Basic backpacking first aid items for one hiker during an 8-day backpacking trip
By Chelsea Parrott
As an outdoor educator, I help hikers and backpackers reduce unnecessary weight from their backpacks. The lighter the pack, the easier it is to traverse long distances. I am by no means an “ultralight” packer, but I try to narrow down the essentials of my pack so that I can prioritize emergency or group gear.
My whole first aid kit weighs approximately 8 oz (the weight of 3 cliff bars) and it fits nicely into a tough bag that can stand rough use and years of longevity.
What is the duration of your backpacking trip? Instead of packing 5 months of bandaids, consider that most hikers are able to resupply food, toiletries, and other assorted items approximately every 8 days. Only carry what might be handy during that time frame. You know yourself best and you should pack accordingly. For example, if you tend to get headaches on a daily basis, perhaps bring medicine for each day, or if you tend to get blisters on each toe, pack a bandaid for each toe.
First aid kits can and should vary depending on the nature of each trip. My list reflects the demands of backpacking in the southern Appalachian mountains, but even the weather or time of year can change my packing recipe. Consider taking a wilderness first aid course to better know how to treat yourself and other hikers when injuries or emergencies occur in the Backcountry.
These are very useful. I clean blisters with an alcohol wipe for cleanliness and to make adhesives better stick to skin. I pack six alcohol wipes for an eight-day backpacking trip.
Band-Aids/ KT Tape
Band-Aids are useful for cuts, but mostly for blister care. For most blisters, I use one BandAid in conjunction with a trimmed piece of KT tape for maximum adhesion and friction reduction. I carry 6 BandAids of various sizes and one 10-inch strip of KT, Rock tape, or other sports tape.
Hopefully, you will never need these items, but if you are bleeding profusely from a wound or nose bleed, gauze or a tampon, or a menstrual pad can absorb and slow bleeding when applied properly. I carry one prepackaged square of gauze and one tampon that has been removed from its plastic cartridge in order to remove unnecessary packaging.
Scissors must be used to cut your KT tape, it will not tear and a knife works very poorly on that type of material. One pair of small scissors or a multi-tool with scissors can be helpful for fixing gear and essentially trump the need for a knife at any point on a typical hike.
A serious splinter in the wrong place could make hiking miserable so I like to bring one quality pair of tweezers to remove wood, ticks, or sharp objects from my skin.
If I get a gnat or object in my eyeball, I am an unhappy camper until it is removed. A little mirror is far more functional than a phone camera’s lens, plus, it cannot lose battery life. A mirror could be helpful for distress signaling if used properly.
A couple of safety pins can serve a couple of functions. The pins can be useful for fixing gear, tensioning gauze wraps, and blister care when sterilized.
Water Treatment Backup
I believe that hikers in the backcountry should have three methods of water treatment available just in case one method breaks. I carry a stove – for boiling water– a filter for cleaning water – and a small amount of chemical treatment like iodine or AquaMira.
My hiking aches and pains typically include an occasional headache or sore muscles. I bring 10 ibuprofen tablets, 2 tylenols tablets, 2 benadryl pills, and 1 Tums. Keeping just a limited quantity of pills inside of a small plastic baggie is a great way to reduce weight and only carry what you might need.
No one likes an irritating cut or insect sting. These irritations are usually short-lived, but I carry a small number of topical ointments to reduce the pain and inflammation. My heal-all treatments are natural salves derived from herbs, but store-bought hydrocortisone or triple antibiotic ointment can be used as well. I bring no more than a nickel-sized quantity.
Stay healthy out there and happy hiking!