While it is impractical to pack for every single contingency, it is possible to create a small, packable wilderness first aid kit full of highly useful items that takes up very little space in your “go” bag.
An easy starting point is to purchase an off-the-shelf product. A commercial first aid kit will contain the items you need to treat minor travel illnesses and injuries. Blisters, minor soft tissue injuries (scrapes and cuts), orthopedic injuries (ankle sprains) and stomach ailments are the more frequently encountered issues. Global Rescue has customized its own list of must-have items over the years for packing an everyday, travel-friendly first aid kit.
For trips to a wilderness setting, you should augment a commercial first aid kit with other items, namely medications and more bandaging materials.
“You can buy a commercially available first aid kit, but a lot of the times it has only very basic wound care equipment. You get a bump or scrape, that’s great,” says Jeff Weinstein, Medical Operations Supervisor at Global Rescue, “but if you have more serious situation, you really need to flesh out these kits. Determine how remote you are going and what the resources are around you. Then make your kit specifically for that trip.”
“Also determine what your training level is,” says Dave Keaveny, Medical Operations Specialist. “You don’t want to pack a first aid kit with a bunch of gear that you don’t know how to use.”
What should you include in a wilderness first aid kit? Here are five items the experts at Global Rescue recommend adding to a commercial first aid kit to turn it into a wilderness first aid kit.
“The injury that will kill you the soonest: bleeding out within minutes if you hit the right artery,” said Weinstein, a critical care paramedic with an Advanced Wilderness Life Support (AWLS) certification. “You should always have a commercially available tourniquet with you. Don’t buy the cheap ones. It needs to have some kind of support, some steel in there, called the windlass of the tourniquet.”
“Do not walk on a fractured extremity unless it is splinted. That is a really good way to turn a fracture into a life-threatening emergency,” Weinstein said. He recommends adding a SAM splint to a commercial first aid kit. “It rolls up, it’s in a nice little ball, you can unroll it, fold it in half and you don’t even know it is there.”
Adding a few common medications to your wilderness first aid kit might prevent a simple illness from ruining your trip to the wilderness. “In a remote place, traveler’s diarrhea or a really bad case of food poisoning can become an emergency,” Weinstein said. “Bring things like Ibuprofen to treat headaches and mild pains, Tylenol for fevers, Imodium and electrolyte packets. You don’t just need to drink water when you are dehydrated; you need to replace your electrolytes.”
Keaveny, an advanced wilderness EMT, recommends adding a navigation compass, a map — and the knowledge to use both. Weinstein agreed. “Everyone will have their own preferences. I prefer a military grade lensatic compass,” he said. The most important part is training with it and making sure you know how to use it.”
A Global Rescue Membership.
If you have an illness or injury in the wilderness and your wilderness first aid kit is not enough, help is just a phone call away for Global Rescue members. Learn more about Global Rescue’s travel protection service memberships by clicking here.
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