How to Make Your Own Backpacking First Aid Kit

How to Make Your Own Backpacking First Aid Kit - SilverAnt Outdoors

After posting my new blog article about 7 tips to shed a third of your backpacking weight, some people emailed us to say thanks for the advice.

They found the tips about cutting down the big four, water setup, and cookware easy to implement.

However, setting up a first aid kit tailored to individual needs proved more challenging, as it requires extensive backpacking experience.

I understand this struggle because I used to rely on small commercial first aid kits, bringing the whole pack on my trips.

But when I faced injuries, I realized these kits often lacked the necessary items and included too many unnecessary ones.

Buying new refill kits was also expensive and not worth it, so I began creating my own custom backpacking first aid kit step-by-step.

So, in this blog post, I'll share how to choose the right supplies based on your needs, and how to pack and maintain them.

This way, you can build your own custom backpacking first aid kit in the end.

Assessing Your Needs

Before you pick out the supplies for your first aid kit, it's important to figure out what you'll need.

Common Injuries

To begin, it's crucial to understand the common injuries that you may encounter during your journeys.

First, blisters are a real pain, quite literally, especially on long hikes or in wet conditions.

These pesky bubbles on your feet pop up from the friction between your skin and hiking boots, making every step a bit of a challenge.

Then there are sprains, which happen when you twist or overextend your joints.

Ankle sprains are pretty common among backpackers, especially on rough terrain or when lugging around heavy gear.

They can make walking a chore with all the pain, swelling, and difficulty moving.

Cuts are all too familiar in the outdoors, whether it's from a clumsy knife slip while prepping food or scraping against rocks and branches.

Even though they might seem minor, cuts can lead to infections if not taken care of properly.

Skin irritation is another annoyance, courtesy of plants, insect bites, or allergies. Itching, redness, and rashes can make you pretty uncomfortable and even lead to infections.

Muscle cramps can also set in, especially after hours of trekking or hauling a heavy load.

Your leg muscles feel like they're giving up, particularly on tough terrain.

Not staying hydrated and not getting enough electrolytes can make cramps even worse.

Lastly, there's the dreaded diarrhea, which can throw a wrench into your backpacking plans real fast.

Dodgy water or food can lead to this unpleasant experience, making frequent bathroom breaks a necessity.

Keeping things clean and purifying your water are also crucial steps to avoid these problems, in addition to taking medicine.

Trip Duration and Environment

Next, consider how long you'll be out and where you're headed.

This helps you adjust the quantity of items you pack and prioritize which injuries to prepare for.

For example, on an overnight trip, you might only need 4 adhesive bandages, 4 antiseptic wipes, and 6 pain relievers.

But for a 4-day excursion, you'd want to double those amounts at least.

The environment also matters. If you're hiking rough terrain, you'll need more supplies for blisters and sprains.

And in hot climates, keeping an eye on your electrolytes becomes crucial.

Personal Medical Conditions

Lastly, remember to account for any specific medical conditions you have.

If you have allergies, heart issues, or asthma, be sure to follow your doctor's advice and pack enough medication for your trip.

In addition to packing your essentials, it's also important to know about local medical facilities and pharmacies at your destination.

Knowing where to go in an emergency can give you peace of mind and ensure you get the help you need.

Also, check out the local emergency healthcare options, just in case things go south.

For example, in Hong Kong, you can usually access emergency healthcare within 24 hours, even in remote areas.

Now, you know exactly what you need to get ready for.

Assessing Your Needs - SilverAnt Outdoors

Choosing the Right Supplies

With a clear understanding of your needs, the next step is to gather the necessary supplies.

A good first aid kit should cover common injuries and personal medical issues.

For Blisters

When it comes to blisters, the most common backpacking woe, prevention is key.

Leukotape is a top pick for blister prevention. It's an ultra-sticky tape that hikers and runners swear by for warding off hot spots.

Since Leukotape comes in a bulky roll, it's handy to pre-cut it into 3-4" (7.62-10.16 cm) strips and stick them onto mailing label paper for easy packing.

It typically stays on your feet for two to three days, so pack the number of strips you need based on your trip length.

Keep in mind that you'll need to swap out these strips once or twice a year as they lose their stickiness over time.

But if blisters strike despite your precautions, you'll want adhesive bandages for relief and healing.

Band-aid Hydro Seal Bandages are a standout choice for blister care. They're super sticky and waterproof, so you can keep hiking or even shower with them on.

These bandages typically stay put for two to four days.

For Sprains

If you're unlucky enough to experience a sprain, it's important to have a few key items on hand.

First, you'll need an instant ice-cold compress to apply to the sprained area. This helps reduce swelling and pain.

These cold compress ice packs are usually sold in bulk, so make sure to pick the ones that come in separate packages.

Next, pack a compression bandage to support the injured area and further reduce swelling.

Just be sure it's snug but not too tight, as too much pressure can restrict blood flow.

For pain relief, especially if you can't take aspirin or ibuprofen, acetaminophen tablets (Tylenol) are a good option.

To keep your pills safe from being squished, a 2 fl. oz (60ml) Polyethylene Bottle is perfect.

If you lose the cap, a plastic soda bottle cap makes a handy replacement.

And don't forget to cushion the pills with a bit of cotton on top to keep them dry.

However, if the sprain is severe, it's crucial to improvise a makeshift splint using clothing, straps, or sticks from your surroundings.

If you suspect a fracture, it's best to seek medical attention as soon as possible.

For Cuts

When dealing with cuts, sterilizing the wound is crucial.

First, put on a pair of nitrile gloves to keep yourself safe when touching the wound.

Next, clean the wound. For small cuts, alcohol prep wipes are great for sterilizing scrapes and shallow wounds.

The outdoors can be dirty, and these wipes help prevent infections.

After cleaning, apply sticky band-aids like Elastoplast Plasters to cover the wound.

Like Leukotape, Elastoplast Plasters are very sticky and usually stay on for two to three days.

For deeper cuts, the process is different. Start by cutting away clothing around the wound.

A Swiss Army Knife Classic is a great choice for this. Its small, sharp scissors are handy for cutting clothes or shaping bandages.

Remember my favorite way to purify water by boiling it in your cooking pot and adding chlorine dioxide tablets?

This water is safe to drink and can also be used to help prevent infection. Use an irrigation syringe to create a stream of water to irrigate deep wounds.

For deep wounds, sticky bandages are not big enough. Instead, use a medical gauze bandage to cushion and cover the wound, then secure it with a sticky bandage.

For pain relief, just like with a sprain, take acetaminophen.

For Skin Irritation

For Skin Irritation, I've got plenty to say because I deal with it a lot.

In my daily life, even a small scrape with something wet or dirty can make my skin red and itchy, not to mention when I'm outdoors.

Zinc Oxide is my go-to remedy wherever I go. It's a soothing cream for treating minor skin irritation, including chafing. It works wonders to relieve discomfort and prevent further irritation.

Usually, Zinc Oxide comes in a big jar, like 1 pound (0.45 kg). So I use a small hinged cosmetic jar to carry the amount I need and refill it when it runs low.

For refilling, wearing a nitrile glove is best to avoid getting zinc oxide on your hands.

For Muscle Cramps

Out in the wild, muscle cramps hit you harder because you lose electrolytes through sweat more than when you're indoors.

My favorite solution is Tailwind Electrolyte Replacement Packets.

It's a mix that replenishes electrolytes like sodium and potassium, along with simple sugars.

Plus, it's safe for people allergic to artificial sweeteners, which can be found in many other electrolyte mixes and drinks, causing discomfort or illness.

For Diarrhea

Dealing with muscle cramps is one thing, but diarrhea can really put a damper on your outdoor fun.

It usually happens when you've eaten or drank something dodgy, leaving you with frequent trips to the bathroom and a whole lot of discomfort.

That's where Imodium tablets, also known as Loperamide, come to the rescue.

They work by slowing down your gut, so things move through more slowly, giving you some relief.

Also, when picking out drinkware, cookware, or cutlery, go for titanium gear. It won’t corrode and mess with your water or food.

For Personal Medical Issues

Lastly, when it comes to personal medical concerns, allergies are the most common, so packing Benadryl tablets is a must.

They're effective for treating all sorts of allergic reactions, whether it's from bee stings or hay fever.

Benadryl also works as a sleep aid, helping you drift off if you're having trouble falling asleep.

Another crucial personal medical concern is a heart attack.

In such cases, my go-to remedy is children’s chewable aspirin pills.

They act as a blood thinner, helping to prevent clotting if you're experiencing heart attack symptoms.

Chewable tablets are easy for anyone to take, but always make sure you're not allergic before using them.

Like how I keep my Tylenol tablets, I store them in separate polyethylene bottles to keep them safe and make sure to label them accordingly.

If you have any other personal medical issues, always follow your doctor's instructions.

To sum it all up, these are the items I have in my first aid kit. And the quantity I carry depends on the duration of the trip and the terrain, as we discussed earlier.

For example, on my typical 3-day backpacking trips with minimal elevation gain, I usually bring along 6 tape strips, bandages, and bandaids each, and 10 tablets of each medication.

Choosing the Right Supplies - SilverAnt Outdoors

Packing and Organizing Your Kit

Once you have all the necessary supplies, the next step is to pack and organize your first aid kit effectively.

Like me, I use a red waterproof stuff sack for my first-aid kit. It's handy for finding it quickly in my backpack and checking if it's packed.

It's got multiple compartments, so I can separate my supplies into categories like wound care, medications, tools, and personal items, and store them accordingly.

Lastly, make sure to keep it near the top of your backpack or in an external pocket for quick access in case of an emergency.

Avoid stashing it at the bottom where it can be hard to reach.

Packing and Organizing Your Kit - SilverAnt Outdoors

Maintenance and Training

Lastly, building your first aid kit is just the start. To keep it effective and make sure you're ready to use it right, regular maintenance and proper training are key.

Before each trip, give your kit a once-over. Check that everything's in good shape and not expired.

Swap out anything that's used up, damaged, or past its prime. Keeping a checklist handy can help you keep track.

Pay attention to how you store meds, too. Some need specific conditions, like certain temperatures.

Make sure you're sticking to those to keep them working right. If you're facing extreme temps, insulated pouches can help.

But even the best kit won't do much good if you don't know how to use it. It's worth getting some basic first-aid training.

They cover things like CPR, treating wounds, and handling hypothermia or fractures. Knowing this stuff can really make a difference in a pinch.

Practice matters, too. Doing some mock scenarios can help you get comfortable with the kit and how to use it.

It's a great way to boost confidence and make sure you're all ready to jump into action when you need to.

And stay up-to-date on the latest in first aid. Medical advice changes, and there will be new and better products out there.

Get chatting in forums, keep an eye on articles, and even join an outdoor club to stay in the loop on the best ways to handle wilderness first aid.

Now you're all set with your first aid kit!

Maintenance and Training - SilverAnt Outdoors


In conclusion, creating your own backpacking first aid kit is a vital step in ensuring your safety while exploring the great outdoors.

By thoroughly understanding what you need, selecting the right supplies, organizing your kit efficiently, and maintaining it regularly, you'll be well-prepared to handle a variety of injuries and emergencies.

Remember, the best first-aid kit is one that you know how to use effectively, so invest in proper training and stay informed about the latest first-aid practices.

With these preparations, you can embark on your backpacking adventures with greater confidence and peace of mind.

What's in your first aid kit? Share your thoughts with us by leaving a comment or sending an email. We're here to listen!

To your next adventure


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