Wilderness Medicine, First Aid, and Outdoor Skills
First Aid Kits

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US Army First Aid Manual
Fundamental Criteria for First Aid
Basic Measures for First Aid
First Aid for Special Wounds
First Aid for Fractures
First Aid for Climatic Injuries
First Aid for Bites and Stings
First Aid in Toxic Environments
First Aid for Psychological Reactions
Appendix A: First Aid Case and Kits, Dressings, and Bandages
Appendix B: Rescue and Transportation Procedures
Appendix C: Common Problems/Conditions
Appendix D: Digital Pressure
Appendix E: Decontamination Procedures
Appendix F: Glossary


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
endotracheal tubes.

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 carry water.

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 on.

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 effective.

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.

  1. 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 women.
  2. Diphendydramine, which is Benadryl, is great for allergic reactions, as well as sedation.
  3. Acetazolamide is a great medication for high-altitude sickness.

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:

  1. A whistle.
  2. A waterproof match and a backup of a magnesium fire starter.
  3. A knife.
  4. A reflective mirror for signaling.
  5. Some parachute cord, which has a tensile strength of about 520 lbs., which can be used for a variety of emergencies.
  6. Cotton balls that are saturated in Vaseline that can be used as a fire starter.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. Scissors.
  10. Some type of forceps to remove splinters.
  11. Splint material, preferably a SAM splint.
  12. Four or five Zip-lock bags.
  13. 4 x 4 dressings.
  14. Cotton-tipped applicators. Q-tips can be used.
  15. Non-adhering sterile bandages and Band Aids of various sizes.
  16. Ace wraps.
  17. Steri-strips or butterfly type closures.
  18. Some type of iodine or Betadine is helpful to cleanse a wound.
  19. 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 irrigation device.

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.

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