What to pack in your medical kit
It goes without saying – the medical kit is one of the most important items when packing for any adventure. Whether it’s a road trip to cottage country, a hike in The Rockies, or weeks backpacking in a foreign country, you have to be prepared … because shit happens.
As an Athletic Therapist and Emergency Medical Responder, I am the one responsible for the medical kit whenever we are preparing for a trip. In this post, I am going to take you through my kit-packing process and share some essential and ‘less thought of’ items that you may want to consider adding to your medical kit for your next trip. This is not a packing list meant to be followed closely; every kit is different and depends heavily on your trip, as well as your first aid skills and knowledge. Approach this as more of a guideline to get started, including a few tips and things to consider.
When packing our med kit before a trip I always start with the necessities. Although a medical kit for a hike in Banff will look much different than one you’d pack for a week on the beach in Cuba, there are a handful of items that fit every kit and occasion.
Simple first aid items like antiseptic wipes to clean wounds, along with Band-Aids and gauze for protection, can help to avoid infections that could cut your trip short. Everyone has become all too familiar with hand sanitizer these past couple years – its importance cannot be understated and should always be included in your kit, along with a pair of latex gloves to protect yourself when tending to other people's injuries. A couple tools you should always have on hand are tweezers and scissors; these can come in handy for a wide range of situations from an annoying and painful splinter to having to cut clothing in an emergency. Alongside first aid supplies, your kit should also include a variety of medications. The basics include (but may not be limited to): prescriptions or Epi-Pens based on the group’s medical history, anti-inflammatories for pain relief (Advil, Tylenol, etc.), antihistamines and hydrocortisone cream in case of any reactions to bug bites, food, or plants, and finally, never leave home without antidiarrheal pills (like I said, sometimes shit happens).
Once you have the necessities, it’s time to figure out what trip-specific items you may need. I typically ask myself a few questions when considering what else to pack:
What is most likely to go wrong on this trip?
What activities are we planning to do?
What’s the weather like and are there any environmental concerns?
What types of supplies will be easily accessible and readily available for purchase?
Activities have a huge impact on what could go wrong during your trip. Some items you should consider include: blister pads (2nd Skin squares are my go-to, but Moleskin works well, too) if you are expecting to hike or do a lot of walking, Tensor bandages and athletic tape in case of sprains from sports and physical activities, and triangular bandages can be used to sling an arm or secure a splint in the case of a more serious injury.
The weather and temperature of your location can sometimes be the reason you planned this trip, however it can also cause issues that could ruin your experience. Hot, humid locations can put you at risk for sunburns or dehydration. I always pack sunscreen (and aloe vera in case of a sunburn) and electrolyte packages to help reduce the risk of dehydration. Electrolyte packets (Gatorlytes, BioSteel, or Emergen-C) have become a staple in my kit for hot locations, and even helped us avoid a potentially dangerous situation in Thailand. When you become dehydrated due to lack of fluids, hot/humid weather, or even diarrhea, your body loses fluids and electrolytes. Water alone will not reverse this condition; you need to replenish electrolytes to avoid severe symptoms that can put you in danger.
Tip: if you forgot electrolytes or have run out, coconut water naturally contains electrolytes and is more common than sports drinks like Gatorade in most tropical countries (although cracking a coconut is easier said than done).
Cold weather can also be a concern, and so items like chemically activated hand warmers and Mylar emergency blankets can help you avoid conditions like frostbite and hypothermia while skiing or snowshoeing in the winter.
Depending on where you are headed, some supplies may or may not be easily accessible. When backcountry camping, you won't have access to a pharmacy so it’s best to pack just about anything you can think of, including water purification tablets so that you can ensure any water you may drink is safe (i.e. AquaTabs). If you are headed to a foreign country, consider drugstore accessibility, how expensive supplies may be, or any language barriers that may hinder your ability to find what you are looking for (after fighting a nasty case of salmonella one night in Laos, Steph and I spent almost an hour in a convenience store trying to read foreign labels to figure out which sports drinks had electrolytes written in the ingredients).
When packing a medical kit, make sure everyone in your travelling party is aware of its location, whether it’s in someone’s room (where in the room), backpack (what pocket), etc. because you never know when or who may need access to it. Make sure it is easily accessible for both emergencies and security checkpoints at airports. Size and packing space is always something to consider when deciding what to include in your kit – just always remember: it’s better to have something and not need it, then to need something and not have it.
Want to share your Med Kit essentials, trip specific must-haves, or just have some packing tips? Shoot us an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or tag/DM us on Instagram (@chao.travellers) so we can share it with the community!
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