First Aid Kits

One of the most frequent questions I get is “What do you carry in your first aid kit?”  So, in order to make everyone’s life a bit easier, I’ve supplied the contents of my kit below.  Keep a couple things in mind.  First, this kit is designed around caring for a small group of people over several days.  If all you’re doing is day trips, you probably won’t need as extensive a kit.  Second, I’m a paramedic and WEMT, so some of the tools I use may not be useful to you if you don’t have the same training as me.  I’ve tried to include these tools in their own category so you can simply ignore it if it doesn’t help you.  Third, building a first aid kit and maintaining it is an investment.  Expect to spend some money, and do yearly inventory/upkeep (removing expired meds, etc.).

Also, if you’d rather not assemble your own, several companies make excellent kits.  Check out Vertical Medicine Resources and Adventure Medical Kits.

Basic trauma stuff: This is the meat and potatoes. Most of the time if I go into my kit, I’m looking for this stuff.

  • Gloves: Look for ones made out of Nitrile. They are sized according to hand size.  The vinyl ones are cheap, crappy, and uncomfortable. Avoid the latex ones, lots of folks are allergic to them.
  • Standard and large-sized band aids: A good sized Baggie of them. I find the fabric, “bandaid” brand ones are a bit more expensive, but stick better than the cheap plastic ones.
  • 4 x 4 gauze pads: Good for everything! Bring lots. I use these for everything from cleaning wounds to bandaging stuff that a bandaid can’t take care of.
  • 1″ medical tape: May want two rolls…
  • 1 or 2 ACE bandages: the big elastic ones. This stuff is awesome.
  • 2 or 4 rolls of roller gauze: Usually comes in 2″ and 4″. You can get whichever you like best, but I find I like 4″ better.
  • Large trauma pad:  This is basically a huge 4 x 4, used to cover large wounds.  It’s especially helpful for abdominal wounds.
  • CPR Pocket mask: I prefer the actual mask kind, but you can also get a relatively simple breathing barrier.
  • Tweezers
  • Shears/bandage scissors: The big, crooked, funny looking scissors.
  • Moleskin/mole foam: To take care of any blister issues you may run into.
  • Bottle of rubbing alcohol, a second bottle of benzoyl peroxide, and small container of baby powder:  Also for blisters.

Medications: You don’t need much. But a few are helpful. Generics are fine.

  • Benadryl (generic is diphenhydramine): Look for the 50 mg pill. For allergic reactions.
  • Tylenol (generic is acetaminophen): I like the extra strength 500 mg pills. Good for headaches, pain in general, and fevers.
  • Advil (generic is ibuprofen): Good for aches and pain in muscles.
  • Tums: Small package; these guys take up lots of space.
  • Small Baggie of Jolly Rangers or hard, individually wrapped candy: Make sure it has real sugar in it, and it doesn’t tend to melt. This is for low blood sugar situations, and candy with artificial sweeteners won’t work. They also work great to motivate tired, cranky kids.

Tools: I like having a bit of a survival/repair kit. This can be modified for what you’re doing, but here are a few things I like to have:

  • Extra AA and AAA batteries.
  • Extra zip lock bags.
  • Sunscreen/bug repellent.
  • Small flashlight or headlamp.
  • Safety pins.
  • Pocketknife.
  • Matches/lighter/candle.
  • Small notebook/pencil/”writing tool”: Good for sending messages out, or documenting treatment.
  • Duct tape: Because duct tape.
  • Tent cord.
  • Space blanket.

WEMT level stuff:  The following is optional, but may be useful.

  • Stethoscope.
  • Blood pressure cuff.
  • Blood sugar monitor, w/lancets and test strips:  Blood sugar monitoring is going to start playing a much larger role in wilderness medicine.  I don’t carry these yet, but I foresee that changing soon.
  • Oral and nasal airways.
  • 1-2 commercial tourniquets.
  • Thermometer.