It’s All Fun and Games Until Somebody Puts An Eye Out

30 09 2009

Nikki: You can’t do it that way.  You’re just measuring the difference between the temperature of your skin and his.  You need a thermometer.

Ava: I don’t think we have a thermometer.

Nikki: You don’t have a first aid kit?

–“And So the Day Begins,” Summerland

In an early episode of the short-lived WB series Summerland, the precocious thirteen-year-old Nikki Westerly, played by the adorable (and, apparently brilliant) Kay Panabaker, criticizes her new guardian — her carefree and childless aunt, played by Lori Loughlin — for her lack of parenting skills.  The sentiment, however, is one I’ve expressed on numerous occasions to casual hikers, and it’s especially important for solo hikers.

Seriously, you need a first aid kit.

You can make your own, or you can get a prepared kit at any outdoors store.  Mine is a prepared kit that I have modified, and it is ultra-light and compact (similar to this one).  It comes in its own little nylon bag, with an interior, waterproof plastic bag.  It measures approximately 5×7 inches, and lives at the bottom of my backpack.

It came with the following items:

  • Bandage materials, including sterile dressing kits, gauze, non-adhesive, adhesive and butterfly bandages
  • Adhesive tape
  • Antibiotic ointments and towelettes
  • Ibuprofen tablets
  • After-sting towelettes
  • Antihistamines
  • Splinter-picker forceps (which look kind of scary)
  • Moleskin pieces
  • Safety pins

Some kits have more items, such as cotton swabs, sterile gloves, first aid manuals, etc., and more of the items in the lightweight kits.  There are more comprehensive “survival” kits as well, with irrigation syringes and rehydration tablets, and some even come with other emergency items such as whistles or beacons.  There are even “women’s” kits, though the extra items in these seem to be lip balm, hand sanitizer, medication for menstrual cramps and tampons, which I find a little insulting (as if I couldn’t think of that myself if I didn’t buy a “women’s” kit).  While the truly comprehensive kits can be priced at $100 or more (and a more comprehensive kit might be wiser for longer backcountry trips), a lightweight basics kit should be fine for casual day-hikers.  The lightweight kits can be found for anywhere from $10-50, and the purchase is well worth it.

I like the prepared kit because everything comes in a neat little package.  Be sure to replace the medications when they expire, and to add anything to your kit that you think you might need out on the trail.

For example, I also carry extra moleskin (blisters can really hamper a good hike), an Ace bandage (because I’m prone to ankle sprains), and a snake bite kit.

The snake bite kit was a last minute addition before I took my road trip (my first solo hiking and camping expedition), and at the time I wasn’t sure it was necessary.  It comes in a little tube that doubles as a suction device, and contains a lance, a constriction device, topical povidone iodine, and emergency instructions.  I’ve never used it, but one day I came across this guy:

by joanarc4

by joanarc4

Let me tell you, I have never left that snake bite kit behind since.  On that particular hike (Kolob Arch, Zion National Park, UT) I wasn’t alone (and wasn’t the person crazy enough to get close and take the photo), but that kit was in my hand until our party moved on and left this rattlesnake to go about his business.

The important thing is tailoring your kit to your needs, and keeping it stocked with fresh materials.  This is one instance where a little preparation goes a long way.

And just think, I’ll never have to say to you, with a trademark Nikki Westerly sneer, “You don’t have a first aid kit?”

Note: This article in no way constitutes medical advice, and you should consult your doctor regarding specific medical conditions.

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2009.