Building a Backcountry First Aid Kit

Here are a few tips for building a first aid kit for your next trip away from immediate help. First off, what’s in your kit is far less important than what is between your ears. A little knowledge mixed with some creativity can be an invaluable asset in a backcountry emergency – or any emergency for that matter. My first suggestion is to take a wilderness medical course such as a 2 day Wilderness First Aid from a reputable organization such as Maine based Wilderness Medical Associates International. If you want more, then consider a 72 hour Wilderness First Responder course which is similar to an EMT course but with a backcountry focus.

While you can purchase pre-made first aid kits, I suggest designing your kit around the type of activity you are doing and the likely problems you will encounter. Consider the length of your trip, number of people, your training, and availability of outside help.

Here are a few staples to start with for 1 – 2 day trips with a couple people:

•    Gloves. A few pair of Nitrile gloves will protect you from blood and other ugly body fluids. A light pair of dishwashing gloves take up a little more space and weight but are more durable than standard medical gloves and won’t disintegrate as easily.
•    1 CPR faceshield or a NuMask device
•    Selection of dressings for treating small wounds such as cuts, scrapes and blisters. I tend to carry a variety of different things such as:
•    4″ x 4″ gauze dressings (3 – 4)
•    5″ x 9″ gauze dressing
•    Non-adhering dressings (2 – 3) such as Telfa pads or Xeroform dressings (great for longer term care)
•    Glacier Gel blister dressing – like the name suggests for treating blisters – they have a little dome in the middle to cover the blister.
•    3″ x 4″ transparent waterproof / breathable dressings such as Tegaderms or Bioclusives  (2 – 3). Good for covering other dressings or blister prevention.
•    Vet wrap for securing dressings and it stays in place better than roller gauze.
•    A selection of different sized and shaped adhesive / Band-aid like dressings.
•    Hemostats or good quality tweezers for splinters and wound cleaning.
•    20 – 30 cc syringe with 18g IV catheter (talk to a local EMT to get one) so you can irrigate wounds with nice clean water.
•    small tube of Triple Antibiotic ointment for putting on small wounds or on dressings of cleaned wounds.
•    Small trauma scissors
•    Temporary dental filling such as Dentemp.
•    Zip lock bag with emergency numbers, patient assessment form, blank Rite in Rain paper, small pencil.
•    First aid reference – I recommend the Field Guide to Wilderness Medicine and Rescue. It’s concise, accurate and weather tolerant.
•    Ibuprofen (relieves pain, fever, and swelling), acetaminophen (relieves pain and fever), baby aspirin. A few tablets each. As your pharmacist to individually wrap them for you.
•    Gu or Clifshot – for a quick sugar lift.
•    Immodium – for when you need a stopper upper.
•    Anti-histamine such as diphenhydramine (2-4 25mg tablets). Injectable Epinephrine can be a lifesaver in an allergic reaction but requires training and a prescription.
•    A moldable splint such as a Sam Splint

Put everything in a small dry bag or otherwise watertight container. One of the nice things about planning for an emergency is that you will likely prevent it from happening. Enjoy your trip.

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