Living in Alaska earthquakes are always on our minds, and with National Preparedness Month just around the corner we thought it would be a fine time to revisit some of our preparedness advice. There were five essentials we covered there, the tl;dr being: trauma kit, survival gear, water, food, and communication.
One thing we did not include was a first aid kit, assuming everyone absolutely has one. Asking around, we found that is absolutely not the case, and some people are uncertain about exactly what should be included. Before we get started, a disclaimer up front: a first aid kit is for things that will not kill you. For things that will kill you – hello, massive blood loss – you should also have a trauma kit. Tl;dr tourniquet, clotting gauze, pressure dressing and chest seals, plus the training to use them. But first aid kits are great too, because minor wounds are far more common, especially for all the little floggers in our lives. And with that in mind, here we go!
In the interests of not reinventing any wheels, we are going to point you to Andrew Skurka's backpacking first aid gear list as a great place to start. Andrew has a must-have list of medications and wound treatment supplies, all based on his voluminous experience adventuring and leading adventures all over the globe. Check out his site, and click on his links to buy stuff so he gets that tiny commission, so he can keep giving us great advice! And speaking of advice, a lot of this stuff comes in bulk, so go in with some friends and make a bunch of kits at once why don't you?
Our modifications to his kit start with this nice little pill case. Andrew uses small, thick ziplock bags and just piles it all in a stuff sack, and that obviously works too, but we like the small hard shell wallet with six small and four larger compartments. We cut around the individual blister pack compartments to fit some things in, and label each compartment with a three-letter abbreviation of the medication and a number that is the dosage per pill in milligrams, e.g. ADV 200. It's also a good idea to make a small card with the dose, frequency and daily limit of all the meds in the case, e.g. Advil, 200mg, 1 pill/4 hours or 2 pills/6-8 hours, limit 6 pills/24 hours. Laminate that little card so the numbers do not smudge, and maybe even include expiration dates and put an annual reminder in your phone to update the kit.
Some other small changes we make to Andrew's list
- mini-EMT shears instead of scissors to cut through anything without poking holes;
- Phokus Frog tape for quickly closing larger cuts (yeah, it's just pre-cut tape, but we like it!);
- keychain CPR mask because even though rescue breathing isn't necessarily recommended (for civilians, that is…) with chest compressions anymore, outcomes are still better if you do it, especially for drowning/lightning strike victims;
- Povidone iodine swab sticks for wiping out and sterilizing cuts;
- Sting Kill for stings, put the vials in a small tin to protect from breakage;
- Possibly a tampon, which can double as a gauze in a wound, e.g. nosebleed stopper;
- 20ml syringe, which Andrew lists as optional, but it weighs nothing and can really hose out a wound or be used more gently on eyes;
- Single-use hydrocortisone packets, for anti-itch application.
Andrew also has a foot care list, and if your feet are problematic you might want to take a look at it. The only items we normally carry that he lists are Leukotape P wrapped around a mini-Bic lighter or hand sanitizer bottle (no more moleskin, that stuff is so last century), and Joshua Tree climbing salve.
Final bonus item: if you don't normally carry trekking poles, you ought to rethink that strategy. For about an extra pound of weight per pair you can go farther with less effort and have a valuable backup if you or someone in your party gets gimpy for whatever reason. You do have to actually use them though, unlike us recently on a recent trip where we slipped and torqued our shoulder on a sketchy step coming off-mountain, with the poles still in our pack. Now we're two weeks into rehabbing our shoulder, a completely avoidable injury had we used the tools we brought along for just that reason! As Andrew and a lot of others will tell you, the first thing on any list like this is your brain. Use it or lose it.