There’s really no better way to spend the summer than in the great outdoors, whether it’s hiking, backpacking or just camping out of your RV. If you’re planning on heading off the beaten path, or just spending a few nights outside, however, it’s a good idea to have a proper first aid kit should any emergencies (or even small injuries) arise.
A good First Aid Kit is an essential for any kind of outdoor activity. It should be simple and light enough to assemble easily and carry with you or fit nicely in a cabinet of your RV, but thorough and complete enough to cover any emergencies that might arise. An easy, quick solution might be to just purchase yourself a pre-made, ready-to-go kit from your local outdoor shop or sporting goods store. But sometimes it may be better to put your own kit together; this lets you decide what’s important for you to bring, and lets you restock the kit much cheaper than a pre-made kit would.
Everybody on the camping trip should know a few first aid basics, and obviously, the longer the trip and the more people in your group, the more to help you get started putting together your own kit, we’ve put together a short guide of some of the basic components of a good first aid kit.
Choosing a Container
The first thing you’re going to want to do is select a container. This could be something as simple as a plastic container or even plastic Ziplock bag, if you’re just trying to pack light. If you plan on doing more hardcore outdoor activities and plan on bringing your First Aid Kit with you often, you may want to invest in something a little more permanent and durable, such as a dedicated fabric bag or metal container. Larger, carry-alone bags may come with a shoulder strap or carry handles, which may be useful if you need a full-on kit. Smaller, more portable kit should fit easily into your bag. For camping, you are probably best off looking for something that is waterproof and sealable. A nylon clam shell with zipper is probably the best option for packing and durability, but less Ziplock bags work well, too.
Once you have identified a container that meets your needs, it is time to look at bandages. You’ll want to grab a few of each size and shape, to cover any kind of cut or scrape that may arise, and you may want to look at both plastic and fabric Band-Aids. Place the bandages inside a resealable plastic bag to keep them dry and fresh to go at all times.
Next, you’ll want to grab some gauze and tape. These are essential components of a first aid kit, and are used to address bleeding from cuts that are too large for a simple Band-Aid. You should look for cotton balls, gauze pads or rolls, and maybe some kind of pressure bandage. Get some clear medical tape to hold the gauze or pads in place, and look for waterproof tape, which will keep it from losing its adhesiveness and falling off should the dressing get wet. You can also look for elastic bandages (commonly known as Ace bandages), as well. If your container is not waterproof, you will probably want to place the gauze and tape into a waterproof plastic bag, as well.
Athletic tape, also known as kinetic or kinesio tape, is very useful for long hikes and active trips. It works great for covering blisters and preventing them arising in the first place, as well as taping ankles and supporting your muscles. Some moleskin might be useful for preventing and covering blisters, as well.
Before you dress a wound with bandages or tape, however, proper first aid dictates that you first clean and disinfect the area with an antiseptic to prevent infection. For small cuts and scrapes, some rubbing alcohol or antiseptic wipes are probably all that is needed. For a larger cut, however, you will want to thoroughly clean and disinfect with antiseptic or antibiotic ointment, such as Neosporin or Dettol.
Another option may be to use Hydrogen Peroxide, which is very effective at killing pathogens and cleaning wounds. A saline solution or eye wash is useful should you get anything in your eyes. A small syringe (60cc) will make cleaning wounds with water or antiseptic solution much more convenient.
A good burn ointment is another necessity for any first aid kit, especially if you’re relatively new at starting campfires. For mild burns, you may first want to soak the burn under cold water for 5 minutes. Do not use ice, which can be too cold and damage skin further. If skin is broken, you can use antibiotic ointment like Neosporin, but this is not necessary – a natural soothing gel such as petroleum jelly, aloe vera or Alocane, which contains aloe vera, should work just fine for mid burns. Avoid using things such as butter, oil or egg whites; these are natural remedies that go way back, but often only serve to irritate and dry out the skin, or trap heat in.
Pain Relief and Other Medicines
A pain reliever is a necessity for any first aid kit, as cuts, burns, mild sprains, and an assortment of aches and pains, are almost guaranteed on a long camping trip. A bottle of Aspirin, Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or Acetaminophen (Tylenol) can provide relief in a pinch. They are also great to keep around in case of a fever, cough or cold that might come up, and you can throw in some throat lozenges or cough drops as well. Keep a bottle of anti-diarrhea medicine, such as Imodium, on hand too.
You will want to include medications for allergy relief, such as Benadryl, Allegra or anti-histamines. If you or anybody in your party suffers from severe allergic reactions, epinephrine and an Epi-Pen are a good idea in case of an emergency.
Pro Tip: Packing rice in a plastic bag with your medications can prevent them from becoming ruined in the event they do get wet, as the rice will absorb moisture and humidity in the air.
Bringing sunscreen with you when heading outside should go without saying, and shouldn’t just be a part of your first aid kit: it’s important to wear sunscreen whenever you are heading into the sun for extended periods of time to prevent sunburn. With that said, it’s not a bad idea to keep a small bottle in your first aid kit in case something comes up. Wear at least SPF 15, but aim for SPF 30 and above. (You can get sunscreens that go up to SPF 50 or even SPF 100, but the amount of actual benefit derived diminishes after about SPF 30). Throw some sun-resistant lip balm in there, as well. Don’t forget to reapply the sunscreen regularly as it’s effectiveness wears off over time.
Tools and Accessories
You will want to include some basic tools for treating minor injuries, as well, such as pair of tweezers; a good pair of tweezers will be useful for removing splinters and bee stingers from your skin, but also for removing debris such as glass and dirt from an open wound, which could otherwise cause infection. (Always disinfect tweezers and other tools before and after using them for any purpose).
Your first aid kit should include a small magnifying glass, which makes it easier to see tiny splinters and small wounds. Scissors are useful for cutting bandages and gauze pads, while safety pins and duct tape may be necessary to hold them together at times. You can find many of these tools on a single multi-tool, such as a Leatherman, which can help free some space in your bag and simplify your first aid kit. (You will want to use a dedicated multi-tool, however, and keep it separate from your regular pocket-knife, to keep things clean and sanitary).
Plastic medical gloves are good idea as well, and can protect you while handling open wounds and unsanitary materials. Avoid latex gloves, to which many people are allergic, and pack a few pairs. Plastic gloves tend to degrade over time, so be sure to replace them periodically. Another accessory you may want to include is an emergency blanket. Emergency blankets have a reflecting surface, similar to aluminum foil, that reflects your body heat onto you, to keep you warm in an emergency and prevent hypothermia if you find yourself wet or under-dressed in severe weather. They fold up into small sizes that fit within your first aid kit.
A Few More Thoughts
This guide should help you assemble a complete first aid kit that covers most of the basics and is still thorough enough for most situations and injuries you might encounter while camping. If you are more familiar with first aid or trained in first aid techniques, you may be comfortable including some more advanced first aid equipment, but the components laid out in this guide should have you covered in the meantime.