What Makes a Good First Aid Kit?

Edith HanNPF Blog
Top-down view of person wrapping the ankle of another person on the hiking trail

You know that you should always bring a first-aid kit when heading out for national park adventure, but do you know what makes a good first-aid kit? Are the pre-made kits right for you? Or should you just make your own? There’s a lot of advice out there and it can be overwhelming figuring out exactly what’s needed for your type of excursion.

If you’re wondering why you even need a first-aid kit, the answer is: because the contents inside can help save your life.

You could be getting a hot spot on your foot, and a moleskin can help prevent that from becoming a blister, thereby ensuring that in the case of an approaching thunderstorm, your feet can get you down quickly. No, it’s not going to be able to remove a blockage in your aorta, but the aspirin that you brought in your kit will be able to thin your blood until more help arrives, get the idea?

Here are a couple tips and tricks to figuring out what to bring in your first-aid kit. These will help keep you from under-packing, while also avoiding over-packing. Though you shouldn’t rely on a first-aid kit to cover all medical emergencies you may face in the field, a properly packed wilderness medical kit can be a life saver.

Know Your Stuff

A toolbox is only useful if you know how to use the tools. Nothing can substitute the information you learn taking and brushing up on a wilderness first-aid course. It will teach you what to pack, what to do with these materials, and how to make important life-saving decisions in the wilderness. What you learn during this type of course will be invaluable since you won’t have much time to read through the first-aid manual while attending to your friend’s gash, even if it is only a flesh wound.

Know Your Trip

Roped mountaineering team near the top of Sahale Peak at North Cascades National Park
Ida Vincent, Share the Experience

Just like you use different packs for a day hike, thru-hiking the Appalachian Scenic Trail, and skiing in the backcountry at North Cascades National Park, you’ll have different first-aid kits customized to your group and your activity.

Cathedral Grove in Muir Woods

Things to keep in mind: the destination, the length of your trip, the number of people in your group, and any specific needs of group members. If you’re going for a 1-mile hike through Muir Woods National Monument, rehydration salts may not be necessary. If there is someone that has a known allergy to bee stings, make sure to bring an epi pen.

Know Your Kit

An unpacked first aid kit with a hand starting to go down a checklist for the First Aid Kit

Even if you choose to buy a pre-made kit, you’ll want to go through it and make some additions or exchanges to it. What’s nice about a good commercial kit is that it’s often in a nicely organized red pouch that can be quickly found and sorted through. However, this does add weight, space, and cost.

If you’re making your own, you can make sure that you have high-quality materials from the get-go and save on weight and space. Just make sure that you put everything in a waterproof container like a strong, plastic, airproof bag.

Here’s a suggested packing list to consider when putting your kit together. Many of these can be found in small packets, or you can repackage things into properly labeled pill pouches:

For Wounds and Injuries

  • Alcohol swabs
  • Adhesive bandages of different sizes and shapes
  • Skin closures (e.g. butterfly bandages)
  • Adhesive medical tape
  • Sterile dressing pads
  • Roll gauze
  • Blister treatments (e.g. moleskin)

Medication and Ointments

  • Aloe vera gel
  • Hydrocortisone cream
  • Ibuprofen
  • Antihistamine
  • Antacid
  • Antidiarrheal pills
  • Oral rehydration salts
  • Chlorine or iodine water treatment
  • Any prescription medication you need

Other Gear

  • Latex or nitrile gloves
  • Safety pins
  • Emergency blanket
  • Tweezers
  • Trauma scissors
  • Irrigating syringe

You may not need all the items listed above, and you may need more than that, depending on your trip. There are also other things such as a SAM splint or triangular bandages that could be useful, but not necessary as they can also be improvised in the field.

Endless horizon in Big Bend National Park

As a final note: be sure to check your kit on a consistent basis, especially before a big trip! You don’t want to be in the wilderness of Big Bend National Park only to realize that you used up all your moleskin on your last hiking trip!

Next time you go on a #FindYourPark/#EncuentraTuParque adventure in your national parks, don’t forget to bring a first-aid kit!


This is very informative! This surely helps a lot of people. Thanks a lot
Good that you emphasize that getting training is more important than what's in the kit. One flaw in the article is that while you mention aspirin in the very beginning of the article, yet you don't list it among your recommended contents. My background is with volunteer SAR and ski patrol in Alaska. I'm currently certified as WFR, EMT-1, and OEC.
Good choices. I would take some duct tape for taping sprains, repairing equipment. Skip the salt pills. If you're dehydrated, you need water. You get plenty of salt from your food. Take a small first aid book with dressing and splinting instructions. Sprains and blisters are the most common injuries. I'm an R.N. with many years backpacking and hiking experience, and 10 years as a Ranger at Mt. Rainier National Park.

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