Build a better first aid kit

A medical first aid kit is one of the cornerstones of practicing wilderness medicine, but building the best first aid kit for you and your adventure is as much an art as it is a science. 

Preparing (and using) your first aid kit takes practice, craft, and flexibility. While there are plenty of pre-made first aid kits you could purchase, your kit should be tailored to fit your specific excursion. 

Read on for Dr. Desiree Crane’s essential guidelines. Whether you’re a first-aid expert, or assembling a first kit for the first time, you’re sure to learn something new. 

🎒First Things First

Ask yourself these 5 questions before you start assembling your first aid kit:

  1. Where are you going?
    • Is the location heavily traveled or is it remote?
    • What environmental considerations do you need to keep in mind? Will you be at high elevation? Is it a tropical destination or a desert? Will you be near water?
  1. How long will you be out?
    • Is it a quick overnight stay or weekend excursion? Are you headed on an extended expedition?
    • Will you be car camping? Staying at a base camp? Backpacking?
  1. How long will it take to receive medical care?
    • Should something go wrong, what is the longest it would take to evacuate or retreat?
  1. Are there recreational or environmental risks?
    • Do you need to prepare for high altitude, temperature extremes, or a natural disaster?
    • Will you be climbing, boating, swimming, etc.?
  1. How many people are you adventuring with?
    • You should also know if anyone has underlying medical conditions, including allergies!

✅ Every Essential

Now you’re ready to start assembling! Use the information from the questions above to modify your packing list. Items should be high quality – bonus points if they have multiple uses. You may already own many items, but you might have to purchase some. While adventuring, your kit should be carried at all times and protected from the elements.

To get started, here’s what Dr. Crane likes to pack in her kits:

🩹 Wound care
  • Gauze
  • Tape
  • Compression bandage, ace wrap
  • Alcohol pads
  • Skin glue
  • Steri-strips (skin tape)
  • Tourniquet
  • Quik-clot or other hemorrhage control

💊 Medications
  • Pain control (tylenol, ibuprofen)
  • Allergy medicine (benadryl, pepcid)
  • Stomach aches (antacids, laxatives, imodium)
  • Sinus/throat (throat lozenges, decongestants)
  • Dental care (clove oil or hank’s solution)
  • Eye drops, saline solution
  • Any prescription medications you normally take, or might need

🤠 Sun and elements protection
  • Sunglasses
  • Hat
  • Sunscreen
  • Chapstick

  • Cell phone and backup battery pack (GOES is available offline!)
  • Other communication device, if necessary
  • Mirror (to signal for help if needed)

🧷 Improvisers
  • Items like duct tape and safety pins are everyday items that can be used versatilely to improvise in a wide range of outdoor scenarios.
  • You might not need to carry a whole roll of duct tape. Dr. Crane carries a small amount wrapped around a dowel rod in each of her kits.
  • Though not an item per sé, the art of improvising is a skill you’ll hone with practice. (Being able to make something out of the materials you have on hand.) It may be one of the most important “things” in your toolkit!

*Note: The Wilderness Medical Society advises not to pack medications or equipment if no one in your party has the knowledge or experience to safely use them. 

✚ Adventure Safer

And of course, the lightest thing you’ll pack is the GOES Health app, your pocket guide to outdoor safety!

Dr. Desiree Crane shares tips and considerations on building a better first aid kit
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