many options when it comes to bug spray. Some have high levels of DEET while others just use essential oils – and everything in between. The decision of which bug spray to use is ultimately up to personal preference. I’ve used DEET bug sprays before and find them somewhat effective on mosquitoes. The effectiveness also depends on the destination and time of year. Generally mosquitoes are worse during the spring and early summer. Bug sprays also guard against other creepy crawlies such as ticks and chiggers.
No, these aren’t for grooming your eyebrows. :] Tweezers are perfect for plucking tiny splinters and stubborn ticks you may encounter on the trail. I bring a pair with the intention to remove ticks, so I store it in a bag with my bug spray. Tweezers are such a vital little tool you don’t think about until you need them.
8. Pain pills
I usually buy a small bottle or put several pain pills into a small container or bag. They’ll help sooth headaches, menstrual cramps, body aches, and so forth. There’s nothing worse than a throbbing headache while trying to carry a heavy pack up a steep hill. Or a sore back while trying to relax and enjoy the outdoors. You never know what aches and pains might develop while on your trip. So I like to be prepared just in case.
9. Blister pads
Blisters can occur from ill-fitting shoes and socks or shoes that are fresh out of the box. It’s best to try and work in a few day hikes with new shoes prior to a longer trip. If that’s not possible, though, just make sure your socks are supportive and snug. When blisters do occur, it’s important to reduce friction using blister pads or even gauze pads. They also provide much-needed comfort to keep you moving.
10. Rolled splint
This is a great tool to have on hand in the event of a medical emergency. A rolled splint is a pliable yet sturdy material that provides support to injured parts of the body, such as a broken finger. They come in large and small sizes as well as rolled and folded flat. So finding one that fits your first aid kit should be no problem. You can even cut pieces off to achieve a more custom fit. If you do this, just make sure to roll and hide the exposed metal interior. I found a helpful video tutorial for SAM splints, but there are other brands to choose from.
As I mentioned above, this first aid kit list was not meant to be all inclusive. Please do your research and plan accordingly. This list was intended to act as a starting point to build from and flesh out. I also recommend taking a first aid course and / or wilderness survival course to brush up on proper care.
I hope to encourage all of my fellow adventurers to research, prepare, and bring a first aid kit. Go out and explore – and stay safe!