Ultralight Backpacking: First Aid ? Kit
My Training & Background
I am an EMT, OEC, and CPR certified. I have been involved with Search and Rescue teams and have been a ski patroller for over 10 years. Needless to say I have treated a fair amount of injuries that required transportation afterward. In the backcountry, or even on a ski slope, there’s only so much that you can do no matter how much equipment you have. You learn to make do with what you have, with the ultimate goals of being: 1) do no further harm, 2) patient comfort, and 3) transport your patient to higher care.
My typical first aid kit varies by location, nature, and duration of the trip. There are a few items that always remain the same but quantities change and other items get inserted or deleted based on the various factors.
Proactive versus Reactive
One important factor that helps to pare down a first aid kit is being proactive to any issues that arise instead of reactive. I typically plan taking the following variables into consideration:
- lenght/distance between resupplies
- potential exit points
- conditions present
- other factors which may affect your preparedness, and potential emergencies that you might face. For example, you are not likely to have frostbite or acute mountain sickness while in the canyon country in Utah, but you can have extreme heat and a shortage of water.
Furthermore, by stopping at the first instances of pain you can assess the situation and often prevent the injury from becoming worse or debilitating. Popping a couple of ibuprofen, applying Vaseline, and/or taping up some rubbing on your feet before it becomes a full-blown blister can go a long way and save you a lot of grief.
Location and Duration
Location plays a large factor into the contents of the kit. Is the hike in the U.S.? Is it in Africa, Nepal, or South America? What am I going to be able to find in those countries and what are the risks that are present? In parts of Africa, malaria medicine is crucial. In other places I carry preventative meds for water-borne illnesses. In the U.S. how much time will it take to get to the closest resupply town with a supermarket, pharmacy, or doctor?
These all factor into the duration of the hike and the duration between resupplies. Basically how much of each item will you need to get you to the safety of society and a place where you can stock up on more meds or supplies. Carry enough of what you think you will need if something happens to get you to the next opportunity to restock.
In My Kit
- Duct Tape – Used mainly for foot care. I like to rip a larger size piece that is bigger than the blister and then a smaller piece that is slightly bigger than the blister. I turn the smaller piece and attach the two pieces together, with the sticky sides facing one another. Then I adhere the tape to the blistered area or hot spot with the larger piece facing out. The smaller piece prevents the tape from sticking to the injured area and makes it easier and less painful to remove, while also preventing the injured area from additional injury from prying the tape off.
- Ibuprofen – Pain and swelling relief.
- Aqua Mira or denatured alcohol – Used as hand sanitizer.
- Bandanna or clothes – To make slings, compression wraps, wrap with cold water or snow for icing injuries/swelling
- Needle and thread – In case need to make adjustments or alterations in the field. Can also help to make slings or other things if needed.
- Small multi-tool knife with a main nail clipper tool – To cut fabric or other things and foot care to prevent issues.
- Trekking poles – crutches or splints
Other considerations depending on location or climate
If I am traveling internationally to a second or third world country, I will usually fill prescriptions before leaving and bring: Imodium, Cipro, Tinidazole for water-borne illnesses.
Leukotape – Can be really good for foot care, hot spots, blisters, and other things since it is super sticky.
Occasionally, I may add Vaseline, Neosporin, or Super Glue.
All items mentioned above are usually ripped from the main roll of tape into smaller rolls and other items are repackaged into small resealable baggies to save weight and space.
Part of a first aid kit is being able to communicate in case something happens. In some locations this may work with your cell phone but in most backcountry locations this is not a viable option. Here are a few ideas with pros and cons:
- DeLorme InReach – This is a reliable two way messenger so you can communicate with people at home while out in the backcountry. Communication can pare with your cell phone but are mainly through text messages or facebook. You cannot place voice calls. This product does double as a GPS and can also get weather forecast sent to it. You will need to pay activation and some sort of monthly plan to activate the device.
- SPOT Communicators – You can send messages and SOS messages but you cannot receive messages, nor does the device serve any other function while on trail. You need a monthly plan.
- Cell phone GPS – Your cell phone can act as a GPS but the battery doesn’t last very long when in use. You will need to carry extra batteries or a battery pack and you will still likely not be able to communicate with anyone at home in case of an emergency because the phone cannot send messages through satellites.
- Satellite Phone – A satellite phone can send texts and voice from remote locations. Service can be interrupted under tree cover, cloud cover, or without a clear view of the sky. Service is also very costly. If you are serious about getting a sat phone, keep in mind Iridium vs. Globalstar service. Iridium is the only truly global coverage satellite provider. Globalstar’s network does not cover some areas on the Earth (including the poles, portions of Africa, extreme southern South America, areas over the oceans, and some areas over India, Nepal, and Tibet).
- Amatuer (Ham) Radio *Thanks Vaughn Phillips for the comment*- There are many places in the US (And around the world) that can be reached with Amateur Radio – many of them with a simple hand-held radio that fits in your pack and takes up about the same amount of space as the other listed options. There is a small one-time fee to get your license and that’s it. No monthly payments or plans or anything. Many popular hiking / camping / backpacking areas are covered well enough to establish communications with a $35 radio. Upon researching online the Yaesu FT-270R is a great entry-level option that delivers on performance and is compact and waterproof. A few caveats you should take into consideration are: weight (some weigh up to 1lb), coverage and frequency limitations and not allowed in some countries.