For anyone who spends time outdoors, the practicality of a First Aid kit has most likely become quite obvious. While one wants to be prepared for most emergencies, hikers are usually keen to decrease the weight of their pack. I used to lug around a store-bought, pre-packaged kit; I’ve since whittled down its contents with more specific items.
Like most things in life, it comes down to balance.
Consider a First Aid kit as insurance; it’s a necessary and useful thing to have ‘just in case’ and you’re always glad you have it, if you ever need it. But you don’t need to bring the kitchen sink either. I take the habit of adding or removing items from it periodically, according to the adventure I’m packing for. It’s become a simple, straightforward and fairly minimalist process.
My basic First Aid kit is for day hikes or single-day bike rides. I’ll transfer some stuff into a bigger pouch for longer adventures, like intense scrambles or multi-day hikes. These extra items that I carry for longer hikes have been prefixed with a double asterisk **.
By a long shot, the two most common injuries encountered on trails are blisters and ankle sprains, so your First Aid kit should be prepared accordingly.
There are tons of videos and articles out there about how to prevent blisters; I’ve placed two links below. Blisters are mostly caused by moisture (wet skin or socks) and pressure (new, tight shoes). Try a few of these pointers out to figure out what works for you.
Make sure your hiking boots or shoes have been worn-in and are comfortable.
If you tend to get sweaty feet, waterproof shoes may increase that sweat factor and provoke blisters (GoreTex is great for waterproofing, but in my experience it isn’t always breathable.) If your feet don’t get too sweaty, go ahead with waterproof shoes if you like them, but bring an extra pair of socks if it’s a hot day. Seamless hiking socks are key (I esp love Smartwool wool cushioned hiking socks). If you wear cotton socks, you’re asking for trouble and I won’t feel sorry for ya. ; )
Some people swear by sprinkling medicated foot powder all over your feet (or into your socks) before putting on your boots. This ideally keeps your skin from getting sticky and sweaty. Personally, I’ve never done it, as pasty feet would be a concern. (Remember Ross from Friends and those leather «paste pants»? Yeah.)
Take that extra three minutes to stop and cover your increasingly sensitive spot with a blister bandage that won’t stick to the delicate skin, but will build a protective shield around and over it. Your blister shouldn’t develop further with one of these suckers covering it. I like Nexcare waterproof bandages.
Wrap your sensitive area with LeukoTape (similar to medical tape, but highly breathable). This is a particularly good idea if you’re breaking in a new pair of shoes on your hike, which I really don’t recommend.
Cut a piece of Moleskin with your Swiss Army tool to fit over your hotspot, or even to create a «donut» around it to reduce friction inside your shoe. Make sure to round the corners so that it doesn’t peel off. Don’t place Moleskin over a rounded bubble blister (the thin skin will rip off when removing) or an open, busted blister.
Videos on blister prevention:
There’s actually pretty intense debate out there about how to treat blisters once they’ve formed. Some people prefer to pop it then cover it with gauze and tape, others prefer leaving it full and simply covering it.
I’ve even had someone run two threads inside my blister (in an X shape) then cover it with gauze. (The threads left inside the blister allowed the fluid to drain along them to the outside of the bubble and into the gauze. It was actually brilliant.) If you can stomach it, here's a very cool video about threading a blister, although in my case we didn’t force the fluid out (threading a blister is surprisingly painless).
The only thing on which everyone seems to agree is that you should cover it. Try each method out to see which one works best for you.
Here’s what I keep in my First Aid kit for blister prevention and care:
6 Nexcare or Dr. Scholl’s blister gel bandages (2 of 3 different shapes and sizes) 3 toe sleeves
2 squares of Moleskin
3-4 squares of gauze (individually-wrapped)
** Needle and thread (to thread nasty blisters that might develop on longer trips)
Videos (3) on blister treatment:
Blister Prevention: How To Treat A Blister Correctly (I learned a lot from this rather technical video)
Marty Morissette: How To Deal With Blisters On The Trail Fun and informative video
Medicine (all travel size)
Painkillers are important for any injuries you may incur on the trail (twists and sprains, or worse!). Never underestimate the power of Vitamin I (ibuprofen) to reduce swelling on a sprained ankle or broken wrist. Acetaminophen could do wonders for pain in the backcountry. Most of the time, I've given away medicine to injured hikers, rather than use it myself.
Acetaminophen or painkillers (Tylenol)
Ibuprofen or anti-inflammatories (Advil, Motrin or Aleve)
** I’ll add water purification tablets and Imodium (anti-diarrhea) for longer trips where I might unexpectedly need to filter wild water (filtering is never 100% guaranteed).
Cuts, abrasions or sprains
Antibiotic ointment (one small tube)
Alcohol pads (5 or 6 individually-wrapped)
3 regular bandages (BandAids)
SteriStrips (to close a deep cut in place of stitches)
Gauze (3-4 squares, individually-wrapped)
Medical tape (small roll)
Roll of self-adherent cohesive tape, such as Nexcare No Hurt Wrap. This stuff is amazing - wrap it a round a sprain and it sticks to itself and stays in place.
Thin medical gloves
** Tensor bandage for longer trips
Swiss Army knife or other multi-tool knife
3 safety pins
Waterproof matches and a bit of dryer lint (an excellent fire starter)
Whistle (attached to your backpack shoulder strap)
** Toilet paper on backcountry trips
** Emergency space blanket (big enough for 2 people)
Weight of basic First Aid kit: 8 ounces, including my medium-sized Swiss Army knife (which weighs 3 ounces)
If I use something during a hike, I replenish it once I get home, before putting my First Aid kit back in its spot (otherwise, it’s too easy to forget).
Don’t forget your bear spray!
Thanks for reading! See you out there on the trails!