We largely live in a world where medical treatment is only a phone call away. But in the wilderness, there's no 911. When you are injured and miles from help, you have only a couple of things that will help you: your brain and a well stocked first aid & emergency kit. My kit has been a work in progress since I began hiking and camping and I finally feel like I have exactly what I need for minor and major medical issues. I actually carry two "emergency" kits, one is my first aid kit, and the other is for more general emergencies like inclement weather, getting stranded, etc. I will talk about both kits in this post.
I was lucky that when I first started hiking, I had some experienced friends to guide me. One of the most important things they taught me was to always carry a first aid kit. Even on the shortest of hikes, it gives peace of mind and can help treat something that can start as an annoyance but turn into something more painful or dangerous if left untreated.
My first kit was an Adventure Medical Kit, and I still use the cool waterproof pouch, though the contents have changed since I got it. I bought the .7 size which states it's good for 1-2 people for 1-4 day trips. It came stocked with the usual: bandages, gauze, a variety of topicals for burns, stings, cuts, etc., over the counter meds, latex gloves, and a tiny roll of duct tape. Right from the start I added a roll of athletic tape, which was a lifesaver when I twisted and fractured my ankle about 3 miles from the car. I was able to stabilize the ankle and walk out on it without doing more damage to it or being in too much pain.
Over the first year or two that I had the kit, I mostly used the bandages, triple antibiotic, and ibuprofen. The gloves came in very handy when I was on a hike with a group of patients from my former job and someone who I was aware was HIV and Hepatitis C positive needed some wound care. I would restock those items as needed, but felt like I was carrying some stuff that I would likely never use and that there were other things I would need that I did not have. Once I began doing more extreme type hikes, longer trips, and frequent rock climbing, I slowly began adding things to my kit so that it would have all the things I might need while still being light and portable.
The things I always have in my kit no matter how far I'm going:
Mike carries a trauma kit when we go on overnight or longer trips much like the one he uses when deployed. Most of this stuff is probably overkill for your average hike or camping trip, but he knows how to use it and it doesn't hurt to bring it. The kit contains the following items (ensure you know how to use them and have proper first aid training):
For those just starting out, I highly recommend getting a lightweight kit like the Adventure Medical Kits and adding things like extra ibuprofen, moleskin, dental floss, athletic tape, and upgraded bandages like Tegaderm or more heavy duty Band-aids.Especially on overnight trips or long mileage hikes, bring more bandaids than you think you need.
You can then create a second bag with your emergency blanket, matches, flashlight or headlamp, water purification tablets, etc. Check your flashlight and headlamp before each trip and bring spare batteries. Mike's headlamp stopped working in Yosemite, we put in fresh batteries and it still didn't work. I always bring a spare light that clips on to a baseball hat which he was able to use to find his way around camp after dark. We sent the headlamp back to Petzl when we got home and they returned it to us saying it works fine. It's been fine ever since, and must have just been a glitch, but that just shows the importance of checking your gear regularly.
What are your must-have items in your first aid kit? Let us know in the comments!
Keep Hiking Forward!
Mike and Melanie
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