27 Considerations for a Wilderness First Aid Kit

Posted by: Sarah Buer on 6/3/16 8:52 AM

As it says in the NOLS Wilderness Medicine handbook, “There’s no such thing as the perfect first aid kit, so you should consider your needs and build a kit that meets them.”

You should never pack anything in a first aid kit that you don’t know how to use. It’s wise to go through each item and familiarize yourself with how to use each item before going into the backcountry.

Consider including these supplies in your personal first aid kit for backcountry recreation:

What's in your first aid kit?

Photo by Mei Ratz.

  1. Trauma shears
    With a wide, blunt tip, these shears reduce the risk of cutting the patient while working on an injury.
  2. Tweezers
    A must-have for splinter removal and/or small cuts and scrapes that need a little extra attention in the field.
  3. Safety Pins
    Great for securing bandage materials or the base layer you’ve incorporated into an improvised splint.
  4. Patient Assessment Forms
    Take your training with you with this great reference for the field.

    Patient assessment with soap notes in Japan.

    Photo by Shana Tarter.

  5. Oral Thermometer
    Changes in body temperature can be symptomatic of multiple different conditions. Keep an oral thermometer handy to monitor temp changes in your patient.
  6. Rescue Mask
    Our choice for a barrier when performing CPR, this mask comes with a hard case to keep it safe and a pair of gloves to help create a barrier between the user and patient.
  7. 2nd Skin Dressings
    Second skin works as an invisible gel bandage that forms a cover that protects wounds and is antiseptic, flexible, and waterproof.
  8. Antibiotic Ointment Packets
    Prevent infections, fight infections in cuts, scrapes, and burns, and help promote the healing of wounds.
  9. Knuckle and Fingertip Fabric Bandages (Band-Aids)
    Specially shaped knuckle and fingertip bandages are made of a flexible fabric designed to stretch when you stretch, while adhesive holds the bandage in place.
  10. 3 x 4 Nonstick Gauze Pads
    Pieces of gauze fabric used to guard and cushion a wound or to absorb blood or fluids. Especially useful for dressing wounds where other fabrics might stick to a burn or laceration.
  11. Coban Wrap (7.6 cm x 4.6 m)
    A self-adhering bandage or cohesive bandage is a type of bandage or wrap that coheres to itself but does not adhere well to other surfaces.
  12. 1-inch Cloth Tape
    Seal out dirt and germs to promote healing, secure bandages around wounds that must be protected, and wrap joints in cases of athletic injuries.
  13. Wire or SAM Splint
    A SAM Splint is a waterproof, reusable splint for immobilizing injured bones- an important item to include in your first aid kit.

    Splinting with SAM Splint

    Photo by Jared Steinman.

  14. Gloves
    Three words: Body Substance Isolation. Keep cross contamination to a minimum with a pair of nitrile gloves.
  15. 12cc Irrigation Syringe
    Use for cleaning wounds, removing dirt and debris without touching a wound.
  16. Povidone-iodine Solution
    Treat minor wounds and infections and kill bacteria.
  17. Antiseptic Towelettes
    Keep your hands clean and prevent the spread of germs with these easy to use wipes!
  18. Sterile Scrub Brush
    Achieve maximum cleansing without causing skin irritation.
  19. Wound Closure Strips
    Use to secure, close and support small cuts and wounds.
  20. Tincture of Benzoin Swabs
    Provides a natural sticky layer on your skin that allows bandages to stick better and stay on longer.
  21. Moleskin Dressings
    Great for fabricating custom finger cuffs, and reducing skin friction against blisters.

    Elastic wrap splint

    Photo by Brad Christensen.

  22. 4-6 Inch Elastic Wrap
    Provides firm support and compression for minor strains and sprains, as well as splint compression.
  23. 1x3 Fabric Bandages (Band-Aids)
    Adhesive bandage with a gauze pad in the center, used to cover minor wounds.
  24. 4x4 Sterile Gauze Pads
    Appropriate for wound dressing, cleaning, prepping or packing.
  25. 3-inch Conforming Roll Gauze
    Dress wounds and hold dressings securely in place without slipping.
  26. Transparent Film Dressings
    Provide a moist, healing environment and protect the wound from mechanical trauma and bacterial invasion. These dressings can also act as a blister roof or “second skin.”
  27. Triangular Bandages
    Sling, Swathe, Tourniquet- these are only a few useful options for these handy bandages.

It’s also a good idea to keep a notepad, pencil, change for phone calls, evacuation report forms, and emergency instructions with your first aid kid.

Splinting arm

Photo by Brad Christensen.

A few other things to consider? Be sure to protect sterile dressings from moisture by sealing them in clear plastic packaging, and always have your kit accessible- everyone should know its location. Label all containers in the kit and include instructions for all medications, as those who know the correct use for administration may end up becoming patients themselves and other group members may need guidance. (Check out even more suggestions in the book NOLS Wilderness Medicine.)

Always restock your kit for each trip, checking expiration dates, making sure that sterile items haven’t been open or damaged, and adding any additional items that might be needed for special trips (high altitude, etc.).

Pro tip: It’s usually cheaper to buy a prefab kit than it is to build one from scratch. Get your own wilderness first aid kit from NOLS here.

Editor's note: Post updated 5/17/2018

Sarah is a Wyoming native, Wilderness First Responder graduate, and former marketing coordinator for NOLS Wilderness Medicine. When she’s offline she enjoys running, singing and playing guitar, and playing in the mountains