Just like your tire repair kit and clean socks, a well-supplied first aid kit is just one of those things you should never leave home without. Of course, we never want anyone to get hurt, but bumps and bruises are par for the course if you’re out exploring. Emergencies can happen at the drop of a hat and you’re always better off over prepared, rather than under.
When it comes to assembling and maintaining your med kit, it should be organized and and on-par with the level of first aid training you’ve got under your belt. On that note, before I dive into some of our favorite first aid kits for overlanding, let’s talk a bit about training. Far more essential than packing QuickClot and trauma shears into a nifty red carrying case, getting yourself some top-notch training is the single best thing you can do to keep yourself safe in the backcountry.
There are two levels of basic medical training that I would recommend to just about anyone heading into the wilderness. Depending on what your backcountry travel goals are, attending either a Wilderness First Aid or Wilderness First Responder course should be on your short list of things to do.
Wilderness First Aid: Wilderness First Aid (WFA) is a perfect introduction to wilderness medicine for all outdoor enthusiasts. Typically a two-day course, the WFA provides relevant, realistic first-aid training for short term wilderness pursuits. For those of us who like to hit the road less traveled, emergency medical response can be significantly delayed and the WFA course gives you the tools to know how to make appropriate evacuation decisions, in addition to treating basic injuries and common illnesses in the field.
Wilderness First Responder: If you’re looking for a higher level of wilderness medical training for extended backcountry expeditions, the Wilderness First Responder (WFR) is amazing. For those of us who ride or drive our way deep into the backcountry, access to definitive care can take hours or days, given the remoteness and potentially unreliable communications. The WFR is typically an 8-10 day course that goes into greater detail on performing physical exams, assessing vital signs, and providing emergency care in the wilderness.
Remember, these courses do not substitute for years of medical school and won’t make you a doctor. One of the most important parts of the WFA and WFR courses is they give you a better understanding of when and how to make crucial evacuation decisions when things go pear-shaped.
READ MORE: CAMPFIRE SAFETY FOR OVERLANDERS
Over the course of my decades of working and recreating in the backcountry, I’ve taken WFA, WFR, and recertification classes from NOLS, SOLO, and Wilderness Medical Associates. They are all incredibly informative and rely heavily on experiential, hands-on learning to supplement the inevitable classroom work. I highly recommend all of them and I’m sure there are other good ones out there, as well. Hunt one down and get the skills you need to do justice to one of the first aid kits that follow!
Maintaining Your Med Kit
When it comes to choosing a first aid kit, there are many good options out there that are chock full of useful supplies and clever design. That said, you should always tune your kit like you tune your tire pressure and dial it to your particular needs. Here are a couple tips to keep in mind when you’re selecting and maintaining your med bag.
Learn it! An emergency shouldn’t be the first time you open your shiny new first aid kit. Please don’t buy a kit and toss it in your trunk without taking stock on everything in there. You’ll probably want to ramp up on certain supplies and, occasionally, leave a few things out that don’t apply to the sort of travel you’re doing. I’d suggest keeping a list for easy reference and restocking.
Use it! Your med kit shouldn’t just get pulled out in dire circumstances. Make it a practice of keeping the band-aids or bug repellent that you use on a daily basis in there, as well as the CPR mask and SAM splint that we hope you’ll never have to use. Your kit should feel as comfortable as your sleeping bag and you should intuitively know where everything is, just in case.
Maintain it! Just like lubing your chain and spraying off the undercarriage after a trip, make sure you replace the aid items you used during your adventure. When you get home after every trip, take stock of what you pulled from your med kit and replace it promptly. Also, mind the dates on things. Gloves degrade over time, gauze loses its sterility after a certain point, and medications expire. Keeping things up to date will save you added stress in an emergency.
Just the Basics: Uncharted Supply Co. Core First Aid Kit
Small enough to fit in your backpack, tankbag, or glove box, the Core from Uncharted Supply Co. was designed to contain the essentials of first aid. Weighing in at just six ounces, there’s no excuse not to bring it along everywhere you go.
Suggested Upgrade: Swap the plastic tweezers for metal ones and double up on the amount of gauze and tape.
Backcountry Essentials: Adventure Medical Kits Mountain Series Explorer Medical Kit
Adventure Medical Kits is a household name in the world of first aid and their Mountain Series Explorer is perfectly suited to overland travel. Easily labeled and stocked with high-quality supplies, the Mountain Series lets you remedy everything from minor booboos to rugged wounds. Plus, it comes with Eric A. Weiss, MD’s Wilderness & Travel Medicine book, which is loaded with great tips that you should read prior to something going wrong in the field.
Suggested Upgrade: Add a quality thermometer and backup flashlight, store the batteries separately.
For Your Furry Adventure Buddy: Adventure Medical Kits Me And My Dog First Aid Kit
There is nothing better than adventuring with your pup in the passenger seat and out on the trail. Adventure Medical’s Me and My Dog First Aid kit comes divided into two waterproof pouches, one for the humans and one for the dogs. From tick removal to mending torn paw pads, this kit is perfect for you and your four-legged backcountry buddy.
Suggested Upgrade: Peanut butter squeeze packets to distract your dog while dealing with a wound or tick situation.
Tour Leaders and 4WD Doogie Howsers: MyMedic The Medic First Aid Kit – Advanced
Perfect for the experienced tour leader, don’t consider this kit unless you have serious wilderness medical training already under your belt (no, YouTube doesn’t count in this situation). Stocked with everything from occlusive dressings to a stethoscope, cervical collar, and suture supplies, this is the kit that will help save a life in the right hands.
Suggested Upgrade: Wilderness Advanced Life Support or SAR training, preferably both.
Written by Overland Expo’s Ambassador of Adventure, Eva Rupert.
Cover Photo: My Medic