My friend Pat McHugh built a very successful business on survival equipment and techniques, not the least of which is the space blanket (I have one in my pack!). Pat is retired now but has re-disseminated a bunch of his tips and techniques for everyone’s use. I’ll be posting some of them this week. Thanks Pat!
Your personal field medical kit
…if you build it, then you know what you have, you also will know how, where, and when to use it.
“First, do no harm.” This is a prime tenet of the Hippocratic oath that all doctors swear to uphold. It also is a prime directive for non-doctors attempting to render first aid to themselves or others in an outdoor injury situation. Understanding the aid limits imposed by your own first-aid kit itself keeps one from doing more harm than good.
Also understand that the “general” first-aid kit is a limited concept. Basic first-aid kits are just that, basic. They are just starting places for personalized first-aid additions that are determined by:
• Environmental hazards inherent to the specific area.
• The specific outdoor activity and its known inherent risks and dangers.
• Your own personal health history and personal medicines, including maintenance prescription medications taken regularly and remedies for chronic or recurrent conditions that could conceivably crop up.
Personally I do not want some pre-packed kit that I did not build or understand the content layout if and when I need to rely on it. A 96 piece commercial kit where 85 of the components are band aids… does you no good when you scuff a knee or get bit by a bee.
The AREA and the ACTIVITY…
Where one is going, what one is doing and how long one is going to be doing it — all these factors determine both the size and the make-up of the “personalized” first-aid kit.
Long stays in the remote backcountry require more extensive first-aid kits (and more first-aid knowledge) than short day hikes in green belts near civilization. How far are you from help; how fast can you get to it or can it get to you? These are serious first-aid concerns. (Letting someone know exactly where you are going and when you expect to get out, is both a survival and a first-aid issue.)
The nature of specific activities should be considered. Climbing and canoeing have high bruise and abrasion potential. Broken bones are not out of the question in the more extreme forms. Hikers and hunters typically deal with blisters, stone bruises, cuts and scratches. However, eye injury from tree branches, falls and sprains are not uncommon.
Duration of activity regarding first-aid issues has a basic tenet of common sense–“Unless the injury is minor or superficial, come out and seek professional medical aid immediately.
On the other hand, long-distance hikers and wilderness backpackers should consider remedies for sore muscles and joints that will allow them to continue their activity.
The point is, consider the most likely injuries or health-related risks for a given area/activity and build extra “stuff” into the first-aid kit to deal with these.
READ THE MANUAL…
Perhaps the most important part of any first-aid kit is a good first aid manual. Read and understand it. Then pack it with the kit. Prior reading and knowledge help you start first-aid procedures faster and perform them better under stress. Have an orderly, well-organized kit and a thorough understanding of each medication, bandage and tool. Don’t wait until the last moment, when in an uncomfortable, stress-filled situation, to try to figure out first aid and find the appropriate materials to administer it.
STIFLE THE PANIC…
Read “READ THE MANUAL…” again. Panic can be drastically toned down and/or brought under control if:
* You know where the first-aid kit is.
* You know what it contains and what is required for the situation.
* You know how to use the materials for effective first aid.
FIRST AID BASICS…
The extent of first aid is limited by lack of professional medical training. Setting bones and needle suturing are not recommended for non-professionals. However, there are certain things that can and/or must be done until the doctor comes. Some are vitally necessary and must be accomplished rapidly in an emergency situation.
Know How To:
• Stop bleeding (pressure and bandage).
• Prevent shock (keep victim warm, still and comfortable).
• Prevent infections (clean and apply antiseptic to wound).
• Bandage wounds and tape (athletic bandage) sprains.
FIRST-AID KIT BASICS…
The following list of suggested first-aid materials should not be taken as the final word. These are merely some basic items to be considered if you are building your own kit or evaluating various commercially available models. However, only you, after serious thought, can truly personalize a first-aid kit to fit your needs.
Also remember, even minor problems can turn into major discomfort in the backcountry. Don’t discount diarrhea, blisters or even heartburn as being able to seriously impair the quality of your outdoor experience.
• TOOLS — Small scissors, tweezers, thermometer, small flashlight, several sizes of safety pins and several tongue depressors (finger splints).
• SPACE Brand EMERGENCY BLANKET — Post-traumatic shock can make some survivable injuries much more serious. Use the EMERGENCY BLANKET to keep the victim warm and sheltered. It can also be made into and emergency litter to help transport an accident victim.
• BAND-AIDS of various sizes. The regular 3″ sizes are most useful, but include some of the larger sizes for larger wounds, plus some fingertip, knuckle and even the smaller bandages.
• 10 each 4×4″ and 10 each 3×3″ sterile gauze pads. These help stop bleeding, and can be used to clean and cover a wound.
• Two gauze eye patches. A scratched cornea from a swinging tree branch or foreign particles in the eye is very painful. Immediately flushing and covering the injured eye will bring relief.
• 10 butterfly suture type bandages for quickly closing cuts.
• One roll of 4″ wide sterile gauze for wrapping.
• One roll of 2″ wide adhesive tape. The type that is enclosed in a container to keep it clean and prevent drying out is preferred.
• One 2″ roll of elastic bandages (athletic bandage) for sprains and general wrapping or bandaging.
• Moleskin for blisters. Blistered feet may sound trivial, but they are extremely painful and debilitating in most outdoor activities.
• Eye Drops or eyewash to flush eyes.
• Antiseptics to clean wound and prevent infection.
• Antiseptic wipes and antiseptic soap for cleansing. Examples: Betadine solution or ointments such as Neosporin, Bactracin or Hydrocortisone cream. Iodine is an old standby that can also be used to purify water. These are very important elements of a first-aid kit. Preventing the onset of infection is critical in the outdoors environment.
• Anti-Inflammatory remedies for muscle and joint soreness. Non-prescription types include Aspirin, Tylenol and some types of Ibuprofen. Stronger anti-inflammatory drugs must be prescribed by a doctor and can have significant side effects.
• Antacids — You may have to eat your own cooking! Also antacids can ease some side effects of strong anti-inflammatory drugs.
• Anti-Diarrhea Medication — Speaks for itself.
• Topical Analgesics reduce surface pain and itching associated with insect bites, contact dermatitis (poison ivy, rashes), etc. Examples are Caladryl, new Benedryl gel and products containing Lidocaine or Cortisone.
• Antihistamines reduce swelling in mucous membranes and soft tissues. Effective for hay fever-type allergic reactions. Remember that your outdoor experience will introduce you to new pollens and spores.
• Bee Sting Kit — Anaphylactic shock is an allergic reaction that can kill. If you or anyone in your party is known to be allergic to bee, wasp, hornet, etc. stings get a special sting kit prescribed by a physician. In case of unexpected onset of anaphylactic symptoms (difficulty breathing), administer antihistamines. This is an emergency situation; seek medical help immediately.
• Snake Bite Kit — Current medical opinion discourages radical first-aid measures for snakebite beyond simple suction and a slightly tight ligature above the bite. Cutting and tourniquets are out!!! Get to a hospital immediately.
• Special and prescription medications — Consult your physician regarding your outdoor plans. Get prescriptions for any special or maintenance medications you might require. Discuss possible adverse reactions to the over-the-counter remedies suggested above (Anti-inflammatory, Antihistamines, etc.). Ask if your prescribed medicines have an “outdoors downside.” (For example, certain antibiotics increase sun sensitivity.)
Remember that you don’t need a ton of each medicine. A small amount, stored in a small packet will suffice. You can get these at a retail home care or medical supply stores or make up your own using clean and labeled plastic coin canisters (www.littletoncoin.com) sealed tight with duct tape for storage.
FIRST-AID KIT SIZE
Obviously, your outdoor activity determines how big your first-aid kit can be. Boaters and RV campers can carry a small pharmacy while hunters must carry the needed minimum. Look at the example of emergency medical and mountain rescue personnel. Their first-aid equipment is modular in concept and organization. Each large kit “breaks” into smaller kits as the need to go farther and lighter demands. The outdoor recreationist can have a “large” kit for vehicle and camp and a smaller kit for personal carry.
Keep the “personal” kit with you. The whole point of building your “own” personal first-aid kit is for it to be available when you need it — which is often when you least expect it.
FIRST AID’S GOLDEN RULES
1. “First do no harm.”
2. Read the first aid manual and then re-read the manual.
3. Have your kit with you at all times.
4. Know what’s in it, where it is and how to use it.
5. Stop bleeding.
6. Prevent shock.
7. Prevent infection.
8. Seek or Summon medical help immediately.
Prepare for the obvious
If you spend a lot of time on the trail backpacking, hiking, hunting, fishing or on any extended trip consider setting up an easy to use and injury specific personal first-aid kit.
One “container or carry vehicle” that works well is the TACKLE LOGIC® Storage System originally designed for plastic fishing baits.. These are ringed soft-sided packs that utilized three-hole punched end strips affixed onto zip closure bags that act as pages in a binder.
The main benefit of this small, compact and lightweight packing system is you can organize each “bag” to meet a specific need. Instead of inserting plastic worms and hooks, you now can organize your potential first-aid needs. In an emergency you are not fumbling in a pack or a plastic box, digging through piles of bandages looking for a specific product. In an emergency you need to stay calm. You should now be able to find what you will need quickly without panic and hysteria overtaking your senses.
Take a few minutes with pencil and paper, relax and think of what should go into assembling your personal First-Aid Kit. (NOTE: this separate bag system in a folder also is an excellent transport system for your Personal Survival Kit)
. If you don’t like the idea of buying the Tackle Logic pack use a separate zip-lock poly bag page for each specific incident that may occur. Mark each bag, so when needed it is easily identifiable and contains all the required items. In times of stress you don’t want to be wasting time looking here and there for what you may need… consider making the following and marking them as such:
• Cut Kit — (cleansing pads, gauze pads, 3″ bandages, fingertip bandages, antiseptic, etc.)
• Scrape Kit — (large gauze pad, cleansing wipes, antiseptic ointment, large bandage, and a clean mans handkerchief for wrapping)
• Eye Care Kit – (eye pad, small bottle of eye wash, a small plastic mirror, some clean tissues)
• Splinter Kit – (antiseptic wipes, needle, finger tip bandages)
• Burn Kit – burn ointment, antiseptic, gauze pads
• Pills – (aspirin, Tylenol, Ibuprofen, antacids, Imodium AD, etc.)
• Ointments (extra antiseptic, burn and itch cream packets)
• Splint Kit -a few tongue depressors, small roll of self adhering stretch bandage
• Personal medication — (any specific anti sting, anti-shock medication you may need)
• Instruments and tape (small pair scissors, small tweezers, adhesive tape, gauze wrap re-folded flat, large rubber bands)
• Bandages – take an ACE bandage and fold it flat.. Put in a pair of sterile gloves.
• Other – think of your needs, your terrain and your past experiences, make up a small one-serve bag for your area and climate needs. Things like Quick Clot or Epi-Pen if you have need.
• Manuals- put in a small pocket first-aid manual that will help you. Also put in the name and phone number of your doctor and photocopies of any special prescription medications. A small golf pencil and some paper may be helpful also.
• REMEMBER: You are not doing surgery, most of the time you are taking care of cuts, scrapes, abrasions, headaches, poison ivy, etc. … IMPORTANT: in any vital organ situation ALWAYS seek medical help as soon as possible.
A lot of these medications, tools and bandages are available in “single serve” packets that can be purchased by visiting a home medical supply store or a well equipped drug store in a town near you.
IF YOU PERSONALLY BUILD YOUR KIT, YOU HAVE OWNERSHIP IN IT, and YOU WILL KNOW WHAT AND WHERE EVERYTHING IS. This could become a very important asset in an emergency situation.
Add more or less of each item depending on your specific personal or group needs. This “by incident system” is an easier and more productive way to pre-organize your kit. You may just want to put all bandages, all instruments, all pills, etc. into their own compartment. The choice is yours. Now when an incident occurs you go right to that specific page, then you only have to refill that “page” before your next trip.
If you do not want to use the zip-bag folder, place the items categories mentioned above, and others you may create into small size Zip-Lock freezer type bags with the sliding closures (purchase in a supermarket) and mark them as indicated to a specific incident. Then place these in a bright colored fanny pack or into a plastic lure type box that you wrap with rubber bands for transport security and so you can open and spread out the individual packs.
Before going afield, be sure to check to make sure your kit contains fresh and useable items. Bandages tend to loose their adhesive power over time, especially when exposed to extremes of temperatures in the outdoors and medicines do have expiration dates. Inventory what you have, and determine what you may need. Become familiar with what items and where they are in your kit, you may have to get to them quickly on the trail.
PLEASE NOTE: THE ABOVE IS ONLY INTENDED TO ACT AS A GUIDELINE OF CIRCUMSTANCES THAT MAY OCCUR AND SUGGESTED ITEMS YOU MAY REQUIRE. PLEASE CONSULT ONE OF THE MANY RECOGNIZED FIRST-AID MANUALS FOR MORE INFORMATION, AND WHEN APPROPRIATE OBTAIN THE HELP OF A PROFESSIONAL MEDICAL EXPERT IN ASSEMBLING YOUR FIRST-AID NEEDS.