Do we really need to do a deep dive into this topic? I mean, all you really need is one of the many ready-made, nicely packed first-aid kits and you’re good to go, right? Well, what if there’s a real emergency? Hmm… good question. Well, the kits come with instructions, so I can just skim over those! Besides, emergencies are more hypothetical… something bad will never happen to me. Sounds familiar?
“I’ve got this all under control. Besides, I’m careful.”
As a very young outdoor enthusiast, these were my thoughts exactly (if I thought about it at all). In my opinion, first-aid kits were always optional. But my tune definitely changed when I experienced four emergency situations within just a few years where a first-aid kit was used – once even on myself. After that, I was pretty much convinced of the importance of having a first-aid kit.
Better to have too much than too little
I also learned that it’s always better to have too much rather than too little with you. It was my own experience that had taught me this very important lesson. When I got hurt, a paramedic, who just happened to be nearby, stuffed several rolls of bandages in a wound in my shin to stop the bleeding before wrapping the whole thing up in another bandage and (unfortunately for me) pressing on it. If it wasn’t for the paramedic and his creative use of the extra wound dressings, the wound surely would’ve become infected within an hour and a half, if untreated. I’ll tell you one thing: the few grams of additional weight for extra dressings are definitely worth it!
I also learned another lesson: you should NEVER rely on your mobile phone to get fast or even immediate assistance. Even today, in the world of smartphones, there are plenty of places in the mountains and elsewhere in the great outdoors where there is no reception.
If someone is injured where there is no service and that individual is alone and unable to move, the only option is to send an alpine distress signal. This consists of six acoustic and/or optical distress signals per minute. The six signals are generated for one minute, followed by a one-minute pause, which is then followed by another six signals for a duration of one minute. The reply is given with three successive signals per minute.
Flares could be useful in such a situation as well, even in alpine areas that are not remote or lonely. Why? Because even the more frequented massifs have routes that are tough to find and have areas that are well hidden and out of sight. In the event of an accident, the loud flare can be the decisive factor in rescuers finding you.
When is a first-aid kit mandatory?
Now, I even have a first-aid kit in my pack on easy hikes and for climbing trips – it’s basically a permanent fixture in the lid pocket of my pack.
Speaking of climbing: Surprisingly, not having a first-aid kit when sport climbing seems to be the norm, even though the risk of injury is by no means less than it is while hill walking or during alpine adventures. This may be due to the fact that a lot of people rely on others having a kit with them in case of an emergency.
But, if we’re being honest here and you really wanted to be on the safe side, you’d also carry one with you when cycling through the city. True, that may be a bit over the top, but it’s really up to you. If you want to have a first-aid kit on you at all times, even for your “smaller” adventures, more power to you!
After all, I couldn’t think of a valid argument against taking one along, not even an argument that pertains to weight. Most items in a first-aid kit weigh so little that most people would hardly notice the difference anyway.
If you’re embarking on “proper” mountaineering and climbing adventures that span one or multiple days, taking a first-aid kit is essential. No first-aid kit = negligent and stupid. Now, let’s have a closer look at the contents of first-aid kits.
The contents of your first-aid kit
Most of the things listed below are already included in the smaller basic sets. The somewhat larger sets, on the other hand, often contain a lot of additional material for treating wounds that you may not need for less ambitious adventures. Still, other things (especially medication) will have to be increased.
That being said, it is usually advisable to customise the set according to your personal needs and add the finishing touches with some purchases from the chemist’s or drugstore. Some items are also available in the Alpinetrek shop – in addition to several first-aid kits for different needs and travel types.
The scope of the kit
There is a simple rule for determining the scope of your kit: the longer, more remote and risky/dangerous the journey is, the more extensive your first-aid kit should be. The exact contents depend heavily on your destination. In the following list, we’re referring to equipment needed for hill walking, hiking and alpine walking. If you’re planning adventures in far-away jungles, deserts and other exotic destinations, you’ll require a different set of items. The same applies to family outings where you probably wouldn’t expect large wounds, but things more along the lines of allergic reactions or minor burns.
List of our must-haves for your first-aid kit:
- Scissors: it should be sharp but not pointy, because you may have to act fast. If you wish, you can use the scissors on a pocket knife or nail scissors as well. But, keep in mind that they are not sterile.
- Tweezers: tweezers are great for removing splinters, among other things. When walking through forest, bushes and undergrowth, you should also take a tick removal tool with you.
- Emergency blanket: to shield yourself from the cold or UV radiation while waiting for rescue.
- Emergency whistle: for the alpine distress signal.
- Assortment of plasters (quick wound dressing): these should be sorted and packed in at least two different sizes.
- Moleskins for blister treatment and prevention: for shorter trips, 2-3 should be plenty. For longer trips, add 2-3 more.
- Sterile wound dressings/compresses: for shorter trips, 2-3 wound dressings should be sufficient to take care of larger wounds/injuries. For more ambitious adventures, you should pack 2-3 more.
- Tape: 1 roll of tape is perfect! Tape is indispensable! Why? Well, you can even use it to make emergency repairs to outdoor equipment.
- Field dressings: for less ambitious trips, you should have 1 large and 1 small field dressing (consisting of a pad of dressing with a bandage attached to the dressing pad). For longer trips, 2 additional elastic bandage rolls (self-adhesive, if possible, for easy application and to provide better support for sprained ankles, for example) should be placed in the first-aid kit as well.
- Triangular bandage: for your easy outings, 1 triangular bandage will be sufficient to stabilise joints and bones in the event of a fracture. For longer trips, you’ll want to include an additional dressing measuring 40 x 60 cm for injuries covering a larger area
- Disposable gloves: and/or 2-3 wipes.
- Wound disinfectant: (for example: hydrogen peroxide, rubbing alcohol or iodine)
- Coolant: (Voltaren, Biofreeze, and similar products)
- Painkillers: (paracetamol, ibuprofen (also works for high-altitude headaches))
Extras for big adventures in remote areas:
- Skin closure/Wound closure strips: for closing small wounds that must be treated without a needle and thread. If the wound is larger, the tissue will roll upwards at the edges of the wound to prevent blood loss, so the strips can only hold the skin together, if at all, immediately following an injury.
- SAM splint: for immobilising bone injuries. We recommend a soft aluminium splint because it can be bent in almost every direction.
- Thermometer: this should be very durable so that it doesn’t break along the way.
- Charcoal tablets: will come in useful when… you know… Montezuma’s revenge. And that can happen faster than you think when you’re eating foreign foods.
- Water purifier: helps you avoid the previous problem. The tablets or drops also fit nicely into a first-aid kit.
For week-long treks or expeditions, Bergsteiger-Magazin (a German magazin) recommends using additional pockets as a variable storage option. There you can store “various medications, hydration powders, wound cleansers (Care Plus), etc...”
- Burn and wound ointment
- Medication to combat altitude sickness
- Your personal medication, such as antihistamines for allergies
At first glance, the list may seem like too much to handle, but I assure you, once you get it all packed up, it shouldn’t weigh any more than 500 grams. And for comparison: the largest sets designed for several injured people, which include things such as a respiratory mask, lip balm and blood lancets, weigh around 850 grams.
First-aid kits for larger groups
The essentials just described are generally sufficient for smaller groups of up to 4 people. Even though an accident often “only” happens to one member of a group, you never know. Several members could get hit by rock fall or the entire rope team could fall, injuring multiple people at once.
In most cases, the first-aid kit will still be in reach, even if the person carrying it is a victim as well. Of course, it’d be too risky to depend on it being reachable, though. That’s why we recommend the following for groups: the more first-aid kits, the better. And don’t just have one person carry one massive kit. Have several people carrying smaller sets.
Last but not least: The first-aid bag
In addition to the contents, you should also think about the bag your first-aid essentials are in. The downside to small sets is that the contents are often “stuffed” into a bag that you’re forced to rummage through in the event of an emergency. Fortunately, most outdoor first-aid bags have been designed very carefully with the outdoors in mind. They are made of robust nylon and open like a mini suitcase thanks to the circumferential zip. The best bags can be opened several times, have transparent inner pockets and compartments and are well organised. Many sets can also be attached to the outside of your backpack or harness, making them easy to see and access.
We hope this little overview has demonstrated just how essential a first-aid kit is for outdoor adventures. Before you head out without it because of weight or whatever, consider ditching some other outdoor gadget instead. You may have the “burden” of a few extra grams on your back, but you can venture the outdoors with confidence, knowing that you have the wherewithal to act in the event of an emergency. Still, we hope that you’ll never need the first-aid kit for any serious injuries!
If you have any questions, please feel free to leave them in the comments.