Monday, April 22, 2013

What's In Your First Aid Kit?

It feels doomsday-ish to put a first aid kit together. You have to sit and think about what might be useful in urgent situations. Even further, you need to recall something unpleasant and remember what you would have wanted in that situation, and then prepare for it to happen again. This exercise is not the light summer beach read. It's the Winter of our Discontent. But, it must be done, like washing the car, or reading Steinbeck in high school. So, on an already gray and chilly Venice day, I went to the store to buy new first aid provisions and a decent bottle of wine. As I put my kit back together, I drank to my health.
cotton pads, cotton-tipped swabs
Acts of motorcycling, camping, backpacking and living in an earthquake zone have made me more vigilant about keeping my kit updated. It is our portable mini-hospital, and I keep just one, because the gels, creams and pills have assorted expiration dates, and I don't want to keep replacing duplicate kits. So, our little problem-solver goes from backpack to motorcycle to car to bathroom and back as needed.
Class of First Aid
Not shown: extra zip-top bags, Dramamine, cotton pads, cotton-tipped swabs, bug spray, sting gel, matches

I break the kit contents up by situation. Perhaps not the best method, but it is mine.

  • Multitool, multitool, multitool. This has scissors, a straight and serrated knife blade, screw head bits, an awl, pliers, etc. Next to my wallet, it's probably the most used thing in my bag.
  • Bug spray, bug spray, bug spray. We nice fleshy city-folk are hungry bugs' PowerBall number. Almost every time I go outside and end up waiting somewhere, I wish I had it. Now, it's a permanent fixture in the kit.
  • Mints. I keep them in my kit for one very important reason. I absolutely believe the most important thing one can do in an urgent situation is to stay calm. Mints are my reminder. If it's not a life-threatening situation, I pop a mint, make a plan, and get to work. No big. Just a scrape/cut/sting/burn/bear mauling. Also, if you've ever tasted blood, you know they come in quite handy.

blisters, hot spots, splinters, etc
  • Cotton-tipped swabs
  • Cotton pads
  • Earplugs - usually for nights out camping
  • Cough drops
  • Safety pins
  • Paper clip
  • SPF rated lip balm
  • Small tube of sunscreen
  • Hair ties
  • Blister prep pads
  • Moleskin
  • Extra plastic zip-top bags - puke, contaminated gauze, bandages, etc
  • Facial tissue
  • Homeopathic sting gel for insect bites and stings - mostly arnica and I swear by this stuff. It works better than hydrocortisone (for my skin). Side note: the reason I swear by it is because my burden in life is to be extra-tasty to bugs. 
Bug spray, sting gel, matches

pain, inflammation, diarrhea, upset stomach, motion sickness, allergies
  • Aleve
  • Buffered aspirin
  • Ibuprofin
  • Acetominophin
  • Dramamine
  • Claritin
  • Benadryl
  • Immodium A-D
  • Pepto Bismol chews
cuts, rashes, small breaks
  • Multiple bandages in varying shapes; rounds, small, medium and large strips, finger bandages, butterfly strips
  • Moist prep towelettes
  • Alcohol pads
  • Neosporin spray
  • Plastic tweezers for pulling out splinters, stingers, rocks from skin
  • Plenty of gauze pads
  • Eye patch - I imagine nothing else really does the trick. Really, really hope I don't need this one, for any reason.
  • Ace self-adhesive bandage - holds all dressings in place, help restrict movement
  • Self-adhesive netted wrap - holds multiple pieces of gauze in place
  • 1" roll of medical tape
  • Zip ties: When folded in half, they seem strong enough to use two as a finger splint. I've never had to do this, but in a grim moment of picturing that situation, in my mind that would totally work. Otherwise, zip ties are always useful for cinching something down on the bikes, or while camping.
Et, voila!

This isn't really a kit for big stuff like larger bone breaks or major/multiple lacerations, etc. When I'm backpacking in remote areas, I add a few things to accommodate an environment where access to medical help could take a while:
  • hand warmers
  • emergency blanket
  • cold pack
  • storm matches
  • needle and heavy-duty thread
  • unwaxed dental floss
  • heavy Ace bandage
Things that always come out of this kit and go into a smaller pouch in my handbag:
  • Hair ties
  • Ibuprofin
  • Aleve
  • Mints
  • SFP lip balm
  • Tube of sunscreen
  • Safety pins
  • Facial tissue
  • A few bandaids
  • A few antibacterial wipes
Cost: It varies. I started with a basic over-the-counter first-aid kit for $10, which provided all of my gauzes, bandages, etc, and I built on that. By the time I added full-sized boxes of all the medications, creams, and extra bits to store in your bathroom, it totaled well over $150, but I'm now stocked for a small village. If you would like to reduce cost and/or waste, look for travel-sized packets of pain relievers, wet wipes and gels/creams, all great because of their small sizes.

Most Used Items: Multi-tool, pain relievers, mints and sunscreen. Let's hope it stays that way.

Least Used Items: Dramamine, Immodium A-D. I always end up throwing these away after their expiration dates and subsequently replacing them.

I put these into a large freezer bag, and done.
Whew! That's it. Is there anything you would add or remove? I'd love to hear about it in the comments below.


  1. folding allen wrench + duct tape. motorcycles = allen bolts = first aid for the bike. I leave the human repair for the paramedics. am i commenting too fast? FIRST!

  2. Haha! Great adds. Duct tape DUH. Into the bag it goes. For the bike, gawd... it's a whole 'nother post. ;)

  3. Love this - I love the dual-purpose zip ties - great idea!

  4. Great job -- really well thought out and deserves a re-read, especially where you talk about what is with you always/everyday and what you add for more wilderness treks. As a former director of a paramedic school, I'd suggest a couple of other ideas and things. First, take a first aid course or download this free book from the Red Cross

    Next, consider adding something for massive bleeding and or a tourniquet. You'll probably never use it, but Boston showed us how quickly a normal day turns awful.

    And duct tape is easily carried wrapped around an old credit card (or similar). It packs flat, takes up little space, and comes in handy.

    I have a trauma kit with me always (it packs small and fits in a day pack or briefcase) and have an emergency "get home" bag in my truck. My get home bag is what I would need to either hike home or wait out a storm for 2 - 3 days for me and my dog.

    1. ALL great suggestions, thank you. I think I'm going to file an update to this post after changing up my kit a bit!


Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Stay positive!