GOES is designed to provide the knowledge and confidence you need to get outdoors, push your comfort zone, and have safer outdoor adventures. Having the right tools is as important as the information itself. Something as simple as a piece of tape can make the difference between a successful trip and an uncomfortable experience.
Consider the unique risks and challenges of your planned activities. Research and reach out to local authorities to find out what specific risks to consider. Take into account the location and duration of your planned outing, and any specific weather issues that may be encountered.
With this in mind, the following guidelines and lists can provide a foundation for your packing list.
What to Pack (or Not)
The best first aid kit is the one in your pack. It’s important to understand that you won’t be able to take everything you want, and it’s impossible to have an all-purpose medical kit for every situation. Focus on high-probability issues and high-consequence conditions that are easily treatable. And remember – it doesn’t matter how comprehensive your kit is if you leave it in your car trunk!
First Aid Supplies
Accidents happen. Blisters are common. Proper wound care supplies can make the difference between minor discomfort and major infection.
Your first aid kit should include:
- Bandages: You simply can’t have enough bandages. Pack an assorted size of fabric BAND-AIDs®, some gauze packets, cloth tape, safety pins, and a roll of Coban™ Adhesive Wrap for compression bandages.
- Paper tape or blister kit: Blisters are among the most common ailments encountered in the outdoors. If a spot on the toe or foot begins to feel warmth or irritation, place a piece of paper tape over the spot to reduce friction. Have a safety pin and alcohol wipe to clean the skin, needle, and drain blisters. (It doesn’t hurt.) Then place a strip of paper tape to protect the roof of the blister, and a thicker layer (like Elastikon® tape) over the drained blister to minimize further rubbing. In a pinch, you can apply duct tape over the paper tape.
- Disinfectant: Clean wounds with clean water, wipes, and/or disinfectant gel.
- Sheers: Scissors, or a knife/multi-tool from your back are important for cutting bandages and dressing wounds.
- Gloves: Prevent infection and spread of disease by covering your hands with nitrile gloves.
- Antibiotic Ointment: While there is poor scientific evidence to support the utility of antibiotic ointment, the potential benefit of preventing a skin infection is worth the inclusion of some small ointment packs in your kit.
- Splint: a SAM™ splint is a wonderful inclusion to take care of everything from stabilizing a broken wrist to a potentially catastrophic cervical spinal fracture.
- Wound closing: A small wound stapler will do wonders for a gashed head. (Head wounds like to bleed a lot.) Super glue in your kit can fix small cuts as well as torn gear. Duct tape also provides a good alternative to commercial wound closure devices.
- Tweezers: be prepared for splinters and stingers.
Medications are just as important than the emergency supplies in your kit. Having a few key options can help keep you comfortable and healthy throughout your journey.
- Over-the-counter medicine for pain and inflammation: Minor aches and pains are common when heading outdoors, as the unfamiliar terrain will stress your muscles in new ways.
- Antacids: Outdoor trips away from your pantry involve a different diet than what you usually eat at home. This can affect the acid in your stomach as well as the ease of digestion. Consider an antacid like bismuth salicylate or calcium carbonate in chewable tablets, or famotidine to make your mealtimes much more enjoyable.
- Constipation and diarrhea: A more important consideration on longer trips, over-the-counter medication for both constipation and diarrhea can make the difference between a suffer-fest and a pleasant expedition.
- Prescription medications: Check and double-check to make sure everyone in your group is well equipped with any normal prescription medications.
In the unfortunate event that an adventure turns into an emergency, the following survival items can be essential.
- Water filtration system
- Pocket knife/multitool
- Flashlight or headlamp
- Emergency shelter
- Emergency rations
Other Key Supplies
A first aid kid alone is not enough to guarantee a successful outdoor adventure. Before grappling with wilderness medicine, simply prepare for the wilderness itself.
Many medical problems and uncomfortable experiences can be prevented with basic supplies. A short list to maximize comfort and prevent simple problems includes:
- Anti-itch cream: When traveling through areas known to have lots of poison oak/ivy.
- Insect repellant: When traveling in hot/tropical climates, pay special attention to insect control to prevent the spread of mosquito-borne diseases like malaria.
- High SPF sunscreen and lip protection
- Allergy medicine
- Duct tape: Can be used for fixing torn supplies, and, in a pinch it can work for wound closure or blisters.
- Safety pins: Important for torn clothing as well as bandages or blister treatment.
- Biodegradable soap/hand sanitizer: A small tube or bar of soap can help ensure cleanliness, especially if treating wounds.
- Antimicrobial wet wipes: Important to use before meals or a first aid situation.
- Ear plugs: For snoring tent mates.
Gear for High Altitudes
When trekking into higher altitudes, there are some additional risks to consider. The higher up you go into the atmosphere, the thinner the air becomes. This means that less oxygen is available per breath to go to the brain, which can lead to altitude sickness, as well as lower temperatures and more intense sunlight the higher you go.
In addition to the first aid kit recommendations, there are some specialized items that will help you prepare for your high-altitude adventure:
- Ibuprofen or prescription altitude medication: See altitude sickness
- High SPF sunscreen: Even if it feels cold, sunlight is stronger and less filtered at altitude. Protect your skin to prevent sunburn.
- Sunglasses: Intense sunlight can also damage your retinas. Protect your eyes with polarized sunglasses.
Gear for Hot Climates
Staying hydrated and eating salty snacks are among the most important ways to prevent heat illness. In addition, consider the following items and be sure to research your destination so you can plan accordingly:
- Bug spray: Use a chemical deterrent spray such as DEET or picaridin. To find the spray that is right for you, refer to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Repellant Selection Tool. Do not apply spray to areas covered by clothing. If you are also using sunscreen, apply sunscreen first and then apply the chemical deterrent.
- Itch Cream: Research your destination before your trip to see if poison ivy or poison oak are present. Consider bringing a small tube of poison ivy and oak scrub.
- Sunscreen: Even on cloudy days, applying sunscreen to exposed skin is an easy way to avoid discomfort.
- Wide-brimmed sun hat: Along with light colored, loose-fitting clothing, a wide-brimmed hat will help protect your neck and face from the harsh sunlight.
- Synthetic buff or bandana: Good for soaking and applying to the head and neck for cooling as well as for providing some shade in an exposed area.
Gear for Cold Climates
Even if you are only planning a backcountry day trip, you may have to camp overnight if something goes wrong. Consider packing the following specialized items for adventures in cold climates:
- Extra layers: Temperatures can drop quickly as daylight fades. Pack a compressible down or synthetic fill layer for additional warmth.
- Warm cap: An exposed head is especially vulnerable to body heat loss. Pack an insulative beanie.
Gloves: A pair of insulated gloves.
Thermal blanket: A “Space Blanket” or similar product is waterproof, windproof, and packs small.
Heat packets / hand warmers: Protect your hands and feet with extra chemical hand warmers.
Emergency waterproof fire starter: Waterproof matches, fire starter, or other fire systems can provide heat a survival situation. Consider packing more than one system to ensure that at least one is successful.
Emergency bivy: A protective emergency shelter can be packed tightly and used in seconds.
Gear for Water Activities
- Floatation devices: Make sure everyone involved in a boating activity wears a properly fitted life jacket. Consider floatation devices for children playing next to or in cold or fast-moving water. A flotation toy is not an appropriate substitute.
- Waterproof dry bag/box: Waterproof containers aren’t just for your electronics. Consider what might happen if all of your food, clothing, and gear takes a dip! Find an appropriately sized waterproof bag or box to store important supplies, emergency rations, and a spare change of clothes.
- Waterproof first aid kit: Bandages, gauze, tape, and many other supplies are less effective or even useless when wet! Make sure your first aid kit is either waterproof or stored in a waterproof container.
Get Your Gear
GOES has partnered with Uncharted Supply Co to help get you the first aid and survival gear you need to stay safe on your next adventure.
Curious how to use your emergency gear?
Download GOES to launch a digital medical assessment or speak with a wilderness medicine physician.