First Aid Kits For The Outdoor Family by Gary Benton
Often, when I speak to groups, at schools, or with friends on the subject of survival, the most frequent question I get is “what do you eat in the woods,” followed closely by, “what if someone gets sick or hurt, then what can you do out there?” Well, the first question is easy to answer. I eat what I can find, trap, or brought with me, otherwise I go hungry. The second question is more difficult to answer; it’s not so cut and dry, because of many variables involved with injuries and illnesses. There isn’t a normal sized First Aid Kit made that is capable of handling any and all emergencies that can come up in the field. You have to be very selective about the kit you do have. Remember, you can experience anything from a heart attack to a broken back, but most of the injuries you treat will be burns, scrapes, punctures and cuts. So, doesn’t it make sense to have a First Aid Kit that will handle the most common injuries?
When you choose a First Aid Kit, keep in mind that you wont be using it at home, but in the field. Unlike a controlled and safer environment, like your home, in the woods you may have severe weather conditions, darkness, poor hygiene, and the list goes on. If you are in a survival situation you may also have a lack of food, deep psychological concerns such as fatigue, anxiety, fear, paranoid thoughts, and a basic want and need for additional medical supplies.
There are two options when it comes to a First Aid Kit for you and your family. You can buy a ready-made kit, or you can make one. First, let’s look at commercial First Aid Kits, and evaluate their strengths, and weaknesses from a field use viewpoint.
Commercial kits are easy to obtain, they can be purchased in almost any sporting goods section of larger department stores, and they come in various sizes and price ranges. It’s been my experience with most commercial First Aid Kits that you don’t always get what you pay for. Most kits contain only one or two of each item, such as over the counter painkillers, various bandages, gauze, band-aids, and so on. Now, if your trip into Mother Nature’s backyard is only over night, this kit may work just fine, but for longer stays, and with a normal sized family, it usually won’t do the job. One of the biggest drawbacks with a commercial First Aid Kit is the small and generally inadequate instruction manual or pamphlet that comes in every kit. The writing is usually very small print, which means us older people may have problems reading the fine print, and even those with perfect eyes may have problems reading it, especially in less than adequate light. So, what are your options? I say make your own First Aid Kit so you will not only know what is in the kit but how to use the contents. Items you cannot use safely and with complete confidence are not only useless but also potentially dangerous.
Never, take a First Aid Kit into the field without knowing the contents of your kit before the trip.
If you can do so avoid military surplus medical kits unless you are very familiar with first aid components. Many surplus kits may be years old, twenty years or more, and the contents may not only be obsolete they may have expired. Most military First Aid Kits are designed for particular areas of the world, desert, jungle, arctic, etc., and aren’t very good for general use. Surplus kits may have components you don’t need or even know how to use properly, such as a tourniquet or snakebite kit. These are usually found in older military First Aid Kits. I usually buy military First Aid Kits just to use the container, usually rigid and very tough, just to pack my own components in. While the low price of surplus kits may tempt you to purchase one, buyers beware!
I won’t address all of the individual contents of a First Aid Kit, you can find thousands of those online or in most good first aid books, but make sure the contents are what you will need for your trip. Instead, let’s discuss a few questions you should ask yourself before you start building a kit.
Who will carry the kit or where will it be stored? It is important for you to determine this in advance. First Aid Kits carried in the car are not the same type of kit usually carried in the field. While car First Aid Kits can be used in the field, they are usually too big, heavy, and bulky to carry backpacking, hiking, fishing, or hunting. If you are camping near your car, like you might do in a designated public camping spot, then use the car kit. But, if you are away from your vehicle, I suggest the group leader carry the primary group First Aid Kit, and each individual carry a small kit for personal use. This personal kit should contain a few band-aids, disinfectants, gauze pads, soap, and so on for very minor scratches, cuts, and other minor injuries.
Who is going to use the primary first aid kit? I suggest the most qualified, training and skill level considered, individual of your group use the kit. The most qualified person may be a prior military person or someone who has regular first aid training as part of their job requirements. Now, most of us are not qualified to do much beyond administering basic first aid treatment. If at all possible make sure the person you designate as the kit user has a history of some formal training. Nothing is more traumatic to a victim, especially for some reason if they are bleeding, than seeing the person administering first aid reading from a first aid manual, going into an anxiety attack, or demonstrating in some small way they are unsure of their next step. If the person giving aid is calm, cool, appears to be knowledgeable, then the victim tends to relax more. Know your first aid before you need it because on the job training in first aid is frowned upon by most victims.
Where are you going in the field? As stated above, your First Aid Kit for the car will work if you’re staying near the vehicle, but when you move out into the bush you need a different type of kit. Additionally, depending on the type of country you are going into you may have to modify your First Aid Kit a little as well. For instance, if you’re going backpacking on a designated hiking trail the most common injuries are scrapes, sprains, and minor cuts from falls. Then again, if you are going camping in an extremely remote location you should be prepared for general camping injuries such as puncture wounds, cuts, and minor burns. Each new location, time of year or weather conditions may require you to repack or reorganize your First Aid Kit. If you attempt to prepare for every type of injury and all conditions, your kit will be huge and too heavy to carry.
Who is the first aid kit for? This may seem like a silly suggestion but actually it is very important. Some of the things to consider at this point are… will there be children along on the trip, elderly, persons on mediation, or those with special medical or physical needs? If so, make sure your First Aid Kit is packed to assist them if they become injured. I also suggest if young children are along, you add a very small stuffed animal to the First Aid Kit, or carry it in your backpack, along with a few special treats such as suckers or hard candy for those who are “brave” when they are treated. A small cuddly animal to hold, will give the child a better sense of calmness in most cases as you clean a scraped knee or remove a splinter from a finger.
How long does the kit have to last in the field? If you are only going over night the First Aid Kit can be a fairly small one. For trips over a day, I suggest you make sure you have plenty of the most commonly used items. I would bring additional over the counter pain killers, Band-Aids, additional medical tape, a larger container of disinfectant, good triple strength antibiotic cream, and some other items depending on where you are going, how long you will be staying, and what you will be doing on the trip. Common sense tells us that a small kit with limited quantities won’t be enough for longer trips so plan ahead. I won’t get into all the components of a good First Aid Kit, there are many lists available online from better-qualified sources than me. I use only those lists from the American Medical Association, the Canadian Red Cross, the United States Air Force or just about any North American University Medical Center. While some individual sites may have good solid information, gather your medical facts from a dependable medical or government site.
Weight and size of the kit. This consideration is critical, especially when you may be carrying the kit for long distances. Small individual First Aid Kits, great in the event one of your members gets lost or separated from the main group, can fit into a fanny pack or be worn on a belt but larger group kits take space and add weight. I suggest the strongest member of the group be the one to carry the additional weight, ideally this would be the same person who has been designated to use the first aid kit. As I said earlier, I like having one person carry the kit so you always know where it is. I have been with groups that took turns carrying the First Aid Kit and in the event of an emergency many long minutes might have been lost before someone remembered who had the kit. Keep your kit as small and lightweight as you can while still having it contain the needed components. Often items in the kit can be removed from cardboard containers, plastic boxes or bottles or other rigid packaging and placed in softer and lighter containers. If the First Aid Kit is packed in a backpack, place it on top within easy reach! You don’t want to waste time searching for a kit while your patient loses blood or goes into shock from an injury.
Finally, what type of first aid book should you have in your first aid kit? I suggest you purchase a good quality first aid book prepared by a competent medical authority such as a doctor, hospital, University Medical Team, the American or Canadian Red Cross, or other reliable organization that specializes in the treatment of first aid. Keep in mind while there may be tons of first aid books on the market, not many of them are actually geared toward first aid in the woods. Be selective in your search. If you are inclined to purchase military survival books or first aid books, remember some of them may be surplus and thus the procedures may not be up to date as some of the information may be well over twenty years old. Regardless of what publication you purchase, they cannot and will not have all the answers for every situation.
First aid training is available in most cities and towns. I suggest everyone who ventures out of doors take at least a basic first aid course. While huge First Aid Kits, excellently written first aid books, and the best components money can buy may make your treatment efforts easier, nothing can replace good old fashion training. You can read all you want about arterial bleeding or broken bones but only after you are forced to actually treat the injury will you see the difference between knowing what should be done and actually applying the concept. No book or First Aid Kit on the market will ever be able to replace quality hands on training, good solid judgment, and the added knowledge that is gained by learning the needed skills and experience in the field.
Take care, stay safe, and perhaps I’ll see you and your family on the trails of America.