​Build Your Own First Aid Kit, It Might Save Your Life

Illustration for article titled ​Build Your Own First Aid Kit, It Might Save Your Life

Commercially available first aid kits suck. But, it's cheap and easy to build your own, creating something that might just save your life. Here's how.


According to the Center for Disease Control, around 213,000 people are treated in emergency rooms each year for injuries that result from outdoor recreation.

The most common injuries (27.4 percent of them), are fractures, followed by muscle strain and sprains (23.9 percent), bruises and abrasions (15.9 percent), lacerations (14.81 percent) and dislocations (3.81 percent).

The CDC also lists concussions, burns, crushing, dental injuries, skin inflammation and poisoning as other common injuries experienced in the outdoors.

The good news is, pretty much all of that is stuff you can do something about. No, you're not going to fix a broken leg in the field, but you could make the potentially very long trip to the hospital much more comfortable and reduce the chances of further injury in the process. Quick, effective treatment can also reduce the severity of burns and cuts.

To avoid these injuries, the CDC makes the following recommendations:

- Maintain fitness and don't exceed skill levels or experience.

- Checking and maintaining equipment.

- Alert others about travel plans.

- Carrying a first-aid kit.

Let's look at those most-common injuries and discuss how we can treat them ourselves. Typically, all it takes is a little preparation.


Fractures — broken bones — suck. I once rolled a WWII-era sidecar into a ditch off-road at around 50mph, snapping my wrist in half in the process. Because that was miles into the mountains, I then had to ride out on a dirt bike, across three water crossings and then hop on another bike to get to the hospital, 200 miles away. Fortunately, a wrist is easily immobilized, but a break elsewhere may not be.

The Mayo Clinic's first aid advice for treating a fracture is to stop bleeding, immobilize the injured area, apply ice packs to limit swelling and reduce pain, and to treat the person for shock by laying them down with their trunk and legs slightly higher than the head.


Supplies you can add to your first aid kit to help with that are:

- SAM Splints, which quickly and easily mold themselves to any shape you require, then provide stability for the fracture or joint in a comfortable, padded way.


- ACE Bandage to wrap around the splint and injured limb.

- Instant Ice Packs


- Quick Clot to rapidly stop any major bleeding


- Pain Killers

Strains and Sprains. These commonly occur around major joints like the ankle and knee when the ligaments connecting those joints are ripped or torn. These hurt like hell and can massively limit your mobility.


The Mayo Clinic recommends resting the joint in question, applying ice to limit swelling, compressing the muscles and elevating the injured body part.

Supplies you need to achieve that are:

- ACE bandage

- Instant Ice Packs

- Ibuprofen or prescription strength muscle relaxants

Bruises and Abrasions. Fall down go boom, get scraped up in the process. Doesn't sound like a big injury, but bruises and scrapes can be painful and you need to prevent infection.


Supplies that can help with that are:

- Instant Ice Pack

- Ibuprofen or stronger prescription meds

- Hydrogen Peroxide or Iodine

- Neosporin

- Bandages

- Medical Tape (to hold the bandages on)

Lacerations. Cuts big and small. Your first concern is blood loss, followed by infection.


To treat them, the Mayo Clinic recommends you first stop the bleeding by elevating and compressing the wound, then rinsing the wound with clean water to remove any debris. Tweezers may help you pick out any foreign debris that remains in the wound after washing. You'll then need to cover or seal the wound and keep it clean and dry.

Supplies that can help with that are:

- A 60cc medical syringe (for wound irrigation)


- Tincture of Iodine 2% to disinfect water

- Quickclot

- Superglue

- Safety Pins

- Needle and Thread (fishing line works great)

- Wound Closure Strips


- Bandages

- Medical Tape

Dislocation. The end of a bone moves out of its joint.

If you don't know how to set a dislocated bone, don't try to. The Mayo Clinic recommends stabilizing or immobilizing the joint and applying ice to reduce swelling.


Supplies you'll need are:

- SAM Splint

- ACE Bandage

- Instant Ice Pack

- Pain Killers

Other Injuries: Burns, blisters, poison ivy, allergic reactions, all the non life-threatening, but still painful or irritating stuff that happens often when you're outside. Your first aid kit will most often be called on to help with the little things, so keep plenty of these supplies in it:

- Band-Aids

- Mole Skin

- Duct Tape

- Neosporin

- Benadryl (great for dogs too)

- Calamine Lotion

- Visine

- Gel Blister pads

- ACE Bandages

- Anti-Diarrhea Pills

- Laxatives

- Extra supplies of any prescription medicines you might need

- Soap

- Small multitool with needlenose pliers and wire cutters

And, some general supplies kept in your first aid kit will come in handy too:

- Shears or scissors

- A small LED flashlight w/spare lithium battery

- Nitrile gloves

- Emergency space blanket or bivvy sack


- Bic lighter

- Safety Razor

- Aloe Vera

- First Aid Instruction Manual


- A positive attitude. Don't panic, you can fix it and you will be fine.

In general, think about the trips you take, identify any particularly high risks and pack some extra supplies to deal with those. If you're several days from your car, then you're several days from real medical care. Obtaining prescription pain killers and keeping them fresh can be a big help if you're forced to self rescue or even if your buddies are just carrying you out. The further you're going, the more supplies you'll need too, as the time throughout which you'll need to treat an injury before reaching hospital could be hours or days long. Obviously factor that into your risk taking too.


And, any first aid supplies are only as good as your ability to use them. Study before you go and consider taking a course. Knowledge is the best first aid kit there is.

Lead Image: Todd Lapin

IndefinitelyWild is a new publication about adventure travel in the outdoors, the vehicles and gear that get us there and the people we meet along the way. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.




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