If you’ve ever been out in your tent, or even just for a hike along a trail, and cut yourself or got stung by a bug, you’ll know that having a first aid kit on hand is vital, but what should be in a first aid kit for camping?
I’ve been camping for many decades and I think I’ve worked out the perfect first aid kit for camping, and it’s not what you think.
Your basic camping first aid kit should include the following:
- Assorted sized plasters (bandaids) including blister plasters
- An antiseptic cream
- Sterile wipes
- Alcohol hand sanitiser
- A pair of tweezers
- A small pair of scissors
- Gauze pads (assorted sizes)
- Safety pins
- A pair of latex-free gloves
- A silver space blanket
- A triangular bandage
- Wound wash (saline)
- CPR Mask
- Over the counter pain medication (paracetamol and ibuprofen)
That list is for a basic first aid kit, slightly bigger than the ‘boo-boo’ kit we’ll talk about lower down, but if you wanted to make your camping kit much more robust, here are a few more items you may wish to include:
- Eye drops (suitable for contact lens wearers)
- Oral rehydration treatment
- Heartburn medication
- Indigestion medication
- Aloe vera or sunburn gel
- Duct tape
- Prescription medication detail
- Butterfly strips or steri-strips
- Cough treatment
- Styptic treatment
- Notebook and pen
- Surgical face mask
- First Aid manual
The Top 21 Things To Include In a Camping First Aid Kit
Everyone’s camping first aid kit is going to be different, and, depending on any allergies or specific medical conditions, you may wish to include other bits in your basic kit or to remove things that aren’t suitable.
DISCLAIMER: I am not a medical professional, and I have no formal medical training. While the list below covers your basic kit requirements for most situations, it should be tailored to you and your situation, your medical conditions, and your allergies.
Expert medical advice should always be sought in an emergency situation.
I would suggest that any medications you keep in your kit (such as pain relief or antiseptic creams) you keep in their packaging or keep with the instructions.
Don’t share medication with people, especially not prescription medications.
Building Your First Aid Kit
If you find yourself in a situation where you need to help someone else, always wear gloves to reduce the risk of infection from bloodborne pathogens.
I’m willing to bet that around 90% of all of the camping first aid complaints you’ll have will be cuts and bruises, maybe the odd splinter and grazed knee.
The following 21 items will cover most of the issues you’ll encounter and can be used with no formal medical training, but it’s always best to get yourself on a first aid course if you can.
The more first aid trained people in the world, the more likely we are to be able to save each other.
Assorted sized plasters (bandaids) including blister plasters
A simple pack of plasters from any supermarket will do the trick here.
It’s important to get a range of sizes and I would strongly suggest packing in a few non-waterproof ones too, mainly because I’m allergic to waterproof plasters and they’re the only ones included in some kits!
Put in a few blister plasters too, you’ll thank me later, especially if your walking boots or walking shoes cause blisters.
An antiseptic cream
There are a myriad of different antiseptic creams and ointments to choose from, and some are stronger than others. Personally, I travel with a small tube of savlon, this is a rather gentle antiseptic cream but it’s good for cuts, grazes, bruises and other minor ailments.
Sterile wipes are sometimes called alcohol wipes and included in most off the shelf first aid kids. They are good for wiping down areas (such as a grazed knee) before applying some antiseptic cream and a plaster.
Alcohol hand sanitiser
Pack some TSA assured Alcohol Hand Gel on your next trip
In 2020 we’ve realised how important it is to keep our hands clean, and practically everyone is packing a small bottle of Alcohol Hand Gel now, and for good reason. Go for a gel or spray that is at least 70% alcohol and use it regularly, especially if you are going to help someone who is injured.
Be warned though, hand sanitizer is only as effective as you make it, so really cover your hands fully and wash with warm water and soap after every three uses of hand sanitizer.
A pair of tweezers
Splinters can happen to the best of us, as can grazes and cuts. Pack a small pair of metal tweezers into your kit and use them for extracting small pieces of debris. Sanitize the tweezers first though by covering them in alcohol gel.
A small pair of scissors
Used for cutting bandages but also for cutting clothing. Include a small pair of scissors but ensure they are strong enough to cut through normal clothing if you have to.
Gauze pads (assorted sizes)
Gauze pads that look like giant plasters, or bandages with a pad on are useful for bigger cuts. These can be used to help protect a wound while you find medical treatment, or for covering larger areas such as a large graze.
Safety pins of a few different sizes should be included in your first aid kit. If anything they will come in handy if you have a clothing malfunction, but in a medical situation they can be used to hold bandages together.
A pair of latex-free gloves
I would actually suggest getting a couple of pairs of latex-free gloves for your first aid kit because you will be using them fairly often if you look after other people (especially kids).
Always make sure you’re wearing gloves when you deal with other people, especially if they are bleeding, as the risk of bloodborne illnesses such as HIV and Hepatitis really cannot be understated.
Wear gloves. Always. Don’t be afraid to ask clinicians to wear gloves if you’re the one in need of treatment too.
A silver space blanket
A Space Blanket can be a life saver in an emergency situation
These little thin silver blankets sometimes called a Space Blanket, weight practically nothing and can be slid into the back of even the smallest first aid kit.
They are absolutely vital for your kit though as they can help the user to retain up to 90% of their body heat, which is going to be really important if the person you are looking after is going into shock.
A triangular bandage
It’s amazing how many times an injured arm or shoulder can happen, and even more amazing that a rest for a few hours in a sling can work wonders. Triangular bandages can also be used as tourniquets in a pinch, and as padding to help stop or slow down bleeding too.
Wound wash (saline)
While you may have water with you in camp, a saltwater wash is much better for open wounds. Little vials of wound wash saline are easy to pick up online and work very well for flushing out small cuts and grazes.
In the list of additional items I suggested taking eye drops suitable for contact lens wearers, these are also little bottles of saline and while wound wash saline isn’t suitable for use as an eye drop, eye drop saline can be used as a wound wash if you only want to take one bottle.
In the words of Dr Mike Varshavski, “chest compressions, chest compressions, chest compressions!”.
If someone is not breathing and their heart has stopped, you must call 999 (or 911 or whatever your country’s emergency number is) start chest compressions as soon as possible.
Chest compressions are more important than getting air into their lungs, but if you can do both while you await medical help (at a rate of 15 compressions to one breath) then you stand a slightly better chance of saving their life, that’s where the CPR mask comes in handy so there is no mouth-to-mouth touching.
If you haven’t got one or don’t want to do mouth-to-mouth though, don’t worry, just do those chest compressions and keep it up until help arrives.
If you want to find out more about how to do chest compressions and CPR, the British Heart Foundation released a fantastic video advert about hands-only CPR to the tune of “Staying Alive”. It’s well worth a watch.
Over the counter pain medication (eg paracetamol and ibuprofen)
Aside from cuts and bruises, the other most common medical complaints whilst camping are sprains and headaches. For most people, paracetamol or two will solve a headache (always follow dosage instructions on the packaging), and once you’ve treated a sprain properly, an anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen (either by tablet or gel) will help with the swelling.
When administering pain medication to someone else, ensure that they are not allergic, and always let them know a particular brand, if in doubt do not let them have any.
If you are suffering from a sprain, strain, or pulled muscle don’t forget to follow RICE – Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation.Wrap your injury in a compression bandage if possible, elevate it higher than your heart (or as high as you can), put an ice pack or an instant cool pack on it, and rest.
Unfortunately, rest is the most important of these and without adequate rest, you could do more harm than good, so no more running around, sit down and wait for it to feel better!
Bug bite or sting treatment
Getting bitten or stung while you’re camping is really horrible. Luckily for us in the UK we don’t have any really nasty insects. Occasionally we might find a false widow, but these are quite rare, you’re more likely to get bitten by an ant, a horse fly, or stung by a wasp, neither of which are usually fatal but they are annoying and the bites can be very uncomfortable.
If you can see the sting, try to remove it with your tweezers, but applying sting treatment (usually these come in little sachets just like your sterile wipes) will help to take down the swelling and reduce the itching.
Stings and bites are usually annoying but not dangerous, but if someone you are with has been bitten or stung and they are allergic, they could have a bad reaction and even anaphylaxis.
Here are some symptoms of anaphylaxis to watch out for from the Mayo Clinic:Skin reactions, including hives and itching and flushed or pale skin
Swelling of the throat and tongue
A weak, rapid pulse
Nausea, vomiting or diarrhoea
Dizziness or fainting
Loss of consciousness
Original article here.
If someone you are with exhibits any of these symptoms then you must seek medical treatment immediately.
Do you camp with friends or family? Have a chat with them before you go to ensure you know about any allergies, as they may carry an epi-pen or similar and it is vital you know how to help if you need to.
Another common first aid situation that arises when camping is minor burns and scalding. These are usually as a result of catching the gas stove, spilling hot water, or catching a stray spark from a campfire and they are usually not serious.
For minor burns, apply a burn gel to the area and cover it, you should feel some relief instantly and the gel will continue to work.
Suffer from hayfever? Mildly allergic to bites and stings? Packing some antihistamine is a good idea!
Be sure to get non-drowsy antihistamines though, or you may be too sleepy to enjoy your trip.
Most medical adhesive tape is either micropore tape or fabric adhesive tape. Add either of these to your first aid kit as it’s a really versatile option and well worth it.
A small torch
A small one LED torch that you can get really cheaply is super useful in a camping first aid kit. Great for seeing bits of debris stuck in cuts and grazes and all sorts.
Pack one and you’ll use it more than you ever thought.
A small tourniquet
A small tourniquet is a vital piece of kit and can be an absolute lifesaver. They are easy to use, attach above a large wound and pull tight to stop the bleeding. Ensure that medical professionals are on their way and tell them what you’ve done.
Cold packs can be tricky to keep when you’re camping, as most of us won’t have access to a freezer, but you are able to pick up some instant cool packs that work by activation, usually shaking or hitting it, that last for ages only needing to be thrown away after you’ve used them
What is the best first aid kit for camping?
When it comes to buying a first aid kit for your camping trip, there are lots of options to choose from, and I’d encourage you to think about what activities you’re going to be doing and adjust your kit accordingly.
The Boo Boo Kit
I’m a bit of a stickler for safety and preparedness anyway so I carry the Lifesystems Pocket First Aid Kit with me everywhere, just in case. I call this my ‘boo-boo’ kit and it’s there for small cuts and grazes.
I’ve modified mine to include everything in the list of 21 items above except the CPR mask (although I am looking to include one). I’ve also put in some rehydration sachets and some heartburn medication too.
The Family Kit
For a slightly larger kit that is suitable for family camping trips, you may want to consider the Lifesystems Camping First Aid Kit, this is a bigger kit with a more comprehensive set of equipment with bandages, scissors, safety pins, and even a packet of paracetamol.
I have a modified camping first aid kit in my car, separated into two different packs, one for medications and plasters (this is in a green first aid clippable box with a torch), and a red first aid bag that contains bigger items such as a whistle, scissors, a few space blankets and my larger CPR mask. My bigger kit lives in my car all the time, under my passenger seat, and comes out when we’re camping so that it’s easily grabbable if needed.
I usually keep my first aid kit near the fire extinguisher and fire bucket, so everything safety is together.
The Full Trauma Kit
There are various places online that sell full trauma kits but I am hastened to recommend any because I don’t have medical training. A lot of the equipment inside a full trauma kit (such as intubation tubes for example) should only be used by medical professionals.
I think it would be really useful if you could go on an in-depth first aid course, it’s something I have wanted to do for a long time but have never got around to. The more first-aiders in the world, the safer we’d all be!
Is it cheaper to buy or build a first aid kit?
It’s a tough question whether you should make a first aid kit or buy a pre-made one. The most vital thing you need to be sure of is that ANY kit you have is suitable for your needs.
Your kit needs to contain medications and plasters that you and your family are happy with and not allergic to. If you or your family are on any specific medication (for example one of you may need an EpiPen) it might be worth keeping a backup supply in your bigger kit.
Personally, I would buy a pre-made kit and modify it from there. You have the assurances there that everything inside is packaged properly and in date if needed, and also the assurance that the bag or box your kit comes in will be easily recognisable as a first aid kit -this is important if you camp with other people.
When you are adding things to a kit, try to keep things in their original packaging or bagging, and keep any instructions you can within the kit too.
How do you make a simple first aid kit?
If you want to keep your first aid kit on the tiny side, maybe for an everyday carry bag or to keep in the glove box of your car, here are five things you should keep in your kit:
- Plasters (a few sizes)
- Latex-free gloves
- Pain medication
- Burn gel
- Sterile wipe
A great option for a simple first aid kit is the Mini First Aid Kit by Mercury.
Where should you keep a first aid kit?
I’m on the side of keeping your first aid kit either within easy view of everyone or easily grabbable and somewhere everyone knows where it is.
Proper precautions must be taken around children and pets, especially when it comes to storing medications in either tablet or liquid form, but all non-medicine first aid kit items must be easily grabbable.
Some ideas of places to keep first aid kits of various sizes in the camp are:
- In a kitchen cubby
- Next to your table
- On top of/next to your cool box
- In your day bag (especially for micro kits and boo-boo kits)
- Next to your fire bucket (watch out for rain though!)
- Next to your fire extinguisher
- The glove box of your car
- In a nappy or diaper bag or pushchair/buggy bag
The main thing to watch out for is that you keep your first aid kit easily grabbable so as not to waste any precious seconds to help.
It’s also worth teaching older children how to use as much of the first kit as is appropriate for their age.
Children of all ages should also be taught that the camping first aid kit is not a toy, but how to get it if the adults need it, and how to call the emergency services if needed.
Emergency services in every country are specifically trained to be able to speak to even the smallest of children. They know how to get as much information as possible out of them to help the first responders get to them as soon as possible.
One final thing.
First Responders in the UK are volunteers and responsible for their own training and funding. If you are interested in joining the First Responders, or finding out more about the incredible life-saving work they do, visit the St John’s Ambulance website to learn more.