Backpacking First Aid Kit Essentials

Dietrich Easter

Backpacking First Aid Kit Essentials

The backpacking first aid kit requires careful planning. The backpacker should consider the size of their group, the length of their journey, and the amount of weight they're willing to carry. Even backpackers who strive for ultralight status still realize the importance of the first aid kit.


This article will discuss the balance between essential gear and avoiding too much weight. Also, we'll give some tips to those backpackers who want to carry as little as possible.


When you're planning to create your backpacking first aid kit, know that the biggest mistake you could make is not to carry one - there are plenty of horror stories, but we'll spare them now. Bottom line: don’t get caught without lifesaving gear.

Building a Backpacker First Aid Kit

There isn't a one-size-fits-all approach to backpackers. People backpacking alone might need to carry something different from those in a group. Furthermore, if you're only heading out for a local day hike, you'll need to carry something different than a week-long trek.


Now, it's also wise to widen your scope and learn some first aid principles. If you know the principles, you'll be able to make decisions based on your specific needs.


Here are the sections we'll cover:


· Common backpacker injuries

· Essential first aid supplies

· First aid supplies for a large backpack

· Tips and tricks for lightweight backpackers

· Don’t lump first aid supplies with other gear

· Key takeaway


Alright, let's get started.

Most Common Backpacking Injuries

The best place to start is to ask: what types of peril will you most likely encounter when backpacking? If you've been backpacking for years, you are probably already painfully familiar with many of these injuries. However, even if you've had pretty good luck, unfortunately, there's a first time for everything, and it's best to be prepared.

Here's a list of the most common backpacker injuries:


· Blisters

· Sunburns

· Sprains and Strains

· Environment (heat and cold)

· Cuts and scrapes

· Bug bites

· Traumatic injuries, animal bites (not common, but more likely)


In addition to these injuries, there are also some common ailments:


· Diarrhea

· Stomach cramps

· Allergic reactions

· Flu-like ailments


So, now we know some of the monsters we're dealing with, let's see how we can fend them off.

Most Important First Aid Supplies for Backpackers

When you're out in the wilderness, there are several theories of thought. Some people believe you should bring supplies for the things you're most likely to encounter - blisters, sunburns, and bug bites.


However, others believe you should bring supplies for the most life-threatening things: arterial bleeds, hypothermia, animal attacks.


So, what's the answer? As always, it's somewhere in the middle. You should have gear for the "small" things (though they can become major things if left untreated) and the big things.


10 first aid items to bring on a backpacking trip:


1. Tourniquet

2. Bandages (Gauze)

3. Band-aids

4. Insect repellant

5. Burn cream

6. Sunscreen

7. Emergency blanket

8. Moldable Splint

9. Over the counter medications

10. Prescription medications


This is a general list. Depending on your situation, you may need to carry specific things. With that said, in the next sections, we'll talk about how you can get all these items to work in a small package.


Note: We're talking about first aid gear in general. On a backpacking or long-term camping trip, you certainly shouldn't neglect to carry personal hygiene tools, like a toothbrush. Some people lump both in the same category, though the two should be separate. We'll explain why later.

First Aid Supplies for a Complete Backpacker First Aid Kit

For a complete first aid kit, you want to make sure you have trauma covered. Often, first aid kits from the store are just stuffed with band-aids. We all love band-aids, but they don't help you if you have a serious bleed. So, be sure to have something like a trauma dressing and a tourniquet.

If you're not super concerned about weight, carrying a nice standard first aid and trauma kit will serve you well. If you're taking a long trek in the backcountry, consider breaking things up between members.


For example, one person might carry the bug spray, one person might carry the splints, and another might carry the emergency blankets. However, keep in mind that the group must stay together in these cases. You don't want to be running a mile to grab something important.


Also, know that each person should carry items for bleeding control. Don't let one person carry all the tourniquets. Even a minute delay in bleeding control could cause a poor outcome.


In the next section, let's talk about some tips for people who want to be light as a feather (first aid for ultralight backpackers).

First Aid Kit Supplies for Lightweight Backpackers

For those who don't want any bulk, remember that it's still important to carry essential gear. That's why they call it essential. You might think a tourniquet seems bulky, but a CAT tourniquet is actually very light. Further, if you carry gauze, you can use it for almost anything: splinting, bandages, pressure dressings.


Also, learning how to improvise certain supplies can go a long way and reduce the amount of extra gear you need to carry. However, keep in mind that improvised equipment means you'll have to sacrifice another piece of gear. You can learn how to improvise a tourniquet with a T-shirt, but that may not be practical if you're in a cold environment.


You can also improvise splints and pressure bandages. You can use a straight stick for a splint or a jacket to make an arm sling.


Note: make sure you practice these techniques. Don't expect your inner MacGyver to come bursting forth during an emergency. Using improvised equipment effectively requires even more training than using regular gear.


Let's talk real quick about why backpackers should keep first aid gear and other backpacking gear separate.

Why You Shouldn't Lump First Aid Gear with Other Backpacking Supplies

Some people choose to lump together personal hygiene and first aid supplies. This is understandable, as first aid and hygiene certainly overlap and fall under the umbrella of bodily care. However, throwing all your personal hygiene and first aid supplies in the same plastic bag is a mistake. And, there are several reasons why.


First, first aid supplies often require fast access. If you need to grab a tourniquet to stop bleeding, you don't want to be digging deep into your backpack to find it. The same could be said for a pressure bandage; when you need it, you need it fast. You don't want it buried with your toothbrush, hidden under a pile of other supplies.


Second, sometimes you need to use your first aid supplies in bloody or dirty conditions. In these cases, you don't want to risk soiling your personal hygiene items, which are supposed to keep you clean.


Finally, it's important to emphasize the seriousness of first aid care. Lumping everything together with your other supplies will create disorganization in your first aid kit. With all that said, learning first aid skills is just as important as carrying the right gear.

Final Words on Building a Backpacker First Aid Kit Do your best to get trained for a backpacking emergency. Gear is important, but in the end, if you have gear without knowledge, you pretty much have nothing. However, if you're in a situation where you lose your gear, knowledge can still help you prevail.


Preparing a first aid kit for a backpacking trip is similar to preparing any other first-aid kit; however, you need to account for the unpredictability of the environment and the possibility that help isn't right around the corner.

After you've got your backpacking first aid kit all set, read our article on how to build a survival kit. Prepare yourself for what the wild will throw at you.