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  • First Aid Kit Tools & Their Uses

    Whether you are going on an overnight backpacking trip or heading out for a day hike, it is a good idea to have a first aid kit to treat minor emergencies. In fact, a first aid kit is considered one of the Ten Essentials and no one should head into the wilderness without one. The American Red Cross recommends that you keep a first aid kit in your home and in your car, too. While first aid kits vary depending on the type of activity you will be participating in, all first aid kits have some essential contents and tools.
    First Aid Kit Tools & Their Uses

    How to Build a First Aid Kit

    To build your own first aid kit, purchase a basic kit and add items that are relevant to you. All first aid kits usually contain bandages, gloves, tweezers and pain killers. Wrapping bandages, duct tape, adhesive bandages, scissors, antihistamines, aspirin, antibiotic ointment and antiseptic towelettes are also common components. 

    Tailor the kit to fit your specific needs. If you're prone to ankle sprains, for example, keep extra sets of elastic wrap in your kit. If you rely on an essential medication, it's critical that you bring it with you on the trail.

    Store the first aid kit in your day pack or backpack so that you'll have it when you are hiking and keep it in an area of your backpack that is easily accessible. Remember to take inventory of your first aid kit, restock it often, and replace any expired medication. Although no one wants to get hurt, it pays to be prepared for the worst. 

    Function of Items in the Kit

    • Bandages and Band-Aids are used to treat scratches and cuts that can occur when hiking. 

    • Gloves should be worn to ensure sterile conditions and protect the person administering first aid. 

    • Tweezers can be used to pick out splinters or specks of wood that have fallen into a hikers cut. 


    • Antibiotic ointment will help fight infection. 

    • Painkillers will reduce pain and swelling. Aspirin can help during a heart attack. 

    • Wrapping bandages can treat large cuts and scrapes, support sprained limbs and can even be used as a tourniquet. 

    • Scissors will cut bandages down to size. 

    • Antihistamines will provide relief in the event of a mild allergic reaction.

    • A CPR mask will help you safely perform CPR.

    Some addititional items to carry that are relevant to hikers and backpackers:


    Sunscreen should be worn and applied often, especially on sunny days or at high elevation.

    • Diarrhea medication will help if you develop diarrhea, which can quickly lead to dehydration.

    • Rehydration tablets/salts can prevent or treat dehydration.

    • Water purification tablets will ensure that water collected from lakes and streams is potable.

    • An Emergency blanket will keep you warm in an emergency.

    emergency blanket
    • Duct tape has a number of functions, from repairing holes in tents and soles on shoes to treating blisters. 

    • Bite/sting kits are used to treat snake bites and bee stings. While there is evidence to suggest that snake bite kits are ineffective, sting kits are useful in removing stingers from the body. 

    • Lighter/waterproof matches are essential for lighting a fire to keep you warm or signal for help.

    • An emergency whistle should not be buried in your first aid kit but tied to the outside of your backpack where it is easily accessible. To signal an emergency, blow three long blasts of air into your whistle. 

    Types of First Aid Kits

    First aid kits vary in content based on the type of activity they will be used for. Kits that are found in homes and the trunks of cars can be bulky and heavy, and most hikers and backpackers will want to carry a lightweight first aid kit. While you don't want to remove necessary items from your kit just to cut weight, it is worth scrutinizing the items in your kit to see if bulky packaging or other unnecessary material can be removed. For example, if your kit contains a box of Band-Aids, removing them from the box will cut weight and save space.

    Whether your first aid kit comes in a box or a bag, you'll want to ensure it is waterproof. One easy way to keep water out is by storing your kit in a Ziploc bag. 

    Other Safety Considerations

    One way to provide peace of mind is by carrying an emergency sattelite communication device like a Spot or a Garmin InReach. Should a serious emergency occur in the woods, a satellite communication device will allow you to call for help and will send a signal alerting rescue crews to your exact location.

    If you're hiking in bear country, it's also a good idea to carry bear spray. Should you encounter an aggressive bear on the trail, bear spray is an effective deterrant. Remember to report any run-ins with aggressive wildlife to forest rangers. 

    If you'll be hiking on unfamiliar trails, don't assume you can rely on your phone for GPS, maps or directions. It's critical that you always carry a topographic map of the area you are hiking in as well as a compass-- and know how to use them. 

    Running out of water is one way to turn a fun and easy hike in the woods into something much more dangerous. While recommendations vary, a difficult hike on a hot day may require up to 1 liter of water every hour. Carry an adequate amount of water with you or, if you plan to filter or treat water on the trail, confirm that your water sources are viable before begin hiking.

    Article Written By Kim Dinan

    Kim Dinan is a writer covering the outdoors and travel. Her adventures have taken her around the world, including camping and hiking in nearly every US state. Her work has appeared in newspapers, magazines and online. She is also a published author.

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