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First Aid Kits & Equipment  

What to Pack for Wilderness First Aid

First aid in the wilderness is one of those unpredictable things. You might decide to carry a heavy, full-blown first aid kit for week-long trips and only use a band aid out of it. Or you might decide to skip the kit to save the weight, and that’s the one time you’ll really need it for an emergency. Many avid backpackers and hikers find their first aid kit getting smaller and smaller the more experience they have in the outdoors. They soon find the items in fancy purchased kits pretty useless and choose to make their own instead.

The Universal First Aid Fix-It

The all-around perfect, must-have for every first aid kit is Duct tape. It’s true. Even doctors have recommended it. It can be used to cover sore skin on toes and heels that are getting hot. It is great for taping sprained ankles and wrists. It can be used to draw a gaping wound together, and works well to fasten pads to other wounds. Typically first aid tapes don’t hold well enough to the skin to be of much good. Duct tape works well because it is durable, very adhesive, and inexpensive.

Basics for Your First Aid Kit

Whether you go with a bought kit or put your own together, here is a list of basic first aid items that you are most likely to use. While there are all kinds of cool gizmos to put in first aid kits, after lugging them many kilometers and never using them, you’ll be joining the ranks of backpackers and hikers who choose to slim down their kits to these basic necessities:

  • Fabric bandages, which you will find are more durable than plastic. A good supply is 25 inch-wide and 25 half-inch-wide bandages.
  • Small bottle of hydrogen peroxide.
  • A package of Moleskin.
  • A package of bunion or corn pads. These are donut shaped and work well to space a sock and boot away from a blister. Cover with moleskin to keep it in place and prevent rub spots. 
    Aspirin and Ibuprofen, also known on the trail as “Vitamin I”.
    A dozen 3x3 gauze pads.
  • Tube of triple antibiotic ointment.
  • Antacid. 
    Small bottle of benzodine or other topical antiseptic.
  • Decongestant.
  • Anti diarrhea medicine.
  • Chapstick or other lip balm.
  • Small bottle of hand sanitizer.
  • Small bottom of bug repellant and another of Sting Ease for the folks allergic to bug bites.
  • A very small pair of pliers.
  • Paper thermometer strips.
  • Salt tablets.

    Even when you run into a serious injury on a trip, the items suggested above will provide the minimum necessary first aid. Better to carry a small kit that is light and easy to pack every time, than to go all-out with a large kit that never gets used. Or worse, gets left at home because it’s too much weight. 

    Making Use of Your First Aid Kit

    Perhaps more important than the items you carry is knowing how to use them, and how to make use of the everyday things around you in an emergency. For instance, a shirt works fine in the place of a sling. A mountain stream works for ice packs. You don’t need to carry splints when you have a couple sticks and Duct tape handy.

    Some of the most-used items are the Moleskin and corn pads for blisters—the number one complaint among hikers—and Ibuprofen for aching joints and post-hike soreness. The items listed above work well for groups at least as large as 36. However, in addition to this community first aid kit, you might find it helpful for each hiker to carry a few personal items for their individual use (e.g. feminine products for women in the group, lip balm, bug repellant).

    Lastly, the best first aid kit is an informed and rational leader who can keep minor injuries from becoming major. Take the time to learn a few first aid basics, and make sure you keep your wits about you in the case of an injury.
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