When you hike, you hike without fear. But, the little voice inside your head (the one that sounds like mom’s) whispers “you need the best first aid kit for backpacking. Just to be safe.” Deep down, you know that mom is right. You should have an emergency first aid kit in your backpack. But, you aren’t sure what you need or even where to start.
There are tons of emergency first aid kits out there. You want the best one, and figure that they’re all pretty much the same. Once you start doing your homework, however, you realize, they aren’t. Some kits seem to include something for every possible emergency, but do you really need glow sticks and a glass break tool? Maybe not, but you aren’t sure if you should go with something that has less “stuff” in it. You figure it might be easier to build the best first aid kit for backpacking by yourself but have no idea where to start.
The Best First Aid Kit for Backpacking Comparison Table
What Kind of Kit Do I Need?
The best time to figure out what kind of first aid kit you need is before you head out for your hike. Planning ahead allows you to pick and choose exactly what you need and what you can leave out of your backpack. Before each hike, think about where you are going and how long you will be gone. That will help you narrow down what is necessary to have in your emergency kit and what you can probably skip.
Think about every possible item you would want to include in your kit. Then, think about what would happen if you didn’t have it. For example, if you are going hiking in the northeast, you probably don’t need rattlesnake antidote. You might (stranger things have happened), but the odds are pretty good you won’t run into any rattlesnakes. Thinking through all the possible outcomes, and discarding the least probable scenarios, will help you create the best first aid kit for backpacking that is perfect for each hike.
Check It Often
Whether you decide to make your own or buy a pre-made emergency kit, you need to make sure you check it over and restock it on a regular basis. The best first aid kit for backpacking is one that is always ready to go for an impromptu hike. Make it a habit to check your kit over when you return from a hike and restock any low or missing items as soon as possible. Also, make sure you check and restock at least a few weeks before your next scheduled hike. That gives you plenty of time to get everything you need and to include any unusual items you might need for that specific hike.
You should also set a reminder for yourself to check the kit for expired medications at least twice a year. Dispose of any expired medications properly and replenish them.
Once you have a fully, you can toss it in your backpack and head out. However, if you need to include any prescription medications in your kit, you’ll need to make the time to ensure you include them.
Make sure that when you do your pre-hike check, you’re adding your prescription medications to the kit. A helpful note inside the case or attached to the outside will help remind you. It’s also a good way to remind yourself to grab them before you head out on an unplanned hike. Also, when you do your twice a year checks, make sure to include your prescription medications in that check and update accordingly.
Pros and Cons of DIY vs. Buying
There are pros and cons to creating your own emergency kit and, of course, pros and cons of buying a kit. Neither method is right or wrong, but you may find that the pros of one, outweigh the cons of the other.
DIY Pros and Cons
You might think that the only way to get the best first aid kit for backpacking is to create your own. If you decide to DIY your first aid kit, you are certain to get exactly what you want. And, you won’t have to pay for things you don’t want or will never need.
However, you will have to do the legwork to create it. First, you will have to find the right container to store everything in, because a plain old zip-top bag is not the best option. Then, you will have to source and buy each item. That could be more expensive and time-consuming than buying a pre-made kit.
Pre-made kits Pros and Cons
Buying a pre-made kit makes things simple. Once you know what you need, you will find a kit that has most of what you’re looking for. That’s likely easier than trying to buy each individual item. In general, buying a pre-made kit is less expensive than buying all the items individually.
However, the con is that you might be forced to by things you may never need, which means it may not be the best first aid kit for backpacking. For example, some kits include glass break tools. That’s a great idea if you’re stashing the kit in your car or you travel in an RV. The odds are pretty good you don’t need it while you’re hiking and that heavy tool might weigh you down.
Build Your Own First Aid Kit
If you’ve decided you want to go the DIY route and build the best first aid kit for backpacking on your own, we’ve got suggestions on what to include. We’ve started by listing all the things the experts say you should include in an emergency kit. At the end, we’ve included a list of bonus items that you don’t have to include but could include if you have the space for them.
Keep in mind, these are not exhaustive lists and likely don’t cover every situation. These lists are just jumping off points, and you can tailor the final kit to fit your needs.
DIY the best first aid kit for Backpacking
The best first aid kit for backpacking starts with a water-resistant pouch (like this) to help you organize and see everything. It’s small and lightweight, allowing you to stash it in your pack without taking up too much space or adding too much weight. But, also consider how many supplies you are going to bring and make sure your container can hold everything.
Experts suggest you include the following:
Wound care items
All the best first aid kits for backpacking include several sizes and shapes of bandages since one size doesn’t fit all. Also, have some butterfly closures or wound-closure strips for cuts that need more than a bandage. Gauze rolls and medical adhesive tape are better for wounds that don’t need a butterfly closure but are too big for even a few bandages. Non-stick sterile pads are useful when you need to apply pressure to a wound. Don’t forget the moleskin for any blisters that crop up.
Germ care items
In case of a cut or a scrape, keep things clean and infection-free. Antiseptic wipes are good for wiping away dirt from a cut or scrape. They can also double as a hand sanitizer in a pinch. Antibacterial ointment helps keep cuts from getting infections. And, biodegradable soap or hand sanitizer is good for cleaning up before you attend to wounds and also before you eat.
Pain relief items
For minor pain problems, like a headache or a strained muscle, ibuprofen (or something similar) is a good thing to have on hand. Topical lidocaine helps soothe the pain of a cut or scrape temporarily. Anti-itch and insect sting treatment is also useful in case you were wrong and that was poison ivy.
This hodge-podge of items will fill in the remaining gaps.
- Safety pins
- Trauma scissors (with a blunt end)
- Paper and pencil
- Finger splints
- Knife or multitool
- Cotton swabs
- First aid information (like a manual)
- Wrappable bandage (like an ACE bandage)
If there is room, consider including these items:
- Liquid bandage
- Medical gloves
- CPR mask
- Resealable baggies (for medical waste)
- Emergency heat-reflecting blanket
- Throat lozenges
- Eye drops
- Aspirin (in case of a heart attack)
Special Considerations for International Hiking
If you are hiking in a foreign country, remember that you may not have easy access to emergency medicines because of your location. Consider including a few special medications in your kit when you are hiking abroad. That includes a broad spectrum antibiotic, something for “traveler’s tummy’ (like Imodium), and emergency re-hydration salts.
Buying a First Aid Kit
First aid kits for backpackers are available almost everywhere. You can find them online and in brick and mortar stores. Specialty retailers like outdoor and sporting goods stores carry them but, so do “general” stores (like Amazon and Target).
How We Picked Our Favorites
While the price might be the easy thing to think about, we ignored that in favor of the overall value of the kit. The best first aid kit for backpacking gives you the best bang for your buck at the initial purchase. For example, if the kit only includes three bandages, you’re probably going to have to immediately buy more bandages, decreasing the overall value of that kit. If it includes extraneous items you’ll never use, that will also lower the overall value of the kit.
We also consider how versatile the kit is. If the kit is only good for one hike before you need to replenish the supplies, that’s not a great value. If it can be used for multiple hikes before it needs a refill or it can also stow away in a car, that’s a better value.
Lastly, we consider size and weight. While larger kits may have more supplies, they may be heavier and harder to carry for long periods. And, larger kits can take up more in your pack. Smaller and more compact kits can be better for hikes, but if the items are too hard to get out of the case in an emergency, it may not be the best first aid kit for backpacking.
Price Ranges for Pre-Made Kits
You can often find these kits on sale or use a coupon if you purchase it at a large retailer.
The Best Pre-Made First Aid Kits for Backpacking
All of the picks we recommend are small. That means they are compact; it doesn’t mean they have fewer supplies. Each has high user ratings, and generally, include everything you could possibly need in an emergency situation. We do not list what is included in each kit as they all differ. However, we do list how many pieces are in each kit. We also list the approximate weight of each kit.
Ready First Aid Kit
With 95 pieces, this compact kit has everything you might need for a 24-hour hike. Everything is in a water-resistant zipper pouch. The product weighs less than one pound.
Surviveware First Aid Kit
While this kit includes 100 pieces, it weighs in at only 1 pound, making it light enough to fit in a backpack. The storage bag is water resistant, and every inside pocket has a waterproof zip-top bag. The inner contents are all clearly labeled, making it easier for you to find things in an emergency.
Tripworthy Compact First Aid Kit
The kit contains 97 items that are guaranteed not to expire for at least four years. Weighing in at one pound, it’s a great option for your next trip.
MediKit Deluxe First Aid Kit
With 115 items, this kit is bigger and weighs just over 1 pound. However, it depends if you are willing to carry the extra weight.
Higher Gear Products First Aid Kit
Even with 130 pieces, this emergency kit is compact enough to slide into nearly any backpack. Designed by medical professionals, the kit comes in a water-resistant hard-sided case.
Military Uniforms all-purpose aid kit
The compact kit includes 63 items. Weighing in at just under one pound, it can fit in the smallest of spaces.
Legit Camping First Aid Kit
Even with 100 first aid items, this kit can still fit in the palm of your hand. It weighs less than one pound and comes in a vinyl bag.
DeftGet First Aid Kit
This 163 item kit is compact enough to fit in a backpack and weighs less than 1 pound. The product comes in a nylon, zippered case.
One More Thing You’ll Have to Buy
The last item every expert says you should include in the best first aid kit for backpacking is first aid training. While it’s great to have bandages for boo-boos, it’s a good idea to know what to do when a bandage just won’t cut it. Knowing how to properly splint a finger (or even how to create a splint out of foraged supplies) will help you have a healthier and safer hike.
Happy (And Safe) Hiking
Even the smallest blister can ruin your hike. And, since you can’t predict what will happen on your hike, being prepared is the best way to deal with minor medical annoyances. Having the best first aid for backpacking at the ready goes a long way toward making your hike enjoyable. It’s also a great way to quiet that voice in your head so you can enjoy the beauty of nature (and keep Mom happy).