Time to talk about the First Aid Kit! No, not the band, but what you carry with you to save your life or help with small injuries on outdoors adventures and other travel. First aid kits are an often-overlooked part of people’s equipment, even by those who love to otherwise purchase half of the Mountain Warehouse catalog before a trip. I think it is essential to have if you are doing anything mildly dangerous!
I bought a first aid kit 2-3 years ago. It’s just a simple one from Mountain Warehouse that cost about £20. Since then, I’ve replaced pretty much every single item in it to make it better and more versatile, spending probably another £40 in that process. I’ve already mentioned that people don’t really prepare for the outdoors with this kind of equipment – to prove this, I can say that I’ve definitely used this kit way more to help others than on myself.
I also took a wilderness first aid course back in the UK (REC2 or Remote Emergency Care 2 for those of you interested) and I’d highly recommend that you do one of these. Let’s be honest, you’ll probably forget 80% of the things you learn, but that knowledge will still come in very handy. Having a first aid kit and having a little clue about how to use it already puts you ahead of the vast majority of people in how useful you are when shit hits the fan. So prepare for that zombie apocalypse by doing a course and getting yourself a first aid kit!
Here is a detailed list of everything I have in my first aid kit and stories of how and what I’ve used them for on my various adventures – and a story of when I really wished I had the kit with me!
Disclaimer: of course, I’m not a pro at this, so take my advice with a generous grain of salt. I’m also open to suggestions what to add to the kit! This is also a kit that is designed to be used on mainly small injuries, and if there is a big injury, you’ll be calling in the professionals anyway, but maybe you can use it to stabilize the injured person. Read a good description of the difference between a first aid kit and a trauma kit HERE.
This is probably the number one thing you will use while hiking! If not you, someone else around you will eventually get blisters and good blister plasters are a million times better than just using regular plasters. They really cushion the blister and also help it heal faster. I always have a bunch of Compeed plasters in the kit.
Fun fact, I’ve only ever used a single blister plaster on myself, but I’ve gone through at least 3 boxes of them on others. The funniest example was when I was hiking near Edale in the Peak District and there was some newbie on the trail, hiking 20 km in brand new Converse shoes – which meant there was very little skin left on his feet. I had to put an entire pack of Compeed plasters onto his foot just to get him to be able to walk off the hill.
Imodium & Water Purification Tablets
Imodium is for when you have diarrhea. I hope we can agree I don’t think I really need to tell any stories about when and how I had to use that, but I can say that this is an item you’ll be very glad you have with you on many occasions when travelling in case of food poisoning and similar issues.
Water purifications tablets are basically there to prevent you from needing to use Imodium… I carry these with me for when I’m doing multi-day hikes and I know I’ll refill my water bottle from streams. Of course, these tablets aren’t exactly magic, so they won’t make any disgusting, murky water drinkable, but they are pretty darn useful.
Painkillers can come in useful in a variety of ways. The most common one is that someone will get a headache, which can of course happen from the excessive partying in the camp the previous night, but it’s also useful for when there is some injury and you need to limp off the hill.
Leukoplast - Tape
Leukoplast is just a really damn strong tape that’s made for securing dressings for small wounds. I usually use it in combination with the smaller pieces of gauze to make very durable band-aids. It’s fairly waterproof and very sticky. Yes, it’s painful to remove, but it also has a 10x better chance of staying on than the regular band-aids. It’s also great for small campsite fixes, like temporarily mending ripped backpack straps or securing a bunch of cables together.
It’s great that you can put a dressing on a wound, but you need to make sure it is clean. Betadine does just that. Simple, easy to use.
I have a variety of narrower and wider gauze rolls and a pack of 6x6 cm pads. They are useful to create wound dressings with Leukoplast. If you have huge deep wounds, you can just stuff the whole thing in there, to stop serious bleeding, although it’s not ideal (look that one up!).
I’ve also once used some of this gauze to improvise a water filter in the Sierra Nevada. I needed to fill up my water bottle from a mountain lake, but there were a few pieces floating around the water that I didn’t want to drink, so I filtered it out with a piece of gauze, used my water purification tablets, and I was good to go!
Strains, pulled tendons and rolled ankles are very common while hiking, so this thing will come in handy at some point. It can also be used as extra wound dressing when it’s needed (not directly on the wound though!).
Scissors and Tweezers
Scissors can be used to cut wound dressings, cut off clothes if you need to access a bigger wound and all kinds of other non-first-aid campsite uses. I’ll definitely replace mine with something sturdier eventually.
Removing little wood splinters from the hand and foot are the most common uses for the tweezers, but I’ll give you a funnier example… When your girlfriend makes fun of you in the middle of a trip for having a bit of a unibrow growing on your forehead, you can take care of that in a pinch as well!
It’s not smart to be covered in other people’s blood, since you can catch all kinds of weird shit, so having gloves in an easily accessible part of your first aid kit is a must! Want a good example? When I was working in Százhalombatta on an excavation, one of the guys stepped on a bone. Of course, he was barefoot and it cut his foot open. Nothing too deep, but was definitely a situation which called for wearing gloves. No big deal, he was back in the trench soon after! Although in such a case, a medical checkup and probably a tetanus shot is advised.
If you are ever in a situation that you are stuck outside somewhere in the cold, these things can be lifesaving. Just remember, if you want to keep warm, the silver side should go in and the gold out, which I was originally quite surprised by. It’s not just for the winter either, but if you are caught in a big storm in the summer, this can save you from a nasty cold.
Last time I had to use one was when I gave it to a member of a mountain biking group, when they got caught in a massive rainstorm. I was out in the storm too with a couple of hikers, but we had good rain gear and made it into a bar in Güéjar Sierra eventually. These guys were out way longer in shorts and T-shirts and they were all shades of purple and blue by the time they arrived inside. I gave the blanket to the one who seemed to be in the worst shape and actually one person from the group who I hiked with drove him all the way home, to avoid him getting any worse hypothermia.
Great for lighting the camp cooker, but also good to help sterilize the tweezers or clean the scissors. I use a stormproof lighter to make sure it works in all conditions.
I have mild hay fever that usually comes out for a couple of weeks in the spring, so this is good to have when those symptoms appear. It is apparently also good to take one in case of a wasp bite or similar for those who are sensitive to these, since it’s an antihistamine. But I’m not very comfortable with giving advice about medication, so research that one!
Band-Aids and Adhesive Dressings
I’m not a fan of band-aids or plasters, since they fall of so easily, but sometimes it’s comfortable to just use that in case there is a small cut on someone’s finger. I also have a couple of large adhesive dressings for bigger, shallow surface wounds.
Steri-Strips or Skin Closure Strips
I added these to the kit after cutting my hand open on a chipped mug during a ski trip. The cut was on the side of my hand and it kept opening up throughout the day of skiing, always covering my glove in blood. It wasn’t crazy big, but deep enough to cause pain and plenty of bleeding, and it was in an awkward place, so normal bandages just wouldn’t keep it completely closed. That’s where these things would come in handy! They can be used to close wounds that are not deep enough to require sewing up, but don’t properly stay closed.
Other Random Items
Wound cleansing wipes can be useful to clean up the area around the wounds, but I prefer using water and Betadine for a much neater job. I have a triangular bandage which can be used to help in a wide variety of arm and head injuries, but luckily, I never had to use it yet. I also have a few safety pins, which can be used to secure clothing, hold bandages and in all kinds of campsite emergencies.
What I’d Add
There are a few things that I’d love to add, but this first aid kit could hardly fit more, as it already has at least twice as much in it as it was originally designed to hold. It would be nice to have a SAM splint, for temporarily securing sprains and broken bones. I’d also like to add some hemostatic gauze, like WoundClot or QuikClot to help with cases of really serious bleeding.
Other things people recommend are CPR masks, eye dressings, burn dressings, etc. What you should add really depends on what you use the kit for. Space is limited, and you are much more likely to take the kit with you if it stays compact!
When I Would Have Really Needed My Kit
I don’t walk around everywhere with a first aid kit, but for hikes, biking trips and some travel, I do usually have it with me and it has come in handy more times than I can possibly count. But it’s time to tell you a story when I would have needed it and didn’t have it with me! This was last spring during one of the parties of the MUNAPEST conference. We went to a bar with a large group in Budapest. Suddenly, I could see a bit of panic in the doorway. The bouncer was sitting on a barstool by the door and suddenly he keeled over, bashing his head on the door as he was falling over.
He had an epileptic seizure and was obviously completely out of it. Most people were of course panicking and had no clue what to do, but I had just finished my first aid course not long before that and after a few drinks, I was also probably more confident in my skills than I should have been. Quickly got someone to call an ambulance, cleared people out of the way and for a good while there was nothing more to do than to hold the guy’s head so that he doesn’t bash it in on the ground again and just let the seizure finish.
After that, he didn’t remember his own name for a while and had no clue what happened to him, although he was convinced that he was fine. The wound wasn’t crazy huge, but it was definitely a big hit to his head. In this situation, most of the first aid was actually keeping people away from the scene, making sure his airways were open and once the seizure was over, to keep the guy talking and calm him down as he slowly came back to reality. The ambulance arrived fairly quickly, and they said he’d be fine, just maybe a few stitches on the head. In this case, it would have been great to have a first aid kit, to clean the wound and mainly just to have the gloves, since here I ended up covered in some random dude’s blood almost up to my elbows. Not very hygienic…
Hope for the best but prepare for the worst – you will probably not need a first aid kit the vast majority of time, but when shit hits the fan, it has its uses! It’s for dealing with all the small, uncomfortable injuries and having it will make your travel and hiking experiences all the more comfortable. Even if it’s not you, someone around you will probably have some little injury at some point on the trip. So, do yourself a favor and buy a little first aid kit. It’s cheap, small and will help you a ton.
Finally, learn how to use your kit and learn what’s where within the kit, because if you fumble around for ages looking for items, you’ll look stupid and someone might bleed out. Or hopefully just complain a lot about that blister… Either way, it’s not fun.