1. A triangle bandage - This is multipurpose, use it for a sling, tourniquet, wound dressing, pressure dressing, for splint making, as a scarf, as a wet rag to cool someone, an improvised hat to reduce heat lost, a doughnut dressing, sediment filter, diaper, and more. Alternatively, I wear a scarf that has the same dimensions as a triangle bandage when folded in half. Fashionable and reduces the size of my first aid kit. Here's 10 unexpected uses for a triangle bandage in the wilderness.
3. Ibuprofen or Tylenol - From minor aches and pains to more significant pain or fever. I suggest buying the individual single dose packages. That way you do not have to carry a whole bottle, it will keep longer, and you have all the info about dosing on the package (very important to have).
4. Gauze Squares and Rolls - These can be used from minor cuts to large bleeds, for splint making, wound care and cleaning, splint padding, etc. I have even used gauze rolls to make an improvised mitten or beanie for my patients. I suggest individually packaged gauze to keep it as clean as possible. Two gauze rolls are suggested. And be sure to have at least 1 or 2 non-adherent gauze squares. These do not stick to the skin, making them ideal for use directly against a wound or burn.
6. Syringe - For wound cleaning, especially if it’s a longer and remote outing. The most important aspect of wound care in the wilderness is irrigation with clean drinkable water and good pressure. At least 1000 ml. And, no, a plastic bag with a small hole is not as useful and is difficult to work with. A small irrigation syringe does not cost much and is lightweight. It’s worth it.
7. A wire or SAM splint - I only bring this if I have nothing else in my pack that I can improvise a splint with. Or least nothing I would want to sacrifice to creating a splint ;) A wire splint is very lightweight and compact. But it can have sharp edges, so I use gauze and tape to pad it. A SAM splint (or C Splint), is basically a wire splint covered with foam padding. It’s bulky but still lightweight. I have used it to splint wrists and legs, and as an improvised c-collar for neck injuries. But I have also seen it used as a canoe paddle and on pets!
9. Gloves - Your safety first! Wear gloves, to protect yourself against blood borne pathogens and other germs that are in spit, vomit, blood, etc. It is also better for the patient because it’s cleaner. If it’s during the winter, pack gloves that are a size larger so you can wear your warm liner gloves underneath.
10. Trauma Shears - (scissors) Really, I never go anywhere without these. When you need to stop or find a bleed fast, these are your best friend. I don’t like to use a knife...that can cause more bleeding and does not work as well. Cut tape, gauze, splints, a section of a t-shirt or sleeping, etc. Shears can also be used for as a windlass for an improvised tourniquet.
Now, of course, these are my top 10 most useful items. This doesn’t mean I do not bring anything else. And it does not devalue other items. Again, it really depends on the activity, the trip length, the environment, and the group. On longer outings I may bring a wound care and cleaning kit bundle (#12), or a blister care kit bundle (#11). If it’s a climbing trip I may pack more trauma supplies. If it’s trail running, I strip the kit down to the bare essentials. To learn more about the three aspects to consider when building a custom wilderness first aid kit, see this article: 3 things to consider when customizing a wilderness first aid kit.
Besides these 10 items, there is one other wilderness first aid kit component that is the most useful of them all. And it’s the most lightweight and compact. It will make the difference between life and death in most emergencies. But it can be applied to minor injuries as well.
What I am talking about? I am talking about your brain! Knowledge is the foundation of safety. Without it, you are not truly prepared for a wilderness emergency. If you want to learn more about how to be safe in the wilderness and how to handle any kind of emergency, take our online Outdoor Safety course.
For only $35 bucks, you get lifetime access to the latest wilderness safety knowledge and the video lectures will show you all the skills needed for your next adventure. It also comes with free printouts for your wilderness first aid kit. Your knowledge may save the life of your partner.
And if you are knowledgable, like if you are a wilderness first aid, wilderness first responder, or WEMT, awesome! But do not let that knowledge get rusty. Medicine changes everyday. Stay certified. If you are having trouble finding a recert class in your area, you can recert here online: Recert Courses
Teal Brooks. Wilderness Paramedic