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Wilderness First Aid

How to Build and Maintain Your Own Wilderness First Aid Kit

This article is part of a series on Wilderness First Aid. Skip to another post:


Intro

A first aid kit is arguably one of the most important things you can pack for a big trip. Whether you are hiking, backpacking, or recreating in some other way, injuries and illness can happen anywhere.

Store-bought, pre-stocked kits are good to have in places where medical care is a phone call away. Unfortunately, they are insufficient for everything you might need, and their contents run out quickly. Maintaining your own first aid kit from your own stock of supplies is a cost effective way to be prepared for any emergency.

This post covers how to build and maintain three different types of first aid kits yourself – a heavyweight version that you can keep in your vehicle or home, a mid-weight version for backpackers, and a slimmed down, ultralight version for those who want just the basics.

A first aid kit
Clear labeling is important!

Maintenance

Labels are extremely important for a first aid kit. In urgent situations, speed and quick thinking can save lives, and labels allow you to rapidly find the things you need.

I have provided the labels I use on my kits for download here. They can be printed on a standard 1″ x 25/8address label form. In return, please consider signing up for our e-mail list or using our Amazon affiliate links to make purchases on Amazon. It costs you nothing and helps us out!

In order for your kit to be effective, it must be restocked after every use. I have a cupboard where I keep large quantities of each item, and before every trip, I take my first aid kit out and replace anything I’ve used.

First aid supplies
A few of the supplies I keep in my “first aid cupboard.”

Your kit should be protected from water and able to withstand abuse. I keep my backpacking kit in a large zip bag with the contents subdivided into smaller bags, each clearly labeled. I have a large first aid kit for our RV in a fishing tackle box. Max carries the minimalist version in a quart-sized Ziploc while he backpacks.

Medications should be clearly labeled with name, usage, and dose. If you have children, make sure you have children’s doses on hand (not covered in this post).

I’ve provided Amazon links for each product so you can see examples and the brands I prefer, but you can also find most of these items at Walgreens. War surplus stores are also a great place to find inexpensive medical gear.

Heavyweight First Aid Kit

This kit contains everything you may need to provide first aid in an emergency. This is designed to be stationary, and is perfect for a car, home, RV, boat, or cabin.

First aid kit
The first aid kit we keep in our RV.

Pharmacy

Common brand names are listed in parentheses. Generic versions of these medicines are absolutely fine. I keep mine in small zip baggies with labels.

The medication compartment of our RV first aid kit
The medication compartment of our RV first aid kit

Rashes, Bug Bites, and Mouth Issues

Wound Care and Closure

Sprains, Strains, Dislocations, and Fractures

Miscellaneous

The contents of our RV first aid kit
The contents of our RV first aid kit

Midweight First Aid Kit

This kit sheds the heavier items but still allows you to be thoroughly prepared. This is a great kit for backpackers.

Wilderness backpacking first aid kit
A mid-weight wilderness first aid kit that I take backpacking

Pharmacy

Bites and Stings

Look for single use packets of these, or squeeze some into small bags.

Wound Care and Closure

Sprains, Strains, Dislocations, and Fractures

Miscellaneous

Ultralight First Aid Kit

This is a bare bones kit that only has the basics for day hikers or minimalist backpackers. Use small zip bags for carrying small amounts of medication or ointment.

Minimalist ultralight first aid kit
Max’s minimalist first aid kit. You can tell it’s seen heavy use!

Pharmacy

Medications for a wilderness first aid kit
Make sure all medications are well labeled

Wound Care and Closure

Sprains, Strains, Dislocations, and Fractures

Miscellaneous

Boring but Necessary Disclaimer

This is not a substitute for professional medical care. First aid is meant to provide assistance to an injured or ill person when medical treatment is unavailable. Do not delay seeking professional help in the event of a serious condition.

If you are interested in learning more about Wilderness Medicine, I recommend enrolling in a Wilderness First Aid course through your local REI.

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