Never go into the wilderness without a plan and proper supplies.
By Trent Jonas
Expect the unexpected when you're exploring the great outdoors. Whether you're setting up camp at an established site in a national park or you're venturing into the remote wilderness, having a properly packed first aid kit is a must. From basic bandages to handy multitools, here are some tips on packing your camping first aid kit.
When putting together a camping first aid kit, you can certainly start from scratch and find all sorts of checklists online for what kinds of basic bandages and wraps you’ll need. But it’s much simpler to start with a basic medical kit from a source that knows it stuff like the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). Just be sure to replace anything you use from the kit or even bolster it with additional first aid staples, such as moleskin if you do a lot of hiking when you camp.
Basic medical kits will come with a small supply of pain and fever relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen products. But the amount is usually less than you will need over a day or two of dosing. So, pack an entire bottle of pain/fever reliever—or take a smaller container and pack it with several days’ worth or doses. It’s not a bad idea to have both acetaminophen and ibuprofen on hand, as each works in different ways and is better for certain uses. Be sure to check the expiration dates on the labels, and note them if you repackage the medication, before you head out to camp.
Again, many medical kits will contain small amounts of sunburn or insect bite relief treatment, however, it will not usually be enough to get you through more than a day or, in the case of sunburn, cover a large area. Pack some aloe vera, or whatever your favorite sunburn ointment or spray is, along with an anti-itch cream, like hydrocortisone, for insect bites. Be sure to include some antihistamine tablets in the event of an allergic reaction or to treat a larger number of itchy mosquito bites or plant-caused rashes (poison ivy, e.g.).
You’ll need a small pair of sharp, blunt-nosed scissors in your kit to cut gauze, moleskin, clothing, etc. It’s also a good idea to keep a razor blade, Xacto knife, scalpel or other sharp instrument in your first aid kit. Finally, although you may keep one with you normally, your first aid kit should have a dedicated multitool that, at a minimum, contains a knife blade and a sturdy pliers of some sort. Leatherman’s Skeletool RX is a good basic tool that won’t take up much space in your kit.
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In addition to everything above, there are plenty of other items that a complete first aid kit should have, like a CPR mask, hand sanitizer, an oral thermometer, and a bag to pack out any medical waste. A heat-reflective emergency blanket, like those produced by SOL, is also a crucial piece of gear in any camping first aid kit.
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Unless you’re a wilderness first responder or EMT, chances are you won’t have the built-in knowledge base for every situation. So, in your first aid kit, keep a quick reference guide for responding to emergencies, like the Red Cross Ready Reference or the NOLS Wilderness First Aid Pocket Guide. A more-detailed emergency response manual, like NOLS Wilderness Medicine can also be a valuable addition to your first aid kit.
Finally, it is never a bad idea to get a little extra training in first aid and/or CPR from an organization like the Red Cross or to take the two-day NOLS Wilderness First Aid Course through a local provider like REI.