“Safety doesn’t happen by accident.”
I have met overnight hikers carrying first-aid kits that would put your average paramedic to shame.
At the other extreme, I have encountered walkers on longer treks, armed with nothing but duct tape and a “I’ll be ok, nothing ever happens to me” attitude.
For most of us, the answer lies somewhere in between. Find a balance that meets both your individual needs and the dictates of the environment into which you will be venturing (e.g. I’ll often carry a broad pressure bandage for snake bite when hiking in mainland Australia).
Before each and every hike, sit down and evaluate the length and nature of your trip. Go through all the items in your First-Aid Kit and ask yourself three questions:
- Do I really need this?
- What could happen if I don’t have it?
- Is there something missing?
Hikers are often surprised at the amount of redundant items they are carrying in their First Aid kit out of habit rather than necessity.
What to take?
Minimize bulk and weight by carrying appropriately sized quantities of your chosen items. Below is a list of what I might take in my First-Aid kit on a five day solo backpacking trip:
- Tiny roll 3M Micropore Medical Tape (general purpose, breathable surgical tape for blisters, cuts)
- Latex-free medical gloves
- 3 Antiseptic or alcohol wipes (cleaning wounds)
- 3 Butterfly closure strips
- Sterile non-stick absorbent dressing/gauze (for larger wounds)
- Antibiotic cream (sample size tube)
- 10 ibuprofen tablets (anti-inflammatory; pain relief) | Note: Be sure to list expiry dates and recommended doses for any medications that have been repackaged.
- 3 Antihistamine tablets (for bites, allergic reactions; e.g. Benadryl)
- Duct tape (tiny roll)
- Small utility tool (which has knife, scissors and tweezers; e.g. Swiss Army Classic Knife)
- Sewing needle (use dental floss for thread)
- 2 Safety pins (for slings fashioned from clothing)
- Small whistle (check the sternum strap of your backpack; you may have one without knowing)
- Emergency fire starter | I normally use a Vaseline coated cotton ball or a Light my Fire – Firesteel.
- Small business-size card listing emergency contact & any important personal medical information.
When hiking in developing countries, first aid supplies are often thin on the ground. Generally speaking your best bet is to bring any necessary medications from home.
If you forget or run out, don’t worry too much as most medications can be purchased in developing countries without a prescription. The prices are invariably cheaper, however, the catch is that you may not always be getting the genuine article.
Before embarking on your trip, gather as much ‘health-related’ information as possible in regards to your chosen destination. The World Health Orgainization (WHO) website represents a good starting point for your research. For hiking trips in the developing world, I usually add the following items to my general list of essentials (Disclaimer: These items are what I carry. I’m not specifically recommending them for others. Be sure to consult with your physician before taking any medication):
- Broad spectrum antibiotic (e.g. Ciprofloxacin)
- Diarrhea stopper (e.g. Immodium)
- Rehydration solution sachet
- Medication for giardiasis (e.g. Tinidazole)
If you plan on spending any significant amount of time in the wilderness, it makes sense to do a First-Aid course.
In the event of a crisis situation, skills such as CPR, injury management and how to deal with venomous bites and stings, can potentially be lifesaving.
For general reference purposes, I highly recommend William Forgey’s Wilderness Medicine: Beyond First Aid and Paul Auerbach’s Medicine for the Outdoors. Both books are written in a clear, concise style and represent excellent resources for the novice and experienced outdoors person alike.