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How to build your own first aid kit for camping, backpacking and hiking

first aid kit for camping
(Image credit: Getty)

If you want to know how to build your own first aid kit for camping, backpacking and hiking, you’re ready to join the serious adventurers, mountain guides and expedition leaders that have already mastered this art. Many outdoor lovers buy a small first aid pack early in their apprenticeship with the trails and many go on to use it to deal with hiking injuries like grazes, cuts and blisters - for one of these, see our best first aid kits for hiking. However, being able to build your own has a number of advantages, which is why the pros all do it.

Firstly, when you build your own kit you truly get to know what’s in there and where it is. A shop bought first aid kit is often stashed into your hiking backpack and virtually forgotten about in most cases, aside from many the odd rummage for a plaster. You won’t know exactly what’s in it and where different items are stashed won’t necessarily make sense for you. The last thing you want in an emergency situation is to be searching through everything in a panic to get at what you need.

first aid kit for camping

Outdoors professionals personalize their first aid kits, so should you (Image credit: Getty)

Secondly, you can personalize things to a much greater extent when you’re the one compiling the kit. Are you a camp leader who often sings songs around the fire with groups of kids? You might want additional burn gels, just in case. If you’re a Scottish Munro bagger, you’ll need tick twisters and the best insect repellent for those dastardly midges. A first aid kit that is tailored to your needs is infinitely more valuable than a generic shop-bought pack.

How to build a first aid kit for camping and hiking: get rid of the case

You open up your daypack (see our best daypacks) and grab your kit to get a plaster and find that everything in there got damp during that wet suffer-fest of a hike a few weeks ago, rendering half of the items useless. Avoid this situation by using a quality dry bag as the main container for your first aid kit.

Compartmentalize

Keep disparate sets of kit in clearly labelled or colour coded smaller dry bags or zip-locked wallets. For example, medication should be kept together, separate from bandages, which should be separate from hygiene products like vinyl gloves and sanitizing wipes, which should be separate from plasters and so on.

The essential items

You can pick up just about everything you need to build you first aid kit from a pharmacy. Specialised items, like group shelters can be obtained at outdoor gear shops. Keep a little notebook and pen in your kit to tick things off when you use them and when you replenish them. This ensures your kit is always properly stocked.

This list isn’t necessarily exhaustive, nor does it contain the number of items you’ll carry as this will depend on group size, but it contains the essentials for a hiker’s first aid kit:

Keeping warm

·      a survival blanket or even better a blizzard jacket

·      a group shelter (size will depend on the number of people you are out with) 

Medication

·      Paracetamol

·      Ibuprofen

·      any personal medication you carry for allergies etc.

Bandages

·      open woven bandages

·      triangular bandages – essential for upper extremity fractures

Dressings

·      blister plasters

·      eyepad wound dressing

·      assorted plasters

·      plaster fabric strips

·      wound closure strips

·      low adherent dressings

Hygiene

·      cleansing wipes – crucial for avoiding infections

·      vinyl gloves – for your own safety

Treatment

·      5 x 5 gauze – apply pressure to stop significant bleeding

·      burn gel sachets

·      instant ice pack – important fast treatment for sprains

·      medical tape (micropore tape, zinc oxide tape and duct tape – how much you take will depend on intended use).

Misc

·      safety pins – useful for so many applications

·      tweezers – for splinters and as a makeshift tick remover (you may want a specifically designed tick twister if tick encounters are a real possibility)

·      a multitool – this negates the need for scissors and is superbly multi-purpose

·      resuscitation face shield

·      spot check thermometer

first aid kit for camping

Plasters are the bread and butter of any first aid kit (Image credit: Getty)

How to build a first aid kit for camping and hiking: the additional items

As well as the essential items that a good hiking or camping first aid kit has, you may want to add additional items depending on what your intended adventures are. If you’re camping, hopefully if you do need to administer first aid, it’ll be on your tent rather than your camp mates. Knowing how to repair a tent and having the tapes and patches to cope with wear and tear goes a long way to keeping your basecamp liveable.

Many mountain guides carry repair tape in their first aid kit for clothing too. This might sound a little odd, but things like holes and tears in trousers caused by crampons can become trip hazards if not patched up quickly. Mountain leaders often carry spare laces too. If a client’s laces snap up near the summit, it could be a long – not to mention potentially dangerous – trudge down with loose hiking shoes.

first aid kit for camping

If matters do come to a rescue, make sure you know how to contact the local service (Image credit: Getty)

How to build a first aid kit for camping and hiking: other tips

It’s all very well having an all-singing, alldancing, personsonalized first aid kit for camping and hiking, but if you don’t know how to attract professional medical help or a rescue once you’ve patched up the casualty then you’re in trouble. Always leave your planned route and approximate return time with a trusted friend. Route cards or a GPX file emailed across of your planned itinerary are an effectively way to do this.

Know how to contact the local mountain rescue service before setting out. Having a spare mobile phone in the kit is useful for both calling out and for using a GPS app or innovative apps like what3words to pinpoint your exact location. Utilize your blizzard blanket and group shelter to keep everyone warm while you wait to be rescued.

Alex Foxfield

Alex is a freelance adventure writer and content creator with an insatiable passion for the mountains. A Cumbrian born and bred, his native English Lake District has a special place in his heart, though he is at least equally happy in North Wales, the Scottish Highlands or the European Alps. Through his hiking, mountaineering, climbing and trail running adventures, Alex aims to inspire others to get outdoors. He is currently training to become a qualified mountain leader, looking to finally finish bagging all the Wainwright fells of the Lake District and hoping to scale more Alpine 4000ers when circumstances allow. Find out more at www.alexlangfield.com