This guide is for outdoor enthusiasts looking to take short trips with a small group of people. But having the supplies to treat some minor injuries outlined in this guide can make the difference between heading home or keeping the fun going.
Another benefit of having a first aid kit on hand is that its very presence serves as a reminder that any trip into the wild, however brief, requires adequate preparation. “The most common reason we rescue people are that they are not prepared to go where they are going,” said Josh MacMillan, assistant director of education at the New Hampshire–based SOLO, one of the world’s oldest wilderness -medicine schools.
“I think that the general attitude is, ‘It’s just going to be a day hike, so I will just bring water and my camera and be all set.’” Having a first aid kit on hand can also help you manage a medical situation before it worsens. Our experts could list more than a few instances in which, by taking action promptly in the field, they were able to prevent a downhill slide from the initial injury (a campfire burn, a knife gash, or even a bee sting) to an infection (if you don’t clean and treat the wound) to having to call for evacuation (if things get so bad that, for instance, a fever develops).
(I quickly invested in the superior foam and gel padding that the kit I was then carrying didn’t have.) Tod Schimelpfenig, the curriculum director of VOLS Wilderness Medicine, said, “Match the kit to your training.
Look in it every time go on a trip.” The best kits we considered came with instructional booklets and cards, but it doesn’t hurt to dig out your own notes, wilderness -medicine guidebook, or class textbook and refresh your skills before a trip. While some of the first aid kits we considered did come with whistles, compasses, duct tape, rope, fire starters, and the like, we decided that having those tools wasn’t a make-or-break criterion.
Photo: Rosette Raga great preassembled first aid kit includes commonly used medications and bandages bundled in smaller quantities than you’d see in a store, since you aren’t likely to need a whole bottle of aspirin or an entire large box of bandages. A great kit also has labeled and organized pockets for easy access as well as a design that won’t force you to dump all the contents out to find what you need.
A great preassembled first aid kit includes commonly used medications and bandages, as well as a design that won’t force you to dump all the contents out to find what you need. More extensive kits include tools for CPR (such as a breathing barrier, which is a plastic mask that the person giving CPR wears), trauma shears (to cut open clothing, say, if a patient is bleeding or severely injured and needs to be examined), larger bandages such as triangle bandages (for cradling splints or stabilizing clavicle or collarbone injuries until you can get the patient to a doctor), irrigation tools (for flushing dirt and debris out of wounds before dressing them), and pads to help stop bleeding.
I read several articles discussing how to build your own first aid kit from resources like the Wilderness Medicine Training Center, and I tracked down a few published papers as well. Along with the VOLS’s Tod Schimelpfenig and Josh MacMillan of the SOLO schools, I interviewed Wilderness Medicine Training Center founder Paul Nicolas and Trevor McKee, an Outward Bound instructor based in Portland, Oregon.
Outward Bound leader Trevor McKee said that if he knew he would be leading a rafting trip for older veterans, he would pack extra aspirin, which could help slow blood clots blocking arteries, whereas if he would be leading a group of young kids, he would bring extra Band-Aids and cleaning supplies for the inevitable cuts and scrapes. Then we dove deeper into offerings from individual brands that our experts recommended, including Adventure Medical Kits, Coleman, Lifeline, VOLS, and Wilderness Medicine Training Center (WTC), as well as Cabala’s and REI’s own proprietary kits.
After visiting the Outdoor Retailer trade show in the summers of 2017, 2018, and 2019, we also looked into kits from companies that we saw on the floor: 12 Survivors, Coffin’s, Stan sport, MUST, and the Kickstarter-backed SSL. (We also considered the Sportsman Series, which we recommend for our emergency preparedness first aid pick, but those kits have items geared toward heavy bleeding and trauma from gun or arrow wounds, such as tourniquets and homeostatic dressings, and most hikers won’t need those items.
Most kits specify how many people they’re meant to serve and for how long; we considered whether the included supplies seemed sufficient for the given parameters. The items we deemed desirable included a CPR barrier and gloves; a large quantity and variety of bandages; dressings for larger wounds (with bonus points for things like wound strips and tincture of Benson, which helps tape stick to the surrounding skin); tape; cleaning supplies like antiseptic towelettes and alcohol prep pads; antibiotic ointment; moleskin or other blister care like foam or Ego patches; and elastic bandages for wrapping sprains.
Essential medications included ibuprofen (for aches and pains), as well as aspirin, antihistamines (for allergic reactions), and antacids (for gastrointestinal issues) and diam ode (to stop diarrhea). Although single-use cold packs can be helpful in the case of a sprain or strain, our experts agreed that they likely weren’t worth the additional weight.
And don’t I need a tourniquet, just in case?” Although cold packs can be helpful, our experts agreed that they likely weren’t worth the additional weight. Tod Schimelpfenig of VOLS said, “The average person in the wilderness has a very low risk of needing a tourniquet or a homeostatic dressing.
Then we asked Outward Bound instructor Trevor McKee to examine the kits and share his thoughts. McKee opened each one, looking at its organization, the individual components, and its overall scope through the lens of a wilderness -medicine professional.
It unfolds into a flowerlike shape, with each pocket containing supplies based on a particular situation or injury. Pockets are clearly labeled by category, including Medication, Stop Bleeding Fast, Instruction/Instrument, Cuts & Scrapes, and Wound Care/Burn/Blister.
The Backpacker Kit’s pockets fold back into one another, and you secure them with a Velcro strap, which helps hold the case when you’re zipping it shut. Plastic compartments are great for visibility, but if you’re trying to move quickly, or you’re stressed about treating someone (which is totally normal), having a label to look for and things in a specific place can help you be more efficient.
Each pocket in the Backpacker Kit is covered with thin rip stop nylon to protect the supplies from the elements, and is zippered to keep everything inside from tumbling out. All the contents are listed on the back of the Backpacker Kit’s case, too, so you can easily cross-check items when it’s time to refresh the supplies.
It has a reinforced bottom coated with rubbery CPU (thermoplastic polyurethane) for extra support. It has a few extras that other kits of its scope don’t have: diam ode to stop diarrhea, trauma shears, and an irrigation syringe for cleaning wounds.
It also omits the unnecessary, bulky items that we found in lesser kits, such as one-time-use cold packs. Compared with our, the quality of this kit’s bandages, tape, and dressings was clearly superior after just a short test.
Among those are disposable thermometers, additional gloves, a CPR barrier, duct tape, a patient-assessment form and pencil, and a triangle bandage for creating slings. We also wish the Backpacker Kit came with a few additional basic items, such as a CPR mask and antacids, and ibuprofen and bandages in larger quantities.
On top of that, although almost all the Adventure Medical kits offer a few sheets of moleskin for blisters, we wish that all of them (including this one) also had superior blister-care items such as foam padding or Ego patches. Although it lacks the higher-quality tools of our top pick and is missing some items we’d like to see in a wilderness first aid kit, it’s cheap, it’s highly rated on Amazon, and it comes with plenty of bandages and alcohol prep pads for minor injuries like cuts and scrapes.
Photo: Rosette RagoUnlike the Backpacker, the Essentials Kit unfolds like a book; you slide its components in and out of open plastic compartments. Open pockets let you see what’s inside, but they don’t help keep the contents organized.
Photo: Rosette Ragas for the quality, in our comparisons we noticed that First Aid Only’s offerings weren’t as good as Adventure Medical’s. This kit’s plastic tweezers were clumsier to hold and control than Adventure Medical’s metal forceps.
About half of the First Aid Only bandages were plastic as opposed to fabric and were, as a result, less flexible and durable. The gear roll inside does now include four blister bandages, as well as some items not found in the Adventure Medical Backpacker kit (Ce lox blood coagulant, disposable thermometers, an emergency whistle), but it lacks shears, antihistamines, or an elastic bandage, which is strange, as the first-aid instructions printed on the roll explain how to wrap a sprain with one.
The case is very sturdy, and the kit is smartly organized, with elastic loops holding the containers and items in place, which means you can see them at a glance. The kit is carefully curated to include higher-quality first aid items like Ego patches for blisters, Second Skin, and small batches of Steri-Strips.
During her time here, she has reported on various topics including sports bras, board games, and light bulbs. Compact but not tiny, this kit features all the things you will need to treat small and large injuries.
The case has plenty of extra space, so you can easily add more supplies to your kit to fit the needs of your trip. It's a compact kit that is barely as wide as a postcard, making it easy to squeeze into even the smallest of day packs.
This is one of our favorite kits to bring along on day hikes, multi-pitch rock climbs, and mountain bike rides due to its small stature and its high quality-to-value ratio. However, it lacks a CPR mask and extra nitrite gloves, thus offering less protection to the user against blood borne pathogens and making it less versatile.
Total Weight : 8 oz | First Aid Manual : Only good for smaller groups It obtains its pack size and weight in part due to its low quantity of materials, which means you will have to resupply the kit more often.
Although it can meet basic first aid needs, you probably shouldn't rely on it for far-out or extended trips into the wilderness. The included materials and medications are more applicable, such as an easy to use visual guide to support people with a language barrier at foreign clinics.
We still feel like this first aid kit has a lot to offer to those who are traveling, especially in foreign countries, and it's small enough that people living out of their luggage should be able to bring it along without going over the weight limit. Total Weight : 21 oz | First Aid Manual : YesT he Adventure Medical Kits Mountain Series Explorer is a great choice for large groups and longer trips.
Many of the kits that we feature in our review are for minor, incidental injuries that occur close to the home or while on light hikes near the car. Since many of us also travel on extended sojourns deep into the forests, mountains, and deserts far away from definitive care, you may need more to really be prepared.
This first aid kit provides a more comprehensive set of supplies to deal with heavier bleeding, a wider range of medicines, and extra informational resources to help you select the best course of treatment when you are unable to communicate directly with a medical professional. Pressure bandages, saline irrigation tubes, medical -grade thermometers, and trauma shears are just a few of the quality equipment included.
This kit is bulky and heavy, which means you probably won't be bringing it along for shorter hikes. It is best for situations that require medical attention in remote areas when you don't have to worry too much about the weight of the first aid kit.
We like this kit for car camping, job sites, off-road driving, or other activities where you can establish a well-stocked home base. Ryan holds a bachelor's degree in Outdoor Adventure Management from Western Washington University, and since earning this degree, he's racked up an impressive climbing resume, with over twenty Yosemite big walls and seven seasons in Patagonia, including an ascent of Fitz Roy.
Testing these kits was a combination of close examination, taking them out in our packs on several trips, and using them during Wilderness First Responder (WAR) courses. During the WAR training, we gave the kits to both novices and first aid veterans while noting the ease and effectiveness with which they were used.
The diversity of injuries and the simulated environment was an effective approach to gain loads of hands-on data to produce a comprehensive review. Our methods of testing involved investigating all the items inside the case and using them in real or simulated medical incidents and emergencies.
To score all models in an equal manner, we devised several test metrics based on the most important performance aspects users will likely demand from these kits. For those that want to forego this slow and expensive venture, retail first aid kits offer excellent value.
Other items that exhibited a wide range of quality were the rolls of tape, triangle bandages, tweezers, and CPR masks. We evaluated quality control from the manufacturer to ensure the list of contents matched the included supplies.
We ensured any medication was in good standing with at least a year margin before its expiration date from when we purchased the kits. Adventure Medical is no exception, but their kits are filled with higher quality products made by a reputable manufacturer.
When medical incidents strike, it's reassuring to have your first aid contents clearly labeled and easy to find. The AMK Explorer, Hiker, and the My FAK are a few of our favorites for their intuitive and intentionally designed organization features.
Given the potential scenarios we might encounter on a trail or mountainside when far from home, we want to be confident that the bulky bag of medical supplies we've been hauling along is going to be useful. Well-balanced kits provide enhanced versatility and allow you to take care of common trail injuries and the occasional serious one.
It receives a high score in this metric due to its great utility in travel scenarios, with its inclusion of antidiarrheals, rehydration salts, and a visual aid for communication across language barriers. This handy two-sided card allows you to point to reference injuries or illnesses, bypassing potential language barriers.
Modern medical courses have done away with the old standby RICE treatment (rest, ice, compress, elevate) from the current curriculum. We've seen kits where the cold compresses did not work, such as the Swiss Safe, which barely became cool, or the First Aid Only, which never activated.
For example, pressure-activated compresses can be readily replaced with things like stuff sacks full of snow or bandanas dipped in mountain streams. Those who leave their kits in the trunk of the car for roadside emergencies may find a need for glow sticks, but anyone who is going into the backcountry will likely already be carrying a headlamp and spare batteries.
We often add extra gloves, moleskin, bandages, tape, and medications, leaving the quantities of the less frequently used materials the same. It's important to consider the durability of the bag and tools that you are buying because these are two components that will stay with you for the lifetime of the kit.
We generally don't perform first aid on ourselves or hiking partners every day that we go out, so our kits can languish unused at the bottom of our packs for long stretches of time. While periodically checking to ensure that the contents are still in good condition is mandatory, we also expect long-term quality from the equipment we rely on during an emergency.
To avoid being surprised by a fully depleted supply of an important item, you'll want to give your kit a full inventory once every few trips. Several of the manufacturers of these kits, such as Survive ware and Adventure Medical Kits, not only include a list of contents with which to inventory your bag, but also an easy medical supply reordering service so that you know that you are getting similar quality items to refresh your depleted stores.
Students on a Wilderness First Responder refresher course utilizing our first aid kits to tape a “patient's” ankle. Those embarking on backpacking trips will likely benefit from having a case that secures the contents from damage and would do well to seek out a heavy nylon pouch like the one the Survive ware comes with.
We were impressed with the effort put into making the AMK Ultralight/Watertight's bag, which is weather-resistant and protects the kit's components with a reversed watertight zipper and taped seams. Other products like the Be Smart Get Prepared kit uses a hard-plastic case that can be wall-mounted for easy access in a workplace setting.
The durable AMK Hiker case makes it a great choice for climbing and hiking. Repackage groups of supplies together in ziplock bags, so that in the event of submersion, or the explosion of an antibiotic ointment tube, your kit's contents remain protected, and the mess is contained.
It is not only annoying but also unsafe when bandages have opened up inside your kit due to moisture because they are no longer sterile. This category takes into account how large of a group the different kits could serve and the range of activities they are good for.
A kit lost points if it was too heavy and did not have the added benefit of being able to serve more people in a remote environment. We reviewed two kits that rose to the top for use on longer trips and with big groups, the AMK Explorer and the My FAK.
Both offer bigger-than-average storage for a wider range of supplies, making them the most versatile on extended trips. The Explorer boasts versatility on long trips and for larger groups, while the My FAK is best utilized in a Basecamp scenario.
Too often, we found kits filled dozens of bandages and alcohol wipes, perfect for small cuts and scrapes, but when we tried to find a piece of moleskin for a small blister or a roll of tape wide enough to effectively stabilize an ankle, we were out of luck. We continually swapped out tape, tools, and medications from more quality kits such as the AMK Hiker or the Survive ware Small to feel more confident in our abilities to provide effective treatments.
Just because your kit isn't as versatile out of the box as you would like it to be, don't let that stop you from replacing consumable items like athletic tape or moleskin with the supplies you actually need and use. And by splitting them up, we could reduce weight and size as well as compensate for some of their individual deficiencies, such as the lack of shears in the Ultralight/Watertight .7.
We measured the weight of all the kits in our review, and ranked the different models accordingly, while also considering what contents they included. Except for one kit, all were compact enough to fit into a day pack, which was the shortest test scenario for our review.
While sitting in the middle of the pack at 13.6 ounces, the Survive ware kit scored well because of how much you can do with it without the extra baggage. A key consideration in cases where every ounce and cubic inch matter, such as alpine climbing and lightweight backpacking, we awarded the top score to the AMK Ultralight/Watertight .7 due to its weight and usefulness in these specialized applications, and give an honorable mention to the scant 10-ounce AMK Hiker and HART kits.
From Left to Right, Home based (Be Smart Get Prepared), Overnight (Survive ware Small), and Day Trip model (Adventure Medical .7). If you're mostly river boating or car camping, a heavier or bulkier model should work fine.
The main outlier in this metric was the Be Smart Get Prepared model, which is a home and office-specific product that is hard to compare to others designed for wilderness outings. Car and home-based kits can afford to have greater quantities of common supplies as well as heavier and bulkier components like Ace wrap bandages and cold compresses since space and weight are not an issue.
AMK's Smart Travel model also lands on the heavier side of the spectrum, yet it's appropriate for its intended usage. Furthermore, if you are skilled and confident enough to embark without needing the first aid manual in the Smart Travel model, you can save weight and space by leaving it at home.
Two of the heaviest models that we would actually take with us on a trip rather than leave behind at home or in the car are the AMK Mountain Series Explorer and the My FAK. Both of these kits are much better suited for big groups, long trips, or heavy trauma with their extensive tool sets.
Whether you never leave the house, or you go out for multi-day treks deep into the mountains, you should be prepared for unforeseen medical emergencies from minor cuts to major trauma. Front country and backcountry users alike will keep themselves, their friends, and bystanders safer if they're equipped with a first aid kit.