Must-Have Outdoor Gear: IFAK (Individual First Aid Kit)

Dietrich Easter

The call of the wild is something that many of us simply can't resist. Nature beckons and we must answer. The call may sound sweet, but nature often conceals not only great mysteries but also many dangers. First-aid training should be the first priority on your packing list. 

Next, you need the right supplies.

Having the right gear could set your mind at ease while you go for an idyllic hike through the woods. Not having it may well lead to a YouTube cautionary tale written in your posthumous honor. We've taken most of the guesswork out of choosing an IFAK (Individual First-Aid Kit), but each situation is unique. Only you can determine what gear is most suitable for your outdoor adventure.

Here are some gear suggestions and practical tips that go beyond a basic first-aid class. In the outdoors, when help might be far away, creativity is paramount. Making the most out of as few tools as possible is the key to a lightweight, but highly effective first-aid kit.

Basic First Aid Kit

For starters, everyone needs a basic first aid kit. For the outdoors a small, highly portable, versatile pack is essential. Our 5"x8" Vanquest FATPack Large Kit is ideal for any excursion.

Our Large FATPack comes equipped with a no-nonsense list of components, which you can read here. We've chosen this equipment carefully based on years of field experience. We've whittled away the fluff found in most first-aid kits to save space and clutter. 

What's left are essentials. These components are vital in every first-aid situation. The Large FATPack is an all-around lifesaving tool. It's a perfect starting point for designing a kit around any situation you may face.

Portability Is Key

For the outdoors, your focus should be on portability, accessibility, and multi-functional components. The Vanquest 5"x8" FATPack checks all those boxes.

The Gen-2 FATPack is lightweight with several improvements, including exterior loops for a tourniquet and trauma shears. Three internal elastic webbing bands and two slots for cylindrical items like an Epi-Pen are also new. Bottom pull tabs now make the pack much easier to close. Most importantly, a single pull on the formed grab handle gives instant access to the lifesaving equipment inside. 

This intuitive design makes access simple when nothing else is. There's no need to fumble with zippers or dig through hundreds of band-aids and unnecessary components when the adrenaline is pumping. Your kit is organized and laid out instantly with a single pull.

The design of this pack allows you to configure your kit for your specific needs, and the MOLLE back panel adds to the versatility. MOLLE Sticks are available for a quick release, so you can detach your pack and pass it to a friend fast and with no fuss.

The build quality and versatility of this pack are why we recommend it so highly. 

Now you have a pack. That leads us to specific outdoor components. 

Picking The Right Kit & Components

Our FATPack Kit is a perfect starting place for every situation. But to maximize its potential you have to consider your environment and tailor it to your needs.

"The outdoors" is a big place with myriad environmental factors. How should you choose which components you need? How should you organize them? Can you carry everything you might need in one small pack?

The place to start organizing is with your ABC's. Airway, Breathing, and Circulation. These three factors indicate a threat to life. 

If you've taken a first-aid class... you certainly should... you'll remember these three as the most important considerations. You must ensure an open airway, either with a head-tilt chin-lift or a jaw thrust technique. 

Which technique you use depends on the circumstances. Ensure the patient is breathing. Once the patient is breathing properly then you go on to circulation and control of any bleeding. These techniques should be done in order, so it's best to organize your pack into those categories.

Airway & Breathing

Anything but simple airway control in an outdoor situation is very tricky. If you're trained to use a nasopharyngeal or oropharyngeal airway then by all means do so. 

Never attempt to do anything you're not trained to do. If you're not a professional don't buy a laryngoscope. Do not "pop a cric" (cricothyroidotomy), no matter how cool it sounds. 

A great tool for airway emergencies is a GPS Emergency Beacon and a cell phone. Stabilize your patient as much as possible and immediately call for help. 

Time is in short supply. Realistically speaking, a complicated airway emergency far from help is an extremely difficult circumstance. The best solution is to obtain advanced training to maximize the chance of patient survival.



A more optimistic life-threatening situation you're likely to face outdoors is bleeding. Any first-aid kit you choose should have a supply of 4x4 gauze sponges, trauma dressings, and something to compress them with.

Tape is good, but in an outdoor situation, help may not arrive for hours or even days. Using cling or an elastic wrap to apply bandages allows you to adjust them as necessary throughout the day. Cling also allows for a certain amount of pressure that tape simply doesn't. 

We've equipped our FATPack with a 6" Israeli Bandage, an excellent pressure dressing. 

In a pinch, a rolled-up piece of fabric wrapped with cling can supply much of the force of a pressure dressing. Use that to supplement the Israeli Dressing for multiple injuries.

Tourniquets are another tricky piece of equipment. Once applied a tourniquet must not be removed except in very rare circumstances. We outline those for you here

Our Gen 7 CAT (Combat Application Tourniquet) is a self-contained unit that's rock solid and battle-proven. It saves lives. Still, use real caution and sober judgment when applying a tourniquet. Limbs can be lost unnecessarily if a tourniquet is applied when it doesn't need to be.

With bleeding comes broken or torn skin. Triple antibiotic ointment, butterfly bandages, and band-aids can handle most situations. But if you're faced with a serious wound then a bulb or irrigation syringe is a good idea. 

That allows you to prevent infection by cleaning deep into a wound with saline or clean water after the bleeding is under control. Cleanliness can make the difference between life and death when help is far away. 

Musculoskeletal Injuries

Whether you're at the outdoor skate park or hiking the Appalachian Trail, immobilization is a major concern. The Acti Splint is a 36" moldable splint that packs flat and only weighs 180 grams. This splint can immobilize any extremity. If necessary it can even double as a cervical collar. 

When performing activities that are prone to neck injuries, like climbing or motorsports, you should include a cervical collar in your kit. For a simple outdoor first-aid kit, a c-collar isn't always practical. The Acti Splint can fill that role and many others. Multipurpose.

Triangular bandages are another perfect example of a multipurpose tool. They can be made into a sling for broken or dislocated arms and shoulders by tying a knot in the center of the bandage. 

Tie two ends together and place the sling over the head on the opposite side of the injury. Our kit comes with two triangular bandages. 

You can fashion a sling with one and use the other for a swathe to tie the injured arm against the body. This prevents further damage and minimizes pain by restricting movement.

Triangular bandages also make great splints. If multiple extremities need stabilization you can improvise a splint from nearly anything. Sticks, rolled-up paper, magazines, or even pillows can double as splints. 

Place the splint against an arm or leg and tie it about 4 inches above and below the injury. Use cling wrap to further stabilize the splint by wrapping it at both ends, making 4 tie points. Do not tie directly on an obvious break or injury. Always tie above and below.

Tape fingers to one another to immobilize an injured one. Tie legs together if better splint materials can't be acquired. Creativity is second only to common sense in outdoor first-aid.


Splinters & Penetrating Wounds

Another tool that should be in any outdoor first-aid kit is forceps, better known as tweezers. Small splinters can be removed quickly before infection sets in. A needle and thread should be in every camper's gear, so a needle may be at hand. If not, put one in your FATPack.

Remove small splinters as soon as possible. Very large splinters... penetrating wounds... should never be removed in the field. Whatever is penetrating should be cut away from what it's attached to and stabilized in the body. Removing a penetration can damage nerves, muscles, connective tissues, and most importantly, arteries. 

If you remove a stick from your friend or family member's leg because it hurts only to see blood spurting uncontrollably, your friend will not likely be in a better position. This is, in fact, a bad position. Don't do it.

To stabilize a penetrating wound roll up fabric or gauze rolls and place them on either side of the object. Wrap tightly on both sides of the object in a sort of x pattern. The tightly wrapped rolls should add bulk to stabilize the object so it won't move as much and do more damage. The idea is to keep it as still as possible until the object can be removed in surgery.

A tip for penetrating injury to an eye is to stabilize in the same way as above, but cover both eyes. Eyes move in tandem. If only one eye is covered then instinctually the person will look around, moving the other eye unintentionally. 

The penetrating object will do more damage because the injured eye will move when the uncovered eye looks around. Cover them both.

Other Ideas

Oral rehydration solutions, hard candies (diabetic emergencies), and hot/cold packs are other things to carry. Consider your environment. In a cold climate, an ice pack isn't necessary. 

But a heat therapy pack under someone's armpits or groin may warm them to the point of survival. In hot or tropical weather a hot pack is useless, but a cold gel pack used in the same way may save someone from heat stroke.

The bottom line is that a basic first-aid kit, good common sense, and knowledge of the area can save someone's life. Training, experience, and creativity go a very long way in the outdoors. It doesn't take a lot of specialized equipment to operate outdoors. 

Only a few small things that you wouldn’t carry in any basic IFAK. What is important is that the basic kit you choose doesn't consist of 900 band-aids and some alcohol pads. A well-made, rugged, professionally designed kit has fewer components and more multipurpose tools. 

An outdoor kit relies on quality materials and quality of thought and creativity. 

See our FATPack Kit and read the reviews here