Hiking outdoors is a wonderful way to appreciate nature and challenge yourself physically. But when you’re out backpacking in isolated places, it’s essential to be prepared for any incidents, injuries, or illnesses you or a companion could face.
One essential tool that every backpacker needs is a robust and well-equipped first aid kit. However, as a beginner, creating a suitable first aid kit may seem a daunting task. This article will help you overcome that hurdle and guide you step by step into building your very own backpacking first aid kit.
The Basics of First Aid
First aid knowledge is crucial for everyone, not just for those venturing into the outdoors. It helps alleviate injuries and stabilize severe conditions before professional medical help arrives.
When administering first aid to someone in need, the basic practices generally revolve around the ABC acronym:
- Airway: check for any blockages that may obstruct the victim’s airway.
- Breathing: if they’re still not breathing after clearing the blockages, give mouth-to-mouth rescue breathing.
- Circulation: restore circulation by performing chest compressions. If the victim’s heart has stopped, continue doing the compressions until the ambulance arrives.
When backpacking, similar principles are applied in the case of emergencies. However, being in the great outdoors means that you’ll be dealing with incidents ranging from minor cuts to severe fractures or potential wildlife bites. Learning about these cases and how to treat them should also be an integral part of your preparation.
Why is a First Aid Kit For Hiking Necessary?
You never know what’s going to await you on your next hiking trip; that’s part of the fun of it! However, it also means that if you don’t take the right preparatory measures, you can find yourself in a whole heap of trouble. With a first aid kit for backpacking that’s built correctly, you’re going to be ready for most emergencies.
Outdoor environments present a lot of unique challenges. You might trip over roots or rocks and get injured. The weather conditions might contribute to hypothermia or heat stroke, both of which can be deadly.
Besides these, there are possibilities of insect stings, allergic reactions, altitude sickness, and even gastrointestinal issues due to ingesting contaminated food or water. Having a first aid kit with you at all times ensures that crucial line of defense in managing these situations. They’re key in preventing these small issues from escalating into major problems.
Essential Items to Include in Your First Aid Kit For Backpacking
At the core of any good backpacking first aid kit are several universally essential items. Regardless of the climate you’ll be hiking in or the length of your escapade, you shouldn’t set out on your journey if your kit doesn’t contain the following items:
- Adhesive bandages of various sizes: you’ll need them for covering small cuts, punctures or burns.
- Tweezers: they’ll come in handy when removing splinters or insects.
- Disinfectant wipes: these are crucial to clean out wounds before applying any dressings.
- Antihistamine: necessary in case of allergic reactions.
- Pain relievers: having aspirin or ibuprofen on hand can be useful when you develop fevers or analgesia.
- Medical tape: to secure bandages in place.
- Gauze pads: certain larger wounds can’t be covered with bandages, which is where gauze pads come in handy.
- Elastic bandages: useful for treating sprains and strains all the while maintaining mobility.
- Surgical gloves: you’ll need to put these on to keep wounds clean while you’re treating them.
- Antiseptic cream: for applying after cleaning wounds.
- Safety pins: can be used to secure bandages.
Keep in mind that these are only the basics. Depending on your personal circumstances and health conditions, you might want to expand your kit with extra items.
For example, antihistamine is great for general allergies such as hay fever, food allergies, and certain insect bites, but it might not be enough in some cases. If you know you have a severe allergy to something that’s bound to trigger a serious reaction such as anaphylaxis, you might have to include an adrenaline shot in your kit.
You know your body and medical history best. When packing your first aid kit for backpacking, always adjust it to your own specific needs, on top of the universal items we’ve listed above.
Additional Items For Specific Environments
The items above are universal and will prove useful in any environment. However, you’ll also need to include a few extra things in your first aid kit for backpacking, depending on the nature of your expedition. In most cases, there are three factors that will affect the contents of your first aid kit:
- Weather conditions
- Terrain type
- Length of your hike
Not all backpacking trips are the same, and the right preparation can quite literally be a lifesaver in some particularly tricky situations. In the sections below, we’ll go over some extra items you should bring along.
In hot climates, ensure your kit includes electrolyte replenishers to avoid dehydration. If you are on a multi-day trip, you run the risk of getting sunburnt, which is why it’s a good idea to also bring along some calamine lotion or aloe vera gel to soothe the pain.
Cold climates, on the other hand, pose the risk of frostbite; hence, consider carrying hand warmers. Another important thing to remember is to bring an insulated water bottle or reservoir; you don’t want to end up with a block of ice in your water bottle in the middle of a hike!
The sun doesn’t care whether it’s hot or cold, and you can easily get sunburnt, regardless of the temperature. Lip balms and sunscreen will protect you against sunburn in both cold and hot climates. Depending on the severity of your burn, the hike can get really uncomfortable in the best case, and uncompletable in the worst.
Types of Terrain
If you’re hiking in a wooded area prone to poisonous plants, such as poison ivy or oak, include creams specifically designed to boost allergic reactions from such plants in your kit.
Backpacking in tropical areas also exposes you to insect bites from all sorts of nasty little things. Topical itch relief creams are the bare minimum you should take, but you may also consider taking a venom extraction kit along with you.
Your trip duration can also influence your first-aid kit’s content. On longer trips, you’ll need more of everything – more bandages, more ointment, more medicine. Moreover, if you’re traveling far from civilization for an extended period, include broader-ranging antibiotics and possibly even a more detailed emergency medical guide.
Your first aid kit for hiking on lengthy trips will have to contain a lot more stuff, naturally, you’re going to need a bigger bag to contain everything you need in there. With that said, you will also need to make sure that it fits into your backpack comfortably, and can be easily taken out whenever you need it. It’s also a good idea to bring a water purification kit on longer trips – you may not always have access to a freshwater source when adventuring!
Shorter trips, on the other hand, are much easier to prepare for. Packing a day’s worth of all the essential items we listed above, as well as a small supply of additional items should be enough to get you through the expedition.
How to Organize Your First Aid Kit For Hiking
When organizing your first-aid kit ensure that it’s compact and lightweight without compromising on essentials – remember, you’ll be carrying this with you at all times on the trail!
Once packed, divide your kit into sections based on categories (cuts/scrapes/abrasions, medications etc) so that everything is easy to find in an emergency situation. When you run into a problem on your hike, you want it to be neatly organized so that you can locate the item you need the moment you open up the kit.
Finally, you should always make sure that the first aid kit is one of the first things you see when you open your backpack. In certain emergency situations, every second counts, and scouring through your stuff to find your kit can have a significant impact on your condition.
Can I Buy a Ready-Made First Aid Kit?
There are many stores online that sell pre-packed first aid kits for hiking, and generally, there’s nothing wrong with buying such items. However, when buying a ready-made first aid kit, you need to make sure that it contains everything you’ll need on your trip. To make it easier on yourself, you can cross-check it with our list of essential items we included above.
If you’re buying online, you should scroll through the product description to see the contents of the bag. At a brick-and-mortar store, all you’ve got to do is reach out to one of the employees and ask for details.
Keep in mind that your pre-packed first aid kit for backpacking will only contain the bare essentials you should take on your hike. They’re designed to be universal for all backpackers’ needs, so their contents won’t cater to the specific conditions during your trip.
Replenishing Your First Aid Kit
Before each trip, check the contents of your kit carefully – make sure nothing is missing and replace anything that’s been used up from the last trip. It’s also essential to make sure none of your medications have expired!
You should also remember about switching up the contents of your first aid kit for hiking in different environments. Your hand warmers won’t do you much good in a tropical jungle, and they might just take up the space for additional sunburn lotion or electrolyte replenishers.
Develop a habit of restocking your first aid kit with basic essentials as soon as you return from an expedition, and prepare accordingly as soon as you know where the next one is going to take place. That way, you won’t have to stress about finding the right items last-minute, or worse yet, get caught by surprise on your hike!
The Bottom Line
Creating your first aid kit for hiking isn’t just about purchasing supplies – it’s about preparing yourself mentally for the walks ahead! Having a First-Aid kit gives you peace of mind knowing you’re prepared for many situations that could come up while backpacking – however it’s just as important to know how to use each item correctly.
If possible, attend a certified First Aid Training Program – not only will this ensure you understand how to use what’s in your kit properly but it’ll provide invaluable knowledge that could quite literally save your (or someone else’s) life one day!
Now that you’ve got all the information you need, you can start building your first-aid kit today and step out onto the trail with confidence. Remember – in the great outdoors, it’s always better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it!