Most of us have one of those general cookie-cutter first aid kits in our packs – the ones that we purchased from the shelves of an outdoor store, comprised of a few gauze bandages, a pair of tweezers, and some (most likely) dried out alcohol swabs. Our first aid kits may always be in our packs, but it’s one of the last things we think about until we actually need it. Many of us could use a refresher on the essentials and replacements on old items.
I’ve been fortunate enough to only need my tweezers to pull out small slivers here and there. The rest of my kit has been soaked from water bladder leakages over the years, dried out repeatedly, and never replaced (a clue that I need better waterproof protection on this). Now that I’m about to head into four National Parks on a near month-long road trip/camping/backpacking adventure – in bear country, no less – I need to put together a more advanced med kit. Not even a first aid kit at this point – a med kit that will be stocked with things I’ll need on this excursion.
Last month I leveled up and got into a Wilderness First Aid class. While it was really helpful, I still feel like I need to continuously study up. Thankfully, there’s the massive training book we were provided, and no doubt it will make for interesting camp conversation while we’re on the road and have run out of reading material.
In our class we talked briefly about first aid kits and what we might need. The first question our instructor brought up was, “Well, what do you think is going to go wrong?”
Obviously, we don’t have crystal balls to predict future accidents, but we can make our best guesses on potential situations we may run into on the terrain, the specific season and elements, area conditions, distance from proper medical care, type of activities that will be done, and pack space.
Here are the general items you need to consider for a 3 to 4 day trip:
One thing we learned in Wilderness First Aid Training was that many of our gear items can double as first aid items. The irrigation syringe that I have is for my Sawyer Mini water system to purge the filter, and the trauma pad is essentially your sleeping pad (or, the victim’s sleeping pad – because the joke is that you always use their gear to cut, shred, and bloody. Heh).
Other items that you think might work as a double, like using your outdoor knife instead of scissors, aren’t as effective. A pair of angled scissors are super cheap, lightweight and much better at cutting clothing in case of an emergency.
Some other items not listed in the book to consider would be:
- A straw – simple gestures become more difficult when you’re injured. A straw is handy if you can’t move and need hydration.
- Makeshift sunglasses from Duct Tape (the go-to fixer upper!)
- Dental wax – if you have fillings that pop or a chipped tooth, this protects the tooth nerves from being exposed to air. Something to consider for high elevation trips.
- Hunting tape – to use as trail markers if you get lost or tags for SAR to find you
- A foldable bucket – to collect larger amounts of water instead of in shorter trips.
When it comes to medications, I think it’s always better to bring more than less. Especially after learning how Benadryl paired with Ibuprofen helps to maximize anti-inflammatory results, and how the recommended dosage for over the counter medications isn’t exactly the theraputic dosage – you should double it for effectiveness in an emergency. Some of them you can take up to four times the recommended dose (not acetaminophen, though! Your liver will hate you).
Triangular bandages are a big focus in Wilderness First Aid training. We spent a lot of time learning how to make certain wraps from one piece of cloth, including arm slings. If there’s one thing I took away from that time, it’s that you need to have a handful of these in your pack – at the very least have three. I’ve never even had one in my first aid kit let alone three. Prior to the class I thought my bandana that I always have in my pack would be sufficient. After the class, I tried to make a head wrap from it for one of the kids just as a test. It hardly fit his little head and wasn’t even close to being big enough for an adult sling. Bandanas are great for wiping snot, but that’s about it. You’ll want to make sure your bandages are 3 feet by 3 feet.
For a complete First Aid list from the Wilderness First Aid Emergency Care in Remote Locations training book, click this link and go to page 311. You’ll see the tables that explain each item’s particular use as well as improvised alternatives if you find yourself missing something important. That’s another skillset you begin to learn, what kind of treatments you cobble together with gear and tree branches.
It’s a good time to go through your first aid kit to see what you have, what needs to be replaced, and add in the items that are missing. You’ll thank yourself later if and when you need it!