The 10 Essentials: First-Aid Supplies

While a comprehensive packing list depends on many factors, certain outdoor gear is considered essential whether you’re heading off on an extended backcountry bushwhack or exploring the trails in your local woods. As part of a weekly series, here's a look at outdoor essential number five:

#5. First-Aid Supplies

First-aid kits range from the basic, suitable to treating blisters and minor cuts on a day hike, to expedition-worthy kits geared toward extended travel and large groups. You can make your own or buy a pre-packaged one, but at a bare minimum you’ll want: bandages in various sizes, gauze pads, disinfectant, over-the-counter pain medication, blister treatment, and any prescription medications.

Any first aid kit is useless without the knowledge to use it. Consider taking a wilderness first aid course and periodically brush up on your skills. Even if you’ve already passed a course, a small first aid guide inside your kit will help you—and your trip partners—deal appropriately with medical emergencies.


  • Personalize your first aid kit to the individual medical needs of you and your party.
  • Include feminine hygiene supplies if your group includes women.
  • Include a pencil and paper.
  • Store all first-aid supplies in a waterproof container or pouch.

Have tips or suggestions for this essential? Share them with us.

Read the full "10 Essentials for Backcountry Travel" article in the Gear Guide.

Filed under: Gear News, Outdoor Skills


Bill S
4,404 reviewer rep
6,007 forum posts
May 26, 2008 at 9:24 p.m. (EDT)

I strongly second the recommendation of a wilderness first aid course. Take one from one of the 4 or 5 organizations that have been certified by the Wilderness Medicine Society (the main organization of MDs who specialize in wilderness medicine). I have taken most of my recerts (every 2-3 years) from Wilderness Medicine Institute (part of NOLS), but the other accredited groups are good as well. The ARC course is ok for a very basic introduction, but is not much beyond their Basic First Aid and CPR courses (with all due respect to some friends who are ARC WFA instructors). The accredited courses are minimum 20 hours with hands-on and extensive scenarios.

If you get more than an hour from the trailhead, you really need at least 2 people in your party who have WFA or better (WFR or WEMT). Reason for 2 is what if one of them is the victim.

I have seen everything in first aid kits from something that had only a few aspirin and bandaids (this on a month-long expedition, and he ended up borrowing blister stuff from the rest of us) to a virtually full ER crash cart with all sorts of prescription meds (on that trip, a day hike, we didn't use anything!). The Adventure Medical (Eric Weiss' company) and Atwater Carey (Buck Tilton's company) seem to be the best suited for ready-made kits that are tailored to actual backcountry excursions of the type I take. I had one of the Adventure Med ones for 3rd World countries in Africa, and ended up "lending" the sterile syringe sub-kit to a Brit who got an abscessed tooth and had to go to a local dentist in a rather unsanitary-looking shack - you aren't likely to need that in the US or Canadian backcountry.

This post has been locked and is not accepting new comments