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Homemade Ultralight First Aid Kit

Homemade Ultralight First Aid Kit
Homemade Ultralight First Aid Kit

While it’s tempting to buy a commercial first aid kit for hiking and backpacking, they’re often overpriced ($30 for Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight and Watertight .7 Medical Kit) incomplete, heavy, and expensive to refill with the tiny packets of medicine that they try to sell you. I’ve found it to be much less expensive and convenient to pack my own first aid kit with pills, lotions, bandages and miscellaneous supplies that I buy in larger quantities for home use and can resupply from my bathroom cabinet.

Weighing 3.4 ounces and packed in a sandwich bag, my homemade first aid kit contains all of the pills, lotions, tape, and bandages that I use on my trips, some more often than not, as well as a few supplies that I’ve used to help other hikers in need that I come across on the trail. I bring more first aid supplies when I guide trips, but this is all I’ve ever needed for my personal day hiking and overnight trips.

I like buying big band aids, like the one shown above, and then cutting them down to the size I need. I can usually cut a couple of smaller bandages out of the big ones instead of bringing lots of different sized bandages that I may never need.

 QuantityPurpose
Primarily for Personal Use
Ibuprofen25Pain reliever
Immodium8Stool thickener
Benedryl10Allergic reaction relief, sleep aid
Antiseptic wipes2Wound sterilzation
Antibiotic cream2Small packets, mainly for popped blister treatment
Assorted bandages6Large ones that can be cut to size
Pre-cut Leukotape Strips6Very sticky blister prevention tape
Container of zinc oxide10.5 ounces for chafing relief
Primarily for Treating Others
Nitrile gloves2Body fluid barrier for treating other people
Aspirin8Blood thinner (for heart attack victims)
Locking safety pins2Good for improvised splints

A couple of notes:

My first aid kit is broken down into personal supplies for my own use and first-aid supplies that I use to treat other people I might encounter on the trail who need help. My Wilderness First Aid and CPR certifications are always up to date because I need them to guide hiking trips for the Appalachian Mountain Club and the other organizations I work with.

I’ve been using EZ Pill Pouches to repackage my medicines for a few years and find that they’re perfect for holding pills or packing refills in resupply boxes.

I pre-cut strips of Leuktotape (blister prevention) and stick them on the waxy paper backing that comes with address labels or adhesive name tags. This keeps the tape sticky for use.

I repackage my zinc oxide into little plastic cosmetic containers with flip lids that are good for holding lotions. These stay reliably closed in my pack and can also be used to store pills.

What’s in your first-aid kit?

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29 comments

  1. I carry 2-3 good quality corn pads,I had one once hiking. I know I may never get one again, I was glad to have them for someone else I hiked with the last days hiking the 100 mile wilderness. this person also never had one before. one bad corn can be very annoyingly painful.

  2. I carry just about the same thing with the exception of adding mokeskin to my kit. It seems to fit the bill perfectly for both day hikes and overnights. I do carry a little more when I am out with the Boy Scouts for those “just in case” situations.

  3. I find this a very minimalist first aid kit. First, I like the use of the EZ Pill pouches. I get the ones that you can label so that you can name and put expiration dates on items. I typically meter the amount of pills based upon my trip length (I would only take 8 Ibuprofen for a two day trip, not 25 for example). I would also add a 12 cc irrigation syringe. When I took my NOLS Wilderness First Aid training, it was clear how useful this can be for cleaning wounds, creating a mist for heat related issues, and keeping your grubby camping hands out of wounds. I see no sterile dressings in your kit, which I think are essential for minimizing potential infection. I would add some micro tweezers for removing splinters, ticks, debris from wounds. Micro tweezers are easy to sterilize before use. I also like to have Tincture of Benzoin. It provides both styptic and antiseptic properties as well making bandages stick much better and longer. This is critical for Wilderness situations where moisture is often a factor whether from weather or sweat. I like the notion and simplicity of cutting bandages down, but that makes those bandages no longer sterile. Since I don’t see a medical scissor in your kit, I assume you use your pocket knife or micro tool, which is likely not sterile. If you are sitting there bleeding, it is not ideal to have to start cutting bandages and making dressings with no sterile dressings to use. Your opportunity for infection is greatly increased or so I’ve been told.

    • Neil, you raise some very valid points. I do carry other multi-purpose tools for many of those functions that aren’t part of my med-kit propper but can be utilized in the ways you suggest without requiring extra gear.

      For instance,

      For wound irrigation, I always have the ability to sterilize water either using Aqua Mira and to flush a wound by hosing it down with a water reservoir. One can also create a higher pressure and more directional stream by poking a hole in a sandwich baggy and squeezing the water through it. I used to carry a irraigation syringe, but I’ve since discarded it. I never used it.

      I do carry a small (tiny) swiss army knife with scissors and tweezers built in

      Regarding infection. This is always a concern of course, but one is seldom more than a day away from civilization these days, so one I tend to discount somewhat. I’d probably worry about it more if I was someplace more remote.

      I hike so much, that I load up on my pills to avoid having to resupply all the time. I actually don’t take that much Vitamin I except when I need it and then I need it a lot.

      Cheers.

      • Great additional points Philip on reusing gear and elimiating what you don’t need with experience. I forgot to mention that I most recently started hiking with my 7 yr old son, and I have found having gear that simplifies challenging circumstances (like a small cut or a blister) makes things more enjoyable for both of us. Anything you add or change depending on who you hike with?

      • That makes perfect sense. I probably would to, but I rarely hike with a “dependent.”

        When I hike with peers, I assume they carry their own kit. When I lead trips for the AMC and other groups, I make the other guide (we always have two guides/leaders with wfa/wfr training) bring a commercial kit and carry it. Of course we ask that people with medical conditions tell us about them in advance so we can make sure they bring the appropriate medications…..but they’re not required to and some don’t give us any advance warning.

      • My solution for wound irrigation is also overdosing water with Aqua Mira. I carry the smallest possible tube of Neosporin instead of individual packages. Probably a bit heavier, but much more convenient for various-sized wounds.

        You might add a list for first aid items that are not carried in the kit.

        * scissors
        * pencil and paper
        * soap
        * bag for infectious waste

        If you carry hand sanitizer, you’ll need to decide between alcohol-based and non-alcohol (BAK). Alcohol sanitizer is a nice firestarter, but BAK is the antiseptic used in bactine.

        With these additions, the list is almost the same as the personal kit in the BSA first aid merit badge book. That list adds a CPR barrier, but since we’ve moved to compression-only CPR, that is OK.

  4. Great List…I might add, IF you carry your prescription medications without the Container they originally came in but throw a few into a plastic pouch, write down what they are and the prescription number and your Pharmacy’s telephone number.. I have heard of reports of Hikers being stopped walking along the side of a highway to get to a trail extension stopped by local Police and harassed over carrying personal medications without a prescription. There are cases of two who went to jail for it because they did not have the $2000.00 fine.. Yeah we still have some backcountry Yahoos and Judges running our world.. If your looking for small packets and bottles of Insect Repellent and various lotions as well as some food items there are a couple of sources on the internet and one who I have been buying from since they came into existence and whose name escapes me right now….geez..The one I am talking about offers some really good caviar for around $10.00.. I really enjoy sitting watching the Sun go down sitting with my back resting against my pack against a tree, sipping on some wine, and noshing on caviar, cheese and water crackers… I also had a small roll of Duct Tape to my kit, this too is available on line.

    My list is quite extensive having used every one of the items over time I have learned the hardway to always carry them. The list above I carry for Day Hikes only and modify and update the kit prior to every trip due to time of year and location of hike. Any time I will be hiking in further than say 4 hours from my vehicle. I carry Stitches for deep cuts. I carry 6 Sting Relief packets. A plastic flat disposable Thermometer, is that an altitude caused headache or a fever? Sore Throat losenges. I snore and sometimes in dry air I wake up with one heck of a sore throat. Ear Plugs, I also may throw in my Victorninox Classic Swiss Army knife with the Scissors…..

    • Medicinal whiskey, no doubt. :-)

      Good point about the prescription meds.

      I think wearing long pants and a long sleeve short all the time, helps cut down on my cuts, scraps, strings, and rashes.

      I think you’re thinking of Minimus.biz for small packets of stuff.

  5. This is actually pretty similar to what I bring. I don’t have nearly as much Ibuprofen, someone must get a lot of headaches! I have maybe 4 tablets of Ibuprofen, similar quantity of Benedryl, 5 or 6 standard sized band aids for covering finger sized cuts, and 2 or 3 larger band aids, 1 pair latex gloves, and a small pack of neosporin.Safety pins and duct tape go in my gear repair bag with zip ties, I don’t carry that in my FAK.

    That is pretty much all I carry. Where I hike, I find I don’t need to carry SAM splints or a trauma kits. My kit is really for scrapes and bruises, and a few pain killers and headache reducing drugs. I took a CPR class last year, so I am glad I have that training. I think I should probably add some alcohol prep wipes at some point.

  6. A dollar store can be a surprisingly good source of small packets of bandages, gauze, antibiotic cream, painkillers, gloves, ACE wrap, medical tape, etc. I bought all of these items recently for $7.

  7. I suspect that everyone’s kit will be different depending on individual problems. My most common injury on the trail is the dreaded infected hangnail. Unfortunately, treating this problem requires a change of bandaids and antibiotic ointment whenever my hands get wet or grubby, which happens often. Rubbing hand cream into my cuticles at night helps, but doesn’t prevent the problem entirely. (I get them at home, too.) That’s why there are lots of small bandaids and a 1/2 oz. tube of triple antibiotic ointment in my kit.

    I actually mix repair and first aid items in the same bag. Some items (like a needle and duct tape) do double duty.

  8. I would add: Tweezers, and a small quantity of baking soda to wet and apply to a painful bee/wasp sting.

  9. I like the idea of cutting down larger band-aids into smaller sizes, if needed.

  10. I’ve used Stat-Wrap for many years, a self-adhering cohesive gauze bandage. The “gauze” is impregnated with latex, so it’s very tough, and you can wear it in the water. It adheres only to itself — not to skin or hair — without pins, clips or tape. It conforms extremely well. I have 4 inches wide X 4.5 yards long (fully stretched), although it’s available in different sizes. It weighs 0.8 ounces in its cellophane wrapper. It’s excellent for ankle and wrist sprains, etc., and for keeping large absorbent gauze pads in place (I find tape unwieldy, non-conforming, not too good in the water, and it peels off). I’ve had occasion to use these on the trail for others a number of times. I have not ordered them from this supplier, so I can’t vouch for them; I just wanted to show the bandage: http://www.freedommedicalsupply.com/pages/images/stories/bandages/html/15.html
    A very similar product is Co-Wrap, also available in several sizes. It also contains latex, so can’t be used on those with latex allergies. I have ordered from Bandages Plus several times, and I’ve found them to be reliable: http://www.bandagesplus.com/co-wrap

    I also carry several packets of Betadine Solution Swab Aid Antiseptic Pads for cleaning out cuts and scrapes. Each pad weighs less than 0.1 ounces (it doesn’t register on my scale in ounces mode). http://www.purduepharma.com/PI/NonPrescription/A6910B13.pdf

    I’ve yet to find a really good pair of tweezers that I like. Any suggestions?

    • This is an old post, but Tweezerman makes excellent needlenose tweezers. I bought mine at Riteaid, $23 for a double set with the needlenose and standard flat slant pair.

  11. I’m usually with either my 4 year old or my wife, and I’m usually the one carrying this equipment. Our kit is quite a bit larger than this one.

    I add child doses of meds and a few things for my wife’s chronic migraines (full bottle of ibuprofen, chemical cold pack).

    I also like carrying a trauma kit with roller gauze, tape, tweezers, scissors, and a space blanket for shock. We may not ever be far off the beaten path, but if there’s a serious injury (my wife has broken her foot for example), I don’t really want to be caught without supplies.

    I top it off with cortisone for comfort, and glucose tablets for the diabetics in the family. I don’t need all this every time (if I’m alone for example), but most hikes are spur of the moment and it’s nice to be able to grab the bag and go.

  12. Great kit list – thanks!

    I would strongly suggest carrying half a dozen (or more) butterfly closures with you as well. They are extremely small, light and handy.

    I think you’re most likely to injure your hands and feet, and on a solo-hike I once got a bad, bad cut on my hand (don’t ask…) I can’t imagine trying to cut your bandage into little piece to close a wound with one hand bleeding badly, but butterfly closures can do the trick quickly. Of course, I wasn’t carrying them, which is how I learned this lesson… ;o)

    Best!

  13. One small addition would be Quikclot Sport Silver Brand Hemostatic Agent. If you get cut bad it will stop the bleeding and give you enough time to get to an emergency room without bleeding out. Its small and lightweight as well.

  14. I carry Steri-strips and/or super glue for closing larger cuts

  15. I like the superglue idea and I already have a sample in my gear repair kit.

  16. Thanks for the reminder that I need to update my kit. When I did my recent kayak expedition, my First Aid supplies would have handled just about any wound, however, I had no pain meds whatsoever for arthritic hands, sore back, etc.

  17. I add nail clippers as a generic replacement for tweezers, scissors and that sort of thing. I was taught many decades ago that nail clippers are the premier tool for excising splinters, and have carried a pair ever since.

  18. It may be bulky and relatively heavy, but I always have a 3 inch shrinkwrapped elastic bandage roll for twisted ankles. I guess trainer’s tape would work too. Compeed or Advanced Care or similar house brand rubbery blister bandages are great for most cuts too and don’t fall off easily, so no moleskin and few regular band aids/gauze. Aspirin works well for pain, but isn’t for kids so I bring ibuprofen too.
    I agree with the super glue mini tube and steri strips, and I have a single pack of medium absorbable suture material (includes needle), a sterile #11 scalpel blade (like the standard X-Acto but in a sterile pack), and a tiny bottle of Betadine antiseptic. With this extra few ounces of stuff even a medium sized relatively deep laceration can be cleaned and repaired almost as well as in an ER (not counting anesthetic). Multi tool pliers can drive the needle, cleaned in a flame. Everyone has up to date tetanus shots, right? Haven’t needed the sutures yet while outdoors but the steri strips get used before they expire every time.
    The most used item is a “Pro-Tick Remedy” tick remover, which is a thin piece of spring steel with a little notch cut in the end. It’s smaller and works better than any other option I’ve found and it’s worth looking for. I always rip the tick if I try tweezers.
    Sunscreen and bug repellent live in the same small baggie.

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