When heading out on a hike, it is always advisable to have a basic hiking first aid kit with you. There are specific outdoors related first aid kits which are perfect for hiking which you can get pre-made. However, it is perfectly fine to get your own one together from whatever bits you have around the house.
Below I outline the main items that you should have in your first aid kit. I am thinking mainly for day hiking but similar items will be required in a kit for longer hikes and treks. However, where it will vary is in quantity.
If you're hiking with a group, it may not be necessary for everyone to carry their own first aid kit. To save on weight, check with your hiking friends and see who has what. Someone may already have a first aid kit tucked away in their daypack and so you may not need as many.
First off, when going down the ‘do it yourself' route, be sure to first store your first aid items in separate zip-loc bags and then transfer them all into a waterproof dry bag as the usability and effectiveness of some of the contents could be lessened significantly if they got damaged by water or other contaminates. Even if they are in good protective packaging, say tablets in blister packets, it is always good to have them stored away with a couple of extra separate outer layers for protection.
However, in my many years of hiking I have had several occasions where I got a bad graze on my leg from some shale or cut my fingers on a sharp rock and I was very grateful to have some basic bits in my first aid kit to help treat the problem. It did the job till I got to the end of the hike.
Similarly, a headache is a very common one that can easily develop while you're out the trail. Having a pain killer handy is great and can go a long way to enabling you to enjoy your day on the hills rather than trudging around with a drum banging in your head.
OK, so let's get to it, you've got your zip-loc bags and your dry bag, so the main items you should have in your hiking first aid kit are.
Ibuprofen is a common and effective pain reliever. It is not only great for treating headaches but it can also tackle muscular pain and even help with dental pain should the need arise. It's easily acquired in any pharmacy for the do it yourself first aid kit route. For day hiking, handy to have 20 to 30 in your kit. Not likely to use all of them on one day but once you have that many in there, you should be good to go for a while.
#2 Stool Thickener
A common option that is easily accessible in the store is Imodium. Now I think this will be more applicable for a multi day camping day trip, a longer day hike or if you're hiking abroad and the water and food is new to your system.
Should you be unlucky enough to get an upset tummy on your hike that is developing into a bug and the runs, this may make it that bit easier to help you get back to civilization and a toilet. I think this is rare enough on average day hikes but I do have a friend who had a great need of this on his Inca Trail trip. The water he had one morning didn't agree with him! 10 of these in your first aid kit should be enough to see you back to base.
An antihistamine is a medicine that helps protect you from allergic reactions and itching. This could come about from any number of things, perhaps you get a sting from a bug or you somehow ingest a piece of a disagreeable plant.
It can also help should you suffer from seasonal or perennial allergies. Again, easy enough to get your hands on some of these in the store. Some common ones are Benadryl, Zyrtec, Claritin, etc. Check out which one you think fits your needs best. As with the last item, you probably need about 10 of these to pack away in your first aid kit.
#4 Antibiotic Cream
I generally have something in my kit that can be used to put on a wound but can also double up for it's main purpose of treating blisters. That is, it will be more common to get blisters than to get a wound one hopes!
Nothing can dampen your hike faster than blisters so it's good to know how to avoid and treat them. For blisters, I have used blister plasters, Compeed, before and they were pretty good. However, as mentioned, you never know what other uses the cream could come in handy for.
#5 Assorted Bandages / Plasters
Bandages are good to have and you never know when you may need one. They're quick and easy to apply to an open cut or graze should you need to. I usually carry a few different sizes but you can also carry a large one and cut it to size as required. A few, 3 to 6, of these should do the trick, especially for a day hike.
#6 Iodine & Alcohol Prep Pads
OK, so to be clear here we're talking about two separate types of pads. You need both and at least 2 of each.
The first, Iodine Prep Pads, are used to give a cut or wound a wipe before putting any ointment or bandage on. This can regularly come in handy while out on a hike. Iodine pads are designed for deeper cleansing as they will kill most bacteria and microbes on a basic open wound.
Next up we have Alcohol Prep Pads (Pictured). The main difference between these and the Iodine pads is that Alcohol Prep Pads only provide moderate cleansing. Alcohol evaporates very quickly so it isn't ideal for treating a wound. Instead, use alcohol prep pads to wipe any implements or tools you are using on the wound e.g. tweezers.
#7 Pre-cut Blister Tape Strips
This is very stretchy cotton tape, sometimes treated with Zinc Oxide, that can be used for various purposes. It can be used to place over a hot spot where a blister or other type of chaff may be forming. The elasticity of the tape moves with your skin and so it means it remains secure even when moving fast.
The tape is also breathable and so air can get in and around the problem area and moisture can get out. It is usually shower proof too so if you get it wet, it should still stay secure. Again, 5 or so strips should do the trick. A popular option is Leukotape.
#8 Container of Zinc Oxide / Vitamin E Cream
Can be used in treatment for minor cuts and burns but the most regular thing I have use this for is chaffing. After a long day on a hot trail, I'm thinking about when I hiked the Camino, chaffing can be a common occurrence for me, especially if I doing long distances at a fast pace. Bit of this stuff does wonders to keep you moving freely the following day. One small container should do the trick.
Tweezers can be very handy to remove things from a wound or cut. Think of little stones in a grazed cut or nasty thorns embedded in your skin from a bush. For convenience I utilize the pair in my Swiss Army Knife.
Note: Always wipe any implement with an alcohol pad before using on an open wound.
Always handy to have for any number or uses. In the context of first aid, think about cutting bandages and that type of thing. You can carry a pair in your first aid kit if you choose but, as with tweezers, I prefer to use the ones in my Swiss Army Knife.
They're perfect for this type of thing and work well. I don't mean to sound like I'm pushing the Swiss Army Knife, lol :-), but if you don't have one they're a seriously good investment. they come in so handy for so many jobs on the trail.
#11 Vinyl Gloves
As with most things in your first aid kit, these will be hygienically packed in protective packaging. It's a good idea to clean your hands as best as you can before using them. Broadly speaking, you put these on when you're treating someone else as their core purpose is to prevent the transfer of fluid from one person to another.
So if you're dressing someones wound, they will protect you from the patients blood and protect them from the dirt and sweat on your hand. A couple of pairs is a good idea, always good to have a back-up.
This is again, a handy one to have and can help with things like a basic headache and that type of thing. They can also be useful if you're going into higher altitudes as they do thin the blood and may help with altitude sickness issues although I wouldn't wholly rely on them for that purpose. I did use them in Mont Blanc when I felt I was getting a little bit impacted by altitude and I do feel that they really helped.
Another thing they really can be useful for is heart issues as again, they thin the blood. If someone is experiencing chest pain in advance of a heart attack, it might just help ease things off till they can get to proper help. Again, 6 to 10 of these should be enough in your first aid kit.
#13 Sterile Gauze
Used to place in direct contact with a wound before taping or covering with a bandage. It promotes quicker healing and is sometimes treated with a wound healing agent. Helps to stop bleeding, ease pain and prevent infection. Keep a few of these in with your bandages etc.
#14 Locking Safety Pins
Not every first aid kit will have these but they can be handy to have. You never know if you may need them so easy to carry a few in the kit. They can help hold a dressing together and could be used for a splint. They will have any untold amount of other uses not first aid related but you never know, you may need to use them.
#15 Antiseptic Wipes
Not so much part of a first aid kit but for good general hygiene I carry both antiseptic wipes and hand creme. Many times when I am out hiking, I need to use my hands to get over a tough bit of terrain, even more so if I am scrambling.
Sometimes I will have hiking gloves on but not always. It's of course the norm for animals to leave their droppings in the hills and, yes I know this sounds nasty, you can't help but put your hand into them sometimes if you're hoisting yourself up over a rock. In general, I'm talking small animals like rabbits and so on but there will also just be general dirt and muck on rocks and so on.
Prevention always being the preferred route, having some hygienic antiseptic wipes in your bag to give your hands a clean before you sit down to eat your lunch is a really good idea. I also carry a small bottle of hand sanitizer although I don't keep either of these in my first aid kit, just in the top of my pack for easy access as I'll access them regularly enough.
#16 Any Other Medicine You Need!
Now, this may seem like stating the obvious but twice I have personally witnessed people who did not bring medicine, they need to take regularly as a matter of course, out with them on a hike. In both cases it was an inhaler for asthma.
I recall asking one lady if she was OK as she was breathing very heavily. She then told me she had asthma. I logically asked, if she had her inhaler and she said no, she left it at home. I was stunned to be honest. What a silly thing to do! It was fine as we were near the end of the hike but it really was stupid.
I also know one leader of a hiking group who I regularly hike with who had a much closer call, again with a lady who had left her inhaler behind. Totally unnecessary but people do do the funniest things!
The even more bizarre thing is that sometimes people can think, well, I'm just taking a risk for me, it will be OK. Well, that's not the case. In that story I mentioned above with my friend, the lady went into an asthma attack. They had to stop for ages to let her settle and then slowly walk her off the mountain. Thankfully she was OK.
However, while this was going on, there were 20 other people standing around waiting in the middle of the mountains and in the middle of Winter. People were getting cold and the weather was bad with snow on the ground and more expected. So, it wasn't just the lady at risk at that point!
So, that's it. I hope you found this gallery on how to make your own hiking first aid kit useful, a first aid kit should be a key item on your hiking checklist.. As you can see, it is easy enough to get all the bits together and you probably have most of them in your medicine cabinet already. If you're a regular hiker, it can make a lot more sense to go the DIY route as you're not going to buy a new first aid kit every time you run out of stuff.
However, I did actually buy one the first time around for a couple of reasons. One, it had everything I needed in it and two it had a nice protective bag which had a buckle latch which is very handy to seal it up. In truth, not that different from a dry bag though. These days though, I just restock the kit as I need.
So what do you think? Do you feel I have missed something important? Please leave a comment and let me know. Please also re-share this post and gallery!