Revisited – A Lightweight First Aid Kit for Backpacking

Back in 2011 I shared some thoughts on first aid for backpacking along with the kit that I carry. This kit is designed for ‘typical’ backpacking trips where treating minor injuries and discomfort can be common. It’s not really for the folks with WFA or WFR certs who may elect, or even feel a responsibility to carry items to treat more serious injuries which they have the training to do. So with that said, I’ve made a few changes to what I carry, in part based on direct feedback from my previous article, and in part due to the basic principle of striving to keep things light and simple. It’s also a good idea to refresh the kit every year since medicines expire and things like sterile gauze packages may get torn open, hence making them not so sterile. So let’s just dive back into it…

What supplies should I have in my first aid kit?

I’ve made a few changes here. For most of the consumables I base quantities on days traveled now, with the minimum I carry of anything being three. For more than three days of travel I add 1 of each per day. This is more of a short trip logic, I don’t think I’d carry more than a dozen bandaids, at some point it seems to stop making sense, especially when others in the group (should) have their own supplies and can provide some if needed.

Next change, I’m not repackaging anything that will come into contact with a wound. Single serving ointments, individually packaged gauze, bandaids, etc… No need to take any risks to save a few grams.

Other than that, same same.

  • Alcohol Prep Pads (3) minimum
  • Sterile Gauze Pads, 2×2″ (3) min.
  • Bandaids, ¾x3″ (3) min.
  • Butterfly Closures (3) min.
  • Triple Antibiotic Ointment, (3) min.
  • Duct Tape, 48″ (1)
  • Mole Skin, 2×2 (2)

Which medicines should be in my first aid kit?

The only thing I’ve changed here is the quantity of Advil I carry, which is as much as I can fit into a mini ziplock 🙂 When I need the stuff I go through it, usually a couple pills at a time. Aleve is a little more efficient as the dosage is a single pill, but not everyone responds the same to Aleve as they do with Advil, so that’s individual preference. I’ve also been cautioned about taking them together which I know is popular in certain circles. Anyone who does this may want to talk to your doctor about it and see what they advise.

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 ideas (again these are quantities that I carry):

  • Ibuprofen (Advil) or Naproxen (Aleve) (9)
  • Immodium (8)
  • Benadryl (6)
  • Tums (2)
  • Chlorine water treatment tabs (4)
  • Prescription Meds?

I sometimes carry prescription anti inflammatory and pain killers if I happen to have them. My lower back tends to act up, so I usually do. I’d rather be able to get up and walk myself to the bailout point rather than lay around in agony, even if it means doing it hopped up on the strong stuff. To each their own of course.

What instruments should I pack in my first aid kit?

Just one small change here for me, I dropped the irrigation syringe from my kit. Advice of several knowledgeable folks was: if you’re within a day or two of real medical aid and you get a nasty cut, just apply some antibiotic ointment and bandage it up, washing it out isn’t likely to do much and may even increase chance of infection. So the only instruments I carry now are:

  • Tweezers
  • Tick Remover (Pro Tick Remedy)

Beyond that there’s no point in carrying all that junk. I mean, hey, if you sew yourself up at home regularly then by all means, carry a surgery kit. How many of us does that really apply to though? Probably not many reading this blog is my guess. (although if you’re one of those I’d love to hear from you!)

Other Odds and Ends

I’ve added a few things to my odds and ends list. These were items I already carried but in larger formats; I’ve downsized and added them to my first aid kit for convenience.

  • Cut off toothbrush
  • Toothpaste Tablets (2) x number of days
  • Mini pill jar with sunblock

I used to carry a travel toothbrush and small tube of paste, the tablets are much lighter and convenient. You really don’t need water except to rinse and/or rinse off your brush. I just leave all this stuff in my first aid kit since I know they’ll be there when I need them. The sunblock is something I’ve struggled with. The travel size is still too much for a trip. Mini squeeze bottles waste a lot since it’s difficult to get out, so again more needs to be carried. Face cream jars are nice for repackaging sunblock (easy to get it out and clean the container) but bulky. I found some mini pill vials at the grocery store which are just like a mini face cream jar. They have screw on lids that don’t leak and work great for a weeks worth of sun block (enough for the face anyway) so I’ve settled on those for now. They also work great for lip balm. The rest of my odds and ends are the same…

  • Mini Bic lighter
  • Pea-less emergency whistle
  • Shorty pencil
  • Quarter sheet of water proof paper
  • Ear plugs (2)

Putting It All Together

FAK
FAK

I still use a 6×9 Aloksak. They’re pretty durable, inexpensive, and have a good strong closure. If I’m kind to it I can get about 2 years of use on it before it starts to get a little beat up. They come in 3-packs, so that’s good value for the money in my book. LokSak also makes bags to protect various electronic devices… good stuff.

So that’s about it, just a few simple updates. The weight of the kit varies a bit depending on the length of my trip, but generally we’re talking about 6 ounces here. Compare that to so called lightweight store-bought kits that are at least twice the weight and lack many of the items here, or have some in lesser quantities… it’s a no-brainer to make your own.

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. (Strava Profile)

8 Comments

  1. Dustin
    January 14, 2015
    Reply

    This is probably a stupid question, but why are you guys carrying ear plugs?

    • January 16, 2015
      Reply

      Hey Dustin. That’s actually a good question… I mean it does seem kind of weird to carry ear plugs. The reason behind it has nothing to do with first aid but we keep them in our first aid kits to prevent losing them.

      We don’t use them too often, but certain areas are infested with deer that like to crunch around all night. On trips where we haven’t been out long enough to get worn out and just fall right asleep, they can help. Of course I know it’s mostly just deer out there, and even if it were to be bears, Chupacabras, mountain women lookin to make me their plaything – whatever the case may be the chance of any confrontation is pretty slim… I know that, but my brain is like “what was that?!?” then I’m like “dammit brain, shut up and lemme sleep!”. Hence the ear plugs.

  2. Kirby
    October 4, 2013
    Reply

    Next time you re-do your kit you might consider replacing the gauze pads with the non-stick variety. The exudate from a wound will glue gauze to it making it painful remove and disrupt the healing process. Couple of other suggestions – Betadine wipes would be a better antiseptic and Coban wrap will hold pads in place better than tape.

    • October 8, 2013
      Reply

      Kirby, Thanks for the suggestions on improving the FAK. I think I’ll implement those ideas, except the tape. I’d feel naked without some duct tape around!

  3. January 28, 2013
    Reply

    Great article Jacob.

    While on our trip this weekend we discovered all to well that having easy access to a pair of tweezers is helpful. One of us got a tick while sleeping and when it was discovered we all went scrambling for a pair of tweezers. We all had them but they were already buried from packing up our gear. One of us just grabbed the tweezers from a Victorinox Classic and that resolved the issue.

    A spare pair of earplugs inside a med-kit is always a helpful thing as well.

    • Jacob D
      January 28, 2013
      Reply

      Hey John! Yeah, it wouldn’t be Coe without the ticks. I get them pretty much every time I go there. Looks like I dodged em somehow this time… I’ll have to share my Coe tick story with you next time we see each other. Suffice to say for now, the Pro Tick Remedy has become my go-to tool. It’s an easier, and I believe a safer way to remove them (no chance of squeezing their gut content into yourself). Also, its weight can be easily measured in grams and it’s made in the USA! Woo hoo!

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