I’m pretty sure that packing a first aid kit is not one of the first things that come to mind when getting ready for an upcoming trip, especially if you want your backpack to be the smallest and lightest possible. Packing light is one of the things every backpacker looks for, but being safe and cautious should also be high on the list of priorities.
The answer to what should be included in a first aid kit is not an absolute one; it depends on the health needs of the person who will be using it, the destinations to be visited, and the length of travel. But in general, these are the most important things that should be included in order to take proper care of minor wounds and health emergencies.
- Personal/prescribed medications – Carry more than the amount needed for the duration of your trip to account for possible delays due to weather, cancellations, unexpected layovers, or simply just wanting to stay extra time at your destination.
- Tylenol/Paracetamol – pain and fever reduction.
- Ibuprofen – stronger pain and fever reducer, anti-inflammatory.
- Antihistamine/Benadryl – allergies, sleep aid.
- Pseudoephedrine – nasal decongestant, helps with “ear pop” from planes.
- Loperamide – anti-diarrheal.
- Cold & Flu Tablets – to treat cold & flu symptoms.
- Motion Sickness Medication – in case those long bus rides or boat trips have an effect on you.
- Rehydration tablets/Electrolyte packets – for replacing loss due to vomiting or diarrhea.
- Antiseptic towelettes – cleaning hands and wounds.
- Iodine Pads – used to kill sensitive bacteria in minor wounds.
- Antibiotic ointment – to prevent infection in minor cuts and scrapes.
- Q-Tips and Cotton Balls – help clean and apply topical medication to wounds.
- Tweezers – to remove ticks, thorns, cactus, sea urchins, etc.
- Moleskin/2nd Skin – to protect blisters on feet and hands.
- Band-aids – different sizes and shapes for minor cuts and scrapes.
- Butterfly Band-aids or Wound Closing Strips – help close open wounds when a visit to a doctor or stitches are not immediately available.
- Small Bandage – provides support to injured joints or to protect fresh wounds from getting dust and dirt)
- Micropore/Medical Tape – to keep gauze pads in place and it serves as an alternative to butterfly band-aids when cut in the proper shape.
- Small Scissors – to cut gauze pads and medical tape to desired size and shape.
- Thermometer – to check how serious is your fever.
- Gloves – to be hygienic and to protect yourself in case you’re helping someone else. Preferably latex free.
- 4 x 4 gauze pads – for minor cuts and scrapes.
- Hand sanitizer – good to keep hands clean and sanitary, dirty hands can infect cuts.
- Safety pins – quick fix for clothing, making an arm sling, emergency cloth.
Also good to carry (especially if going off the beaten path):
- Insect Repellent – to reduce the chances of mosquito bites that could transmit diseases.
- Sunscreen – SPF 15 minimum.
- Eyewash – a good solution to clean eyes when fresh water is not available.
- Multi-vitamins – to keep a healthy level of vitamins in your body.
- Hot/Cold Pack – to treat inflammation topically.
- Matches – light source, fires.
- Portable flashlight – looking into mouths, dark rooms.
- Swiss Army Knife – good multi-purpose tool.
- Flashcard with Emergency Contacts – get important local phone numbers from Police, emergency contacts, hospital, etc.
This kit should be packed in a small case, preferably plastic and waterproof. Medications can be stored in small re-sealable plastic bags (properly marked) to avoid carrying a whole bottle when it is not needed (ie. short trips). The point is only to deal with minor emergencies, not manage on our own problems that may require medical assistance.
Although it looks like you’re carrying a huge amount of medical stuff, what’s mentioned above only composes a “Basic Travel Kit” and it doesn’t take much space if properly organized. This kit is ideal for a trip through developed cities where advanced medical care is easily found and where re-supply is possible. The items and amounts are highly customizable to your personal needs and destination.
If you don’t feel comfortable preparing a travel first aid kit on your own, you can buy one from many pharmacies and retailers. Adventure Medical Kits is a well-respected brand that sells first aid kits specially designed for different travel styles that go from the basics to the extreme expeditions. Or, you can go with cheaper options easily found on Amazon.
Having a proper first aid kit is one of the things that are best to learn beforehand rather than the hard way. I always carry a first aid kit, but after a recent accident, I discovered the importance of carrying a good first aid kit all the time. You should always have your first aid kit easily accessible in your backpack, but if you always carry a daypack, you should have a smaller version of your main first aid kit with you so you have the most important items while sightseeing or roaming around during the day. Accidents can occur at any time, any place, and you can’t use your first aid kit if it is not with you. It is like the travel insurance you hope you never have to use, but that you should always carry.