Injuries in the backcountry are not a matter of if, but rather when they might occur. This backpacking first aid kit checklist prepares you for the unfortunate times when you really need the supplies that should be in there.
Many experienced backpackers neglect regular checks and upgrades to their first aid kits. If you’re like me, your kit may have even sat in your pack for years without being replenished.
How to Use a Backpacking First Aid Kit Checklist
Pull this checklist out every spring when you’re getting your pack ready for your first overnighter. Personally, I like to plan a short overnight trip at the start of the season to test my pack and backpacking gear before longer trips.
This helps me evaluate any repairs or replacements I need to make before heading deeper into the wilderness. In the case of your first aid kit, spring is the perfect time to evaluate what you used last year and what you need to replace. Use this checklist to help you do that.
And don’t forget the value of planning in advance! If you check your first aid kit in the fall and restock then, it’ll be ready to grab and go when your friend spontaneously invites you on your first backpacking trip of the season.
My Backpacking First Aid Kit Checklist
Here’s everything I like to keep in my backpacking first aid kit. Check yours before you start your backpacking season and replenish it often to avoid being up a mountain without a Band-Aid!
1. First Aid Manual
Some of you out there will obviously have more first aid and trauma experience than others. If you’re a trained EMT or Wilderness First Responder, your manual is probably in your head, for the most part.
However, if you’re untrained in wilderness first aid techniques, making sure your kit contains a manual for how to effectively treat some of the most common backcountry injuries is essential.
2. Sterile Gauze Pads
One of the supplies I hope you never have to use is sterile gauze pads. If you do, they’ll help you prevent blood loss in the case of a moderate to severe laceration. They can be used to pack wounds and also to stabilize objects that become impaled in the skin.
Your backpacking first aid kit list should include various sizes and types (stick and non-stick) of sterile gauze pads and, for the record, sterile means that they are still safely contained in their original packaging. Once that packaging is opened, pads that have been sitting in your kit for an extended time are no longer sterile.
3. Sterile Adhesive Bandages
Bandages are essential whether you’re using it for backpacking or simple first aid around the home. Be sure to stock your kit with various sizes of bandages, as well as different types. Larger bandages are great for covering minor cuts and scrapes.
Butterfly bandages, for example, are great to help close up larger lacerations. Knowing what you tend to use most, but also preparing for all scenarios, will help you decide on the assortment of bandages to always keep in your kit.
4. Adhesive Tape
Even more than bandages, adhesive tape is the supply I use most in my backpacking first aid kit. When you’re on the go (especially as an outdoor guide), tape provides an easy way to cover and seal minor cuts from potential infection (after sanitizing of course).
There are many varieties of athletic tape out there, but I tend to go for the one-inch type because it provides enough surface area to stick to itself and last throughout a full day of high activity.
5. Tweezers and/or Safety Pins
If you’re an outdoor enthusiast who loves any level of activity, you know that, eventually, things get stuck in your skin that you don’t want to be there.
This can be splinters, rocks, cactus needles, and so much more. Tweezers or safety pins will give you a practical (although not always comfortable) means of removing these items before they become a real nuisance. Adding a lighter to your kit will also give you a way to sanitize pins before using them to excavate that pesky splinter.
6. Antibacterial Ointment
Antibacterial ointments, such as Neosporin and Bacitracin, will help to prevent infection when dressing wounds. These days, many experts are recommending Bacitracin over Neosporin. The main reason for this is that people can be allergic to Neosporin because of one of its additional ingredients, neomycin.
7. Blister Treatment
Have you ever made the mistake of not fully breaking in a new pair of hiking shoes before starting a long, multi-day backpacking trip? If so, you know how blisters can turn an otherwise fun trip into a nightmare.
That’s why blister treatment supplies, such as Moleskin, are essential to any backpacking first aid kit list.
8. Antiseptic Wipes
Before applying bacitracin or Neosporin (if you’re sure the person isn’t allergic), it’s necessary to clean and sterilize wounds. The first method for doing so is through a simple application of water over the wound to clean out dirt and bacteria.
Antiseptic wipes are a good way to follow up on that initial rinse. The most common active ingredient in antiseptic wipes is benzalkonium chloride.
9. Pain Relief Medication
Depending on your preferences, your stock of pain relief medication could include Ibuprofen, Acetaminophen, Naproxen, and others. These three are the most common active ingredients in products like Tylenol (acetaminophen), Advil (ibuprofen), and Aleve (naproxen). For more serious treks and excursions, some heavier-duty pain relievers may also be considered.
For me, this is arguably the most important, life-saving item you can include on your backpacking first aid kit checklist (Feel free to message me about the time I almost killed one of my best friends because I forgot about his allergy to shellfish).
A quality antihistamine, such as Benadryl, will help to treat allergic reactions where the time from the initial realization of a reaction to severe complications can be incredibly short.
While most people that are aware of a serious allergy carry Epi-Pens these days, there are many folks that may be totally unaware that they will have an allergic reaction to certain proteins. Being prepared with an antihistamine when this discovery unfortunately happens is essential.
11. Triangular Bandages
Triangular bandages come in handy when you need to create a splint for a broken or strained appendage. In my WFR certification, we used them for splints and slings for everything from a broken collarbone to a fractured femur.
We also learned how to supplement triangular bandages with personal clothing and other items we had in our packs. Carrying additional layers can be useful for more than just keeping you warm as temperatures drop.
Use This Backpacking First Aid Kit Checklist!
Your backpacking first aid kit is only as good as the supplies it contains. If it’s been several years since you’ve done a check, use this backpacking first aid kit list to ensure your kit is well-stocked and ready for a season of outdoor adventures.
What does your backpacking first aid kit look like?
I want to know what your essentials are and what you feel is excessive. I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments section below. I’ll be quick to reply to any questions, comments, or concerns you feel like sharing!
About The Backpack Guide
As The Backpack Guide, I’m always looking for new trails and wildernesses to explore and I’m also interested in the experiences of others in the wild. If there is one thing I am sure of it’s that we can all spend more time enjoying and connecting with Nature.
Take Care On The Trail!
The Backpack Guide