A Doctor’s Guide to a DIY Hiking First Aid Kit

Any lover of the outdoors knows the importance of being prepared for mishaps, accidents, and emergencies. A good first aid kit is key for a safe trek—and making your own can ensure you have everything you need to treat minor medical problems in the field.

Family medicine physician Dr. Jason Stanton is certified in Wilderness Medicine, which is a field of medicine that focuses on providing care to hikers, backpackers, and adventurers.

As an outdoor enthusiast himself, Dr. Stanton is passionate about helping patients prepare for hikes—and patching them up if they come back with a few scrapes. In this blog, he shares tips on building a DIY hiking first aid kit—and how to handle minor medical issues during a long hike or camp.

DIY Hiking First Aid Kit Checklist

Quick tip: Use a waterproof nylon bag or container to store your hiking first aid kit, and keep items organized and clearly labeled. Your kit should be easily accessible in case of an emergency. Click here for a printable version of this DIY Hiking First Aid Checklist.

Hygiene Basics

  • Hand sanitizer (at least 60% alcohol)
  • Antiseptic wipes
  • Cotton swabs
  • Disposable surgical gloves

Wound Care Basics

  • Waterproof bandages (various sizes, including strip bandages, knuckle bandages, and butterfly closures)
  • Gauze roll
  • Medical tape
  • Small scissors (for trimming gauze)
  • Tweezers (to remove splinters or ticks)
  • Aloe vera gel (for minor burn or sunburn relief)
  • Blister cushions or moleskin patches (for blisters)

Medications

Note: If you’ve been prescribed emergency medication, always keep some packed, even if you’re only going for a short hike.

  • Sealable, waterproof bags or containers to hold medication
  • Emergency medications (such as an asthma rescue inhaler, EpiPen, or insulin pen*)
  • Blood sugar monitor, test strips, and glucose tablets (for diabetics)
  • Acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or another OTC pain reliever
  • Aspirin
  • Anti-diarrheal tablets (such as Immodium)
  • Antihistamine/allergy-relief tablets
  • Antibiotic ointment (such as Neosporin)
  • Anti-itch ointment

*Be sure to bring a puncture-resistant container to hold used pen needles. Never throw needles in communal trash cans or on the ground.

Other Useful Items

  • Sunscreen (at least 30 SPF; be sure to reapply every two hours)
  • A wide-brimmed hat
  • Bug spray (use this EPA tool to find an insect repellant that’s right for you)
  • Trekking poles or a hiking staff (to provide extra stability and absorb shock on uneven or slippery terrain)
  • Snacks or electrolyte replenishment solution

How to Treat Common Hiking Injuries While on the Trail

Cuts & Scrapes

If your cut or scrape is dirty, use clean water to wash the area gently. You may need to use tweezers to remove splinters or cotton swabs for larger debris. If the wound is bleeding, use clean gauze to apply pressure until it stops. Then, cover the wound with a bandage or clean gauze secured with tape.

How to prevent cuts and scrapes: Accidents happen, so you may not be able to avoid all minor wounds. However, wearing clothes that protect your arms and legs, sticking to designated trails, and going slowly through rougher areas can reduce the risk of getting hurt.

Blisters

Blisters form on the skin because of friction, often from shoes and socks. To treat a blister, put a blister cushion or pad on the part of your foot that’s rubbing against your shoe. Moleskin pads are often ring-shaped to avoid placing direct pressure on the blister.

Don’t intentionally pop a blister—but if one pops on its own, wipe the area with clean gauze and apply some antibiotic ointment. Then, cover it with a bandage.

How to prevent blisters: Wear socks and shoes that fit properly—not too tight or too loose. Keep your feet dry and change out of wet socks immediately. If part of your foot is irritated or you “feel” a blister coming, cover the area with a bandage or pad.

Insect Stings & Bug Bites

For itchy stings or bites, use an anti-itch ointment or take an antihistamine tablet. You may also want to cover the sting with a bandage to keep you from scratching it.

View this guide on how to safely remove a tick from the American Academy of Dermatology.

If you know you have a severe allergy to certain bugs, ask your doctor about carrying an EpiPen. Severe allergies can be life-threatening if they’re not treated right away.

How to prevent stings and bites: Insect repellent can keep away a lot of flying bugs; be sure to reapply it according to the package instructions. Long sleeves, pants, and neck gaiters can also protect you from bites and stings. Avoid walking through tall grass and brushes—ticks may not be common in Florida, but they’re still a hiking hazard.

If you’re camping, don’t settle down near still ponds or puddles, which can be breeding grounds for mosquitos and other bugs. Finally, always fully zip up your tent at night (or use a bed net if you prefer sleeping under the stars).

Dehydration & Electrolyte Imbalances

The first sign of dehydration isn’t always feeling thirsty. Dehydration can cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, and generally make you feel sick. You also lose electrolytes when you sweat, which water can’t replace. Electrolyte imbalances can cause symptoms similar to dehydration.

Be sure to sip water and replenish your electrolytes throughout your hike. If you start to feel sick, sit down in a shaded area, drink water slowly, and have a small snack. You might want to bring along a sports drink or an electrolyte solution that can be dissolved in water.

How to prevent dehydration: Sip water regularly throughout your hike—and don’t forget about your electrolytes during longer treks. You can replace lost electrolytes with an electrolyte solution that you mix into water or by eating a small snack.

Heat Rash

Heat rash occurs when you sweat a lot, and your sweat glands become blocked. It often appears around the armpits or inner thighs, where clothes can trap a lot of sweat. Heat rash isn’t dangerous, but it can be very irritating and itchy. If you notice heat rash on your skin, move to a shaded area to cool down. Wipe away sweat with a clean towel or use a handheld fan to dry off.

How to prevent heat rashes: Wear breathable clothing and take breaks regularly to wipe off sweat from your body. You may even want to bring a spare change of clothes if yours become too damp.

Sprains & Strains

Most hikers are at risk of ankle sprains when trekking over rocky or uneven ground. If you twist your ankle, don’t try to “walk it off.” Instead, follow the RICE method:

  • Rest. Listen to your body and take a break. Your injury can’t heal if you push yourself.
  • Ice. Ice can help relieve pain and reduce inflammation, but you may not have access to an ice pack on the trail. Instead, take an anti-inflammatory pain reliever like ibuprofen.
  • Compression. Wrapping your ankle with a cloth or elastic bandage can help reduce swelling, but be careful not to wrap too tightly.
  • Elevation. Sit or lay back and prop your ankle up so it’s level with your heart.

If your injury hurts so badly that you can’t place weight on it or move it, stay in one place and call for help immediately.

How to prevent orthopedic injuries: Wear proper-fitting hiking shoes and keep your laces tied. Take it slow when you’re in an uneven area. Consider using trekking poles or a hiking staff to provide extra stability.

Need Help With Hiking Prep? Talk to a Doctor

If you need help putting together a first aid kit or want to make sure you’re ready for a long hike, Dr. Stanton encourages you to talk to a doctor certified in wilderness medicine. Patients in Wesley Chapel can click here to request an appointment with Dr. Stanton or call (813) 991-9355. Telemedicine visits are also available.

jason stanton mdAbout Jason Stanton, MD

Dr. Jason Stanton is a board-certified family medicine physician. In addition to helping the adventurous, Dr. Stanton also provides care for chronic illnesses, skin health, and sick visits for patients of all ages and activity levels.

Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to substitute professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.

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