As a new hiker, we’re usually focused on gear, weight, colors, technical specs, etc. Some of the broader concepts tend to get lost in the details. Such as, “Hey, what will I do if I get a big infected blister?”. That’s when it hits you – you forgot to pay attention to your hiking first aid kit!
As a seasoned backpacking guide and (once) certified Wilderness Emergency Medical Technician, I can’t even tell you how often I’ve had to fall back on a well-stocked first aid kit. By far the most common injury I see is a blister.
After that, common injuries include small abrasions, hot water injuries from cooking, and digestive issues from one source or another. If you’re not ready for these occurrences they’ll take you, or your partner, off the trail in a hurry.
By the time you’re done reading this article you’ll have a better understanding of what to look for in a backpacking first aid kit. I’ll toss in a few common mistakes to be sure to avoid and follow it all up with a handful of hiking first aid kits you can choose from if you’re looking.
5 Tips to Choose the Best Backpacking First Aid Kit
So, what have I learned over the years?
There are a few key things to look for and a few pitfalls to avoid. Beyond that, the contents of your hiking first aid kit should reflect your level of knowledge and proficiency in emergency medicine as well as the unique situations you expect to encounter on each hike.
Be careful listening to the opinions of Joe Schmoe on the forum boards. Instead, seek the advice of real wilderness medicine experts when looking for answers.
Bigger Isn’t Always Better
There are two ways you can make a mistake on this part. Some hikers put every possible medical tool into their first aid kits. This is a mistake.
Some hikers try to go without a first aid kit, or with a kit that isn’t sufficiently stocked. This, also, is a mistake.
Yeah, you’re going to have to tread a very fine line between overstocked and under-stocked. Let me put this into perspective. When I hike alone I carry a smaller first aid kit. I know the likely problems I’ll encounter are fewer and within a narrower band of probability.
When I hike with big groups I carry a much larger kit because I could be called on to respond to a nearly unlimited number of trauma or medical emergencies for the group.
Use It Or Lose It
Avoid including items in your first aid kit that you’re not familiar with. Either learn how to use the items (butterfly closures, irrigation syringes, etc.) or ditch them. They won’t do you or anyone else any good if you open that fancy new first aid kit just to realize you don’t actually know how to use the sphygmomanometer.
It’s good practice to open your first aid kit as soon as you get it to familiarize yourself with the contents and their location in the kit. If you’re unsure of how to use something, be sure to look up a video or ask a professional. Then actually practice using it. Triangle bandages do make great slings, but if you’ve never practiced tying them you’ll likely do more harm than good.
Pack for the Likely Scenarios
I will tell you that 95% of the times I open my med kit it’s for blisters on other people. I don’t get blisters often but dealing with blisters on hikers in my group seems to consume nearly all of my time in the med kit. Learn how to properly clean and dress a blister – I’ve seen crippling infection set in on blisters that are improperly treated.
After blister treatment, good old ibuprofen and NSAIDs are the next most used item. Benadryl is another common one that gets used a ton. Pack tons of roller gauze, 4x4s, and antiseptic cream of your choice.
Honestly, if you’re prepared to deal with the above-mentioned situations you’ll be ready for 99% of trail problems. Of course, there’s always the unlikely but entirely possible major injury or critical medical situation that can’t be predicted but are all too real.
Restock Your Kit
This seems like a simple one, but it’s a crippling mistake. After each trip, be sure to note what got used and replace any contents. Nothing sucks like running out of antiseptic halfway through a trip because you forgot to restock.
If you’re through hiking make sure you restock at each stop or you’ll find yourself quickly running out. If supplies are hard to find, just mail yourself a few packs of the common stuff – gauze, antiseptic, ibuprofen, etc.
If you bother to keep records long enough, you’ll eventually start to note patterns. After a year or two of hiking, you’ll have a record of what you normally use. This way you can tailor your kit over the years to your liking. Just be careful about leaving stuff out in case you do need it some day down the road…
Consider Building it Yourself
If you have specific needs or enough training to understand what contents you’ll want in your kit, then make the kit yourself. Use a zip lock bag, stuff sack, or buy an empty medical kit. Then selectively fill it with the contents you want or need so you don’t end up with a bunch of crap that won’t ever get used.
Don’t forget the tweezers!
Hiking First Aid Kit Reviews
When it comes to first aid kit, I’ve yet to meet one that doesn’t need to be modified out of the box. However, these first aid kits are a decent place to get started and tailor to your desires as you go!
First aid kits must be tailored to the length of your trip and the number of people in the party. Remember that your level of knowledge and skill, to some extend, predicates what you will choose to include in any given first aid kit. What is the best hiking first aid kit? Frankly, that completely hinges on where you’re hiking and what you expect to need.
In my opinion all first aid kits need to be modified.