What’s in your First Aid Kit?

Text and images by Will Day

The humble first aid kit – hopefully never required – but when it is, you’re glad you had it prepared and on hand at a moment’s notice.

Pre-assembled kit or build your own?

When contemplating putting together a first aid kit, you can either buy a ready made kit or assemble one yourself. Buying a ready-made option is typically cheaper and offers comprehensive coverage for most outdoor-related scenarios. Building your own one on the other hand allows for personalisation, familiarity of contents and offers the opportunity to tailor the kit to the environment, activity or location. (And for the gram-counters following, there is of course opportunity to lighten the pack load.)

Know how to use it

Like any piece of safety equipment, a first aid kit is useless if you don’t know how to use it. Familiarise yourself with the contents of your kit and consider undertaking a First Aid Course like those conducted by Plas y Brenin National Outdoor Centre or Glenmore Lodge National Outdoor Training Centre to ensure you’re best prepared for your next adventure. These courses are focused around first aid in the outdoors as well as remote rescue. They also cover a multitude of outdoor disciplines. There is no hard and fast rule to what you should carry in your first aid kit but it’s important to balance the contents against the adventure type. Tick removers and snake bite kits are unlikely to be of any use on a glacial crossing.

My First Aid Kit

I have used the following set up for a variety of adventures, from local summer rock climbs to remote winter routes. When not in my pack, I keep it in my car, safely tucked under the front passenger seat…just in case.

My personal first aid kit is based around a Lifesystems Mountain Kit. Occupying little more space in my pack than a Nalgene 1L water bottle, the kit has a simple clam-shell design and three main sections. Whilst the sections are sensibly labelled for added organisation, I have taken the liberty of re-shuffling the contents for more sensible locations of key items based upon use. For example, my scissors live in the top “bleeding” section where they are more likely to be utilised for trimming bandages, dressings and plasters for related injuries and incidents. Surplus dressings and eye pads are stored in the central pouch, along with additional eye care supplies. The accessories pouch is a high-use section and strategically homes cleansing wipes as it’s typically the first point of call when managing an open wound. This means less rummaging through the first aid kit with dirty (or bloody) hands, reducing the risk of contamination of the first aid kit’s contents. To that end, I ensure that there is nothing in the accessories pouch that cannot be wiped itself.

Medication is kept completely separate, as it too is a high-use section. I would carry both Ibuprofen + Paracetamol, along with antihistamine depending on the location and the time of year. Ibuprofen can be subsitiuted for Aspirin as they are both anti-inflammatories however a low dose of ibuprofen is less likely to result in gastrointestinal side effects and is therefore preferable. This section of my first aid kid also houses water purification tablets, and although these are used infrequently, as they weigh next to nothing, they’re worth having on hand.

Most pre-assembled first aid kits will provide extra room for additional items. Some important additions that feature in my first aid kit include:

A Black Permanent Marker

An incredibly useful item to have. Whether it’s at the scene of a larger accident to write various details directly onto casualties, recording incident reports, its uses are endless. Ensure it’s fresh before it enters your first aid kit and without sounding like a primary school teacher, ensure the lid is put on securely after use.

Extra Blister Plasters

These blister plasters take up very little room and weigh even less. When applying a blister plaster, try warming them up before application. It takes a little while longer for the adhesive to stick but by warming them beforehand, they stretch and conform better to the surface they’re applied to, ensuring they stick around more reliably.

Blister plaster. On a longer trip, these are often a recurring need.

A Reflective ‘Space’ Blanket

This lightweight foil sheet reflects heat back to the body and is particularly useful for colder climates or when faced with a hypothermic casualty. Big enough to wrap around a number of people, these function at their best when the reflective side is faced inwards and used with another person for shared body heat.

Compass

I carry a back up compass in my first aid kit. After hearing many tales about walkers exploring familiar territory and getting themselves into trouble (particularly in white-out conditions in locations like the Cairngorms), a compass is a life-saving outdoor tool that one should never be without.

Duct Tape

Fixes anything.

Important Information

You’ll also note some scribbling on the outside of my first aid kit: I’ve noted a few key bits of information including basic helicopter signals, my name and phone number in the event I’m separated from my first aid kit and it’s found. If you take any medication or have any medical alerts, this is a sensible location to note this information. Several rucksack manufacturers including Deuter provide space under the lid for the user to note essential information.

In conclusion, whatever you put into your first aid kit, make sure you know where it is and how to use it. Ensure the contents are in date and that anything used on a trip is replenished as soon as you get home, ready for the next adventure. What you include in your own first aid kit is personal preference but the goal is to be prepared. Consider where you’re going, when you’re going, who you’re going with and what activity you’ll be doing. Accidents in the outdoors happen and it’s up to you to ensure you’re prepared as best as you can for anything that comes your way.

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