Backcountry first aid kit - the essentials
First aid and safety kits for the backcountry can really be taken in several directions and can be as complicated and complex or as simple as you’d like. Personally, I really feel this boils down to leveraging your own personal abilities with the equipment against the likely dangers you could encounter while in the field. Some of the commercially available first aid kits seem more suitable for an army medic while others will do little more than treat a minor cut or scrape. Still, there are some great kit options available for purchase and, with a little extra work on your own, you can end up with an efficient, lightweight and practical loadout.
The other side of backcountry safety that is very rarely—if ever—covered within first aid kits falls under the categories of fire, shelter and communication. These are the items that are going to help you in situations where an unplanned night may need to be spent on the mountain or if you become lost. In the following article, we will dive into the best options available to hunters to create an excellent safety kit built for efficiency.
As I stated earlier, I feel like most of the first aid kits found on the market today are either far more rudimentary for most hunters’ needs or so overly complicated that you’ll end up bleeding out before making it through the instructions. The two kits we carry in the goHUNT gear shop are excellent options to consider and both have slightly different approaches.
The Adventure Medical Kits Trauma Pak is one of my favorites as it takes a very straightforward and practical approach to first aid. The kit includes clotting sponges, various gauze pads, duct tape to secure them and antiseptic wipes. This is a down and dirty kit built for efficiency and speed. You would still want to beef up the kit with various forms of medications and some additional items, but I feel like this kit only offers the necessary and doesn’t leave you paying for items you’ll likely never use.
The Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight/Waterproof .5 is another good option for hunters looking for a more well-rounded offering. This kit includes the typical array of bandages, gauze and medications as well as some additional tools like safety pins and tweezers. This kit will not handle as serious of a situation as the Trauma Pak, generally speaking, but will cover a slightly wider range of possible situations. Still, each kit will likely need some tweaking to suit your own personal needs and to match the potential dangers in the area you are hunting.
Cuts, scrapes and lacerations
When putting together my own kit I have more or less pieced together several other existing kits or added my own separate items. For handling minor to major cuts, I take a very straightforward approach. Bandaging will consist of various sizes of gauze pads, duct tape, super glue, butterflies and a small roll of athletic tape. I generally feel like traditional bandages are more hassle than they are worth their weight as the duct tape and gauze route will hold anything much better and super glue will handle smaller cuts much quicker and will create a tougher bond. These items can be excellent for knife cuts, scratches, etc.
Beyond the typical small cuts or scratches we may encounter, there is also the possibility of larger lacerations—something gauze, Band-Aids or duct tape will never fix. In these situations, you need to stop the bleeding fast and get the wound sealed up quickly. Products like QuickClot can quite literally be a lifesaver as the sponge will speed up your body's natural clotting process by as much as three times. For sealing the wound, many people will rely on a simple suture kit. While I’ve never been in this situation I can honestly say that the probability of me going through that process is nil to none. Instead, I have opted to pack a lightweight skin stapler on the recommendation of a heart surgeon friend of mine. In his words: “You can easily staple yourself back together while your adrenaline is still redlining and this will hold you together while you get to the nearest hospital.” I much prefer this faster route. Antiseptic wipes will also be included in this group.
Medications carried in your kit will really boil down to personal preferences; however, there are some that should be carried, regardless. Personally, I am very susceptible to headaches and have found that Excedrin Migraine works wonders for me. I also like to keep Ibuprofen, Benadryl, antacids and Pepto Bismol in my kit. Additionally, I will also carry multivitamins, personal medications and sleep aids with my other medications.
Along with the normal first aid equipment I also carry some other additional pieces for more personal needs. Bug bites drive me insane so I always have a tube of After Bite with me. Secondly, because I wear contacts, I get to lug around a pile of eye care products and eye drops.
Personal safety equipment
After first aid items, I also consider various pieces of survival gear to be part of my total safety kit. The items I’m currently carrying for each hunt can vary based on the nature of my hunt and day hunts versus backpack hunts, but the general gist of the contents very rarely change.
This is one area I get somewhat obsessive about because needing fire and not being prepared for several weather situations can spell disaster. As a general rule of thumb, I always carry two forms of an ignition source: a traditional lighter and a ferro rod. I also like to carry different types of tinder options as well. I carry a few small fire sticks and the SOL All-Weather Fire Cubes. The SOL cubes are great because they are wind and waterproof and burn for up to 12 minutes each! As an added bonus, the cubes are individually wrapped, which makes pack organization a breeze.
An emergency shelter is one item in my kit that can change depending on the conditions of my hunt. On a true bivy hunt where my camp is carried with me, I will always have access to shelter and may not have the need to carry any additional options. Whereas, when hunting from a spike camp or while day hunting, I may opt to carry something quick and easy. A simple space blanket is always a great option to carry and many are big enough that they can actually be strung up for an emergency tarp. On colder weather hunts, something larger like a Seek Outside DST Tarp or a Stone Glacier SkyAir ULT Tarp can be an excellent option for an emergency shelter and will also double as a great wind block while glassing for extended periods. Rain gear carried during wetter periods can also work as a shelter option in a pinch.
Communication and location
This is a fairly small part of the total kit, but can ultimately make the biggest impact when the shit starts hitting the fan. For starters, I always leave a detailed hunt plan for my wife, including where I’ll be parking, my intended direction of travel and any specific landmarks, mountains or creeks I may be hunting near as well as my intended time of return. Along with that, we always agree on a time when she will ultimately need to call for search and rescue if no contact has been made.
In areas where cell coverage is not a problem, a constant form of contact is an option via my cell phone; however I also usually carry my Garmin inReach. The inReach is an invaluable tool as it provides constant two-way communication through the Iridium Satellite system, gives instant access to my location to my contacts and provide myself with a direct communication line with Search and Rescue through the SOS button. This item goes with me on every backcountry hunt and has added a lot of confidence and comfort for my family back home. As an added measure, I also like to carry a UST Jet Scream whistle for aiding in any location efforts.
When it comes to preparing your own backcountry safety kit the biggest factor I feel is important is really evaluating every piece of gear you are carrying. Do you have the knowledge on how to properly use the item? Should you spend time learning with it before the season? A little effort can take a basic kit and turn it into something that can ultimately save your life.
For additional information, if you're hunting in grizzly country this year check out these three articles below:
- Hunting in grizzly bear country: Sidearm vs bear spray
- Hunting in grizzly bear country: Safety after you get an animal down
- How to camp safely in grizzly bear country