First Aid Kit- what do you carry?

Frank had a bit of a spill off a bicycle last night and caused some damage to a few spots on his aging body. It was nothing too serious , just hit the front brakes too hard and did a cartwheel on a gravel road at low speed.

It reminded him of the time, several years ago, when he slipped off the side of another gravelly track up in the Australian Alps (near the Cross Cut Saw) The damage was a bit more severe that time but we were in the middle of the trip, two days from “civilisation”, so just kept “walking” (let’s say hobbling)

Laceration and grazing - Alpine National Park - Victoria

Laceration and grazing - Alpine National Park - Victoria

It got us thinking about what is the best first aid kit for hiking and what you, our learned readers,  carry as a first aid kit?

As background, Frank has a bit of professional experience in health care BUT NOT as a first aid or communicable diseases expert so his opinions are personal only and not from a strong emergency medicine background….

We reckon the key to providing first aid in the outdoors is thinking laterally and using what you have available i.e. improvise. If the injury is minor you will walk out and survive, if it is major like a fracture, bad wound, snakebite etc you will be staying put until rescued.

So what we do carry as our first aid kit?

Pressure bandages x 2 – 6” or 15cm wide – Uses: snake bite/sprains/ a sling if necessary/immobilising a fracture i.e. multipurpose

Bandaids – 6 – 8 – the good wide ones that stick well

Leucoplast or other heavy tape – used for blisters, larger dressing, hotspots, repairs – We always heat the adhesive side with the flame to make it stickier before applying it.

Non stick dressing – large – 1-2 (can be cut up for into smaller bits or used once – if you need the large one you should just bandage it on and not open the wound till you get to hospital!)

Panadol – one strip (mainly used for hangover after cut out drinks at end of walk)

Swiss Army Knife – or any multi tool with scissors etc

Other observations:

  • We don’t get too stressed about using sterile gear – it becomes un-sterile the minute you use it.  In addition,  the probability of the dressing contaminated (because of holes and damage to the packaging and therefore rendering it un-sterile) is so high it is not worth worrying about. Just compromise and think clean rather than sterile.
  • Rescus Aid – if someone stops breathing and you have to do CPR go for it without one of these. The probability of getting disease is minimal, besides, the patient will either be resuscitated in a couple of minutes or they are stuffed i.e. dead. You won’t be able to keep up CPR for long before becoming exhausted (and ineffective) You will then just be trying to resuscitate a cadaver.
  • Saline Solution – OK for a quick rinse, but the 30ml sachels  are not enough if you want to clean a contaminated wound really well. It might be better carrying 30gms of salt and making your own. Saline solution is 0.9% salt in water, so roughly 1gm of salt makes up 100mls of “Normal Saline” – (it’s a lot cheaper too and works the same unless you plan on putting in an IV)
  • Eye pad – cut up the non stick dressing and use it instead
  • Skin closure strips – maybe – they have to be applied under really optimum conditions to stick properly. On the lacerations in the pictures above, we tried them and they fell off within 10 minutes.  You can just cut up leucoplast into strips, re approximate the wound and then apply the dressing and bandage, it will do the same job.
  • Suture material (needle and monofilament threat) – maybe but do you know how to use it? Once home the wound will still have to be opened, cleaned and re-stitched.  The thought of a mate sewing me up without anaesthetic is not pleasant! 
  • Scissors, forceps, splinter needle – use the Swiss Army knife

For most injuries that happen when you are in the bush, you will have two options:

  • Walk out – if the injury is minor you can walk out slowly and get treated properly in “civilisation”
  • Stay put – (fractures, large cuts or lacerations) – the best thing is to stay put, use what you have as a temporary solution e.g. toilet paper as a wound reinforcement over your non stick dressing, clothing as a sling or to immobilise a fracture in a temporary splint. In these cases a PLB may be the answer rather than a heavy first aid kit.

What we take as a kit is very minimal. There is are many different opinions and  Bushwalk Tasmania  have a great thread on the topic.  There are several excellent lists for those of you who are a bit more cautious.

Over to you now!

What do you take in your first aid kit?

Have you ever had a bad accident or had to use your kit for a serious injury?

What is the worst injury you have treated on the track?

What do you think of our first aid kit? Too little, too much?


  1. Georgie says

    We take a ‘Remote Area kit’ with us, it has good stuff like sling bandages you don’t normally get in urban first aid kits. We also take cans of spray-on bandage – for the blisterers among us – it is great for either covering the skin bag, or the bare skin if the bag has rubbed off. And we take anti-inflammatories, for those with sore knees at the end of the day.

    Wounds heal from the inside out, so it is important to get the bottom of the wound washed/cleaned out, ie wash out bits of leaf, twigs, stones, etc. Then best to just cover it so nothing else gets in and let it do its own thing. If there is a lot of swelling, best to leave the wound openish so it can drain naturally.

    I am with you, Frank, don’t fancy being stitched up when I am conscious, I think I would rather the wound be left as is and put up with a scar later on!! Good tip for scars, gently rub with the pad of thumb in a circular motion after the wound has healed but while scar tissue is still that angry red. Red means there is still extra blood diverted to the area, and so scar tissue can be reduced and scar made smaller. Once the scar has turned white, you can’t make it smaller. So, keep the scar red as long as you can by aggravating it with multiple thumb massage – months longer is good.

    PS. The hands of a group of K2 climbers who suffered severe frost bite didn’t get covered before the flies got in and laid their eggs. After a few days trip to medical help, the bandages came off to reveal fingers crawling with maggots. Drs were VERY happy, as the aforementioned maggots had eaten all the necrotic frost bitten tissue, leaving the remaining flesh on the fingers healthy and alive. The whole fingers were saved, ie not amputated as is usual because of gangrenous necrosis. Nice thought, hey. G

    • Frank says

      Good one Georgie,
      Love the maggot story – I THINK they might use them here in Geelong . I know they definitely use leeches for plastic surgery. They suck out any blood and swelling, work a treat.

      Great advice on preventing scarring, rub a dub!

      I forgot to add anti inflams (but I suppose it is not strictly first aid , rather pain aid….)

  2. Gwynneth Beasley says

    I like to carry some sort of antihistamine and a shitload of chocolate – bushwalking with kids should explain it all!

  3. SCOTT says

    i think what you have chosen is more than adaquite ,its seems to be a good over all combo . any more would be over kill , snake bites ?

    • Frank says

      Hi Scott,
      We take the pressure bandages for Snake bites (PLUS wear gaiters, walk carefully and always keep an eye out!)

      My mate reckons if they get you in / near a big vessel you are gone pretty quickly no matter what you do!

    • Frank says

      Lol, I didn’t but I will wash your mouth out with soapy water! (as my mother used to say but never tried)

  4. Alan Holzman says

    Love the maggots! Whatever you choose to carry it is important to keep it in a waterproof container. Much of the stuff is difficult to use at best if it becomes wet. Rubber gloves, anti-bacterial ointment are additions to my kit. Also, without the knowledge to use first aid kits they aren’t worth much. Prevention is also essential. Like your mention of gaiters. I read an article that the most common injury among hikers is a severe ankle sprain. Avoiding this is better than treating it.

    • Frank says

      Good point Alan, forgot to add that we carry it in a zip loc bag (in a waterproof section of our pack) – they are sort of waterproof!

      Have to disagree on the gloves, 99% of the time the injured person can clean up their own wound (Sue uses this technique at school, gets the kids to clean their own wounds) The trick is “no touch” i.e. you don’t touch any contaminated (bloody) item. Let them do it!

      Training is also important, especially with more serious injuries.

      Maybe we should start an online “wilderness first aid course”?


    • Frank says

      Welcome Adayak,
      Fair enough but often “mechanical” cleaning i.e washing it well to get out any contamination will do the job as well. Then cover it and maybe let nature take it’s course? (Up to you of course, hate to hear you had an infection because you left the stuff at home!)

  5. says

    I’m not sure if it counts as first aid, but lomotil was a very welcome addition to my first aid kit on the last trip. Something was abusing my guts, and lomotil allowed me to keep trekking.

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