Select Page

Geartrade: First Aid Kit Basics 

Getting injured is bad enough. But getting hurt—or having a member of your party get hurt—out on the trail is a whole other matter. Something that would be simple to deal with if you were in town can now become a major production (at best) or a dangerous situation (at worst). If you badly sprain your ankle walking around your neighborhood, it’s a bummer. If you badly sprain it 30 miles from your car in a place that has no cell reception, it’s more than a bummer—it’s a huge problem to solve.

That’s why it’s crucial to always carry at least a basic first-aid kit in the mountains (or desert, or jungle, or wherever you’re blessed to be adventuring). Tailor the kit a bit according to how far off the beaten path you’ll be getting, and whether you’ll have cell reception to call for a helping hand. If you’re just taking a simple half-day hike in your local hills, you probably don’t need to bring a five-pound first-aid kit and could just pare down to the essentials. But if you’re really heading out into the vast wilds, be sure to carefully pack all the basics.

Dressings and bandages: 

  • Band-Aids in multiple shapes and sizes
  • Sterile gauze pads
  • Gauze roll
  • Eye shield
  • Medical adhesive tape
  • Elastic bandages (Ace bandages), 3-4” wide
  • Triangle bandages (to wrap injuries or make an arm sling)
  • Sterile cotton balls or swabs
  • Blood-clotting sponge (available at some outdoor shops and military supply stores)

Equipment: 

  • Latex gloves
  • Instant cold packs
  • Safety pins
  • Irrigation syringe
  • Finger splint
  • SAM splint
  • Thermometer
  • Tweezers
  • Medical shears
  • Knife or multi-tool
  • Breathing barrier for CPR
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Emergency blanket
  • First aid manual / reference card
  • Emergency numbers
  • Sewing needle with heavy-duty thread

Medicines 

  • Antiseptic solution or wipes
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Saline solution
  • Calamine lotion
  • Hydrocortisone cream
  • Pain/fever reducer such as Tylenol, Advil, or Motrin
  • Antihistamine such as Benadryl
  • Decongestants
  • Anti-diarrheal tablets
  • Antacid tablets
  • Laxatives

First aid training:
Finally, all that first aid equipment is only as good as the knowledge you have to use it with! If you haven’t, it would be well worth the effort to attend a Basic First Aid class or CPR course offered through the Red Cross. They’re typically quite inexpensive and give you life-saving skills.

If you want to really up your potential as a wilderness superhero, look into taking a multi-day Wilderness First Responder course. In that kind of course, you’ll learn how to respond to the kinds of injuries that take place during outdoor adventures—what to use from your first aid kit, how to use it, and how to improvise additionally as needed.

In the “equipment” list above, you’ll notice it’s suggested that you carry a small first-aid manual. Whatever your training, this is an excellent idea, even if it’s a super-abbreviated reference. When an emergency occurs, it’s not uncommon for your mind to go blank, even if you’re not the one who’s injured—in fact, especially if you’re not injured and you’re tasked with administering first aid to someone else. Having an easy-to-use reference manual that you’re already familiar with can really help trim your response time down and help you feel confident you’re doing the right thing.

And finally, this isn’t part of conventional first-aid equipment checklists, but we highly recommend having a small satellite communication device or personal tracker with you. It’s a small investment, but it gives incredible peace of mind that, if someone in your party needs urgent help with a life-threatening situation, you could simply press a button and know help will soon be on its way. These kinds of personal trackers and beacons are sold by SPOT, Garmin inReach, and other brands. Sometimes, you can find one right here on Geartrade!

Be safe out there, and have fun assembling (or bolstering up) your first-aid kit. Whether you end up using it for situations big or small, it sure feels good to be prepared.

Beth Lopez is a seasoned writer and creative director who loves to tell tales of adventure and discovery—and finds writing a powerful way to give a voice to people, causes, and places. Beth runs amok in the Wasatch mountains when untethered from her computer. She believes there’s no such thing as a bad ski day and considers animals her favorite people. Don’t tell her mother about her Instagram mountaineering photos.