First Aid Gear Checklist: Vacations and Camping
Are you getting ready for a vacation? Anytime you’re planning a vacation or camping trip you should take a moment to consider your first aid kit. We’ve talked about a vehicle first aid kit; now, let’s discuss medical items to pack while on vacation.
There are logistical and equipment-based concerns when you go on an extended trip. For this guide, we’ll assume you’re traveling domestically; however, there may be more concerns if you’re in a foreign country.
We’ll start by discussing gear for a general vacation, but we’ll also explain how to prepare for a more primitive environment, particularly if you’ll be doing tent camping or backpacking.
Let’s talk about what to pack in your first aid kit.
Best Items for a Travelers First Aid Kit
Let's start with the list of items you should consider bringing on most vacations and camping trips. Later on, we'll go into some of the "theory" behind why you should pack certain things.
Don't forget to pack these first aid items before your vacation:
Gauze and bandaging. Some packed gauze for larger bleeds and Band-Aids for those scratches.
Tourniquet and pressure bandages. For those more serious injuries, a good tourniquet should also be carried on in person when possible. You don't want to be digging for a tourniquet when you need one.
Airway supplies. Including NPA and OPA; however, ensure you know how to use them. Also, a rescue mask is nice to have in your medical bag.
Splints. A small moldable splint works great for treating almost any sprain, strain, or broken bone.
Triangular bandage. The triangular bandage is incredibly useful for a multitude of injuries, including making slings, creating a makeshift tourniquet, and binding a splint.
Medical scissors. If you're curious about all the uses for these, you should check out our article on trauma shears. These are great for cutting clothes away from an injury or cutting medical tape.
Cold packs. A good cold pack can become especially useful during the summer, not to mention after someone gets a bruise that needs some ice.
Disinfectant. Get some antibiotic ointment, both a tube and some small packs for quick use.
Medical tape. Keep some of this handy for securing bandages or for keeping Band-Aids in place.
Tweezers. Don't let those splinters win - keep some tweezers ready! Also, if you'll be outside at all, grab some tick removers.
Insect repellant. Wear insect repellant around mosquitos - you don't want to be lunch. You can also wear repellant to deter ticks, but ensure you get the right kind of repellant. Think about treating your clothing with permethrin to prevent ticks.
A good medical bag. Get a medical bag that everyone knows is the first aid kit. Look for one with separate but easily accessible compartments. Buy nice or buy twice!
Note: This list is not all-encompassing. The best thing you can do is consider the type of vacation you're taking, the people on the trip (do some of them have specific health conditions/allergies?), and the environment you're traveling to and through. We'll chat about all this more below!
Understanding First Aid for Vacations and Camping Trips
Let’s talk about some of the why behind what you should pack. We’ll break this down based on sections. Some will be more worried about emergency first aid; others will have comfort-based concerns. Know this: It only takes a few mosquito bites to make your vacation uncomfortable, so let’s not brush over the small stuff – at the same time, it’s important to prioritize the lifesaving gear.
Understanding essential first aid supplies for vacations:
Emergency first aid, bleeding control, airway
Prescription medications and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs
Protection from the environment
Think about logistics
Let's talk about these.
Emergency First Aid: Bleeding Control First Aid
First, make sure you have the essentials covered. These are the things that can cause the most harm the fastest. In medicine, we have a name for these things: ABCs. Airway, breathing, and circulation. Essentially, you need to be ready to help someone breathe, stop someone from bleeding and keep the blood pumping.
To stop major bleeding, the essential items are packed gauze and a tourniquet. Get some compressed gauze and buy a reputable tourniquet, like a SOF or a CAT. For breathing control, learn basic airway maneuvers and how to use a BVM. Finally, make sure you know CPR!
Medications for a Vacation First Aid Kit
If you’ll be away for a while, ensure you have adequate stores of prescription medications or any OTC meds that you’re relying on. Take into account the possibility that you could be delayed on your trip, or flights could be canceled. Do you still have enough medications to last?
Also, even if you’re normally healthy, it may be wise to pack some OTC meds like benadryl, aspirin, ibuprofen, Tylenol, laxatives, Pepto-Bismol, Tums; all the usual things. Why? Sometimes, traveling to new areas and new climates can mess up our bodies a bit. It’s better to be prepared. Plus, you’ll probably end up using it on someone else.
Protection from the Environment
One thing to consider for vacation travel is the environment. Why do you need to worry about the environment? Will you be driving in your nice car? Well, regardless of your mode of travel, you could end up trapped. If there’s a major accident on a rural highway, traffic can be stopped for a long, long time (we’ve all seen the news about multi-car pileups involving dozens of vehicles)
Bring some extra water and blankets. If you need to sleep in your vehicle overnight, you don’t want to freeze (in the winter), and you don’t want to overheat in the summer.
On a less doomsday-ish level, think about extra sunscreen and aloe vera (a bad sunburn can make a vacation unpleasant).
Will you be hiking? You don’t want to get trapped in the rain. Bring some sort of water-resistant clothing, regardless of the time of the year. Further, remember to bring a water filter or some other way to obtain pure water.
Vacations: First Aid, Emergency Care, and Logistics
This is an element of vacation that is often overlooked. How close is the nearest hospital to where you’ll be camping or staying? Also, realize that the ambulance response in very rural areas can be quite a while.
If you’re pregnant or have a health condition that requires proximity to the hospital, plan your trip accordingly. All it takes is a quick look at the maps apps on your phone to locate various medical buildings.
It might not be practical for everyone to carry a huge medical bag, but someone should have a fully stocked kit (acting as the hub), while individuals should still carry some bare essentials (like gauze and a tourniquet).
Mistakes to Avoid When Packing First Aid for Vacation
There are a few pitfalls you can avoid when packing your first aid kit. As they say, we can often learn more from our mistakes, so here are a few mistakes to avoid when making a medical kit before a vacation.
Mistakes to avoid:
Not packing enough
Buying a generic kit
Having an unbalanced kit
Let's look at these in more depth.
Not Packing a Complete Kit
Usually, we're all about traveling light. However, when it comes to packing first aid and medical gear, you don't want there to be any holes in your kit. Now, if you're an experienced traveler, then you might have a better read on the quantity of supplies.
However, if you're starting out, don't skimp too much; pack a bit of everything and then see what you used and how it worked. You can always adjust next time.
Buying a Generic First Aid Kit
We've all purchased a generic "first aid" kit from some big-name store, and this isn't so much a mistake as it is an oversight. Sure, these kits come with a bunch of Band-Aids, and band-aids are nice, but these kits almost never come with a good tourniquet, a splint, or a proper supply of medications. They're often bloated and not in a good way.
Even if you have one of these fast kits, you can fortify it by adding the first aid tools you need.
Avoid an Unbalanced First Aid Kit
We all worry about something. Some worry about sunburns, and some worry about bee stings. Both are valid concerns; just be sure you don't forget something because tunnel vision kicked in.
This goes for everything, bleeding control, splints, ice packs - make sure you have a nice balance of gear.
Final Thoughts on How to Build a Vacation First Aid Kit
The only way you can really relax is to be truly prepared. Sipping a cool lemonade and looking at your favorite wildlife will be even better when you know you’ve planned for possible emergencies.
Consider bringing extra over-the-counter medications, as travel can often bring on ailments. Further, if you're headed out into the wilderness, whether backpacking or doing some rural camping, consider adding some survival elements to your first aid kits, such as water filters, e-blankets, and fire-starting material.
If you'd like more information on these topics, you can read our article on how to build a survival first aid kit. Also, you can check out our article on first aid kits for backpacking trips.
At the end of the day, what you store behind your eyes is more important than what's in your backpack! Get some training!