The 17 Items You Need in Your Outdoor-Adventure First-Aid Kit

Posted by   Annette on    July 25, 2017

I spend a lot of time doing things that have the potential to leave a serious mark. If you do, too, you have no business wandering around without a purpose-built first-aid kit. You will certainly end up using it, and it’ll save you and your companions much unnecessary misery.

Here’s what I carry myself. All of this fits in a quart-sized freezer bag, which snuggles into about half of my helmet by volume. I hope it smoothes your path as it has smoothed mine.

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1. Electrolyte liquid pocket bottle

This little dropper bottle makes two and a half gallons of electrolyte water, which turns the tap water in your Platypus into a sports drink. I use the higher-end Elete brand because I can't taste it in my water.

2. Potable Water Iodine Tablets

I know, I know. I hate the flavor of iodine disinfectant, too…but you need to pack a means to purify water on an emergency basis, and tabs are the smallest and lightest. (This will also sterilize the water you’ll need for item #16.)

3. A few adhesive bandages

I only carry the large rectangles and the hourglass-shaped finger bandages; both, waterproof.

4. Wet wipes

Because who lets themselves be caught without wet wipes in the back country? Nobody smart.

5. A folding knife

Because first-aid scissors suck for everything that matters--like chopping young branches to use for splints. (Keep it sharp.)

6. Pain meds/antiinflammatories

I keep mine in a pill bag marked with the data of the drug that’s inside (dose and date).

7. A notebook and permanent marker

When something has gone seriously wrong, you’ll need to take detailed notes for the help that eventually arrives (or you drag yourself out to). You’ll learn what needs to be noted when you do your Wilderness First Responder course—a subject I wrote about at some length for Dropzone.com.  

Paper and pen are also useful for notes left at camp, for tirades left on windshields and for chasing down campfire hookups after the fact. Essential, n’est-ce pas?

8. Oral rehydration salts

Bad water? Dirty ice? Questionable pre-mission street food? Dangerously high desert temperatures? Have a few packets of these in your first aid kit to get you through it.

9. A trim-your-own dressing strip

I can’t seem to find these in the States! It’s a footlong bandage that trims down to the length you need to cover a wound and adheres there, eliminating the need to carry gauze and tape. I found mine in a pharmacy in Slovakia, but I’ve seen them throughout the EU. (The link is to a Canadian pharmacy.) These are great for covering long, nasty scratches.

10. Laminated instructions on how to operate the friggin' human body when stuff goes wrong

Even if you were at the top of your class at the WFR course, your memory will fade. Print out these cards and have them laminated for your kit. 

11. A first-aid antibiotic

Neosporin, bacitracin, bactroban (as shown here)…whatever you prefer. Check the expiration date reasonably regularly and remember that some people are allergic to Neosporin.

12. Non-latex gloves

Because keeping a line of defense between yourself and fluid-transmitted pathogens is only important when it’s important, but then it’s the most important thing ever.

13. Some moleskin

Because blisters can f the f off, and if you’re doing any serious hiking, you’re going to use ‘em.

14. Adhesive stitches

A.K.A. “steri-strips,” A.K.A. “butterfly strips.” There are some ouchies for which adhesive bandages just don’t cut it. Be ready for those. 

15. An emergency survival blanket

Never been stuck at the launch or the exit point or the basecamp in the freezing-ass cold? Lucky you. When you eventually are, you’ll be glad you have this.

16. An irrigation syringe

If you or your adventure buddy have sustained a “dirty” injury (the kind with rocks and dirt ground into it, y’know), you’ll need to flush out the injury with about a liter of clean water. (That’s the other reason you’re carrying iodine tablets, y’know.) The irrigation syringe has a curved plastic business end that helps you direct the flow of water to wash the crap out of the wound before it sets and has to be painfully scrubbed out later.

17. A full roll of self-adhesive athletic wrap

The 17th item in my kit doesn’t appear in this image because it was being used at the time: self-adhesive athletic wrap. I prefer the kind that tears by hand, and I don’t bother with wraps that require the little metal hooks to stay attached. I keep at least one full roll in my kit, because running out the end of a roll when you really need just a little bit more is a shitty thing.

*18. A WFR card

Y'know that thing I mentioned about getting a Wilderness First Responder certification? If you do dangerous stuff for fun--and don't we all--it's well worth your time to take a few days someplace pretty and emerge knowing how to help yourself and the athletes around you. (Yosemite--where I earned mine--is nice. So is Puget Sound.) You might well save a life someday.

At the end of the day, it's what you carry in your skull as much as what you carry in your kit that will save the day, so pack correctly.

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WFR Photo Courtesy University of Puget Sound