First aid kit

A first-aid kit is one of the Ten Essentials of outdoor exploration and a must for home disaster preparedness. Always carry first-aid supplies, however basic, for any adventure, short or long.

You can build your own kit or carry one that has been pre-assembled.

Shop REI's selection of first-aid kits and supplies.

Pre-assembled Kits

Most outdoor enthusiasts select pre-assembled first-aid kits as a matter of convenience. It's an easy way to make sure you have not forgotten any of the basics. Per a study by the NOLS Wilderness Medicine Institute, it’s also a bit more economical than building a kit piecemeal.

Most kits are packed in compact, water-resistant pouches that can be refilled.

What size kit? Consider the following:

  • Group size. Kit-makers usually estimate the number of people a kit is expected to accommodate. Your results, of course, may vary.
  • Trip length/distance. Same thing; you’ll usually find an estimated number of days in a first-aid kit’s product description.
  • Specific risks. Example: If you’re doing some bushwhacking, it might be wise to carry extra bandages and ointments for a higher-than-usual total of scrapes and body dings.
  • Special needs. Does anyone in your group have specific medical issues? Avoid surprises and make sure your kit is equipped to address that person’s needs. Example: Got allergies? Make sure you bring appropriate medications.

Do-It-Yourself Kits

Home-assembled kits should include:


Carry a quick-reference guide that explains how to administer basic first aid, maybe a small booklet such as Emergency Survival: A Pocket Guide or a smartphone app. Example: the American Red Cross app (free for both iOS and Android). Other first-aid app options are listed in this 2013 Mashable roundup.


Bandages: Assorted adhesive bandages, athletic tape and blister treatments (such as moleskin).

Medication and ointments/lotions: Ibuprofen, antibiotic ointments, antacid tablets, sunscreen and prescription medicines.

Basic tools: Tweezers, a small mirror, razor blade or knife.

Miscellaneous items: Bee-sting kit, tick remover, antiseptic towelettes, burn dressing.

Trip-specific Extras

For long or challenging trips, include a larger selection of items such as:

Additional bandages: Gauze pads, ACE bandages and butterfly bandages.

Additional drugs/lotions: Ointments for relief of skin irritations (such as Tecnu or Caladryl).

Additional tools: Sling, basic splint, forceps, instant ice pack and thermometer.

First-Aid Checklist

The REI Expert Advice library offers a first-aid checklist that includes recommendations from Stanford University's Dr. Paul Auerbach, editor of Wilderness Medicine, a 2,300-page textbook widely regarded as the seminal reference book on the topic.

One preparation strategy: Use 2 kits. Bring a small stash of basics that you tote everywhere, and keep a larger, more substantial kit at your basecamp or in your vehicle. The concept: You’re immediately equipped to handle small issues (small kit), and you have reasonably close access to a deeper, wider assortment of supplies (large kit at basecamp).

Learn Basic First Aid

It’s smart to know basic wilderness first aid before you leave home. In collaboration with the NOLS Wilderness Medicine Institute, the REI Outdoor School offers wilderness medicine courses in many REI markets.

Learn more in books on wilderness medicine and emergency responsiveness.

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