Often on one of our outdoor first aid courses clients will ask me what should be packed in a first aid kit. The answer to this varies enormously to what you are doing and where. Here we look at the context of the individual who is traveling to a wilderness location where they may end being far from help who will need a first aid kit for overseas expeditions and treks.
So here we’re looking at the first aid kit for overseas for someone who knows a bit of first aid (and no more) who’s going trekking in a developing country. Before you start packing your kit ask yourself what are the risks, what might happen? In reality, on trek nothing much is likely to happen short of an upset stomach or maybe a blister or at worst a twisted ankle. The real hazard will often be getting to the road head in the first place.
As with all decisions in the outdoors you need to be making an informed decision. Your first aid kit can be as big as you want it to be but you won’t have the space and really do you want to be lugging loads of kit around when all you really need is stuff for cuts and bruises? In the worst case scenario you will be involved with a motor vehicle based accident on the drive to the road head. In this case, the sorts of life threatening injuries you might expect to see would be bleeding out from fractures (long bones, pelvis), head and neck injuries, and possible penetrating injuries. All of these are going to need some improvisation: ie pulling a fracture straight and then splinting with walking poles, and/or a roll mat; using the belt of a rucksack to stabilise a pelvic fracture; towels and tape to immobilise a suspected c-spine injury. As well as dedicated first aid kit clothing might be used to pack and put pressure on anything that is bleeding.
Pictured here is a suggested first aid kit for overseas for a small trekking team in a developing country. I have included some over-the-counter medications since these are likely to be the things you get through most of.
Nitrile gloves to help prevent cross contamination. Latex gloves are no longer acceptable since many people are allergic to these.
Savlon antiseptic gel
Managing the unconscious casualty:
An unconscious casualty needs to be placed in a safe airway position. The half roll mat provides great insulation from the ground in this situation.
Assorted waterproof plasters
Sterile adhesive dressings – with a non adhesive pad
Non-adhesive film backed dressings
A selection of steri-strips
2 x large sterile wound dressings
2 x medium sterile wound dressings
Damage / broken bones:
2 x crepe bandages – perfect compression for supporting soft tissue injuries
2m of gaffa tape wrapped around the water bottle
4 x triangular bandages – really versatile kit great for arm slings and tying splints in place
1 half roll mat – great splint for legs
Walking poles (not pictured) – perfect for splinting / improvising traction splints
Sitting mat and SAM splint – also great for versatile splinting
If you have the training, you might also consider taking prescription drugs for the sake of dealing with casualties at altitude or for the ill casualty that needs a course of antibiotics. For the sake of this article I have chosen to keep the useful medications listed as simple as possible. With all medications care must be taken not to overdose and to be sure that any medications don’t clash with any drugs you may already be on. Check also for potential allergic reactions.
Dioralyte – rehydration sachets. When your body gets dehydrated taking these electrolytes (taste revolting) will be a huge benefit to you, topping up your salt and sugar levels. One alternative is to drink sweet fizzy drinks whilst eating a packet of crisps – but never as good as these.
Strepsils, Sudafed, paracetamol – Following a long flight, landing in a different climate and walking along dusty trails you become amazing susceptible to viruses and throat infections. If I were to take only one of these it would be the paracetamol – an amazing drug great relief for viruses and fevers. Note – Sudafed and paracetamol must not be taken together since Sudafed (like many cold relief medications also contains paracetamol).
For sprains and strains I pack the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID ) Ibuprofen. For extra pain relief this can be taken simultaneously with the paracetamol. Overdose on Ibuprofen and you’re at risk of stomach ulcers – take care! One item not pictured, but carried, is aspirin. This is the treatment for the casualty suspected of a heart attack. It’s basic first aid but it might buy the casualty some time. Note – this is also a NSAID.
For insect bites, hayfever and allergies some anti-histamine is really valuable too.
Pulse-oximeter – brilliant bit of kit for trekking at altitude. This can give vital information that will help make the right decisions. They used to cost in the region of £500 – now for sale from around £20.
Thermometer – As a first aider you need to be able to measure the vital signs including temperature. With this and other information you’re better able to offer the right treatment.
For blistered feet both the compede blister plasters and the gaffa tape combined with the non-adhesive dressing will work. Also excellent is to have some Hydrocolloid dressings.
Casualty card plus pen/pencil
Cicerone Press – Pocket First Aid and Wilderness Medicine – this is the bible for wilderness first aid. It’ll help you in all situations from your mate who has the trots to the casualty with appendicitis. Never leave this at home!
You will see that I don’t carry a pre-packaged kit off the shop shelf. This is because I try and pack different kit for different trips – what I want is flexible, versatile and affordable. I tend to buy my kit online. A few online suppliers worth looking at are listed below:
There is plenty of kit you can carry, but unless you have a dedicated medical kit and a sherpa to carry it all (plus the know-how to use it) then actually an ability to improvise with basic walking/climbing kit and what you’re wearing will really be what you work with for the worst case scenarios.
Finally look at joining an outdoor first aid course to get the skills to make you a safer pair of hands.
Will Legon works professionally in the outdoors leading groups walking and instructing single pitch rock climbing. Since 2009 Will has been delivering first aid training specialising in expedition and outdoor first aid courses. He is an ITC (Immediate Temporary Care) trainer, offering a range of courses accredited by Ofqual and the SQA. In a former life, Will was a maths teacher and an infantry officer in the Territorial Army.