How to put together a first aid kit outdoors
Wilderness personal medical kits
How do you put a first aid kit together for the outdoors? Or a bushcraft first aid kit? Are first aid kits for mountain biking different to ones for kayaking?
Carrying a first aid kit in your rucksack or in your personal kit is pretty difficult to argue against. The problem is – how much do you carry, and what exactly do you carry? Once you start going down the road of visualising every possible emergency medical scenario and wanting to ‘be prepared’ for it. Before long you end up carrying several kilograms of equipment that in all likelihood you will never use – but you somehow feel that you need to.
The reality is actually a lot simpler. There are two important points to remember for outdoor emergency first aid:
- Training is the absolute most important thing you can put your time and money into. Knowledge weighs nothing and the most important lifesaving techniques require good personal skills but little to no equipment.
- If you are on your own in the middle of nowhere then the options open to you self-treatment are actually very limited.
With that mildly-sobering thought in mind – how do you put together a first aid kit for the outdoors?
The answer is dependent on several factors:
- The environment you are travelling too/through and specific hazards it may contain
- The length of trip
- Distance/time to evacuation and medical care in case of emergency
- The number of people (and animals) in the party
- The existing medical conditions of those in the party
- The training and skill level of those in the party
- The activities you are performing
- Your carrying capacity (rucksack, canoe, vehicle, porters etc)
For example – the medical kit for a 5-week sailing voyage to the Lofoten islands would be different to that of a solo lightweight backpacker on a 3-day summer trip in the Cairngorms. For the former a Bag Valve Mask (BVM) and full suture kit would be appropriate but would a little ridiculous for the solo hiker.
I have used various medical kits in my work over the years. In my time in a Mountain Rescue team I carried a small personal first aid kit that contained a minimal number of items and drugs – but it was designed to be pooled with the other kits carried by fellow rescuers to form a larger and more comprehensive kit. I supplemented this with items purchased myself such as Tuffcut shears and nitrile gloves. When working as a remote-area medic as support on long-distance races and outdoor challenges I was either carrying a very comprehensive kit issued by the company employing me, or I was given a budget to supply my own equipment at my own specification. I have also put together my own for various trips, plus also kits for Original Outdoors staff and freelance contractors to use when working with our own clients. Each case has been slightly different…
The easy answer to “what’s the best outdoor first aid kit?” is – they all are. The real skill is choosing or building one that suits where you are going, what you are doing and what you’re doing when you get there. To that end I’ve put together a video on the decision-making process that I go through for any trip or scenario, and the items I carry in one of my personal kits:
First Aid Kit Contents
The list below is based on the items shown in the video, with links to buy them directly from Amazon. Some of the brands or sizes are slightly different or only a few representations of what I carry. The items are not listed in order of importance, just to roughly match the order from the video.
I’ve also put a link to the Lifesystems first aid kit which is a very similar off-the-shelf kit that I can personally recommend – even if it’s used as a base to add other items to.
Get them in any colour other than red or black – you need to be able to see if blood suddenly appears on them when giving a primary or secondary survey as it will steer you towards a major bleed you may have missed.
Resus Face Shield
An item of personal safety that should be somewhere easy to reach but can also make your CPR technique more effective.
Anti Bacterial Wipes
Great for cleaning up after dealing with a minor wound and preventing your kit contaminating everything it touches.
Alcohol Hand Gel
Be aware that carrying alcohol in your first aid kit may cause issues when travelling to countries where alcohol is banned or severely restricted
Sterile topical solution in sachets for careful application over wider areas.
Sterile Eye Wash Pods
Sterile topical solution in pods for washing foreign bodies from eyes.
Fabric Adhesive Dressing Strip
Adhesive dressing strip on a roll for making custom plasters/band-aids for tricky areas like between fingers.
Temporary adhesive suture strips for wound closure.
Being able to treat or manage a blister can make the difference between carrying on or turning around to go home
General use dressings without any adhesive.
I have yet to use one of these as a sling, but they are quite useful for holding other dressings on or wrapping over wide areas.
Wound dressings (Various sizes)
Absorbent wound dressings in various sizes
Great for reaching places that the eyeball can’t!
Glucose gel for hypoglycemic emergencies.
Small scissors with rounded ends for safety
Tough shears for emergency clothing removal
For removal of small foreign bodies
Tiny sterile needles for making small holes to drain blisters etc
Of limited use in a first aid environment but helpful for long-term monitoring of a patient
Tick Removal Card
For safe removal of ticks
Not for general carry and must be trained in use
Useful but heavy and other items can be improvised to replace it.
Lifesystems Mountain Leader First Aid Kit
A comprehensive and well-designed outdoor first aid kit.