We’re often not very good at planning for the worst, and fail to plan ahead for emergencies when we’re heading outdoors. After all, what could go wrong?
The answer is, “Plenty.” Having a first-aid kit handy is an essential component of your equipment because it can make all the difference if and when a serious situation arises, or even when you just need to tend to a minor problem.
In 2007 I began backpacking and as time went on I realized there were many things that I either did not know or situations I was not properly equipped to handle. This was highlighted when I took a fall on the trail on New Hampshire’s Mount Whiteface that resulted in a rare eversion ankle sprain. I was two miles from the trailhead, it was cold, and I only had one other person to help me. My only solution to that potentially dangerous situation was to grab my poles and hobble out the two miles to the trailhead.
This experience woke me up to my inability to handle emergency situations, so I enrolled in a Wilderness First Aid class and later a Wilderness First Responder class. Now, as an Expert Gearhead here at Backcountry, I am able to draw from my WFA and WFR classes to assist customers in selecting the proper first-aid kit to suit their needs.
Figuring out which first-aid kit will be best for you can be difficult, as you balance being prepared for every possible situation against the weight, bulk, and cost of these supplies. Factors you should consider include:
A wider array of supplies may also be needed to account for allergies or certain health conditions. Thoroughly researching the area you’re heading is critical in selecting the crucial components for your kit, since your needs will differ greatly for a trip to the Amazon rain forest, versus a trip up Mt. Rainier, versus a day hike with the family.
There are a few ways to go about selecting or building your first-aid kit:
My personal favorite is the Adventure Medical: Ultralight and Watertight .7 First-Aid Kit since it is super lightweight and compact. This accompanies me on all climbing outings; I like that the contents are separated into two bags so I can pick and choose to cut down on weight depending on the day’s objective or trip duration.
To treat the most common situations you might encounter, the following should be a part of every kit:
Depending on where you are going and what you are doing, you may want to include the following:
Another aspect of first aid is being prepared in case you or your group is lost/stranded, particularly when injured at the same time. A good kit will include the following; you can buy a complete kit, or assemble your own.
The above lists are long, and simply may not be practical or necessary for shorter excursions. There are certain items, however, you want to be sure to bring along for the following activities:
If you’re hiking or trail running make sure you have supplies to treat a blister or hot spots where rubbing occurs. Besides a properly fitted shoe or boot, having supplies on hand in your kit is the best way to prevent a blister. If a blister pops, infection is a risk so it’s crucial to address hot spots as soon as they surface. To learn more about preventing and managing blisters, click here.
A first-aid kit that has extra bandages is critical since climbers often find themselves cutting their fingers or splitting the skin on their fingers near the cuticle. The worst thing to do if you have a cut on your finger is to dip it into a chalk bag, since foreign particles are now entering the wound. Promptly cleaning and caring for any break in the skin, however small, is important.
Climbers will often associate tape with protection for crack climbing, bur tape has many other uses, from protecting sore wrists and ankles to making splints. The last critical piece I recommend for all climbers is hand repair balm. Climbing is hard on skin, and the recovery process for skin takes time. Having hand repair balm readily available will help speed up healing.
The time of year and current weather conditions are incredibly important factors to consider when planning your winter first-aid kit. Injury while skiing, snowboarding or snowshoeing in the backcountry can expose you to the added risk of hypothermia. If you or a partner becomes injured, not only do you need to be prepared to treat the injury but you’ll want extra layers to keep you warm. An essential item to add to your winter first-aid kit is an inexpensive emergency blanket or two to help the victim retain body heat. Poles that can be used in traction splints or for erecting shelter or creating a sled to transport a victim are also useful. The last essential components are duct tape and Voile straps. When your equipment fails, you’ll be infinitely thankful for the day-saving versatility of these backcountry essentials.
A properly equipped first-aid kit should be at the top of everyone’s packing list. Unexpected situations can be handled much better if you have the right tools to treat wounds and injuries. Aside from being equipped, I think all hikers and outdoor enthusiasts could benefit from a Wilderness First Aid course or Wilderness First Responder training. Having this knowledge not only helps in unexpected situations but also helps you plan your trips and think about the risks associated with what you are hoping to do. If you have any first-aid kit questions or gear questions, I’d love to connect with you and help you get more prepared for the outdoors.