20 May What’s In Your Outdoor First Aid Kit?
The Walkers And Hikers Guide To The Outdoor First Aid Kit
An outdoor first aid kit is essential and deserves as much thought as the rest of our gear, because injuries and accidents can happen to us all. But how do you decide what to include? Do you prepare for the absolute worst case scenario and carry everything but the kitchen sink/defibrillator, or assume you’ll get nothing more than the odd nettle rash or blister?
This guide to your outdoor first aid kit is based on my training as an outdoor first aider and will help you think about possible scenarios and what you might need to hand.
Disclaimer: I’m not a medical expert and this is not a ‘definitive’ guide or a substitute for attending a first aid course yourself. Also, the items in the photographs are from my personal outdoor first aid kit (hence the rough-and-ready-I’ve-been-in-a-rucksack look!) and not intended to promote or endorse any particular brand or product.
Here’s What Your Outdoor First Aid Kit Might Include
From Blisters to Broken Bones
Let’s get started with some typical things you might have to deal with on the trail, and some ideas of what you might need in your outdoor first aid kit to treat them:
small tube of antiseptic
Bites and Stings
small tube of antiseptic
Aches and Pains
Paracetamol or Ibuprofen
Tube of Deep Heat
Cuts and Bruises
small tube of antiseptic
plasters in a range of sizes
Breaks and Strains
Notice how some items are duplicated in several columns, so it will be easy to double up and lighten the load! In the next section I’ll give you some ideas of what you can carry on a day or multi-day hike, with the intended purpose in mind. Most of these are items I carry in my own personal first aid kid.
Don’t Get Stung! The Preventative Outdoor First Aid Kit
Prevention is better than cure, as the saying goes, and there are a couple of things I recommend you carry to at least minimise bites (from mosquitoes, midges and gnats) and sunburn. Also, remember to give some thought to the ailments you know you're generally susceptible to.
Insects, sun, aches and niggles…
- insect repellent (some people prefer a Deet based product and other walkers swear by Avon Skin So Soft Moisturiser) and a mosquito head-net
- sun-cream and hat (consider whether you need to cover your neck too)
- an elasticated tubular bandage is a really useful addition to your first aid kit if you’re susceptible to niggles in the knee or calf for example
- if you regularly suffer from muscular aches and strains consider packing a tube of Deep Heat, or something similar
Rest. Ice. Compression. Elevate.
R.I.C.E. isn’t always practical on the trail, but if you feel that niggle coming on take regular breaks (Rest), stand in a cold stream, tarn or the sea (if it’s safe) for 10 minutes or so (Ice), wear your elasticated support bandage (Compression), and put your feet up at your lunch stops and breaks (Elevate), which might stop the niggle from becoming worse en route.
Don’t forget to remove any compression bandages before you sleep.
What If… Remedies To Pack In Your Outdoor First Aid Kit
- 3 antiseptic wipes (for cleaning grazes and open wounds)
- 1 small tube of antiseptic (for applying to open wounds to inhibit infection)
- 3 plasters of various sizes (for small cuts and grazes)
- 1 strip of skin closures (for deeper incisions – eg a cut from a rock
- 2 blister plasters (eg Compeed)
- 1 large sterile dressing (for large cuts and grazes; it can also be cut into several smaller dressings
- small roll of dressing tape
- 1 bandage roll (useful for covering dressings, securing a splint etc)
- 1 triangular bandage (for sprains and breaks to the arm)
- Pair of tick tweezers (for ticks, bee stings and thorns)
- Small pair of scissors (for cutting bandages and clothing)
- Blister pack of antihistamine* (for allergic reactions)
- Blister pack of pain killers* (paracetamol or Ibuprofen, which is also useful for swelling)
*Ensure there are no contraindications if you take other medication
My Personal Kit Includes:
A foil blanket, a multi-tool with scissors and tweezers, a whistle, a tube of antiseptic, 2 antiseptic wipes, 2 small plasters, 2 large plasters, 2 blister plasters, 1 sterile dressing, 1 strip of skin closures and bandage roll, sealed into a zip-log bag to keep it clean and dry.
That might sound like a long list, but once you’ve doubled up on a few items it packs down pretty small and light and is perfect for day trips or shorter multi-day hikes.
Be Creative And Double Up To Save Weight
Think about what else you usually carry that could double up as something in your first aid kit if you needed it. Here are a few things to consider:
- I mentioned that breaks and strains are a common injury for walkers and hikers and that you might need a splint in this situation. Rather than carrying a splint specifically for the purpose you could use a walking pole for a suspected leg break, for example.
- Permanently roll some Gaffa tape around the top of your pole so you’ve always got something to secure a splint to a broken limb (the tape will double up as dressing tape, or for repairs to tents or sleeping mats too – win win!).
- What else could you use as a sling? A buff perhaps, or an item of clothing?
- Your multi-tool might have a pair of scissors and tweezers included (although they’re not tick tweezers) or perhaps you carry a knife that might substitute for a pair of scissors.
Lightening Your Load
- Think about how long you’ll be walking for: if you’re only out for a day you might carry less than if you’re out for a week.
- Consider where you’ll be – how close are supermarkets and pharmacies along your route; can you carry less and re-stock if you need to?
- What’s the terrain like? Is it rocky, with more potential for cuts and bruises, or perhaps muddy and boggy with the possibility of slips and strains?
- Can you share your first aid kit between a group? This is a good option on a multi-day trip with friends, but there are always items each of you should carry (see the next section) and you should be aware of each other’s allergies and emergency contact details too.
Don’t Forget To Include These Items In Your Outdoor First Aid Kit Too!
These aren’t medical items, but don’t venture out without them:
- A foil blanket (to keep yourself warm if you have to wait for help, for eg)
- A whistle (to attract attention if you’re hurt and out alone)
- Accident contact numbers (who are you going to call if you’re injured? EG 999/112)
- Personal medication (including inhalers, Epi-pens, etc)
- Personal details (phone numbers of next of kin, medication, etc – find out more and download your free 10 Mile Hike ICE card)
Always keep in mind that lightening your first aid kit doesn't mean skimping!
Look After Your Outdoor First Aid Kit
Keep It Dry
Your personal outdoor first aid kit is vital so it’s important to keep it clean and dry!
You can store your first aid items in a plastic zip-lock bag, which is lightweight, but bear in mind your tweezers (or something else in your rucksack) could easily puncture it. A small, clear pencil case (which is thicker plastic) or a roll-top dry-bag might be a better option. The fabric is strong, they’re completely waterproof and the roll top means you can make the bag fit the contents perfectly (which makes it easier to pack in your rucksack). And there are plenty of first aid pouches you can buy (like my big red pouch above, which I use if I’m leading groups) that come in all shapes and sizes (check whether they’re waterproof though, or pack your items in plastic bags first).
Keep It Stocked Up
Whenever you use something from your first aid kit make sure you replace it before your next walk or hike. And, remember to regularly check the use-by dates of any ointments, creams, painkillers, etc and replace if necessary.
Keep It Light
One of the easiest ways to lighten your first aid kit is to get rid of any superfluous packaging: remove any cardboard boxes that dressings and tapes come in and transfer them to small zip-lock bags to keep them clean. You can take blister packs of pain-killers and antihistamines out of their cardboard packaging too, but remember to check whether the foil has the use-by date printed on it. If it doesn’t, write it on the pack with a waterproof felt tip.
What Would You Never Leave Home Without?
If you’re a regular walker and already carry a first aid kit, let us know what you wouldn’t leave home without. And if you got a story to tell about an injury you had on the trail did you have everything you needed? Tell us how you dealt with it in the comments – there’s nothing like sharing an experience that could help us make the difference between a great walk and a miserable hike.
And if you’ve got any ingenious ideas for doubling up, we definitely want to know!
Next time you pack your rucksack don’t forget your first aid kit and download the checklist below as a reminder of what to take – I hope it’s useful!