First Aid Tips and Tricks Every Hiker Needs to Know

How Tos & Tips

Hiking is one of the most popular activities for campers and travelers of all sorts — and for good reason. It’s a great way to get familiar with the countryside while also enjoying sunshine, fresh air, and some exercise.

But while hiking is a very safe activity the majority of the time, things can happen out there on the trail… which is why it’s important to keep a hiking first aid kit as part of your collection of camping essentials.

Along with having the proper first aid available in case you need it, following some basic hiking protocols and practices will help ensure you don’t need that first aid in the first place… so long as you’ve also got a little bit of luck on your side!

In this post, we’ll walk you through what needs to be in your camp first aid kit, and also talk about some specific hiking practices that will help keep your whole party safe and happy throughout your adventure.

How to Prepare a Basic First Aid Kit

While we’re on the topic of basic first aid tips, we should say this at the very top: it’s not just hikers who need to have first aid available for their adventures! Every traveler should keep a first aid kit in their suitcase or vehicle, whether you’re getting to your destination by plane, train or automobile.

For RVers specifically, there are some special pieces of emergency gear that can come in really handy in a pinch. For instance, traffic warning triangles can help oncoming cars know ahead of time that they may find your rig stopped at the side of the road, and thermal blankets can help keep your family toasty if you find yourself stuck in sub-zero temperatures.

We’ve put together a blog post outlining the emergency preparedness items you don’t want to leave home without if you’re traveling by motorcoach or trailer. But there are also some specific first-aid items that can turn a potential catastrophe into just a bump in the road.

Most RVs have a whole bathroom (or two!), which means it’s pretty easy to assemble a substantial first aid kit. You don’t have to worry about ensuring the items fit into a small package. (You will, however, have to worry about that when it comes to getting together your first aid kit for hiking… but we’ll get there in just a second.)

Think about the first aid items that you keep on-hand at home, and consider adding those to your RV on a permanent basis. That way, you won’t have to worry about packing up all those items and bringing them onboard every time… you’ll just have them there at your disposal.

If you’re still in the rental phase of your RV adventures, you may want to put your RV first aid kit into an easily-grabbable bag, so you can tote it along on every rental adventure.

Here are some basic first aid items we think each RVer should have on board, for any adventure:

  • Band-aids
  • Neosporin
  • Hydrogen Peroxide
  • Over-the-counter painkillers, like acetaminophen, ibuprofen or aspirin
  • Larger gauze bandages, tape, and scissors for larger injuries
  • Ace bandages or athletic tape and butterfly clips
  • Moleskin
  • Burn ointment or aloe
  • Benadryl cream for insect bites or run-ins with irritating plants
  • Q-tips
  • Cleansing wipes
  • Tweezers
  • Thermometer
  • Heating packs and/or cold packs
  • Muscle ache soothing products, like Bengay
  • Anti-nausea and/or anti-diarrheal medications, like Pepto Bismol and Immodium
  • Over-the-counter cold and flu remedies
  • Cough drops
  • Cough syrups
  • Eye drops/eye wash

These are basic ideas, which should be reviewed and augmented to include whatever specifics you and your family need. For instance, if you have a diabetic camper on board, you’d need to include a blood sugar monitoring kit — and everyone should always have any prescription medications they need with them at all times.

What Should Be in a First Aid Kit for Hiking?

Now, let’s take that larger first aid kit and narrow it down a bit. What essentials do you absolutely need to have along for backpacking or hiking?

An outdoor first aid kit has a lot in common with a regular one but has the added restriction of needing to be small and portable. That’s especially true if you’re looking to take on longer treks, wherein you’ll need to bring your tent, sleeping bag, food, water, and other items on your back. Every ounce counts on those trips!

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Every hiker has their own tips, tricks, and requirements for building a first aid kit — and there are even some pre-arranged kits available for purchase.

But what needs to be in your hiking first aid kit?

Here are some suggested items, at a minimum:

  • Antibiotic ointment, like Neosporin
  • Bandages
  • Antiseptic towelettes
  • Moleskin, for blisters
  • Wound closure strips, for more serious lacerations
  • Benadryl cream or another antihistamine
  • Ibuprofen or another painkiller
  • Tweezers
  • Powdered Gatorade, or another source of electrolytes

Along with these items, many hikers and campers travel with some more basic safety gear like a multitool or utility knife, matches or a fire starter, and a compass. If you’re hiking solo, a signaling device, like a whistle, can also be a life-saving piece of gear, as can bear spray if you’re traveling in an area with dangerous wildlife.

In any case, the number one priority of your hiking first aid kit is that it be two things at once: effective and portable. It can be difficult to construct a complete kit that doesn’t take up too much space or weigh too much, which is why so many commercially-crafted ones are available.

Is it Cheaper to Buy or Build a First Aid Kit?

Given the challenges of building a first aid kit for camping or hiking, many people do turn to the pre-made versions, which allow you to get everything in one fell swoop.

But the question remains: are those pre-built first aid kits more cost-effective than the DIY route?

Generally, it’s more affordable in the long run to build your own first aid kit, in much the same way it’s more affordable to eat at home: you can easily get more of each item for the same price, and thus have a bigger stash of first aid materials. That said, you won’t use all those materials at once; some of them will have to be set aside, since they wouldn’t all fit in a portable camping first aid kit, so you’d essentially have leftovers.

Plus, at the beginning, the price would probably be higher altogether. It’ll cost more to purchase all the individual items separately than to buy a pre-made first aid kit with just the right amount of items in it (although you’ll go through those items more quickly and need to replenish the first aid kit for the same price, which will lead to the pre-built first aid kit costing more in the long run).

Also important to take into consideration is the fact that building your own first aid kit gives you a lot more control over customizing exactly what goes into it, which can be helpful. You’ll be able to pick and choose what you do need and avoid weighing your pack down with items you’ll never use.

That said, you can find decently sized, lightweight, watertight medical kits through major outdoor retailers, like Back Country, for between $20 and $30. Smaller, less complete kits may be available for less, and more complex kits may run up to $50 or more, so it all depends on what you need and what your target price point is.

Keep in mind that you may already have a lot of the items you need to assemble a first aid kit in your bathroom at home. For instance, most of us have Bandaids lying around, and you may also have some antihistamine cream. However, if your tube of Benadryl cream is too big and weighty, it could still make more sense to purchase a separate one — and besides, that way you’d have a dedicated set of items specifically for outdoor adventures.

Preventing the Most Common Injuries

We’ve covered what should be in a first aid kit for camping or traveling. But what about preventing those injuries ahead of time? One of the best first aid tips we know is to be proactive and get ahead of injuries before they even happen, and when it comes to hiking, that’s a pretty simple prospect.

Many of the injuries that come from hiking are the result of poor planning or lack of basic equipment. On every hiking excursion, you should ensure you have the following items under control.

  • Bring enough water for the trip for each party member. Depending on the length of the hike and the temperature, that could be as much as a liter per hour of planned hiking time. Water is heavy, so be sure to take this into consideration before heading out on the trail while choosing which path is best for you and your party!
  • Bring salty snacks, too. Even short hikes can be tiring, and your body needs energy to keep moving and salt to balance your electrolyte levels!
  • Wear sunscreen and the proper clothing for the excursion. Exposure to the elements can cause major damage to human bodies, from sunburn to hypothermia and everywhere in between. Go for an SPF of 30 or higher, and be sure to wear clothing that wicks away moisture and is easily layerable so you can adjust based on how you feel.
  • Get good shoes! Hikers often rely on sneakers or athletic shoes, but hiking boots are really the best option for hiking trails. These trails can be stony and uneven, which can lead to fall hazards if you’re not wearing the right shoes. That said, you don’t want to make the mistake of trying out new shoes on a hike. Thoroughly breaking in your shoes before taking on a long trail is imperative for preventing blisters and other injuries, so grab your shoes as soon as possible and get to breakin’ ’em in!

Camping Tips for Treating Minor Injuries

If you do end up with injuries from hiking or camping, fortunately, most of them are minor and relatively easy to treat. Minor burns and abrasions require cleaning and dressing with protective ointments, and you may also want to use a bandage to close an open injury.

For more serious injuries, seeking professional, medical help is important — and it isn’t always easily accessible when you’re in the backwoods. Check with the local forest service or land management bureau to see which are the best local emergency numbers to contact… before you need them.

Stay safe out there!

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