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First aid and rescue kits - what to leave behind?
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R. Lo.
(rloeh) - F

Locale: northern Rockies
First aid and rescue kits - what to leave behind? on 01/31/2011 16:06:53 MST Print View

I'm wondering what first aid and rescue items the forum considers absolutely essential for a backcountry kit. A search of past threads shows irrigating syringes, bandages and blister controls, and pain meds as ranking fairly high. How about survival essentials like a space blanket, fire starting kit and accessory cord? Has anyone had emergencies that couldn't be taken care of with the basics?

Obviously much depends on location, weather/climate, length of trip, and number of hikers...but after taking a few survival and first aid classes my kit is huge, and I'm wondering what to take out.


Edited by rloeh on 01/31/2011 16:09:15 MST.

Matthew Zion
(mzion) - F

Locale: Boulder, CO
dead weight on 01/31/2011 16:39:15 MST Print View

Dedicated first aid items are dead weight in my opinion. Multiple use items such as soap, duct tape and a bandana will treat 99% of trail based afflictions. Anything else would happen from not using common sense. So pack that first.

Chris W
(simplespirit) - MLife

Locale: .
Re: First aid and rescue kits - what to leave behind? on 01/31/2011 16:39:37 MST Print View

I take a blister kit and a few meds. That's about it. I can improvise most anything else with the rest of my gear. I significantly paired down my kit after WFR training.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: First aid and rescue kits - what to leave behind? on 01/31/2011 16:46:43 MST Print View

First of all, you might divide things up into First Aid or else Emergency, because they are sort of distantly related.

Emergency stuff tends to get used when some standard piece of gear has failed, such as a tent gets ripped open, the butane stove won't fire up, you get lost, etc. Many of us are good enough with map and compass that we never get totally lost, and therefore we don't bother to carry spare batteries for a GPS receiver. But, you may be different. Some emergency stuff falls into the category of emergency repair. That may be some duct tape to patch a tent or to splint a tent pole. How extensive this repair kit will be depends on how long you will be out, and how bad will it get if there can be no repair in the field. Personally, I seldom carry much besides a small roll of duct tape, a small roll of white first aid tape (for clothing repairs), some nylon tie-wraps, one thin plastic garbage bag, a couple of feet of steel wire, and little lightweight gadgets like that.

First aid is a pretty open-ended subject. It depends somewhat on your first aid training. There isn't much point in carrying a lot of items of advanced first aid unless you have the training to actually use them. Of course this will also vary tremendously based on where you are operating. One hiker in Arizona might need to be prepared to treat rattlesnake bite. Another hiker in Alaska might need to treat severe immersion hypothermia. Start by making a list of the most serious injuries that might occur in your area, and then what you need to do for treatment, and what gear you need for that treatment. Then you make a second list of the low priority injuries that might occur. At that stage, many advanced hikers will say that they carry nothing at all for low priority injuries since they won't kill you and they probably won't even slow down your pace. It is easy to patch a blister.

Personally, I often backpack with just one other person, so I make the assumption that each of our individual first aid kits can be merged to maintain some treatment in the field. I once stumbled on a rocky trail and my knee slammed into a jagged rock protruding from the trail, and it made a deep puncture into my knee. Between the two of us, all we had was about 6-7 bandages, a drop of antibiotic, some first aid tape, and some painkillers, but that is all we needed. I finished the trip a day later, limping a bit. A wide Ace elastic wrap is handy to have for those with knee issues from skiing falls.

When I travel in a third-world country where proper medical care will be delayed for a week or more, I carry a prescription painkiller and a broad-spectrum GI antibiotic. Immodium has been used on others. This list can go on and on.


Douglas Ray

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Emergency Supplies.... on 01/31/2011 17:13:45 MST Print View

I have enough background and training in SAR and emergency medicine to where I can think of uses for several hundred pounds of emergency gear, but obviously I don't carry nearly that much.

It depends on your level of skills, your trip, and your group I suppose.

When I am serving as a "guide" in some formal sense I tend to carry a fairly big first aid kit, generally including such items as a 3'' ace bandage, oral airways, a suction/irrigation bulb syringe and catheter, scalpel, scissors, and significant dressing materials...

On personal trips, I probably will have three 4x4's, one gauze roll, some band-aids, and some pain meds.

My "big kit" focuses on airway maintenance, wound management, and would include certain critical drugs if I could buy them. Huge dressings and splints are easy to improvise, so they are the last things I would give space and weight to. I'm thinking about adding quickclot to this kit.

I always carry some multi-use tape, generally athletic tape or gorilla tape (the gorilla tape tends to go when I'm skiing, for it has many uses fixing ski equipment). I always carry some decent nylon cord, a sharp pocket knife, a lighter, and a whistle.

Personally, I am more inclined to carry real gear than "emergency gear" and try to never carry both redundantly. I cannot understand why people backpacking with a shelter and sleep system also carry a space blanket for example. I will err on the side of carrying more warm clothes and food if I am concerned that a trip might take longer than it should, rather than various devices intended to improvise with. I always take a decent headlamp with good batteries, and I leave the little squeeze-lights in the store.

The contents of my small first-aid kit all burns well, and with a lighter and knife added it's all I feel the need for most of the time. In the winter I often will carry a stove, even on a day trip, simply because it is the lightest way to carry water in a snowy environment. I also always carry some sort of shovel in the snow, since I think I can dig a better shelter than I could carry for the same weight (I have other reasons for the shovel as well...).

I seem to use the cord on a regular basis for various things, as well as the knife and the tape. I do end up using the whistle periodically when parties get spread out, and I can tell you it is one small, light object that SAR people hope you will have if they come looking for you, as it can make it much faster to find someone once they have reached earshot.

I have taken out everything that I've never needed to use.

If people really want carry more "emergency gear" I would advise the following:

If you really want an emergency signal device a PLB will be the most effective.

A small, light signal mirror actually does work pretty well to signal a helicopter under many conditions, especially for it's weight. Carry one if you want that ability.

Flares, smoke, and glow sticks are a waste of weight. You'd be better off carrying the weight in gear or food.

Fire building supplies should be balanced against your skill. That said, simply going from a lighter to waterproof matches can make things a lot easier.

If you carry some sort of emergency shelter, make sure it's actually big enough to be useful. This is also an area where skill can replace equipment.

Something you will use anyway is better than a something you will only use in an emergency (taking a sit pad on a day trip is an example, you might could get by without the pad if everything goes as planned, but if you have it you will use it, it would make a bivy much warmer, and it is a really great splinting resource).

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: First aid and rescue kits - what to leave behind? on 01/31/2011 17:35:07 MST Print View

You tend to compose a very long list of stuff, but then you need to leave half of it at home. On a climbing expedition one time, one of our climbers collapsed at a point above 22,000 feet, and real quickly his symptoms were recognized as high altitude pulmonary edema. We could have had all of the gear in the world, but that wasn't going to save him. Instead, he was helped to walk down almost immediately, so he spent the night 2500 feet lower. The next day he went down an additional 5000 feet, so the lethal condition was avoided and he recovered completely.

Somebody would suggest that we should have had a Gamow Bag to put him in. But, stop and think about it. We could not support him that way above 22,000 feet. We had to get him down to high camp, regardless of Gamow or not.

If you take a wilderness first aid class some time, they will create emergency scenarios. You, as the trainee, need to describe what you would do and what gear you need to accomplish that. You will go out and purchase some of that gear and actually carry it with you for about one trip. Then you will thin it out, and thin it out again. Really bad stuff doesn't happen very often if you are using your brain enough.


James Marco
(jamesdmarco) - MLife

Locale: Finger Lakes
Re: First aid and rescue kits - what to leave behind? on 01/31/2011 17:39:54 MST Print View

I don't carry anything really special, 'cept a finger bandaid or two. And my meds (I am diabetic.)

The trick is knowing when you are damaged enough to bail on a hike. Having more gear encourages you to stay out longer. Anyway, I choose to carry nothing, relying on my wits rather than gadgetry...well, maybe a few pain pills, too.

KNOWLEDGE is the key. Get a first aid book. Read it twice, cover to cover. Get another and read it. Take a first aid class.

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: Re: First aid and rescue kits - what to leave behind? on 01/31/2011 17:49:39 MST Print View

A selection of bandaids, 2 4X4" gauze pads, some Leukotape, triple antibiotic packets, hydrocodone for severe pain in case of a serious injury, benadryl, cipro, bactrim, tweezers, needle, that's about it.

Oops, I forgot Immodium. 8 tabs, enough to dose me and one other person for long enough to know if it's going to do the job.

Edited by ouzel on 02/01/2011 21:02:23 MST.

Rod Lawlor
(Rod_Lawlor) - MLife

Locale: Australia
Rescue on 01/31/2011 18:20:33 MST Print View

I'd agree with Douglas about the rescue. A PLB with GPS co-ords will get you out faster than anything except maybe a Sat phone and GPS, and the PLB is more idiot proof and robust.

Of the six or eight searches I've been involved in using helicopters, the helo has never been able to spot the lost person on the ground while doing a flyover search, even when right above them. Just too much distraction. A mirror would probably help with this. And for ground searches, a whistle is absolutely required. We used ours on the last walk I did to signal the friends who we were to meet up with. They heard the two kids blowing their whistles at about a half mile distance, in strong winds, out of line of sight (Next gully over)

I also carry some ibuprofen on walks over about three days, immodium only when walking with the kids, some Arnica, two compressive bandages for snake bite (Our venom is different to most US snakes) which also work for sprains, bleeding, splinting etc) and some blister treatment and a few bandaids. I also carry a intramuscular needle but no syringe for splinters and thorns, some Sleek tape and some sports tape but don't carry duct tape. It sounds like a lot when I write it out, but apart from the snake bandages, it fits into a snack sized ziplock.

Anything else I need I plan on improvising from gear carried. My first aid kit is only things I can't double duty.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: First aid and rescue kits - what to leave behind? on 01/31/2011 18:57:16 MST Print View

The first thing you find is that the majority of the first aid kits sold on the market are not really a great lot of use. The designers don't seem to understand the difference between 'first aid until the ambulance gets there' and 'field repairs', and their kits fall somewhere in between.

The FIRST requirement is knowledge of field repairs, and when to give up and call for help. Don't even pretend you can play serious para-medic.

The second requirement might then be communications of some sort - just what you choose is up to you. Many do not even carry anything, and have survived for decades.

Now, as to first aid stuff itself:
* Bandaids! Wide ones and narrow ones. I have even used them as a substitute for stitches - for a while.
* Micropore tape! This stuff covers so many sins and supplements the bandaids.
* Scalpel blade (one, pointy) is useful, kept wrapped up.
* Bismuth Formic Iodide powder (BFI). An invaluable field treatment for all sorts of wounds. Small container.
* Butesan Picrate burn cream - just a little in a small container. Magic stuff.
* Panadol/Panadeine (not aspirin). Be aware that giving someone aspirin may kill them if they are allergic to it - trust me, many are!

To this I would add
* Large handkerchief, preferably clean, but slightly used will do. Or two. Or a bit of a shirt.
* Safety pins, smallish.
* Hot coffee with sugar: always a good thing to give the patient and the rest of the party too.

Most everything else listed by the 'experts' can either be covered by the above, or won't be much use under 'normal' backcountry circumstances. Blow-up splints? Come on, who are they kidding? Antibiotics? Enormously hyped, but do you have the faintest idea of when to use them, or for what? I don't carry them.


John Reichle
(mammoman) - M

Locale: NE AL
Pills on 01/31/2011 18:57:51 MST Print View

IMO, pills are very light, and can save a hike. A lack of Motrin forced me to bail a hike due to a sprained knee just last year (I'd forgotten to refill my little BPL vial). A dose or 2 of antibiotics, benadryl, claritin, tylenol, pepto or immodium....a tiny amount of weight to preserve comfort and/or health.

Agree with above poster who said knowing when to bail is important.

Scott H.
(handyman439) - F
first aid/ survival on 01/31/2011 19:00:00 MST Print View

I ponder over this often, and continually make changes to my kit. Here is about what I carry and how I justify carrying it.

First aid
- duct and athletic tape.
***not necessary to have both, but these are the two items I have often "actually" use
- band-aids, wound patch, pain relievers, scalpel blade
***Low weight for the convenience factor. imo it makes sense to carry a few grams of band-aids to save your bandanna (which you could need later...)

- spark light and quick tinder, windproof matches
- amk emergency bivy (only when im not geared to spend the night)
- whistle, tiny backup compass, small knife
***I feel all this stuff is pretty necessary in a survival kit

Gadgets (could be left behind)
- safety pins, cable tie, string, cord, needle and thread, coin cell light
***these are also items with little weight penalty that I have found to be useful, or at least convenient on the trail(repairing gear, improvising for something your forgot, etc.)
- fishing line and a few flies
***i have heard people say its ridiculous to expect catch fish with minimal equipment in a survival situation, but I have often caught fish by simply reaching my pole and lure over a creek. something you could easily do with a stick. also its something to occupy your time while waiting for rescue

Rescue mirror- after reading this thread I think im gonna throw it back in the kit! There are just too many stories of victims watching there search party fly over without noticing them. i guess im starting to feel a responsibility to be as visible as possible

Edited by handyman439 on 01/31/2011 19:03:11 MST.

Scott H.
(handyman439) - F
what to leave behind on 01/31/2011 19:15:55 MST Print View

Stuff I see people commonly carry that I think is unnecessary.

Space blanket - little importance if you already have a tent, tarp, ground cloth, etc.

scissors - just use your knife (carefully)

accessory cord - you probably already have guy lines, extra cordage on your pack or bear hanging system, a small amount for backup is understandable but not necessary

multi-tool pliers - super heavy and cant really imagine a situation where you would need it, (maybe for ski mountaineering or something where you actually have some mechanical equipment)

steel wire - ???? im not really sure what this solves that string cant?

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: what to leave behind on 01/31/2011 19:32:24 MST Print View

"steel wire - ???? im not really sure what this solves that string cant?"

Ahh, come on, Scott. Steel wire is much stronger than string, and more durable also.

I've used steel wire to support a cook pot over a wood fire. I've used it to lash a torn waist belt onto a backpack. I've used it to repair blown cross country ski bindings. I've used it as a bear canister opener tool. I've used a steel wire to scrape out battery corrosion from inside a flashlight.

Multi-tool pliers? How about small vise-grips? I had to break into a national park hut one time, and that involved removing some anchor bolts holding a window frame.


John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: First aid and rescue kits - what to leave behind? on 01/31/2011 19:36:12 MST Print View

Take enough items in these Ten Essential Groups ; ), to remain healthy (1), dry (2), warm (3) and hydrated (4) until rescued (5).

1. Medical- wear medical identification; be able to treat bleed, wounds, water loss through vomiting/diarrhea, pain
2. Shelter- take an extra shelter if dayhiking away from basecamp
3. Fire- take at least two ways to make fire
4. Hydration- consider extra liter if solo
5. Communication- leave a trip plan; have multiple ways to signal for help to land or air SAR
6. Navigation
7. Nutrition
8. Insulation
9. Sun Protection
10. Tools- swiss army knife

An orange heatsheet could possibly take the place of a signal mirror for an air search? It's multiple category uses include shelter, communication (signal from ground), insulation (vapor barrier), and sun protection.

Edited by jshann on 07/10/2011 17:45:50 MDT.

R. Lo.
(rloeh) - F

Locale: northern Rockies
Great stuff! on 01/31/2011 19:44:12 MST Print View

I'm very impressed with the comments this thread has inspired. I agree with the poster who wrote that the kit changes depending on your role in the group - if others are likely to have minimal training and first aid supplies, this places a heavier burden (literally) on those with first aid training.

One tip that I learned in a survival course - because it's hard to start fires while cold (think Jack London) or with wet tinder, we used cotton balls saturated with vaseline as fire starter. The cotton balls then ignite quickly and burn hot/long enough to dry and ignite wet tinder. I packed about 6 into a film canister this would be redundant with a stove, of course, but neat for day hikes in cold weather. Another note - Cheetos ignite well andalso burn fairly quickly - and they're lightweight!

I tend to throw things in the kit for scary what-if scenarios - but I'm going to take a hard look at the kit and decide whether what I've got in there is worth hauling around.


Mike M
(mtwarden) - MLife

Locale: Montana
where the items are located on 01/31/2011 20:50:38 MST Print View

lots of good advice in this thread :) I'd also give some consideration as to where these items are located in the (albeit rare) chance you were to become separated from your pack

my small knife resides around my neck and w/ it are a whistle, small led light, some cordage, small fire steel & tinder; in my pocket a K&M matchsafe w/ storm matches & tinder (has a small suunto compass in the top)

<-- still a bit of a boy scout by nature :)



Scott H.
(handyman439) - F
knife on 01/31/2011 21:02:36 MST Print View

Mike, what kind of knife is that?

Reminds me of this


Pretty cool setup, but probably not the most "light" option

Edited by handyman439 on 01/31/2011 21:14:46 MST.

Scott H.
(handyman439) - F
steel wire on 01/31/2011 21:10:53 MST Print View


"Ahh, come on, Scott. Steel wire is much stronger than string, and more durable also.

I've used steel wire to support a cook pot over a wood fire. I've used it to lash a torn waist belt onto a backpack. I've used it to repair blown cross country ski bindings. I've used it as a bear canister opener tool. I've used a steel wire to scrape out battery corrosion from inside a flashlight."

I think im still gonna have to respectively hold my stance on the steel wire. But I do see some uses now.

I have successfully cooked with my pot sitting on embers, no need for it to be suspended. And I would probably opt to use cord to fix a pack strap. Bear canister and flashlight fix... I think a safety pin is a more universal tool here also.

But I could see it come in handy in the xc ski situation. Probably has more uses than I thought.

Steven Paris
(saparisor) - M

Locale: Pacific Northwest
First aid and rescue kits - what to leave behind? on 01/31/2011 21:16:34 MST Print View

Don't want to let this drift too far from the OP's intent, but what, if any, differences do people carry for a dayhike versus an overnight/multi-day trip?

Someone above mentioned space blankets/bivies and not needing one when you already have shelter and sleeping bag with you. However, I do tend to take one in my daypack.

I guess I seem to carry a little more in the "emergency gear" type of category to make up for the items I'm not carrying in my daypack. Thoughts?