First Aid Kits for the Outdoor Family
We’ve all been there. A bike crash that results in a gashed open knee. Stumbling upon a surprise ground wasp nest in the middle of a hiking trail. Children cavorting into a massive patch of poison ivy looking for a perfect stick (my kids aren’t the only ones that do that, right?).
There you are, alone, trying to help your kiddo get the gravel out of a knee, a wasp sting to stop hurting, or the poison ivy washed off, as you rummage in your pack or glove box for supplies, anything, something, to help. A well stocked adventure first aid kit for your family can be a real situation saver in moments like these.
Many outdoor mini “emergencies” are generally not life-threatening, yet they are much easier to deal with when properly equipped. Every adventure we go on, whether to the play ground or the mountain summit, might need supplies to save the day when the crap hits the fan.
Maintaining a good first aid kit and being comfortable with using the supplies will go a long way to keeping you and your kiddos safer, comfortable, and less whiny in the great outdoors. I am sure we have all experienced the placebo “magic” of a well timed bandaid on a small abrasion.
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Educate Yourself about First Aid
The best first aid kit will not help you if you don’t know how to use its contents. It is essential to not just own a tourniquet, but to actually educate yourself to use properly in an emergency (and yes, if you are using a tourniquet, that would classify as an emergency).
You can use Youtube videos from wilderness medicine companies, read a book, or, even better, take a wilderness first aid class. NOLS has a book on wilderness medicine that would be a good book to start with.
Our team member Ginny wrote this great post last year on adventure safety for the outdoor family. In it she shares her experience of taking a Wilderness First Aid course. She highly recommends it–educating ourselves is empowering!
Ready Made vs. DIY First Aid Kits
You can either purchase a first aid kit ready to go off the shelf, or DIY your own. You can make an excellent kit either way, but each has its pros and cons.
Ready Made First Aid Kits for Families
Many companies offer great first aid kits for tons of activities. You can find kits for mountain biking, camping, hiking, boating, even dogs! Generally, these kits are stocked specifically for the type of injuries you might experience during that activity. You still will need to add specific items for allergies or other needs.
There are some great first aid kits out there if you want the peace of mind of a ready made kit.
Adventure Medical Kits makes first aid kits for nearly every situation you could imagine. From family first aid kits to multi-day backpacking kits, they have it.
We use a couple of their kits, and then restock as needed when supplies are used. I love the bags that they provide with their kits as they are a great way to keep everything organized and easy to find.
DIY First Aid Kits for Families
Because every family has different needs and concerns, most ready made first aid kits will not have every item you could possibly need.
Additionally, some kits are simply too large to use for a quick bike ride, but you still need something in case of injury.
For local and short outdoor adventures I like to make my own first aid kits, using ziploc bags. I modify these kits as necessary depending on the adventure. They are lightweight, adjustable, and portable.
Contents of a DIY First Aid Kit
What you choose to put in your own first aid kits will depend on your needs as a family. For example, if you have children who have severe bee sting allergies than you will need to account for that. We live in the Northeast with a high tick population, so we always carry tick removing tools.
If you have a daredevil on a bike child (raises hand) then you might need to stock extra bandaids and Ace bandages for his inevitable sprains and scrapes.
Consider what special circumstances you have. Does your child hate blood? You might need to bring extra gloves and gauze to make injury care less “messy”
Hate bandaids? Bring fun ones that are more like stickers than bandaids.
First Steps to Build a DIY First Aid Kit
Evaluate what your activities are. Do you go to soccer practice and and backpacking? You might want to build more than one kit for the separate activities.
If you mostly camp, hike, or bike, you could probably use the same kit for everything, with adjustments for each trip.
I like to have one kit that always stays in the car, and then more specialized kits to take with them on activities.
What to use for a case
Several of our first aid kits are in reused cases from old kits. One is in an altoid tin. Our backpacking kit is fresh off the shelf from Adventure Medical Kits.
Some folks like to use a dry bag like this one from Sea to Summit, with individual ziploc bags inside to keep everything organized. I think that is a brilliant idea from a lightweight, DIY solution. Use a box of bag that will keep your supplies organized, easy to find, and safe from moisture and dirt.
DIY Family First Aid Kits for Specific Activities
What to put in each type of kit
Depending on what your needs are, you should keep several different types of first aid kits in circulation. This helps make sure you are always ready for adventure, without constantly having to repack/unpack a kit for various applications.
We circulate several different kits for our family. The four types I’ll talk about here are Car, Hiking, Car Camping, and Backpacking Kits.
Use these lists of supplies as a starting point for your own kits. Remember, don’t put anything in you kit that you don’t personally know how to use.
Car First Aid Kit for Families
Everyone should have a kit in the car for the needs that arise during trips to soccer practice, the play ground, or anywhere in our weekly errands. Buy this or keep it stocked with lots of the basics. Because we are able to easily drive to a hospital when we are using the car, I do not stock the car kit with as many emergency supplies as our backcountry first aid kit.
We use a hard sided plastic case for this since weight is not a concern.
You need to stock this with what makes most sense for your family, but here is what I like to include in our car first aid kit:
- Poison Ivy wash (I have a son who gets a terrible reaction if I don’t catch it early)
- Lots of band-aids of various sizes ( for the inevitable scrapes and bruises)
- Full size first aid ointment
- Full size hydrocortisone cream
- Bug spray
- Tick remover (ticks are BAD in the Northeast where we live)
- A few gauze pads
- Medical tape
- A bottle of child-dose painkillers
- Burn gel (again, I have a pyromaniac child who always gets burns)
- Instant ice pack–so handy for those unexpected bumps and bruises
- Paper towels
Mini DIY First Aid Kits for Kids and Adults
I like my children to keep a small first aid kit in their backpacks when we are hiking or backpacking. It gives them independence and autonomy to be able to fix some of their own scrapes without needing me each time. It also helps develop their own sense of preparedness, since I want them all the learn to carry the 10 Essentials.
We use a a ziploc bag or other small container for these, and stock it with basic supplies.
Hiking DIY First Aid Kits for Families
I tend to edit and customize my hiking first aid kits the most. Depending on the length and type of hike, I might use a full-size kit or a quart ziploc bag for the supplies.
If I hike by myself, I bring less items than if I hike with my children. I tend to sort out my supplies the night before and adjust what is necessary.
However, I do keep a general purpose hiking kit that I can grab for short-notice hikes.
Hiking First Aid Kit Contents
- Band aids
- Blister prevention, such as moleskin or leukotape
- Vaseline or Bag Balm
- antiseptic towelettes
- first aid cream
- hydrocortisone cream
- small quantity of painkillers
- non-stick gauze pads
- bug spray
- ace bandage
- safety pin
- medical tape
- fire starting supplies
- high calorie snacks (in addition to what I bring “for” the hike)
- Small roll of duct tape
- Benadryl or other oral anti-histamine in case of allergic reactions
- Oral hydration tablets
First Aid Kits for Family Car Camping
First aid kits for camping and backpacking tend to be my largest kits. I like to be well prepared for the full length of of our trip, and the number of people on the trip. Generally, when car camping, you are within range of a hospital or ambulance so most serious emergencies can be handled by the pros.
Because I have the car kit when we do car camping, I usually just bring a collection of additional supplies to supplement for the number of days we are gone. Imagine that every cream or treatment needs to be used at least once a day (and once a day times the number of people for things like sunscreen and bug spray). I will fill a bin with a lid with extra supplies.
Contents of a Camping First Aid Kit:
(in addition to car first aid kit)
- Extra bug spray
- Plenty of sunscreen
- Full tube of anti-itch cream
- Full tube of antibiotic ointment
- Several instant ice packs
- Cleaning wipes
- Poison ivy treatment
- Oral anti-histamines
- Any necessary medications
- Anti-diarrhea meds
- sleeping aids such as melatonin if your children need them
- Aloe Vera gel
- Blister treatment
- Bee sting kit
- Ace bandage
First Aid Kits for Backpacking
Backpacking is the category where being completely prepared is essential. Being 8 miles into the wilderness without the right first aid supplies could result in a night of misery or even a call for search and rescue. Backpacking with children requires an extra level of preparedness given the unpredictable nature of kiddos hanging out in the back country.
I spoke about this earlier, but you should not pack anything in a first aid kit that you you do not know how to use. Bring a simple first aid book along with you, or, even better, take a Wilderness First Aid course. Both SOLO and NOLS offer great ones. A Wilderness First Aid course will teach you everything you need to know for short adventures in the outdoors.
Backpacking First Aid Kit Contents:
whether solo or with the children:
- Wound irrigation tool
- Elastic bandage
- Ace bandage
- Gauze bandage
- Medical tape
- Sterile dressings
- Moleskin and other blister supplies
- Shears or multi-tool with scissors
- Safety pins
- Assorted bandaids
- Antiseptic wipes
- Alcohol swabs
- Triple antibiotic ointment
- Bag balm
- Tincture of Benzoin
- Trauma Pad
- After Bite
- Anti-diarrhea meds
- Bug Spray
- Burn gel packets
- Triangle bandage
- Sam splint or something similar
Adventure Medical First Aid Kids for the Outdoor Family
There are several brands that make adventure specific first aid kits. Adventure Medical Kits stands out in this field. They make kits for ultralight hikers (not recommend if you have kids!) and even first aid kits for dogs!
There are several benefits of these kits. One is that they contain small packets of medicines, creams, and other supplies instead of needing to buy large quantities of packets to stock your own kits. Their upfront cost is probably cheaper than starting from scratch yourself.
Another benefit is that their cases are extremely well labeled and organized. In challenging circumstances, being able to find exactly what you need is imperative.
You still will want to add extra items that your family might need, but I find them a really good foundation to start from.
The Importance of Outdoor First Aid Preparedness
The best first aid kit is ultimately the one you have with you, and that you know how to use in an emergency. Keeping a specific kit instead of just a handful of bandaids in your backpack might not seem important until the day you need to use the blister supplies and bee sting treatment on the same day. Blister treatment supplies have SAVED so many hikes for us.
Being prepared and organized with a well stocked first aid kit isn’t about being paranoid or overly cautious. It is about having tools to care for our families as we play in the great outdoors! The more prepared we are, the better we can handle the zany situations that come our way.
Please let us know what you like to add to your families kits!
First Aid Kits for the Outdoor Family
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