The 8 Essentials for a Wilderness First Aid Kit

When you’re out in the wilderness, you can’t rely on others to come to your rescue. Sometimes it’s all up to you to get back out alive.

If you do experience an emergency or a need for first aid in the backcountry, resourcefulness is the name of the game. You’ll have to make the most of whatever resources your group has on their persons or in their packs until you reach help.

The best way to maintain control in these emergency situations is to be prepared (just ask your favorite Boy Scout!) Don’t even think about taking off without these eight essential items.

Cuts: Bandages, Gauze and Dressing

A slip on a rock, tripping over a tree root, a jab from a surprise stick, cutting cheese at lunch—cuts are some of the most common first aid issues that pop up in the great outdoors. Pack gauze, dressing, and bandages in several different sizes will likely be the most used components of your wilderness first aid kit.

An Emergency Blanket

One of the biggest challenges when faced with a first aid emergency in the wilderness is maintaining control over the injured person’s temperature. Keeping them dry and warm is essential—this is where the emergency blanket (sometimes called a space blanket) comes into play to help prevent shock.

Duct Tape

You already know that duct tape can be used to fix almost anything. It’s a key tool for making temporary repairs or crafting splints with minimal supplies, helping you tackle unexpected twists, sprains, and strains.

A Knife

A reliable cutting tool and a multi-tool is a must-have in any wilderness scenario. A good knife or multi-tool will come in handy in a variety of backcountry first aid scenarios—think cutting clothing, taking apart materials to craft make-shift emergency items, cutting tape, moleskin or bandages, etc.

Self-Adherent Compression Wrap

A spool of self-adherent compression wrap is relatively small and lightweight—and a total lifesaver in an emergency. Whether stabilizing a tweaked wrist or securing gauze on a wound, self-adherent wrap has a multitude of uses. Best of all, it doesn’t require sticky, bulky tape.

Essential Meds

It may come in handy to carry a few common medications in your wilderness first aid kit: think pain management meds (acetaminophen and/or ibuprofen), antihistamines (for surprise allergic reactions and stings), and gastrointestinal medication (trust us on this one). Ensure that each medication is properly labeled. Don’t forget those required daily prescription meds as well.

Sanitation and Protection

First aid can get messy—which can lead to spreading germs, infections, diseases and other side effects that you definitely want to avoid. Keep things as clean as you can with antiseptic wipes, rubber gloves, and a CPR pocket mask.

A Wilderness First Aid Course

Okay, technically this isn’t something you can pack with you—but the items above will be useless if you don’t know how to use them in a wilderness setting. Wilderness first aid skills are just as important as the physical items you pack in your first aid kit. Gather up your outdoor buddies and take a course together.

It’s also a good idea to download a first aid app to your phone, like the American Red Cross Emergency App. You may not get reception in the backcountry, but you can brush up on your safety tips whenever you have a little down time—it’s probably a better use of time than checking your fantasy team for the 100th time today.

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