Being Prepared – First Aid Kits and other emergency supplies

If you’re anything like me you like to be prepared.  Chances are you have the basics covered.  You have a small first aid kit and a fire extinguisher.  You have a knife or a pocket tool on hand.  You’ve even taken a CPR and First Aid class a time or two.  If you’re also like me, your kit is probably a little neglected, skills are a little rusty, and they could both use a little refresher.

Last time I mentioned how a first-aid kit should be at the top of your list.
Let’s take that a step further and continue the conversation.

In this post I’m going to go through a very basic risk assessment process.  I’m going to look at my current first aid kits as well as my other emergency supplies and make sure they are ready.  I’m also going to share some of the resources I use to brush up on my skills.

Over the years my skills have evolved from a young inexperienced teenager taking First Aid Merit Badge at Boy Scout Camp for the first time to tackling a S.O.L.O. Wilderness First Responder certification.  I’ve held various certifications from the Red Cross both as a practitioner and as an instructor.  I’ve not only acquired a wide set of skills I’ve also taught them.  I don’t say this to brag, I just say this to let you know this is something I take very seriously.  Oh, and my mother’s a life-long nurse and my father’s a life-long fire fighter.  My bother even has a few skills in this area.  Needless to say, as a family we’re almost always prepared.

A well written resource whether you’re a Boy Scout or not.
Very good introduction level book for someone with no prior first air training.

First piece of the puzzle is for a basic Red Cross First Aid and CPR certification

Building on your basic first aid skills, a wilderness first aid course is more focused to the outdoors.
Most like a WFA course will require basic first-aid and CPR as a prerequisite

Before talking about a kit and what should or should not go in it let’s first talk about risk assessment.  Risk assessment is that honest look at a situation from that “worst case scenario” perspective.  This is when you ask Murphy what can and will go wrong.  Most risk assessment is experientially driven (remember that Kolb guy I mentioned… he’s back).  Something goes wrong, you look back at how you handled it, you figure out how to either prevent it or at least handle it better, and then you head back out and hope for the best.  Risk assessment should never end.  It should ideally become second nature.

Having spent ten years in outdoor education and more than that in the 4×4 world I’ve amassed a wide range of experiences as well as some second hand stories of incidents friends and colleagues have experienced.  I will rank my “Top 5” things on my risk assessment scale in terms of frequency of occurrence:

  1. Cuts, scrapes, abrasions: The most common thing I’ve dealt with is a result of the outdoors being a rough and dirty place.  Everything from bloody knuckles to skinned knees and even the occasional slip of a blade.  A simple cut in the outdoors can become infected very easily if not taken care of quickly and properly.
  2. Sprains, strains, and other joint issues: I’m a klutz. I have degenerative tendentious in all my joints and it’s not uncommon for me to roll an ankle, aggravate my knees, or jar one of my shoulders.  Chances are if you ever see me I’m wearing knee braces and over-the-ankle boots.  I’ve also had to resort to a wrist brace on my left arm on long drives.  The ability to support and immobilize a joint if needed is crucial.  This is compounded exponentially the more remote you are and even more so the further away from your 4×4 you are.
  3. Burns: The most common will be simple sunburns.  As a ginger I bath in sunscreen and aloe for half the year. On the 2015 No Highways Tour I went through and entire bottle of spray sport sunscreen for my left arm alone — and that’s just while I was driving.  While uncommon, it’s not unheard of to get burned while working on a 4×4 or while cooking.  Again, simple burns can become easily infected if not cared for quickly and properly.
  4. Blood Sugar: Just because you’re not diabetic doesn’t mean you won’t experience blood sugar issues when out in the wilderness.  When we’re overlanding our diets change, our eating habits change, our sleeping habits change, our exercise habits change, and our drinking habits change.  All of these impact our metabolism.  I had a very bad experience not accounting for this when I went for a hike and neglected to factor in my less-than-steller breakfast on top of a not-so-great night’s sleep.  Obviously I survived, but I’d rather not experience that kind of pain again if I can help it.
  5. Dehydration: To be honest this should be #1, but I saved it for last for a reason.  The number one killer in the wilderness is dehydration.  People drastically underestimate how much water they need to have with them and drastically under consume water when out adventuring.  This is doubly true of overlanders who spend a lot of time sitting while they drive and have access to coolers full of a wide range of tasty beverages.  Alcohol and caffeine are diuretics which can cause you to become dehydrated very quickly.  That’s not to say you can’t have you cup of coffee in the morning or a tasty adult beverage around the campfire.  You just have to know, and be honest with yourself, that for every non-water drink you consume you need to consume an equal amount of water on top of the gallon of water you should be drinking that day.  Dehydration can cause some funky things to happen with the brain and has been known to affect decision making skills.  There are stories of dehydrated people passing out next to streams because they were too far gone to realize they could drink the water not more than feet from them.
Now, “what about things like broken bones?” You ask.  They do happen.  I’ve seen them happen, but to be honest they’re rare.  I’m not saying don’t prepare for them, you should.  However the bulk of your issues will most likely be with the “Top 5” I’ve listed above.  Dealing with those will also make up the bulk of your kit.  Having splints and stuff for immobilizing broken bones will be a part of a good kit, and a good skills base, but we’ll start with the above and work toward that.

This belt pouch is a good basic kit that is easily carried in a vehicle or backpack
The contents of this kit include:

(1) 1/2 oz. Betadine Solution
(1) 1/2″ X 5 yds. Adhesive Tape
(1) 3″ X 5 yds. Elastic Bandage with clips
(1) 3″ X 4.1 yds. Sterile Rolled Gauze Bandage
(1) 4″ X 4.1 yds. Sterile Rolled Gauze Banage
(1) 4.5″ Plastic Forcep
(1) 8″ X 10″ Sterile ABD Pad
(2) Wound Seal Stop Bleeding Powder Intro Packs
(1) Bloodblocker Compress
(1) First Aid Guide with CPR and AED Guidelines
(1) Laerdal CPR Face Shield
(1) Pair Sterile Eye Pads
(1) Para Medic Shears 5.5″
(1) Triangle Bandage with pins
(10) .5 gram Triple Antibiotic Ointment
(10) .9 gram Hydrocortisone Cream
(10) 1/8th oz. Hand Sanitizer Gel
(10) Acetaminophen Tablets, 2 per pack
(10) Aspirin Tablets, 2 per pack
(10) Ibuprofen Tablets, 2 per pack
(10) Antiseptic Wipes
(16) 1″ X 3″ Heavy Duty Woven Adhesive Strip Bandages
(5) 2″ X 3″ Heavy Duty Woven Adhesive Patch Bandages
(5) Heavy Duty Woven Knuckle Banages
(5) Heavy Duty Large Fingertip Bandages
(2) 5″ X 9″ Sterile ABD Pads
(2) Large Instant Ice Packs
(2) Pair Nitrile Exam Gloves
(4) 4″ X 4″ Sterile Gauze Sponge 2 per pack
(4) Sooth-A-Sting Swabs
(6) Pain Relieving Burn Gel, 18th oz.

Available at

Two other sources for wilderness first aid kits are Wilderness Medical Systems and Adventure Medical Kits.  While both companies provide great comprehensive kits, there is a bit of a premium given the nature of the kit.  However both companies to offer restock kits which makes it nice to replace aged out things like over-the-counter medicines and things like burn cream.  As time, training, and experience progress you’ll find yourself custom tailoring your kit to best suit your needs.

In terms of skills, having professional training is a must.  As I mentioned above, if you’re new to this kind of thing start with the basic Red Cross First Aid and CPR courses.  They are easy entry level courses and a great way to get your feet wet.  You should not, nor can you in most cases, jump right into a specialized Wilderness First Aid course without any prior knowledge.  In many cases classes like that require a basic understanding of first aid skills as well as valid certifications in many cases.  Also the more advanced classes like WFR and EMT level classes are far beyond what the average overlander needs.  Starting with a Basic First Aid class and then working up to a Wilderness First Aid class is the way to go and then recert as needed.  The best part is these classes will go over risk assessment and what to put in your kit.


Disclaimer: ECOA is not associated with any medical organization nor is any certification in first aid training granted nor implied through this article.  This article is merely an op/ed piece written to encourage readers to seek out formal first aid training from a certified trainer through a sponsored organization.  There is also no endorsement expressed or implied between any organizations or business mentioned in this article and ECOA.  Any organization, company, or product named used in this article is only used as an examples from the author’s personal experience.