How to Put Together a First Aid Kit and Keep It Stocked

“As one grows weaker one is less susceptible to suffering. There is less hurt because there is less to hurt.”

The best first aid kit is one you’ll use. Sound weird?

Think of it like this.

When someone says first aid kit most of us think, “for emergency use only.” While it's purpose is probably just that, it can work against you in the long term because keeping your first aid kit stocked, current and complete means it’s useful when you need it most.

But a lot of the time we build the kit, throw it in the truck/bag/closet and never look at it again.

Big mistake. Drugs expire. Seals on tapes, gauze and bandages can wear thin and leave you without sterile dressing. And you might have even forgotten last season when you raided the kit for scissors or tweezers and never put them back.

You need to find a way to make a habit of checking and stocking your first aid kit, here's how. 

A hunting trip is definitely not without danger. As a matter of fact the injuries you can sustain read like a manual on torture: hot, cold, sharp and blunt. So let’s start with the basics. A complete first aid kit needs something to deal with each of these injuries. And then include personalized items (inhalers and insulin come to mind) plus items for infection.

I like to remember it as the “Three I’s”:

  1. Injury
  2. Infection
  3. Individual

Injury

Getting bumped, bruised, scraped and cut is part of the experience outdoors. But when one of these is serious you need to treat it. 

A complete first aid kit has materials for minor injuries as well as serious ones.

Keep the following in your kit:

  • 3 sizes of bandaid
  • 1 roll of sterile gauze
  • 1 roll of tape
  • 1 pair of scissors
  • 1 pair of tweezers

Tweezers are often left out or forgotten, but they’re one of the key items that will keep you opening your kit. Pulling a sliver is a common need in the outdoors when you’re hopping logs, chopping wood and building a hanging rack. Just don’t forget to put them back. And don’t use them without giving them a burn first to sterilize them.

The last thing you want to get is an...

Infection

Most often you’ll contract a minor infection from an undressed cut on your body. 

Your infection section (boom!) needs to address more than cuts and scrapes. There’s also the possibility of fever and swelling. And because you’re exerting yourself and you eat like shit, drink too much and rarely exercise (just me?) you could even (worst case) run into a heart attack at some point.

So here’s what to keep to keep safe:

  • 20 acetylsalicylic acid — sometimes called ASA — tablets (“Aspirin”)
  • 20 acetaminophen tablets (“Tylenol”)
  • 20 ibuprofen tablets (“Advil”)
  • 1 container of alcohol (70%)
  • 1 tube of antibiotic ointment (“Polysporin”)

Why all the science names? Because we look for generic versions in our kits. Not because they’re cheap (though that’s a plus) but because they’re basic. The doses are normalized, so following emergency procedures isn’t going to require algebra, and they’re uncoated so there’s no delay in administration. 

So: Why three ‘painkillers?’ Well there’s more to these than most people realize.

1. Acetylsalicylic acid can be used in a pinch to assist with a heart attack as we mentioned above. Chewing 1 325mg uncoated tablet can slow the symptoms and buy time to get to a hospital if a heart attack occurs.

2. Acetaminophen is a strong fever reducer. So if you’re getting flu-like symptoms this can bring down a temperature.

3. And finally, ibuprofen reduces swelling. So if you’re dealing particularly with muscle injury this can be a great relief. And let’s face it, bagging and dragging a big buck is a good way to hurt your back.

Alcohol and antibiotic ointment are important to keeping surface infections from happening. Alcohol is also good as an accelerant for making a fire in a pinch.

Individual

Last and not least is the individual items. These are items unique to your kit. If you have chronic ailments you should keep at least 3 days worth of treatment in your kit. This might include items like inhalers, insulin or daily medication for heart or mental illness.

It should also include things you’d rely on at home. Little luxuries. Items like allergy prevention pills and sprays can make a bad trip turn for the better if you’ve forgotten or run out. And bug spray. Oh, and waterproof matches.

It’s these items that are key to keeping tabs on your kit. You want to select things that you know you’ll want - as opposed to need - when you’re on your trip. This will get you in the habit of opening the kit and seeing what’s there and more importantly what’s not.

Finally, I like to keep a small notepad and pencil in my kit to write down dates items were placed/replaced. Drugs expire and packaging can wear as you move a kit from place to place.

Surprises are the reason you keep a first aid kit. The last thing you want is another one when you open it.