How do I put together a great first aid kit? Should I buy a complete kit or build one myself? These are questions I have heard frequently from backpackers and are some of the toughest because the answer depends on many things. It depends on your ability, knowledge, and how far away you are from comprehensive medical care. This article is great for backpackers and preppers alike.
The first thing I tell people when they ask me about a first aid kit is that they should take a class. This can be as simple as a basic first aid class or something more intensive like a wilderness first responder (WFR). Red Cross, NOLS Wilderness Medicine Institute and Wilderness Medical Associates are all good places to find classes in your area.
If you have already taken a class or have training from somewhere else, this list will make a little more sense to you. This list is what I carry in my first aid kit when I am going to be in the backcountry for a night or longer, the total weight of this kit is 1.8 lbs.
Used to remove clothing in order to reach a wound without the need to move the patient.
Used to stop blood flow to an extremity. Do not use without proper training or you could cause the limb to be permanently damaged.
Very useful for a variety of situations.
This is useful if the patient has a communicable disease that you are trying to avoid or if they have an open wound that is at risk for infection
The hands spread more diseases than any other part of the body. Carry multiple sizes.
12 cc irrigation syringe
This is very useful for irrigating wounds and flushing debris from eyes.
SAM Rolled Splint 36″
If you have taken a wilderness first aid course, you know that a splint can be made from a variety of different things that are available in nature, such as sticks. The SAM splint is much easier to use and doesn’t weigh enough for me not to carry it.
SAM Medical Finger Splint
Same reasoning as the SAM splint, just made for fingers.
Great for cleaning hands before and after treating patient.
Triangular BandageCan be used in a variety of different ways such as a sling for an arm or to keep a splint in place.
The Field Guide of Wilderness & Rescue Medicine
Even if you have taken a class and a very proficient, it is nice to have a reminder when you come across a first aid or advance care situation. It is also good to review this manual regularly. This is the one I like the most and have used for almost a decade now.
Wound Care:Stretch Gauze Wrap
Used to wrap a large wounded area.
Great for immediate pressure to a deep wound and for dressing wounds.
These are used to pull a wound closed and can sometimes be used in place of sutures or staples.Band-Aid Bandages Variety Pack, 280 Count
Quikclot Advanced Clotting Sponge
Now this item is controversial with regular medical practitioners because it can kill some tissue inside the wound, though I have heard the sponge is better than the packets. I carry it because I am often times deep in the wilderness where it can be days before I get to a regular medical facility and the loss of blood would kill me long before I can get there. This is an item that needs to be used with caution and you must understand the risks involved.Compound Benzoin Tincture
These are used to help bandages stick to skin and reduce irritation for frequent dressing changes.Povidone-Iodine Prep Pad
An antisepticPolysporin First Aid Antibiotic Ointment
Used to speed healing of wounds and reduce chance of infection. Some people are allergic to Neosporin so go with Polysporin.
Dr. Scholl’s Moleskin
Used to pad areas around blisters if you use the donut method.
Miscellaneous:ACE Elastic Bandage
Variety of uses including compression and holding on ice packs
Instant Cold Compress
Used to reduce swelling of an area
Can be used for blisters, to hold bandages on, or support a sprained joint.
Tylenol, Aleve, Ibuprofen, anti-diarrheal, and specialized medication.
The specialized medication would be stronger pain killers, antibiotics, or altitude medication. I carry these dependent on where I am travelling, how long I will be gone and who I am travelling with. In my position I can go to a doctor and tell them what my plans are and get a prescription written, I know travel clinics are better than others at writing scripts when people travel abroad.
Oral Rehydration Salts
Used when a person is severely dehydrated or if they have lost a large amount of blood.
Used to purify water. It is possible that you might need a large amount of potable water to clean a wound or hydrate a patient.
Quart Ziploc freezer bags
Used to dispose of medical waste, i.e. gloves, gauze, or bandages.
First Responders Vital Statistics Notebook, Pencil
Used for patient tracking of vitals and other information.
This list is what I carry in the wilderness, but I add many other items in my trauma bag that I keep in the house and are what I have ready for our bug out location.
These additional items are:
Used to stabilize a spinal injury until the spine can be cleared or until advanced care can be achieved.Suture Thread with Needle
Ranging in size from 2.0-5.0 used to close wounds. Practice before doing this on another person or yourself, a great way to get some practice is using Suture Pad w/ WoundsIsraeli Bandage
This is like a combination of a tourniquet and bandage.
Used to listen to heart and lungs. You could spend a whole lot more money and get a much better stethoscope, but if you have never used one before, save some money and get this one.
Used to check and monitor blood pressure.Skin Stapler Kit
Used to close wounds, much easier to use than sutures.
Halo Chest Seal
Used for open pneumothorax (sucking chest wound)
Oral Airway Kit
Used to open an airway in a cpr situation. Make sure you know how to use these, I was taught to pick the length that goes from the corner of the mouth to the earlobe.
Used to wake up a patient that is unconscious.
Good for patient tracking
Heavy Duty Emergency Blanket
Used to help stave off hypothermia.
And I put all of these things in my Trauma Bag
I also carry higher quantities of all of the items listed for my field kit. This brings my trauma back weight to 8.2 lbs.
I realize in listing all of this that I never answered the question of buying versus piecing together a kit. I would recommend that you buy a fairly inclusive kit such as Adventure Medical Kits Sportsman Series Easy Care Sportsman Bighorn Medical Kit. This kit has most of what I carry and then you can supplement based upon your skills and your scenario. Just make sure you know how to use everything that is in your kit.
What else do you carry? Let me know in the comments and as always, Happy Prepping.