One question I hear pretty frequently is, “What do I need in my first aid kit for hiking?”
The honest answer to this question is that it depends on a few things: where you’re going, who you’ll be going with, the planned duration of your hike, your level of knowledge regarding first aid and wilderness skills, and how much comfort you’re willing and able to sacrifice.
Those are a lot of factors to take into consideration, so rather than offer a bunch of vague advice, I’ll list out everything that’s in my kit.
I already posted here about my first aid kit a few years ago, but as I’ve become a bit more experienced with hiking and backpacking, I have made a few upgrades and adjustments to my kit. My updated list is as follows.
- Bandages: An assortment of different shapes and sizes.
- Gauze Pads: Use for dressing wounds.
- Medical Tape: Remove a long strip from the roll and then roll it back up on itself.
- Blister Treatment: Moleskin, 2nd Skin, and Duct Tape.
- Antibiotic Ointment: To disinfect a wound.
- Burn Cream: To soothe burns.
- Anti-Itch Cream: For hives and other skin irritations.
- Poison Ivy Wipes: Removes the oils that cause skin irritation.
- Alcohol Wipes: Disinfectant.
- Fine Point Tweezers: To remove splinters, ticks, etc. Another tip is to keep a tick key clipped to the outside of my dog’s pack for quick access.
- Kwik Stop: Helps to stop bleeding if a dog’s nails become injured.
- Paw Wax: A balm to help protect your dog’s paws from hot surfaces, cold and snow, etc.
- Diphenhydramine: In case of an allergic reaction.
- Ibuprofen: For pain or swelling.
- Loperamide: So you don’t crap your pants.
- Antacid: This one isn’t a necessity, but it’s super annoying when you do have heartburn and don’t have anything for it.
- Prescription Meds: Don’t forget any prescription or OTC meds you or your dog might be taking on a regular or semi-regular basis!
Tick Prevention Meds: To help prevent you or your dog from contracting Lyme disease, discuss flea and tick prevention with your dog’s veterinarian before heading out on a hike, especially if you plan to hike during tick season.
Emergency Kit / Multipurpose
- Needle: This can be used to repair torn gear and clothing or to pop a blister (just make sure to sterilize it first!)
- Duct Tape: This can be used to repair torn gear and as blister protection. (I know the blister prevention thing sounds weird, but it works like a charm!) Pull some off the roll and roll it back up on itself instead of packing a giant heavy roll of this with you.
- Repair Tape: Used to field repair damaged gear such as tents, rain gear, and inflatable sleeping pads.
- Dental Floss: Aside from it’s intended purpose, this can also be used as thread in a pinch. For camping, I like to keep it in a ziploc with my other scented items so it can be easily put away at night.
- Emergency Blanket(s): You can use this as a blanket to help hold in body heat to avoid hypothermia, to help insulate your tent, as a makeshift ground sheet, or even as a rain poncho. Since they are reflective, you may also be able to use one for signaling. The space blankets like you would get after a marathon pack up fairly small and are relatively lightweight.
- Lighter: Including a lighter, some waterproof matches, or another type of fire starter is also a good idea. If we’re camping, I store a lighter inside my cook pot so I don’t have to go digging for it.
- Q-Tips: For applying first aid creams, etc.
- Pads and Tampons: If you’re female, you already know how much it sucks to be caught off guard. In a pinch, a pad could also be used for a bleeding wound (I mean, they’re made for soaking up blood, right?) or as a makeshift dog bootie. Tampons are flammable and can also be used to start a fire.
- Bandana: Okay, I don’t usually keep this one inside my kit, but I usually do carry a bandana with me because it’s a great multipurpose item. It can be used as a triangle bandage, a headband, a face mask, a pack towel, to remove sediment from water before filtering, as a pee rag, etc. I’ve even used blaze orange bandanas to tie to my pack and accessorize my dogs to help be more visible. There are so many possibilities!
First Aid Storage
Once you have your first aid supplies rounded up, you’ll need something to store them in. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND using ONLY a waterproof bag or container to prevent your supplies from getting damaged.
A zip top freezer bag is cheap and lightweight, however a small dry bag will hold up better over time.
Because I hike and camp often, I ended up upgrading from a zip top bag to this dyneema pouch from KAM OUtdoors on Etsy. I chose this particular pouch because dyneema is a very durable material and the design makes it very easy to quickly access what I need without having to dig too much.
While hiking, it’s best to stash first aid supplies in an easy-to-access part of your pack, such as an external pocket, so you can get to them quickly.
How Much Do I Need?
I get it. On one hand you want to be adequately prepared, but on the other hand, carrying a bunch of extra stuff is a lot of added, unnecessary weight.
To decide, you’ll want to consider two things: the planned duration of your hike and who you’ll be responsible for.
My solution was to create two first aid kits: one for day hikes and one for backpacking or camping trips. My kit for day hiking is simply a 24-hour kit; it includes enough supplies to cover myself and my dog in an overnight emergency situation. Since Patronus and I are mostly “weekend backpackers”, my backpacking first aid kit is meant to be able to cover us for about a week.
I will admit that my first aid kits are probably a lot more extensive than what the “ultralight crowd” would carry. They’re also a lot simpler than what others would carry. That said, I will admit that I have used every single item in this kit AT LEAST once, with the exception of the Kwik Stop.
Should I Buy a First Aid Kit or DIY?
Honestly, it’s up to you. I personally chose to go the DIY route because it was a bit more affordable and allowed me to customize it with the supplies I wanted.
Skills: If you haven’t already done so, I recommend taking a first aid class, or at the very least, reading up on how to properly treat common injuries such as wounds, broken bones, burns, bites and stings, etc. Your supplies are useless if you don’t know how to use them properly.
Precautions: Before you head out on a hike, check the weather and safety conditions in the area you’re headed to. It’s also a good idea to read up on what kind of wildlife may be in the area and how to prevent wildlife confrontations. If something seems unsafe, trust your gut. It’s okay to turn back!
Plan Ahead: Have a plan in place before you hike and stick to that plan to the best of your ability. Leave a copy of your itinerary with someone you know and trust, and let them know when you expect to be back
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For more hiking tips and ideas, be sure to check out these posts. Happy hiking!