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Discussing First Aid Kits on the trail.

Another thread drifted from fuel canisters to first aid kits, a topic which easily deserves a thread of its own.

Just about every list of necessary outdoor gear includes some sort of FAK, and many rady made kits are available from various sources.  Some are just an assortment of band aids, while others are more fully equipped.  What is appropriate for most of us.

My feeling is that the most important component in any FAK is the knowledge and skill of the person using the kit.  The various items within the kit are secondary.

This is because the first, and generally the most important phase in a medical emergency. is diagnosing and evaluating the situation.  Training,  and even better, experience, is critical here.  

Once the airway of the victim is assured, the environment is stable, and major bleeding halted, a careful examination can occur, and the various items in the kit can be deployed.  Critical actions often occur before you even open up your bag of goodies,

Today there are many courses and certifications available to those working or recreating outdoors, some highly specialized (also time consuming and expensive!), but a solid Red Cross FA course is probably adequate.  Many SAR organizations require more.

Training aside, there is the question of what goes into your FAK.  you will want some adhesive strips for the inevitable scratches.  A decent supply of sterile gauze dressings, along with tape (even duct tape will serve), elastic bandages (my fave), triangular bandages, personal meds, and possibly other items that might be specific to your activity.  Splints are often handy and desirable, but they can often be easily improvised from items at hand

It is worth mentioning that non FAK items might be more important that anything in the FAK.  Hypothermia?  Get the victim warm with a snuggling warm body and insulation.   The last first aid situation I was involved in was a heat exhaustion victim who needed fluids and assistance to get out - no FAK items were involved at all.  Also, there was a retired physician in the group who took charge, so we didn't have to depend on my rusty diagnostic skills.

What do others think about this subject?  How much is too much, and how much is enough?  Comments appreciated.

1 Reply

@hikermor What a great discussion topic!

Personally, I completely agree with what you said - the knowledge of the individual using the kit is more important than the components of the kit itself. That being said, having a well-stocked kit for your specific adventure (activity, number of people, distance into the wilderness, possible weather conditions, are all factors to consider) is important. However, it is even more important to know how to use everything in your FAK, and to have a solid knowledge of wilderness first aid. The reason I emphasize wilderness first aid as opposed to regular first aid is that dealing with injuries in the wilderness differs greatly from dealing with injuries in an urban setting (lack of access to immediate medical attention/advanced medical technology/hospital is one of the biggest differences). I strongly suggest that anyone who plans to engage in activities in a wilderness setting has some amount of training in wilderness first aid. Personally, I recommend the Wilderness First Aid training course offered by NOLS. I myself am Wilderness First Responder certified through NOLS (a more detailed and advanced certification to the Wilderness First Aid course). While this course isn't necessary for everyone per say, it provides you with in-depth practice and training that helps prepare you for a wide variety of scenarios you may (although hopefully never will) encounter in the wilderness. Moreover, these courses prepare you to not only use the items in your first aid kit, but all items that you have AND your surroundings in your treatment of injuries (making slings and splints out of clothing and other items you have in your pack, for example). One of the toughest decisions when dealing with injuries in the wilderness is to determine when/if to evacuate, and how rapidly the evacuation should take place. Having a Wilderness First Aid/First Responder training course under your belt can help provide you with important tools you can utilize to make such difficult decisions.

 

Moreover, another thing that I think many people miss is carrying a Medical Information Card with you when you are in the wilderness. This is a waterproof document (a paper in a ziploc is all you need) that includes the most important medical information about yourself. While this may seem silly, it can be extremely helpful to First Responders or other individuals who may encounter you in a state in which you are unable to properly communicate. This "important medical information" typically includes:

  • Name, age, biological sex
  • Known allergies
  • Current medications (including recreational drugs and alcohol)
  • Basic medical history/known medical conditions
  • A report of any noticed abnormal in's and out's (food/water consumption, bathroom excrement)
  • General trip plan (# of days, where you're coming from, where you're going)
  • Emergency contact

You typically want to carry this document on your person, not in your backpack. Some scenarios may result in you being separated from your gear, and you want this important information to be available wherever you end up. Most trips you will never have a use for this document (I hope), but it's always better to be safe than sorry!

 

As for items in the first aid kit, having the items that you mentioned is a great place to start. I always recommend also having sterile disposable gloves, athletic tape, trauma sheers, tweezers, nail clippers, a small blister kit, antibiotic ointment, burn cream, anti-itch cream, something gelatin-y and sweet (to consume), Tylenol, Ibeuprofin, Aspirin, Benadyrl (or another "instant" antihistamine), paper, and a pen if you plan to be spending more than a day in the wilderness/backcountry. With COVID going on, I would also recommend making sure to have a mask with you, in case you encounter other people (whether or not the encounter is medical related). People should also be sure to carry any medications that they carry on a daily basis. Personally I never carry splints unless I am in charge of a group of individuals and the organization requires me as a guide to carry such. This is mostly because they are bulky and I know that I can make a splint out of the items in my pack. If you are concerned, though, and can fit it, it's always better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it. (This is a good mentality to have for your First Aid Kits). Moreover, while many kits are sold, I tend to use a basic water proof kit that I then add to to fit my personal needs and desires. Regardless, ensuring that your First Aid Kit is waterproof is super important!

I look forward to hearing others' thoughts!

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