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Another question asked what survival equipment should be carried in an emergency kit. But very little was about medical or first aid supplies (band-aids, gauze, tylenol, moleskin, etc).

What items would you consider essential to bring in a small first aid kit for injuries or health concerns that could come up during outdoor activities?

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Do you really need anything more than just duct tape? :D – Timothy Strimple Jan 27 '12 at 18:17
Are we talking about a personal first aid kit, or one that would be carried by a first aid trained group leader? – HorusKol Jan 27 '12 at 22:46
@HorusKol: I'm thinking of a small personal kit that you would bring for yourself (or a small handful of people). A large, comprehensive kit would probably be a separate question. – jrdioko Jan 27 '12 at 22:48
In the UK, at least, first aid training does not include medication - this is considered advanced training for paramedics. The main problem is that there are complications involved with painkillers, like lower blood pressure (really not a good thing for a patient entering shock) and so forth, which the average person is not familiar with and can end up endangering an injured party. – HorusKol Jan 27 '12 at 23:03
@HorusKol: The current UK situation is a bit "H&S gone mad" in some ways. Aspirin for heart attacks is the most obvious critical use. You can 'suggest' to your patient that they take one from their personal kit, or ask another party member for one. – Roddy May 7 '12 at 16:09
up vote 17 down vote accepted

Okay just broke out my kit. Here's what we carry. This may seem like a long list, but it's small. It fits in a ziploc bag (almost). Also, please note that you should pack for your skill set and first aid training. If you don't know how to use a splint, it's wasted and will tempt you to do things you shouldn't. Same goes for sutures. Know how benedryl and the epipen work before you dose anyone. You get the idea.

  • Tylenol -- pain where ibuprofen is not ok (ie - patient is bleeding)
  • Ibuprofen -- pain that involves swelling but not bleeding
  • Small bandages -- comfort item and to help prevent infection on longer hikes
  • Triple Antibiotic -- reduce risk of infection
  • Iodine -- wound care, reduces risk of infection
  • Medical Tape -- close wounds
  • Gauze -- for use covering wounds and to stop bleeding
  • Latex Gloves -- They weigh nothing, sometimes you don't have time to wash (get nitrile if you or your hiking buddies have a latex allergy)
  • SAM Splint -- breaks and sprains, better than improvising one
  • Benedryl -- mild reactions
  • EpiPen -- serious reactions. One of the few things you will NOT make it out of the woods with is an anaphylactic shock reaction without an epipen or something equally powerful.
  • Basic Suture stuff -- dire emergencies only
  • Quick Clot patch (antibacterial) -- slows/stops bad bleeds
  • Tick key -- hate those bugs
  • Butterfly bandages - medium cuts
  • Sudafed -- okay, this is just to handle my sinuses
  • Hydrocortizone -- soothes some stings, bites, etc.
  • Tweezers
  • Lip Balm -- Good for any kind of chapped skin, not just lips. If your face is badly wind chapped, this can be a godsend.
  • Moleskin and 2nd Skin -- Moleskin is OK, but 2nd skin with a moleskin over it is unbeatable for blister treatment.
  • Something for irrigation of deeper wounds (discovered the hard way that this is important)

With the exception of the EpiPen and Splint, this all fits in a quart freezer bag and goes in the very top of my pack in a separate compartment. We tell everyone where it is.

Everything is also sub-packaged into smaller (cheap) snack size ziplocks. You don't want your gauze wet or contaminated because you needed a tylenol. I also packed things together logically (for me). Bandages, triple antibiotic, and iodine all into one ziploc. Pills in little containers (packed with cotton so they won't break).

One tip for labeling your pills. Use a sharpie then clear tape over the writing. Sharpie will wipe off of most plastic containers in time. We've never lost the writing this way.

With the EpiPen you will notice that I took a rubber band and attached the medial information sheet to it with all the instructions, warning, cautions, etc.

What it looks like packed
packed medkit

and unpacked
unpacked medkit

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eek! Latex gloves?? Nitrile, please - otherwise you'll be pulling out the epipen again... – Roddy May 7 '12 at 16:13
@Roddy -- Good point I updated it for others. Though if they are allergic to latex, one would presume they know not to pack latex gloves ;) – Russell Steen May 7 '12 at 20:53
it's not just for you, it's for whoever you're treating - and it may well not be you or your buddies – Roddy May 7 '12 at 21:04
@manoftheson -- I'm the type of guy that, if someone is dying, I don't generally care what the regulation says. You have a valid point, just one that I don't worry about. – Russell Steen Jan 10 '13 at 18:15
I would also be extremely hesitant to recommend a suture kit. An untrained individual shouldn't be suturing anything anywhere, let alone in an infection-prone wilderness environment. You're likely to do more harm than good, if you introduce a bunch of contamination into the wound and then sort of seal all that contamination in. – nhinkle Jul 18 '14 at 15:45

It depends on precisely how big the kit is. A couple other answers have covered bigger packs, so I'll mention what could be in a much thinner pack.

If it needs to be flat and relatively small:

  • Bandages.
  • Alcohol wipes.
  • Gauze pads.
  • A flat pad of athletic tape*.
  • One or a couple small packs of Benadryl
  • Antibiotic ointment (the small, flat packs of stuff like Neosporin).
  • One or a couple small packs of Aspirin or Ibuprofen and/or Tylenol**.
  • Gloves.
  • A mouth barrier for CPR (try to find a flat one, obviously).
  • Some fishing line
  • A couple pads of moleskin

*: To make it flat, take a bit, stretch it out a couple inches, fold it over on itself, and wrap it around itself until it's about as thick as you want it. My friend and I use these and mini-rolls made essentially the same way for climbing.

**: Aspirin and ibuprofen reduce fever and inflammation; Tylenol reduces fever but not inflammation. As a commenter pointed out, it may be beneficial to have both. Aspirin and Ibuprofen are also mild anticoagulants (prevent blood from clotting), so if you already take blood thinners or have less-than-minor cuts, you should take Tylenol instead.

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Personally I recommend both Aspirin and Tylenol. Both have their downsides. Tylenol is going to generally be better to give someone who is already bleeding than Aspirin, while Aspirin is better for a sprain. – Russell Steen Feb 3 '12 at 2:01
@RussellSteen Good point, I've updated to reflect that. – Kevin Feb 3 '12 at 2:13
What's the fishing line for? – Ben Crowell Jul 10 at 16:03

Bring a wilderness first aid guide! Even if you have training, it could save your life if you're the one injured and someone else is trying to take care of you with your own kit.

Here is a list of things I would have in pretty much any hiking first aid kit. There are other items worth considering for kits, but I consider these to be the minimum.

Wound Care

  • Assortment of bandages
  • Gauze roll
  • Roll of adhesive tape
  • Duct Tape!
  • Small scissors
  • Tweezers
  • Safety pins
  • Moleskin
  • Superglue
  • Reusable elastic or rubber wrap (ace bandage)
  • Some sort of coagulant. (Celox, QuikClot, etc)
  • Latex gloves


  • Iodine (also useful for treating water)
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Aspirin and or Ibuprofen (fever & swelling)
  • Hydro-cortisone cream (bug bites & rashes)
  • Antihistamine (allergies)

And I would also include an emergency blanket in the first aid kit.

If you have more room or don't mind the weight a few other items worth considering are:

  • Bulb syringe
  • CPR face shield
  • Israeli emergency bandage
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what do you do with safety pins? – njzk2 Apr 1 at 3:40
They can be used to remove thorns and things you don't want under your skin. And other things im sure as well! – Nate Wengert Apr 1 at 21:37
+1 for listing superglue, I've avoided sutures by using it several times. but care should be used not to seal dirt in a wound. – Nate Wengert Apr 1 at 21:38

I tend to treat emergency first aid and everyday 'maintenance' as separate requirements and I think that this helps to keep things rationalised and logical.

The everyday kit is aimed at treating the normal problems you might get over a few days: this fits in a small wallet for short trips. A lot of these things are personal preference and what you find works for you, plus of course any regular or emergency medication you may need for known medical conditions.

  • painkillers : aspirin and ibuprofen
  • sticking plasters: for nuisance cuts
  • small non adherent dressings: for moderate cuts
  • small sachets of burn gel
  • 1 or 2 plastic ampoules of saline solution: for cleaning wounds or as eye wash
  • small tin of vaseline for chapped or sore skin
  • tea tree oil in small plastic bottle : general mild antiseptic
  • surgical tape
  • strapping tape
  • adhesive sutures
  • moleskin
  • high factor sunscreen
  • tweezers
  • scalpel blades
  • blister kit (if not covered by above items)

Emergency kit : kept in a military type rip-off trauma pouch this is for major injuries which I think I have some chance of treating. Obviously this is more for longer trips in more isolated areas. If you're within sensible range of normal emergency medical cover this can be stripped back a lot.

  • 2 or 3 large gel burn dressings
  • 1 military type hemorrhage dressing + 1 in another pocket
  • 3 ampoules of saline (for irrigating wounds)
  • 1 vial of alcohol
  • surgical tape
  • paramedic shears
  • assorted gauze dressings
  • large and medium non adherent dressing pads
  • roll of surgical tape on a cord
  • vinyl gloves pack
  • micro torch on zipper
  • glow sticks for both lighting and signalling, you can leave one lit with an immobile casualty if you need to leave them to go for help.
  • foil blanket
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What's a micro torch? – Ben Crowell Jul 10 at 16:12
A small button cell torch eg the Inova Microlight – Chris Johns Jul 11 at 20:46

My kit is predominantly based on this article by Kath Wills of Llanberis MRT.

The Israeli trauma compression bandage is a great bit of kit, but not recommended to be carried in certain territories....

Members of the brigade also produced a field dressing that they said had been found in the journalists' possession. It was of a type, they said, used by the Israeli military.

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