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A first aid kit is one of hiking’s Ten Essentials. That is, hiking gear you should have. The first thing I learned as a Wilderness First Responder is that in the outdoors, preparation is key. Whether you are a seasoned summiter or a daily stroller, carrying a first aid kit is essential for the safety of you and others. Here is a checklist, including some tips, for your hiking first aid kit.
Make sure to leave a comment below if you have any helpful tips and tricks!
Pre-Packaged First Aid Kit vs. DIY
Pre-packaged first aid kits like the Mountain Series Hiker Medical Kit and Ultralight Adventure Medical Kits provide a great foundation for your first hiking medical kit. Each is equipped with carefully selected tools and supplies to keep you and a friend equipped for most small adventures. Each pre-packaged kit, however, is different, and it is important to tailor each first aid kit depending on your adventure. That being said, we recommend that everyone should have a DIY first aid kit. Here is how:
How to build your own first aid kit for hiking
Building your first aid kit can be a little daunting. What if I pack too much? What if I forget something? What if it is my first hike ever and I have no idea what I will need?
Have no fear. We are here to help! Here is a step by step guide on how to build your very own first aid kit for hiking.
There are four important things to consider before you create your first aid kit. You can remember them by the acronym “SLARS.”
1) Size of Group
Are you building a personal first aid kit or planning for a group hike? The group size will determine the number of supplies you need.
2) Length of Trip
This determines the same thing as number 1 – in case of a backcountry accident, you will likely not have close access to a pharmacy. Because of this, it is imperative that you have enough medical provisions in case you need to reapply gauze and/or provide more medicine.
While this is a guide to building first aid kits for hiking, it is likely your trips will vary widely from our other readers. As we know, each hike is different – that’s what we love about it! However, because of the variations of hiking trips and environments, it is important to personalize your first aid kit for specific issues you may run into. Are you prepping for a flat day hike or an exposed, 14er scramble? If you are prepping for the 14er, a Sam splint is a good precaution for a potential broken bone or sprained ankle from a fall. If you are planning a first aid kit for routine hikes, the splint might be an overkill.
Risk falls under the activity section but is more focused on the environmental factors you will face. For example, if you plan on hiking in an area known for poison ivy (such as the east coast and midwest) and/or ticks, consider carrying a poison ivy treatment like the Tecnu Srub and/or a tick-specific tool like the Tick Patrol Tick Remover to your first aid kit.
5) Special Needs
Whether you are making a hiking kit for a group or yourself, always ensure you carry your personal medications whether for daily or emergency use. It is never a bad idea to carry extras. If you are planning a group hiking first aid kit, make sure everyone brings their personal medications. If you are in charge of medical care and the group members feel comfortable, it is always good to know their relevant medical history like allergies and/or respiratory issues.
First Aid Basic Care
- Multitool or Knife
- Small Mirror
- Blunt tip scissors
Medication and Ointments
- Personal medication (such as Epi-pens)
- Antibiotic ointments
- Antidiarrheal pills
- Rehydration salts/pills
- Antacid tablets
- Athletic (or climbing) tape
- Assorted adhesive bandages (fabric preferred)
- Butterfly bandages/adhesive wound-closure strips
- Blister treatment/kit (such as moleskin)
- Wilderness First Aid Guide handbook
- Burn dressing
- Splints and elastic wraps
- Tick remover
- Antiseptic towelettes
- Bee-sting kit
Comprehensive First Aid Kit
Wraps, Splints, and Wound Coverings
- Rolled gauze
- Elastic wrap (ex. ACE Bandage)
- Triangular cravat bandage
- Finger splint(s)
- SAM splint(s)
- Hydrogel-based pads
- Cleansing pads with topical anesthetic
- Hemostatic (blood-stopping) gauze
- Iodine Peroxide (wound cleaning)
Pro Tip: Avoid cleaning a wound with hydrogen peroxide or rubbing alcohol. It can harm the tissue and slow healing. The best way to clean a wound is with cool running water and/or iodine peroxide.
- Aloe Vera/Extra Sunscreen
Tools and Supplies
- Waterproof container to carry First Aid items
- Small notepad with pen/pencil
Pro Tip: Notepads are extremely beneficial to record a patient’s ongoing condition. Put your notepad in a plastic Ziploc bag to avoid water damage.
- Knife (or multi-tool with a knife)
- Standard oral thermometer
- Shears (blunt-tip scissors)
- Cotton-tipped swabs
- Irrigation syringe
- Medical gloves (avoid latex)
- CPR mask
- Medical waste bag
Pro Tip: Plastic Nalgenes (or any extra water bottle) are a great place to store sharp medical waste items like used needles.
- Emergency heat-reflecting blanket
- Hand sanitizer
- Biodegradable soap
- Lightweight, tarp litter
- Extra tampons, pads
Pro Tip: Tampons are a great solution for bloody noses when you are on the move!
- Prescription medications (e.g., birth control, antibiotics)
- Allergy medications (e.g., Claritin)
- Injectable epinephrine (e.g., epi-pen to treat severe allergic reactions)
- Glucose or other sugar (useful to treat hypoglycemia)
- Cough drops / throat lozenges
- Aloe Vera
- Extra sunscreen
- Anti-itch spray (for bug bites, rashes)
- Antacid tablets
- Diarrhea medication
- Aspirin (response to heart attack)
- Baby powder (keep sweaty feet dry)
First Aid Kit for Ultralight Hiking
It is critical to never sacrifice preparation and safety for weight. Always keep in mind the SLARS acronym we listed above. However, if you are a stubborn ultralight hiker looking to keep weight low, we have broken down the hiking checklist to the most essential items.
Essentials for an Ultralight First Aid Kit:
- Gauze pads (x2): Important to stop bleeding and keep an injury clean from bacteria and dirt. These are important to prevent infection.
- Antiseptic wipes (x4): Also important for preventing infection, antiseptic wipes help clean up wounds and the area surrounding them.
- Bandaids (4): Helpful to cover up small scratches, cuts, and blisters.
- Butterfly Bandages (4): Used to close deeper lacerations when stitches are unavailable.
- Multipurpose Knife (1): Used for everything and should include tweezers.
- Imodium or loperamide (4): Diarrheal medication
- Acetaminophen/Ibuprofen (4): Help relieve pain, reduce inflammation, and treat fever.
- Moleskin: Protect your feet from blisters and hot spots. This can make or break your trip.
- Duct tape strips: Can be used for everything. Especially helpful to fix torn gear and keep bandaids/moleskin in place.
- Extra tampons, pads, diva cup: You never know when mother nature will hit you. Always bring spares!
First Aid Training
Despite the wide range of first-aid backcountry handbooks, training in first aid is always a great idea to stay prepared and safe before an outdoor adventure. Basic medical training will help you conquer the initial shocks of a medical emergency and be more prepared for any incident. There are many first-aid courses including through the REI Outdoor School and American Red Cross. Classes through REI will be more outdoor adventure-focused.