Fix Me Up Doc! – A Lightweight First Aid Kit for Backpacking

When it comes to safety your Mom would say “you can never be too safe!”. Mom is always right of course. So, you can run over to the local outdoor sporting goods store and buy a pre-packaged medical kit, or you can build your own which is what we’re going to talk about today.

What should I have in my first aid kit?

Don’t leave anything out if it makes you feel uncomfortable, but do put some thought into what you might use. Bandaids, tape, etc… are great to have on hand for common injuries. Medical instruments, dental dams, staple guns :)… evaluate them for yourself and decide if you have the know how to use them effectively. For now, let’s focus on the basic things that everyone can make use of; these are the quantities that are in my kit.

  • Alcohol Prep Pads (4)
  • Sterile Gauze Pads, 2×2″ (4)
  • Bandaids, ¾x3″ (3)
  • Butterfly Closures (3)
  • Triple Antibiotic Ointment, 0.2 oz
  • Duct Tape, 48″
  • Kinesio Tape (or Mole Skin), 2×2 (2)

All sorts of minor injuries can be treated with these, and with some creativity items can be multi-purposed when the situation calls for it. If larger (or smaller) bandages are needed, either the duct tape and gauze can be used together, or even the Kinesio Tape, which is also excellent for blisters by the way. The butterfly closures can close up more moderate cuts/lacerations without the need to stitch them closed, and of course duct tape can supplement them too. It’s always a good idea to keep some antibiotic ointment on hand, some of the stuff even has minor pain relief built in. By repackaging the ointment into a tiny squeeze bottle I carry half a tube of Neosporin, which should be plenty for most outings. This stuff is good on burns and blisters as well as cuts.

Which medicines should be in my first aid kit?

If you’re on prescription medications then you absolutely must have those on hand. If you’re severely allergic to bees or other insects/plants that you might come in contact with on the trail then it would be unwise to leave home without an Epinephrine syringe (your doctor can prescribe it). Other than specialized things here are a few suggestions (again these are items/quantities that I carry not necessarily what you carry):

  • Ibuprofen (6)
  • Immodium (8)
  • Benadryl (6)
  • Tums (2)
  • Chlorine water treatment tabs (4)
  • Vicodin* (4) (Rx if I have them)
  • Mobic* (2) (Rx if I have them)

So here we have a mini medicine cabinet that can handle a lot including general pain, diarrhea, allergies, minor allergic reactions, upset stomach, and emergency water treatment. *If you have some stronger pain relievers (such as Vicodin) from a prescription it might be wise to keep a few on hand. If you’re like me then the Vicodin will take away your pain but will leave you feeling spaced out. I have these in the event I find myself injured and needing to evacuate but with severe pain that would otherwise prevent me hiking out, I hope I never need to use them. Mobic is another prescription drug I keep with me. It’s a slow release muscle relaxer anti-inflammatory that allows a pretty normal level of function while providing great relief to muscle spasms/cramps. This is very good stuff when the situation calls for it. Your doctor may be able to get a sample pack or two for you.

What instruments should I pack in my first aid kit?

Your personal experience is probably the best way to decide this. When it comes to treating injuries are you sort of an average Joe? Have you taken any wilderness first aid (WFA) or wilderness first responder (WFR) courses? If you don’t have training or experience treating severe injuries (it’s a good idea to do so) then you’ve gotta consider how you’ll react when something bad goes down. If you badly lacerate your leg are you prepared to close the wound with needle and thread? Doing this improperly (including failure to adequately clean and dress the wound) can leave you in worse shape than doing a simple cleanse and bandage. What about stopping a bleeder, do you have the skills to use a hemostat without making the situation worse (puncturing an artery for example)?

Surgical Kit
If you're going to do surgery... know what you're doing!

Putting the surgical kit aside for a minute, here are a few things that you might want to include:

  • Tweezers
  • Tick Remover (Pro Tick Remedy)
  • Irrigation syringe

Use tweezers to remove splinters, thorns, bee stings, etc… The tick remover is for my little round friends, and the syringe to wash wounds with sterile (boiled) water prior to bandaging. A small pair of bandage scissors would be a good addition for anyone who doesn’t carry a pocket knife. You can’t do surgery on yourself with this stuff but you can take care of the day to day things that you’re likely to run into.

Other odds and ends

Aside from the above I carry a few things in case of emergency. I find it’s best to just leave them in my first aid kit since I know they’ll be there if/when I need them…

  • Mini Bic lighter
  • Pea-less emergency whistle
  • Shorty pencil
  • Quarter sheet of water proof paper
  • Ear plugs
First Aid Kit
A Light and Simple First Aid Kit

Putting it all together

Since the idea is to be prepared in an emergency it’s a good idea to keep all of this stuff dry. I use an aloksak (www.loksak.com) which is light and has a water tight seal. A small dry bag would be another option, or possibly a small plastic tackle box if your kit contains multiple sharp instruments. The small ziplock bags (for pills) can be found on eBay, and the mini plastic bottles can be found from US Plastics as well as some of the smaller gear manufactures. All of the items above, including the aloksak weigh in at 4 oz. Not too bad! Granted this kit is mostly about “keep it clean, keep it comfortable”.

This kit is light enough that everyone in your party should be carrying (something similar) one. Take care of your small injuries to prevent them from becoming problems and/or infected. The first aid kit is only a small part of what you’re carrying that can be used in an emergency situation. Clothing, rope, cord, foam padding, tent poles, and trekking poles can all be improvised with. In an emergency situation, keeping calm and level headed is critical to making decisive decisions and, when it applies, not freaking out the injured party. Running through mock emergencies/rescues is a good practice. It may sound lame, but from experience with avalanche rescue drills, I can say that the feelings you’ll experience are very real, and they can help prepare you for the real thing. Knowledge is the best medicine; equip your noggin above all else and travel safe!
Hike It. Like It.

Jacob D Written by:

Jacob is the head honcho, wearer of many hats, and modern day berserker here at Hike It. Like It. When he's not out hiking or running the trails you'll find him operating in full capacity as a Super Dad and chipping away at a degree in Kinesiology. This guy likes to stay busy. Follow on Strava

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