A first-aid kit is one of the most important items among the 10 Essentials you should always bring when headed out on the trail. It is not intended to carry everything you could possibly need; rather, it should carry items that address common hiker maladies until you can make it back to your vehicle. While you can buy ready-made first-aid kits in stores, we recommend customizing them or even making your own. This ensures that you are familiar with its contents and have a basic understanding of how to use what is in it. Here is what to look for when buying or customizing your first-aid kit.
Because of the variety of hiking terrain and other factors such as climate, season, and trail difficulty, the amount of harm we can cause ourselves while hiking varies greatly. However, there are several all-but-universal ailments to be prepared for:
Blisters - Blisters are a backpacker's and hiker's worst nightmare. These little nasties, caused by friction between your skin and the material of your boots or socks, can be enough to ruin your trip. If you notice a red spot early on, you can simply prevent it from turning into a blister by covering it with a little piece of moleskin/blister pad. For optimum adhesion, prepare the surrounding skin with an alcohol wipe before applying the product.
Sprains – Rugged, uneven, and slippery terrain is a recipe for spraining a knee, wrist, or ankle. For immediate self-care of a sprain, rest the sprain as much as possible. If you need to walk, rely on a companion or a stick for support, and use the afflicted limb as little as possible. Use a bandage or brace, but do not wrap it too tightly.
Cuts and abrasions – Low-hanging branches, sharp rocks, slick scree, backpack straps, and mishandled camping knives are just a few of the potential culprits. For cuts, stop the bleeding by applying pressure with a clean towel or gauze. Clean the wound with water, then apply an antibiotic, such as Neosporin, and cover it with a bandage. Seek medical assistance if you require stitches or believe you may require a tetanus injection (especially if the wound is deep or dirty).
Sunburn – Long periods of sun exposure, as well as hiking in snow-covered terrain and at altitude, make hikers prime candidates for absorbing an excessive amount of ultraviolet rays. A cold compress, aloe, and aspirin or ibuprofen can help relieve discomfort. Unfortunately, the only thing that can heal the burn is time. And, by the way, don't pop those blisters; it will just make them take longer to heal and they may become infected.
Chafing – Chafing is caused by skin rubbing against skin or clothing and should not be underestimated. If your skin becomes irritated or broken during hiking, treat it with an antiseptic wipe or soap and water. Avoid using alcohol prep pads or hydrogen peroxide, both of which can dry up the skin and irritate it further. Apply petroleum jelly to the chafed area of the skin. Soothing creams can also aid with pain relief.
Cramps - Cramps are involuntary muscle contractions that occur as a result of prolonged muscular exertion that does not replenish salts and fluids lost through perspiration. The first thing you should do if you get a cramp while hiking is to rest, drink some water, and gently stretch the affected muscle. After stretching, you could massage the muscle cramp for further relief.
Tick Bites – If left untreated, tick bites can spread Lyme Disease. If a tick gets past your defenses, use tweezers to remove it by pressing the blades firmly on the skin on each side of the tick's head. Be careful not to twist, as this could result in leaving part of the tick embedded in your skin which could lead to infection. If the head breaks off during the extraction and cannot be retrieved with tweezers, remove the remainder with a sterile needle. After removing the tick, use soap and water and/or an alcohol wipe to clean the bite area and your hands.
Breaks and fractures - Breaks and fractures can be sustained in a variety of ways, including trips, slips, falls, being hit by falling rocks, or stubbing a toe while walking around the campsite barefoot.
If you suspect that someone has a broken bone, provide first-aid treatment and help them get professional care:
· If they are bleeding, elevate and apply pressure to the wound using a sterile bandage, a clean cloth, or a clean piece of clothing.
· Immobilize the wounded area: If you suspect a broken bone in their neck or back, assist them in remaining as motionless as possible. If you fear they've fractured a bone in one of their limbs, use a splint or sling to immobilize the region.
· Apply ice to the affected area: Wrap an ice pack or ice cube bag in a piece of cloth and apply it to the wounded region for up to 10 minutes at a time.
· Treat patients for shock by assisting them in finding a comfortable position, encouraging them to relax, and reassuring them. To keep them warm, wrap them in a blanket or clothing.
Adequate emergency preparation entails always having a first-aid kit on hand. However, you have the option of creating your own hiking first aid kit from scratch or purchasing a pre-built kit.
Premade kits usually contain most essentials but many contain cheaper and lower quality supplies and may not be tailored to your personal needs, or the needs of your group.
When shopping for a first aid kit, there are a few things to keep in mind. First and foremost, the size of the kit you are willing to carry depends on the length of the hike or the level of difficulty.
Second, what is your level of first-aid knowledge? It's pointless to bring equipment you don't know how to use. A basic kit could include disinfecting pads, an elastic bandage, adhesive bandages, gauze, tweezers, and a few over-the-counter pain relievers.
You should also keep your first-aid kit in a strong container, preferably one that is waterproof.
Many pre-made first aid kits come with all of the essentials above. Whether you buy pre-made or build your own, make sure to check prescription expiration dates and replace anything expired or used before each trip.
We've compiled a list of items to consider when creating your own first-aid kit. Please keep in mind that the list is not exhaustive, and we also do not recommend that your kit contain every item if it does not pertain to your situation! What you bring will be determined by the size and medical needs of your group, the length of your trip, and the conditions you are likely to encounter.
· Antiseptic wipes (BZK-based wipes preferred; alcohol-based are okay)
· Antibacterial ointment (e.g., bacitracin)
· Compound tincture of benzoin (bandage adhesive)
· Assorted adhesive bandages (fabric preferred)
· Butterfly bandages / adhesive wound-closure strips
· Gauze pads (various sizes)
· Non-stick sterile pads
· Medical adhesive tape (10 yd. roll, min. 1" width)
· Blister treatment
· Ibuprofen / other pain-relief medication
· Insect sting / anti-itch treatment
· Antihistamine to treat allergic reactions
· Splinter (fine-point) tweezers
· Safety pins
· First-aid manual or information cards
· Wraps, Splints and Wound Coverings
· Elastic wrap
· Triangular cravat bandage
· Finger splint(s)
· SAM splint(s)
· Rolled gauze
· Rolled, stretch-to-conform bandages
· Hydrogel-based pads
· First-aid cleansing pads with topical anesthetic
· Hemostatic (blood-stopping) gauze
· Liquid bandage
· Prescription medications (e.g., antibiotics)
· Sunburn relief gel or spray
· Throat lozenges
· Lubricating eye drops
· Diarrhea medication
· Antacid tablets
· Oral rehydration salts
· Glucose or other sugar (to treat hypoglycemia)
· Injectable epinephrine (for severe allergic reactions)
· Aspirin (primarily for response to a heart attack)
· Knife (or multi-tool with a knife)
· Paramedic shears (blunt-tip scissors)
· Safety razor blade (or scalpel w/ #15 or #12 blade)
· Cotton-tipped swabs
· Standard oral thermometer
· Irrigation syringe with 18-gauge catheter
· Medical / surgical gloves (nitrile preferred; avoid latex)
· CPR mask
· Small notepad with waterproof pencil or pen
· Medical waste bag (plus box for sharp items)
· Waterproof container to hold supplies and meds
· Emergency heat-reflecting blanket
· Hand sanitizer
· Biodegradable soap
No matter what, always be prepared and take any precautions before hitting the outdoors. Prevention is the best way to anticipate any accidents. Always carry with you the proper gear, a good trail backpack, and your outdoor first-aid kit. Use the ten hiking essentials as a checklist to ensure you have what you need if something unforeseen goes wrong.
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