Dial That Backcountry First Aid Kit: And Don’t Leave Home Without It

Spending time in remote places requires preparation. A portion of that preparation should include gathering medical supplies to be able to respond to emergencies. There isn’t a perfect first aid kit for all situations, making it important to tailor a kit to meet the needs of your trip and group.

First aid kits are not a “buy it and forget it” purchase. Items get used, wet, hot, cold, dirty and they expire. Make it a priority to inventory the items in your first aid kit and restock things that are used, worn out or expired.

Non-Negotiable Items

First aid in remote places is about improvisation, but there are a few items that are hard to improvise effectively. Responding to emergencies can place you in a situation where you come in contact with body substances. Body substance isolation (BSI) is the practice of protecting your exposure from these substances to limit the risk of disease transmission. Non-latex gloves and a CPR mask should be considered mandatory items for even the smallest first aid kit.

Acquiring a Kit

Buying a commercially made first aid kit is an efficient way to get your first kit. The commercially designed kits use names or numbers to indicate the kit’s intended use. Purchasing a commercial kit allows you to get most of the necessary items along with a carrying case without having to purchase large quantities of each item. As you look at which kit to purchase and maintain, ask yourself the following questions

1. Who are you traveling with?

Do you travel with groups, adults, kids or solo? Traveling with more people results in more opportunities to use the items in your kit. With group travel, consider adding more commonly used items, such as bandages, tape and over-the-counter pain relievers. For trips with adults at risk for heart conditions, make sure that aspirin is in the kit. If kids are on the trip, small things like bandages with cartoon characters or a small toy can go a long way to decrease their stress. Make sure the individuals with any specific medical conditions have the necessary supplies to meet their medical needs.

2. How long will you be out?

The longer you are planning to be out, the more material you may use. Increase the number of common use items such as bandages, athletic tape, non-latex gloves and over-the-counter medications. The number of these items can be decreased on short day trips. On day trips to remote environments, consider bringing an emergency blanket in case injury lengthens your trip resulting in an unexpected overnight.


3. What activities will you be doing?

The items carried in a first aid kit should match the conditions that are associated with the activities you’ll be engaging in. Hikers commonly experience blisters and musculoskeletal injuries. A nail clipper in a first aid kit can also can reduce many potential foot issues when on trail runs, day hikes, or backpack trips. Boaters can add a small container of sunscreen and sunglasses to reduce the potential of sunburn from the reflection of the sun on the water.

4.    What level of training do you have with the items in your kit?

It doesn’t make sense to carry items in your first aid kit that you don’t know how to use. If there is something in your kit you don’t understand, take time to learn the appropriate use. In addition to your current understanding of medicine, consider adding more knowledge to what you carry in your first aid kit. There are many outdoor education courses out there, including courses to develop your assessment and treatment skills for when the unexpected happens, including courses offered by Longleaf Wilderness Medicine based in Sandpoint, ID. For more information, check out courses in your area at: longleafmedical.com.

Written by Jason Luthy

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