First aid kits


This is the second post on packing for outdoor sports.

So, to revisit the list of priorities in an emergency from last week:

  1. First aid
  2. Protection from the elements
  3. Water
  4. Food
  5. Mobility
  6. Communications

Some of these items can compensate for others to a certain degree, depending on your situation. For instance, if you are able to communicate with rescuers, remaining mobile might not be as important, or vice versa. However, life gets miserable quickly if you don’t have the top three sorted, and of these, first aid is the most important.

It’s all fun and games until… well, even then it’s still pretty fun. (Credit:

As I also touched on last time, the ability to perform first aid in an emergency comes down to a combination of skills, training and equipment. In other words, it is essential to have a first aid kit AND to know how to use it. For outdoor sportspeople, a Wilderness First Aid course is ideal. There are several providers of such courses and no international standards, so find a reputable one that best suits your needs. I suggest a 5-day course as a minimum. But due to their specialist nature, the location and timing of these courses might not be convenient. For those of us who cannot attend one of these, a 1-day St. John ambulance first aid course is a great start. Actually, I feel that anyone who feels at least a modicum of responsibility for their fellow humans should be competent in basic first aid – irrespective of whether you intend on getting outdoors or not. Also, unless you are a professional EMS responder, I don’t think you can get too much practical training in first aid. The teacher on a PHEC course (Pre Hospital Emergency Care – basically the same as Wilderness first aid) I took in 2016 had worked as the director of Ski Patrol in one of NZ’s largest ski fields and had decades of experience in responding to all kinds of gruesome accidents. Despite this, he said (and I paraphrase) “When you are there, someone is hurt and the blood is flowing, the first thing you always do is freeze up and think ‘F*ck, what do I do now?!’ But then the training kicks in and you get on with it.” This is why practicing your skills is at least as important as learning them in the first place.

Ready-made kits are a good start. (Credit: Amazon)

You have to put together your own first aid kit according to your specific needs and skills. While a ready-made kit will form a good base, you should go through it and see what you need to add and what you can leave out. Think about what you are doing, for how long, and with how many people. While it would be nice to have a kit for every emergency, there will be a limit to the size and weight you can tolerate. A lone long-distance trail runner can’t help but have a much more minimal kit than a backcountry guide responsible for a group.

For reference, my kit contains the following. This is what I currently take with me for hiking and mountain biking. I take a stripped-down version when trail running.

  • Triangular bandages
  • Crepe bandages
  • Bandaids, various sizes
  • Dressings, various
  • First aid tape
  • Thermal blanket
  • Antiseptic wipes
  • Spray on plaster
  • Tweezers
  • Sam rolled splint

SAM rolled splints

SAM rolled splint, a staple of the first aid kit. (Credit: Amazon)

SAM splints are the best. As the name suggests, these can be shaped to fit an injured limb and secured with a bandage. I have never used one of these outside of a simulation, but I imagine that one of these would make an injured person much more comfortable walking with a fractured wrist or arm. They can be wrapped around the neck to secure the head in place when dealing with a suspected spinal injury.


Anaphylactic shock

Anaphylaxis is a serious allergic reaction causes an itchy rash, throat or tongue swelling and shortness of breath, and can be fatal if not addressed immediately. Not fun. Common causes include insect bites and stings, and foods. The current estimate is that up to 2% of the population experiences anaphylaxis at some time. If you know you may suffer anaphylaxis, you will no doubt carry an Epipen. An Epipen is an autoinjector that delivers a small amount of the chemical epinephrine, which narrows the blood vessels and opens airways in the lungs to treat anaphylaxis. In fact, given the difficulty of treating anaphylaxis and its serious consequences, you might want to have an Epipen as a standard item in your first aid kit, just in case. I don’t, yet. The problem is, Epipens cost a lot – as much as $300 to $630 each, depending on the country – and they have a relatively short shelf life. Small price to pay for a life-saving device? Maybe. The good news is generic alternatives are becoming available. Have a look for the brands Anapen and Adrenaclick.

To conclude,

Thinking about first aid is boring and certainly not sexy, but I assure you, one day it will be necessary. It’s one thing to be completely blindsided by something you never envisaged, but it would suck to be caught out by something you could have easily averted through good preparation.

So, what does your first aid kit contain?

Have I missed anything crucial?

Please let me know in the comments below together with your sport and location.

5 Essential Items for Outdoor Sports

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