The practice of wilderness medicine teaches improvisation, but there are a few items that are hard to improvise effectively. Emergency response can place you in a situation where you come in contact with body substances such as blood, vomit, feces and urine. Body substance isolation (BSI) is the practice of protecting your exposure from these substances to limit the risk of disease transmission. Non-latex gloves and a CPR mask should be considered mandatory items for even the smallest first aid kit.
First aid kits are not “buy it and forget it” purchases. Items get used, wet, hot, cold, expire, and dirty due to all of the places that you take your kit. Ensure that you have the appropriate items available when you need them by periodically inventorying your first aid kit and restocking items that are used, worn out, or expired.
Acquiring a kit
The simplest way to get your first medical kit is to purchase a commercially made kit from an outdoor retailer. Commercially designed kits use names or numbers to indicated the kit’s intended use. Purchasing a pre-made commercial kit allows the purchaser to get most of the necessary items along with a carrying case without having to purchase full boxes of many of the items for the kit. As you look at which kit to purchase and maintain, ask yourself the following questions:
Who are you traveling with?
Do you travel with groups, adults, kids or solo? The more people you travel with the more opportunities present themselves to use the items in your kit. With group travel, consider adding additional reserves of commonly used items such as adhesive bandages and pain relievers. For expeditions with adults at risk for heart conditions, ensure that aspirin is in the kit. Additionally, you may consider adding a dental kit with temporary filling for adults with a history of tooth issues. If kids are on the trip, small items like bandages with cartoon characters or a small toy can go a long way to decrease their stress.
How long will you be out?
Ensure that you have an inventory that matches the length of your trip . For longer trips, increase the number of common use items such as bandages, athletic tape, non-latex gloves and over-the-counter medications. The number of these items can be decreased on short day trips. On day trips to remote environments, consider bringing an emergency blanket in the case that injury lengthens your trip resulting in an unexpected overnight.
What type of activity are you doing?
The items carried in a first aid kit should match the potential illnesses or injuries that are associated with the activity. Hikers commonly experience blisters and musculoskeletal injuries, making it beneficial to have kit including bandages, mole foam, an elastic wrap and pain relievers. A nail clipper in a first aid kit can also can reduce many potential foot issues when on trail runs, day hikes, or backpacking trips. Boaters can add a small container of high strength sunscreen and sunglasses to reduce the potential of sunburn from the reflection of the sun on the water if they run out of (or forget) sunscreen or loose their sunglasses.
What is your level of training?
It does not make sense to carry items in your first aid kit that you do not know how to use. If there is something in your kit you do not understand, take time to research what the item is used for and how to use it appropriately. In addition to your current understanding of medicine, consider adding knowledge to what you carry with your first aid kit.
Longleaf Wilderness Medicine courses address how to create first aid kits that will allow for response to minor and major emergencies. Check out a LWM course to develop your assessment and treatment skills for when the unexpected happens.