How to Build the Best Hiking First Aid Kit

Last Updated: April 2021

There’s an old saying - “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

When you’re out hiking, be aware of your surroundings. Practice common-sense safety and be prepared for the conditions. And if injuries do occur, be ready to treat them by following our First Aid Kit guide. 

We’ve seen day hikers carrying enough first aid gear to put a doctor’s medical bag to shame. And we’ve also witnessed long-distance backpackers with little more than some duct tape and ibuprofen. What’s right for you likely fall somewhere in the middle. 

Before you pack your first aid kit, think about the most likely problems you might encounter on your hike. Choose items that will help you treat these problems until you get to safety or additional medical help. 

Most importantly, make sure you know how to properly use any first aid kit items you’re carrying. For example, if you’re going to bring butterfly wound closures, remember to practice putting one on before you get injured. 

Are you carrying gear to splint an ankle? Try taking a class or reviewing online how to do it properly before heading into the backcountry. 

What are the Most Common Hiking Injuries & Ailments

Most hikers carry first aid kits to treat these common issues:  

  • Cuts and scrapes
  • Headache, joint or muscle pain
  • Allergic reactions to plants and insect stings
  • Fevers, nausea, diarrhea
  • Blisters
  • Sunburn
  • Wrap or splint sprains

Should You Build Your Own Hiking First Aid Kit or Purchase a Premade First Aid Kit? 

Purchasing a Premade First Aid Kit

Many new hikers purchase a pre-made first aid kit. These kits are convenient. You can find small, lightweight versions like the Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight/Watertight .3 Medical Kit that have basic supplies.

Or there are more complex kits like the Adventure Medical Kits Mountain Series Explorer Medical Kit that claims to have enough supplies for 4 people for a week of exploration and injury. 

If you’re new to hiking and not sure what you’ll need, these pre-made kits are beneficial. However, they can be relatively expensive. And you’ll likely find that they contain things you don’t need, or skimp on the things you do need. 

If you choose to carry a pre-made kit, make sure you are familiar with every item before heading out. Know what you’re taking and how to use it. It’s helpful to remove everything, then put it back in, so you know where to find specific items when you need them. 

Building Your Own Hiking First Aid Kit

DIY first aid kits usually take more time to put together. You’ll do more research thinking about what to add to your kit. But, you’ll be able to carry first aid personalized to you and your specific trip. 

You’ll generally have to buy more than you need for just a single trip. Thus, you may find that building your first aid kit seems more expensive upfront. Though that means you’ll have plenty of supplies left to restock your bag based on what you use. Plus, you’ll be able to choose brands that you prefer vs. the generic brands found in many commercial kits. 

First aid kit

Planning your Hiking First Aid Kit 

When deciding what to include in your first aid kit, you should consider the following: 

Weight & Size

It can be tempting to add too many items to your first aid kit with the “just in case” mentality. But, you want a first aid kit that isn’t so heavy or bulky that you’re tempted to leave it behind. Look at each item and decide how likely you are to need it. Are there other items that have dual usage? 

Trip Duration

If you’re headed out for a day hike, chances are you’ll only need a couple of ibuprofen. But if you’re on a week-long backpacking trip, you might need a dose each day. Plan the amount of often-used items like bandaids and pain relief based on the number of days you’ll be hiking. 

Group Size

As a solo hiker, you can carry a small first aid kit with only enough supplies for yourself.  If you’re guiding a group or hiking with friends, you’ll want to consider the additional needs of a group setting. You may want a kit that includes several pairs of medical gloves and a CPR mask (if you are CPR trained).  Some groups opt for one person to be in charge of the entire first aid kit. Or, divide up the supply responsibilities among several people. Just make sure you are all clear on who has what in case of an emergency.

Distance From Medical Assistance

For day hikes where you’re not far from medical assistance, most hikers prefer a small, basic first aid kit. It should fit comfortably in your daypack and care for any minor cuts, scrapes, stings, or pain. For anything more significant, you’ll be able to seek medical attention quickly. 

For backpackers or day hikers in more remote areas, consider the conditions and distance to medical assistance. You may need to treat more extensive issues for longer before reaching help. Add additional first aid items accordingly. 

Check out our Guide to Becoming a Wilderness First Responder

Bandage first aid kit

What to Put in Your Hiking First Aid Kit 

Day Hike First Aid Kit

  • Bandaids (4)
  • Antiseptic Towelettes (2) 
  • Antibiotic Ointment (2 single-use packets)
  • Safety Pins (2)
  • Tweezers (depending on location - useful when hiking in the desert) 
  • Moleskin or Leukotape for blisters, we also find KT Tape works well
  • Ibuprofen (or preferred pain relief medication)
  • Antihistamine for allergic reactions
  • Hand Sanitizer
  • Sunscreen

Short backpacking trip (1-2 days, 1 person) First Aid Kit

  • Bandaids (6)
  • Antiseptic Towelettes (3) 
  • Antibiotic Ointment (3 single-use packets or smallest tube available)
  • Safety Pins (2)
  • Tweezers (depending on location - useful when hiking in the desert) 
  • Moleskin or Leukotape for blisters, we also find KT Tape works well
  • Ibuprofen (or preferred pain relief medication)
  • Antihistamine for allergic reactions
  • Hand Sanitizer
  • Sunscreen
  • Butterfly Wound Closure Strips (2) 
  • Medical tape and non-stick gauze pads (2) 
  • Large bandages (2) 
  • Multi-tool or pocket knife (if this isn’t included in your pack already)
  • Electrolyte powdered drink (Gatorade, GU, Pedialyte) 
  • Bandanna (many uses, including for splints)
  • Anti-diarrhea medicine (Imodium)
  • Body Glide or Vaseline, Chapstick

Optional Items (for a more extended backpacking trip or specific conditions)

  • Medical gloves (Nitrile is better than latex)
  • ACE bandage or elastic wrap
  • Rolled gauze
  • Eye drops
  • Sewing needle - can be used for repairs and first aid
  • Sunburn relief gel (Aloe)
  • Tick remover tool (depending on hiking location)
  • Inject-able epinephrine (for known allergies, if prescribed)
  • Paramedic shears (blunt-tip scissors)
  • Cotton swabs
  • Thermometer
  • Water treatment tablets
  • CPR mask (if traveling in a group and if CPR trained) 
  • Paper/pencil (for recording medical data like when you’ve taken/given medicine, symptom progression, etc.)
  • Emergency items - Mylar blanket, fire starter, signaling device, a flashlight (these are likely already in your gear, but if not, you should consider them.  

How to Pack Your Hiking First Aid Kit

Here are a few tips for packing your first aid kit: 

  • Choose a bag or case that is lightweight and waterproof. Your case may be as simple as a small ziplock bag, or a lightweight dry sack, zippered pouch, etc. 
  • Mark your first aid kit or choose a colored bag that is different than everything else in your pack so that you can grab it quickly or direct someone else to it if necessary. 
  • Make sure your first aid kit has a good layout where you can find things quickly without dumping the whole bag out. Look for packages that fold open and have clear pockets. 
  • Repackage pills in individual small zipped bags and label them instead of taking the entire bottle. Ezy Dose Pill Pouches are perfect for storing a few days worth of ibuprofen. 
  • Keep everything clean and waterproof. 
  • Minimize bulk and weight by carrying travel size containers of product or repackaging in small bottles. You can find many single-use products on Amazon like Ever Ready First Aid Triple Antibiotic Ointment Packets or Safetec Sunscreen Lotion Packets

Now that you have your first aid kit sorted, check out what else you will need to prepare with the following guides:

Tips & Takeaways

Before leaving home, make sure you know how to use everything in your first aid kit. It’s helpful to take an online course in wilderness first aid or check in with your local Red Cross to see what training they offer. 

Make sure to replace any items you used when you return from a trip. Your kit will be ready to grab and go next time. Medicine and supplies do expire, so do a full inventory periodically and replace anything too old.

Remember, your first aid kit is there to help you treat minor injuries or get by until you can reach proper medical assistance. Best case scenario, you’ll carry one on every hike and never need to use it. 

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