When planning any outdoor adventure, a first aid kit is often considered one of the ten essentials. However, many people make the mistake of purchasing a first aid kit already stocked, stuffing it in the brain of their pack, and then never opening it. Many will also think that not having to use a first aid kit is a good sign – that means nobody got hurt! Yet, a first aid kit can and should be utilized regularly, and therefore requires time and thought to build one to meet personal needs.
There’s nothing wrong with purchasing a first aid kit from the store shelves already stocked, but building your own will allow for more specificity of your kit. Below are some tips and tricks to help you build your own first aid kit, but the most important tool in your kit is knowledge! If you haven't already, consider taking a wilderness medicine course in order to better protect yourself and others in emergent (and non-emergent!) situations. Prepare for the unexpected and stay safe out there!
General First Aid Guidelines
Here are some other general thoughts on first aid kits before we categorize specific items you may wish to carry:
- Specificity: Match the items in your kit to the trip needs. A rock climbing trip kit will look different than a ski mountaineering or day hike kit. Consider the terrain/conditions in which you’ll travel (snow vs. greenery), number of people you’re supplying (personal vs. group), and duration of the trip (single vs. multi-day). Though it’s hard to predict what may happen in the backcountry, the trip plan gives us valuable information on what we should be prepared for. For example, carrying altitude medication wouldn’t be helpful when climbing Mt. Si.
- Restocking: It’s important to restock your first aid kit before every trip. Though an ‘off the counter’ premade first aid kit can work in the beginning, we recommend keeping items in bulk for easy restock before trips. (Plus, the bags that come with a first aid kit off the counter are usually quite awesome to use for a DIY one!)
- Familiarity: Know where important items are located within your kit, and notify others where you keep it in your pack (especially if supplying for your group). Familiarization with the items in your first aid kit is critical! Don’t carry something you don’t know how to use – your level of knowledge and medical/first aid training should be a guide in what you specifically put in the kit.
First Aid Kit Items
First aid kits should be designed to meet an individual’s knowledge and needs. The group size, trip length, location, and remoteness of the trip will also shape what’s needed, but we will dive into this next. Of course, this complicates the process because there is not a ‘one size fits all’ model for first aid kits. Below is a list of first aid kit items based on the types of supplies:
Choosing how you carry your first aid kit items will depend on preference and the trip. If traveling somewhere with plenty of water (so, anywhere in the Pacific Northwest!), make sure your kit is waterproof. You may consider packing in waterproof zip-top bags, dry bags, or even dry cases if water is a more serious concern (i.e. pack rafting trip). Also think about weight and organization. Do you want a nylon clamshell with organized pouches and see-through dividers (so much room for organization! How fun!), or do you prefer a military-grade pouch? Use what works best for you and the way you travel in the backcountry.
Athletic tape is one of the most frequently used first aid items for injuries and non-injuries. It can be used for wound care, bracing for sprains/strains, and more! Everyone should have a roll of it in their kit.
- Athletic tape, 1”
Minor cuts and lacerations are one of the most common injuries in the outdoors. Keeping the injury clean to avoid infection, and having materials to manage bleeding are critical.
- 4 x 4 sterile gauze pads
- 2 x 2 sterile gauze pads
- 3 x 4 sterile non-adherent dressing
- Roller gauze (sterile)
- Band-Aids (a variety of sizes)
- Adhesive knuckle bandage
- Butterfly bandages
- Wound closure strips: Steri-Strips, typically ¼ inch
- Tincture of benzoin: adds tackiness to the skin for Steri-Strips
- Irrigation syringe (10-12cc): for cleaning the wound
- Neosporin/antibiotic ointment treatment
- Alcohol swabs/antiseptic wipes
- Povidone Iodine: doesn't sting like alcohol, but it stains
Unfortunately, blisters happen. If you’re prone to blisters, it’s a good idea to use some materials for prevention on ‘hot spots’ where you’ve gotten a blister in the past. Also bring materials for if unforeseen blisters pop up.
- 2nd Skin: can also be used for burns (these blister pads are also awesome)
- Foam relief pads
- Whatever works for you! Note that duct tape is not recommended on open blisters.
Sprains, strains, and muscular injuries are very common in the backcountry. Additionally, splinting materials may be required for more serious injuries such as fractures.
- Cravat/triangular bandage: makes a perfect arm sling, and are multi-functional
- ACE wrap
- Elastic bandage with Velcro closure
- SAM splint
Often called the ABC’s in emergency response, these are materials for urgent conditions that involve: Airway, Breathing, Circulation.
- Gloves: non-latex, Nitrile protective gloves
- CPR rescue mask or breathing barrier
- Tampons without applicator: perfect for nose bleeds, and better than Q-tips
- Israeli emergency bandage: for arterial bleeds
- Tourniquet: if bleeding cannot be controlled (I like the one in this link because it has a spot to write the time it was placed!)
- Stethoscope and Blood Pressure Cuff: for lung sounds and blood pressure, which can be more information than needed, but helpful in diagnostics
Make sure all medications are clearly labeled. It is not advised to mix medications in a container because of confusion with different pill colors/shapes, and medication allergies. Small pill bottles are light and can’t be misinterpreted.
- Personal prescription medications (i.e. asthma inhaler)
- Tylenol/Acetaminophen (500mg tablets)
- Ibuprofen/Advil (200mg tablets)
- Aspirin (325mg)
- Epi Pen: personal, or if you’re trained to carry one, you can ask your PCP
- Stool softener
- Eye drops
- Oral glucose gel: honey packets work great
- Hydrocortisone: topical corticosteroid
- Antiemetic: for nausea, vomiting, motion sickness
- Antihistamine: such as Benadryl for allergic reactions
- Diphenhydramine hydrochloride/Claritin
- Azithromycin/Z-pack: for bacterial infections; requires PCP prescription/rx
- Dexamethasone (2mg tablets): to treat active altitude sickness; requires rx
- Acetazolamide/Diamox (250mg tablets): when traveling to altitude; requires rx
- Trauma/EMT shears
- Tweezers: get a good pair that are sharp and pointy!
- Hypothermia thermometer (if traveling in cold climates)
Personal Care Items
The following emergency essentials may be carried separately from a first aid kit, but are important for most trips.
- Hand sanitizer
- Insect repellent (depending on time of year)
- Lip sunscreen/lip balm
- Baby wipes
- Body powder: can save you from trench foot and chaffing
- Toilet paper
- Gear repair kits (i.e. sleeping pad repair, tent pole repair)
- Duct tape
- Tenacious tape
- Space blanket/emergency blanket
- Spare batteries: AA and/or AAA based on what batteries are required
- Cell phone or satellite radio
- Paper and pencil
- Information booklet on First Aid
- Prescription drug information
- Verbal SOAP note reference (for a radio report/calling for help – see below)
First Aid Kit Organization
Packing your first aid kit requires thought in effort to protect valuable equipment and make access to emergency items fast and easy. A list of contents of the pack should be outlined somewhere in your first aid kit (with the items’ intended uses). All items should be clearly labeled and divided into appropriate subsections. You can organize your kit based on the types of supplies (as outlined above) or urgency. If choosing to organize based on urgency, use the three stages of emergency response as your guide:
- Stage One is stabilization of ABCD. A problem with Airway, Breathing, Circulation, or “Da Brain” must be addressed and stabilized before intervening with other conditions. Stage One includes items such as a CPR mask, Epi Pen, and emergency bandage.
- Stage Two is diagnostics for less urgent conditions. This includes a stethoscope, BP cuff, thermometer, notebook/pencil, trauma shears, thermometer, etc.
- Stage Three is intervention for the less urgent conditions. Once ABCD has been stabilized (or is being properly monitored), responders can put attention to other problems requiring intervention.
Sample Personal First Aid Kit
For a one-person first aid kit, the following contents should be comprehensive enough to deal with most emergent conditions. Click on each title below to see recommended items for a personal single and multi-day trip first aid kit.
- 1 roll Athletic tape
- 8-10 Adhesive bandages (varied shapes/sizes)
- 1 ACE bandage
- 2 4x4 gauze pads
- 2 2x2 gauze pads
- 1 Roller gauze
- Blister care
- Alcohol/Iodine swabs
- Nitrile gloves (optional)
- CPR mask/breathing barrier
- Personal items: sunscreen, hand sanitizer, bug spray, knife, prescription medications
ADD the following items to the single-day list:
- More wound dressings
- More blister care
- More ACE wraps (2)
- Irrigating syringe
- Topical antibiotic
- Tincture of benzoin
- Trauma shears
- Triangular bandage
- Anti-diarrheal medication
- Antiemetic medication
- Claritin and Benadryl
- Antacid medication
- Appropriate personal and emergency items (depending on trip plan/location)
Peaks of Life First Aid Kit
Peaks of Life takes first aid and safety seriously. In higher altitude terrain and more remote locations, there is potential for longer term care. Additionally, preventative care is important, especially during longer expeditions. On every climb this year, we will carry a variety of first aid kits: smaller kits for rope leads, and one "guide" kit for the trip leader. Below is our list of materials we'll be carrying to ensure safety of trip leaders and our climbers. Please note that we still encourage our climbers to bring their own first aid kits to ensure all personal needs are met! The bolded items below will ONLY be in the trip leaders' first aid kit.
|1||3M Littmann Lightweight II S.E. Stethoscope, Black|
|1||Economy Blood Pressure Cuff, Adult|
|1||Plain Splinter Forceps, Straight, Pointed Tip, 3.5"|
|1||Precision Xtra Blood Glucose & Ketone Meter|
|1||Precision Xtra Blood Glucose & Ketone Strips, BX/50|
|1||Ammex Nitrile Gloves, Small, PR/2|
|2||Ammex Nitrile Gloves, Medium, PR/2|
|2||Ammex Nitrile Gloves, Large, PR/2|
|1||Ammex Nitrile Gloves, X-Large, PR/2|
|2||Biohazard Bag 10 Gallon|
|1||Purell Hand Sanitizer, w/ Aloe, 2oz|
|2||Triangular Bandage, 36"x36"x51"|
|2||Medi-Pak Elastic Bandage, W/ Velcro, 4''x5yd, Latex Free|
|2||SAM Splint, 36", Roll, Orange/Blue|
|1||SAM Finger Splint, Orange/Blue|
|5||E-Z Lubricating Jelly, 3g, Foil Packet, Water Soluble|
|1||Color Coded Guedel Airway, 50 mm, Size 0, Blue|
|1||Color Coded Guedel Airway, 60 mm, Size 1, Black|
|1||Color Coded Guedel Airway, 70 mm, Size 2, White|
|1||Color Coded Guedel Airway, 80 mm, Size 3, Green|
|1||Color Coded Guedel Airway, 90 mm, Size 4, Yellow|
|1||Color Coded Guedel Airway, 100 mm, Size 5, Red|
|1||Robertazzi Nasal Airway, 22 Fr|
|1||Robertazzi Nasal Airway, 26 Fr|
|1||Robertazzi Nasal Airway, 30 Fr|
|1||Robertazzi Nasal Airway, 34 Fr|
|2||HALO Chest Seal, PK/2|
|1||Combat Medic Reinforcement Duct Tape, Roll|
|1||Epinephrine Auto-Injector, 0.3mg, PK/2|
|1||Nitrostat, 0.4mg, BTL/25, Sublingual TAB|
|1||Ondansetron, Orally Disintegrating, 8mg, BX/10, UD TAB|
|1||Ventolin HFA, Metered, 90mcg, 60 Dose|
|1||Insta-Glucose, 31g Tube|
|1||Aspirin, 81mg, BT/36, Orange Flavor, CHW TAB|
|12||Gauze Sponge, 4"x4", PK/2, 12 Ply, Sterile|
|4||Abdominal Combine Pad, 5" x 9", Sterile|
|3||Stretch Gauze Bandage Roll 3", Sterile|
|1||QuikClot Combat Gauze LE, 3"x4 yds, Z-Fold|
|1||Israeli Emergency Bandage, 4"|
|1||Syringe, 60mL, Luer-Lok|
|1||Saf-Shield Irrigation Splash Shield|
|1||Double Antibiotic Ointment, 1 oz., ONT|
|3||Stretch Gauze Bandage Roll 3", Sterile|
|1||Krinkle Gauze Roll, 4.5" x 4.1yds, Sterile|
|1||Athletic Tape 1" x 10'|
|1||Adhesive Bandages, Assorted Sizes, BX/60|
|3||Non-Adherent Pad, Sterile, 3"x4"|
|2||Blist-O-Ban Blister Bandage|
|2||Petrolatum Gauze Strip, 3'' x 18"|
|2||Wound Closure Strips, .125"x3", PK/5|
|2||Benzoin Tincture Ampule|
|5||Extra Strength Acetaminophen, APAP, 500mg, UD|
|5||Ibuprofen, 200mg, PK/2 UD|
|5||Antacid Tablet, 420mg, UD TAB|
|5||Electrolyte Replacement, UD TAB|
|5||Loperamide HCl, 2mg, CAP UD|
|5||Meclizine HCl, 25mg, TAB UD|
|5||Diphenhydramine HCl, 25mg, UD TAB|
|5||Phenylephrine HCl, 5mg|
|5||Cough Drops, Menthol Cherry, 7.6mg|
|1||Oxymetazoline HCI, 0.05%, 15ml, Nasal Spray|
|1||Lubricating Eye Drops 0.05%, 0.5oz, DRP|
|5||Tampon Tampax Regular Absorbency|
|1||Hydrocortisone Ointment 1%, 1 oz|
|2||Cotton tipped applicators|
|20||Dexamethasone 2mg tablets|
Knowledge is power when it comes to safety in the mountains. One of the best tools you can bring with you to the mountains is knowledge, and there are many opportunities for continuing education in first aid and emergency response. Check out your local resources for a CPR, Wilderness First Aid (WFA), Wilderness First Responder (WFR), and other remote/emergency response courses! Below are some recommended accrediting
- NOLS: offers Wilderness Medicine and Wilderness EMT courses
- The Mountaineers: offers WFA, WFR, and MOFA (Mountaineering Oriented First Aid)
- Remote Medical International: offers WFA, WFR, EMT, and medical technician courses
Here’s to Climbing for More Than A Summit!
*Please note Peaks of Life does not benefit from you clicking any of the above links to purchase at REI, Amazon, or NOLS. The links are purely for your shopping convenience so you can start building your first aid kit immediately.
**Knowing your own body’s needs are imperative to maintaining safety in all situations. Please consult with your Primary Care Physician for any questions or concerns regarding your own mountain health.
***Most importantly: Stay safe out there, everyone!