Whether you're an outdoor sports aficionado with an affinity for adrenaline rushes or a weekend warrior tackling light trails and the scenery on Saturday mornings, there’s one piece of equipment you'll need no matter what: a good first-aid kit.
While a first-aid kit is essential for any hiking, backpacking, camping, or action sports adventure, choosing a kit that best suits the activity you'll be doing most will ensure that you have basic medical necessities for the most likely injuries.
There are several kinds of prepacked first-aid kits, but as a general rule, whichever you choose should have bandages and adhesives, medical ointments, tweezers, and a manual. You can also put together your own first-aid kit by selecting individual medical tools and equipment. These items are typically highly specialized, such as bee-sting kits, tick-removing tools, various medications, and topical medical solutions.
When selecting a prestocked pack or creating your own, decide which activities you'll be using the kit for and the accidents most likely to occur during those activities. Also keep in mind the number of people you'll be traveling with, how far you'll be from professional medical attention, and any special medical needs of anyone in your group.
Backpacking and Hiking
Be sure a first-aid kit is one of the first things you check off your list before going on a backpacking trip. Since you'll want to pack as lightly as possible, choose a kit that has exactly what you’re most likely to need, which includes splints, elastic bandages (such as ACE), adhesive bandages and tape, antibiotic and allergy ointment packs, gauze pads and rolls, small tweezers, wound-closure strips, and moleskin.
The most common backpacking injuries include blisters, allergic reactions, and ankle or knee pain, all of which can be helped by these medical items.
Similar to backpacking, when looking for a first-aid kit to add to your climbing gear, think “lightweight.” In addition to common items such as bandages, gauze, and tweezers, be sure to take athletic tape to wrap around any flappers—rips in the skin of your fingers—which can quickly ruin a great day of climbing.
If you're going camping with a large group for an extended period of time, look for a first-aid kit that’s jam packed with everything you may need to help you treat any injury or ailment that comes up. Some of the most comprehensive first-aid kits are a virtual mobile clinic, and fit literally dozens of items into a single carrying case.
These kits include general-care items such as thermometers, forceps, sterile scalpels, and eye pads as well as products designed specifically for stings, bites, and burns. These include pain-relief pads, dressings, and bandages. A camping first-aid kit isn't complete without wound-care items such as wound-closure strips and antibiotic ointment, and in many kits you'll find aloe and disinfectant towelettes necessary for cut and scrape care. Keep in mind that having a firm grasp of basic first-aid procedures to go along with these items will be crucial for delivering immediate care. Often, you'll find manuals included in your kit that provide easy-to-understand first-aid instructions.
When adding a first-aid kit to your cold-weather gear, make sure to grab a kit that has the essentials you would need for backpacking or hiking, as well as a few items that could really come in handy in the snow or cold. Hand and toe warmers and emergency thermal blankets can be used to help keep an injury victim warm. Since snow can dramatically increase the effects of the sun by reflecting it, sunscreen and lip balm are also crucial.
Aches and Pains
Most first-aid kits include a few doses of over-the-counter medications, which can easily be replenished or replaced as needed. As a rule, your first-aid kit should contain some sort of pain reliever, whether it’s aspirin, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen. It’s also handy to have an antacid and some electrolyte/salt tabs or powders in your first-aid kit, as your stomach may not always agree with those freeze-dried meals you packed.
Whether you’ve decided to buy a prepackaged first-aid kit or make your own, there are a few critical items you’ll need to make sure to add before you head out on your trip. If you’re taking any prescription meds, make sure you carry enough doses with you for the length of your trip. Also be sure to include your EpiPen if you have one.
It’s also a smart idea to carry your health insurance information and a list of emergency contacts—such as a parent, spouse, or your doctor—with you, especially if you’re heading out alone or with a group of people who may not know your medical history. In the event of an accident that your first-aid kit can’t fix, the more information the EMTs have about you, the more effective they’ll be at helping you.
We head to the outdoors to get a sense of enjoyment and fulfillment we just can't get anywhere else, but with the territory comes inherent medical risks. By adding a good first-aid kit to your arsenal of outdoor gear, you can stay safe in the wilderness and be ready for anything that comes your way.
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