Survive Outdoors has fielded many question regarding first
aid kits, what to bring, how much to bring, and the best place
to buy supplies. Of course these questions vary, depending
on type of outdoor activity. I am constantly adding to and
taking out certain items in my first aid kit, depending on
the type of activity I will be engaging in. Subsequently,
there is not one standard first aid kit/survival kit. There
are some items that should always remain with you on your
travels, and we will discuss those.
An efficient first aid kit may contain anything from basic
bandages, topical antibiotic ointment and an Ace wrap, to
what I like to call the “Johnny Rescue Kit” where
one carries everything, from scalpels to
The kit itself, what the contents are placed into, should
be waterproof. This is imperative, and something that is not
frequently done. You may not be whitewater rafting or canoeing
all the time, but you can easily be out several miles away
from your shelter, and you do not need your bandages becoming
wet during a downpour. Very large zip lock bags are inexpensive
and function very nicely for this. They can also be used to
The first aid kit we will discuss is primarily for the general
layperson. We are not going to be addressing in depth pharmaceutical
medication that should be carried. However this will be touched
First Aid Supplies
An Epi-pen should always be carried with you, one for children
and one for adults. There are different dosages, and you can
get the prescription from your healthcare provider. Please
be sure that every year these are updated, since they do expire.
During a presentation for a Boy Scout troop, there were signed
releases from the parents, not one indicating an allergy to
bee or wasp stings. Perhaps they weren’t aware of an
allergy, as many of the children had never been stung. Subsequently
the scout leader felt that it wasn’t necessary to carry
Epi-pens. When in doubt, ALWAYS carry the medication. What
not knowing means to this author is to make the assumption
that one IS allergic to bee or wasp stings. We cannot risk
losing an individual to an anaphylactic reaction due to an
absence of knowledge, hence the importance of carrying an
Epi-pen with you in your pack. They are easy to use and very
The following pharmaceutical medications should be considered,
especially if you are going mountain climbing, or are spending
an extended period of time in the Boundary Waters, for example,
where getting back to a shelter or medical provider is greater
than 5-6 days. These medications can be obtained from a healthcare
provider. Explain to them where you are going and what will
be involved in.
- Broad-spectrum antibiotics are nice to have along. Those
that do not need to be refrigerated are important. Ask your
healthcare provider what they would recommend. For children
on a trip, Zithromycin is a great medication, offering many
advantages. It has a very broad-spectrum range against organisms,
and does not need to be refrigerated, and is safe for pregnant
- Diphendydramine, which is Benadryl, is great for allergic
reactions, as well as sedation.
- Acetazolamide is a great medication for high-altitude
These are the basic prescription medications that one may
want to bring on extended trips. There is a certain reassurance
knowing that you are carrying these medications. Please check
with your healthcare provider on how to administer these medications
and when. Make sure no one is no allergic to the medications
that you are obtaining.
In my medical/survival kit, I always have the following:
- A whistle.
- A waterproof match and a backup of a magnesium fire starter.
- A knife.
- A reflective mirror for signaling.
- Some parachute cord, which has a tensile strength of
about 520 lbs., which can be used for a variety of emergencies.
- Cotton balls that are saturated in Vaseline that can
be used as a fire starter.
- A tube of Chapstick, clearly helpful for the lips so
they don’t get chapped. However it can also be used,
since it contains Vaseline, to use as a fire starter.
- Over-the-counter medications: Acetaminophen (Tylenol),
Ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin), Diphenhydramine (Benadryl),
Rolaids or Tums, Loperamide (Immodium AD), any hydrocortisone
cream, sunscreen, and it would be important to get a Bacitracin
type ointment, not Neosporin ointment and not a triple antibiotic
ointment. The reason for this is that around 10-15% of individuals
are allergic to the Neomycin in Neosporin and in triple
antibiotic ointment. Please make sure there is no Neomycin
in the topical antibiotic ointment. This author has seen
many allergic reactions from Neomycin allergies.
- Some type of forceps to remove splinters.
- Splint material, preferably a SAM splint.
- Four or five Zip-lock bags.
- 4 x 4 dressings.
- Cotton-tipped applicators. Q-tips can be used.
- Non-adhering sterile bandages and Band Aids of various
- Ace wraps.
- Steri-strips or butterfly type closures.
- Some type of iodine or Betadine is helpful to cleanse
- An irrigation device is also helpful. However if you
cannot obtain one, taking any plastic bag, filling it with
water and poking a hole in it with a pen works well as an
In closing, there are many pre-packaged kits that are available
on the market. They range in price from $30 on up to over
$100. If one has the ability to piecemeal their kit, they
will find it much, much cheaper to do.
Always remember every year to replenish over-the-counter
medications, as well as sterile bandages that may have been
torn open. Organization of your kit is important, and this
is a time when being a little obsessive can pay off a great
deal, if an emergency occurs. Remember, no one plans for an
emergency, and a bit of planning can pay off in the long run.