Buying a first aid kit seems easy, but have you considered learning how to make a first aid kit for camping? It’s really not that difficult! With a small budget and only a little bit of time, you can make a DIY first aid kit that’s probably better than most of the kits you’ll find online and elsewhere.ca
So below, we’re sectioning this article off into several pieces:
- What camping first aid kits are actually for
- Why DIY kits might be better than premade first aid kits
- Things to consider before making your first aid kit
- A complete list of both basic and special items to include
- And a few final notes!
Table of Contents
Click on any of the links below to jump to the desired section!
- Let’s Get the Basics Out of the Way: What Is a First Aid Kit? What Does It Really Do?
- Why Else Do You Need a First Aid Kit for Camping?
- OK, So Why Are We Making First Aid Kits for Camping? What’s Wrong With Premade Kits?
- Complete Guide: How to Make a First Aid Kit for Camping
- You Need to Consider Your Specific Needs
- Pick a Container That Makes Sense
- Building Your First Aid Kit for Camping: Basic First Aid Items
- Building Your First Aid Kit for Camping: Special Items
- A First Aid Kit Is Almost Useless Without Training
- Final Thoughts: Why Limit Yourself to 1 First Aid Kit?
Let’s Get the Basics Out of the Way: What Is a First Aid Kit? What Does It Really Do?
Okay, before we start talking about how to make a first aid kit, let’s explain why they’re actually necessary.
Or, if you already feel pretty well versed, click here to skip right to our DIY first aid kit guide.
It’s the First Step In Getting Aid for a Wound or Illness
First aid kits have two purposes:
- They can help you treat minor wounds and illnesses like small cuts or burns.
- They can buy you time while you seek actual medical treatment from professionals.
Here’s an Obvious Example
If you slice your finger open while chopping onions for a bomb campfire dinner, your camping first aid kit should be stocked with the right gear to A) stop the bleeding, B) clean the wound, and C) keep it clean and protected while you enjoy the rest of your trip with a significantly reduced chance of infection.
And before you scream, “my immune system will protect me!” it’s worth noting that the symptoms of infection can ruin a trip fast. So, play it safe.
Now Here’s a Much Less Likely, but Still Plausible Example
Instead of a little nick, you chop your finger off while slicing veggies for that delish’ campfire cookout. Dramatic—we know—but we also know some of you carry redonkulous knives (like USMC KA-BARs or bowie knives) and serious injuries are, unfortunately, always a possibility.
Anyway, a good first aid kit will equip you with the tools needed to significantly up your chances of recovery and survival. You or your camping buddies should be able to safely and cleanly staunch the bleeding (and hopefully get that severed finger on ice) while you wait for EMS.
It’s not a perfect situation, but it’s better than the alternative.
Now let’s say you don’t have a clean first aid kit. So instead, you use a sweaty, gross torn shirt to hinder the bleeding while you wait for EMS to arrive. Your chances of infection and secondary complications (like the inability to reattach your sad finger) rise exponentially, and now you’re dealing with at least two new concerns on top of your severed appendage. Not ideal.
A first aid kit doesn’t guarantee a happy ending, but it does make one more likely (and frankly, they’re fun to make!).
What This Guide Is Not
We really want to note that nothing in this article should be taken as medical advice nor should it supersede anything your doctor or trained professionals tell you. We’re not building EMT kits; we’re learning how to make first aid kits for camping.
In a real emergency, seek professional help.
Why Else Do You Need a First Aid Kit for Camping?
First aid kits are just as essential for camping as your water supply, sleeping bags, tent, knives (cough—Kershaw Blur review—cough), and other gear. If you need more convincing, here are a couple more reasons to keep one on hand!
You Might Be Far From Help
If you’re like us, the idea of camping far from society is very appealing. The downside is that more often than not, “far from society” also means far from help.
Like we said before, a first aid kit can buy you time while you travel to a medical center or wait for EMTs. More importantly, professional aid may not always be available (maybe you’re stranded and you can’t call for help)—in these cases, a first aid kit is still better than nothing.
A Camping First Aid Kit Might Save You a Trip to the Store or Urgent Care
While you should always err on the side of caution, if common sense tells you that something in your camping first aid kit can solve an issue, you may not have to cut your camping trip short.
Not every medical ‘event’ is an emergency.
Okay, So Why Are We Making First Aid Kits for Camping? What’s Wrong With Premade Kits?
DIY first aid kits actually offer a few benefits over premade options. However, there’s a reason to consider both.
(Unless You Buy Garbage) Most Premade Kits Are Fine…
Your average premade first aid kit usually comes with the basics—and for many, that’s enough.
For example, we needed something compact that could act as an auxiliary to a bigger kit we usually keep in our car. So, we bought this kit from THRIAID because it was cheap and came in a surprisingly decent, water-resistant container.
Now, the kits we’re talking about here are definitely more substantial, but sometimes a premade first aid kit is still a good investment.
…But Many Premade First Aid Kits Come With Things You Don’t Need—Or They’re Incomplete
The problem is that premade first aid kits tend to be made for general use. You might get 60 bandaids and only 2 bandages, which doesn’t make sense for camping (or for anything, actually).
More to the point, basic first aid kits don’t always have things you might want in a camping first aid kit: anti-itch cream for insect bites, burn gels for campfire cooking mishaps (sigh), a surplus of gauze, emergency blankets, and so on.
Complete Guide: How to Make a First Aid Kit for Camping
Without further ado, let’s talk about the thing we’re all here for: how to make a first aid kit!
A couple notes, first: one, we’re gearing this guide to beginners (but anyone should be able to benefit).
Two, the kit below is specific to camping and backpacking, but it should be fairly easy to tailor this kit for other purposes. If you want a kit as part of your vehicle everyday carry, for example (wait, what is everyday carry?), it should be as simple as switching out 1 or 2 things.
Finally, we created checklists for both the Basic Items section with an accompanying “priority rating” to give you a general idea of how important each item is.
1: You Need to Consider Your Specific Needs
The first step in making a first aid kit for camping is to ask yourself a few important questions. Different environments, medical conditions, and so on all change your priorities. And while it might be nice to have a do-all first aid kit, it isn’t always practical—especially if you have limited space.
Do You Have Special Medical Conditions Like Diabetes or Severe Allergies?
We’ll talk about this more in the Special Items section further down, but if you have any kind of medical condition that requires specific medicines or tools—Epi-Pens, sugar pills, medications, and so on—you’ll definitely want to make sure your container can fit these items plus the basic items we also mention below.
Risk Assessment: Where Are You Going Camping? How Far Is It From Emergency Services?
You should always research a location and its potential hazards before you visit. Are there dangerous animals? Poisonous plants? Radioactive ghouls?
Will there be extreme temperatures or precipitation? Are you close to medical treatment if it’s needed?
These are all questions (among others) you should ask yourself before camping.
Build your kit around the answers. For example, if you’re desert camping, it’s a good idea to include things like emergency blankets for hypothermia (yes, deserts get cold at night), a protective agent for severely sunburned or cracked skin, emergency hydration, etc.
Oh, but keep in mind that these blankets aren’t really designed for comfort or multiple uses. They kind of do the bare minimum, but on the bright side, they’re compact and will help you survive.
2: Pick a Container That Makes Sense
Once you have a good idea of what your needs are, compare them to your capacity. And if it turns out you need more space, invest in a larger pouch or container.
Of course, if you’re starting from 0, you’ll need to figure out a good container first anyway.
Make Sure Your Container Can Be Kept Clean and Secure
You don’t want to open your DIY first aid kit only to find that insects or spilled coffee found it first. Make sure that your kit can be reasonably sealed.
Airtight, waterproof options are ideal because they’ll extend the shelf life of your items and protect them from contaminating spills. However, a secure water-resistant option is fine too if you can keep everything inside sterile.
This ‘tacticool’ medic pouch from Orca Tactical isn’t fully waterproof but there’s enough room to store essentials like bandages in a plastic bag. Plus, there are plenty of slots and dividers for storing things (the tools need to be sterilized anyway, so it’s okay if they don’t make it inside of a sterile bag).
How Much Space Do You Have?
It’s okay to sacrifice a few Band-Aids if it means bringing more itch cream because you’re camping in a mosquito-infested swamp. But if you’re contemplating leaving spare gauze at home because you’re running out of space, you’re going about this the wrong way.
Priority 1 is making sure you have all you need. Priority 2 is making sure it fits.
This doesn’t mean you can’t have a compact first aid kit, but you shouldn’t compromise functionality purely because your current first aid kit pouch is slightly too small.
3: Building Your First Aid Kit for Camping: Basic First Aid Items
Once you’ve figured out your special requirements and a good container, the next step in making a first aid kit for camping is getting the basic aid items together.
Checklist and Priority Rating
Click on the links below to jump to the specific section.
- Wound-Cleaning Agent 3/3
- Adhesive Bandages 1/3
- Butterfly Bandages 3/3
- Antibiotic Ointments 2/3
- Disposable Gloves 2/3
- Gauze 3/3
- Triangular Bandages 3/3
- Burn Gel 1/3
- Hydrocortisone 1/3
- OTC Medications 3/3
- Bandage Scissors 3/3
- Tweezers 2/3
- Waste Bags 1/3
- Small Medical Book 2/3
- Instant Cold Pack 2/3
- Emergency blankets 3/3
- Information for First Responders 3/3
Stock Wound-Cleaning Agents Like Alcohol, Peroxide, and Antiseptic Wipes
You might be tempted to pack a small bottle of hydrogen peroxide or isopropyl for cleaning wounds and call it day. However, these really aren’t your best choices. While they do clean wounds well, they can also damage wounded tissue further. If you have to choose between isopropyl and peroxide though, definitely go with the peroxide because it’s not nearly as harsh or painful.
Instead, BZK antiseptic wipes are better for cleaning small wounds and cuts because they’re relatively painless and easy to stow in your first aid kit. The more the better, but aiming for 5–10 wipes should be sufficient.
On another note, isopropyl (in liquid or wipe form) is great for disinfecting medical gear like bandage scissors. And if you run out of BZK wipes, isopropyl is an acceptable last resort for cleaning small injuries (just be prepared for it to sting like a MFer).
Note: this is a 32-oz bottle so you’ll want a smaller container too. However, the price/oz is pretty exceptional.
Adhesive Bandages (Like Band-Aids) Are Good for Small Cuts and Wounds
After you clean a wound, you need to protect it so it can heal properly. For small cuts and wounds, adhesive bandages (i.e. “Band-Aids”) are a fine, if unreliable source of protection. Kids especially appreciate the ‘magical’ powers of adhesive bandages so getting a fun, colorful option (like this variety pack from Welly) might be your best bet.
If you can, use waterproof/resistant options that use fabric instead of plastic. These will last much longer and there’s less of a chance that someone else will find your fallen Band-Aid days later (gross).
It’s also wise to get a large assortment of adhesive bandages, including knuckle or fingertip options, so you can treat a similarly wide array of small wounds. Of course, adhesive bandages generally aren’t very effective at protecting larger wounds so they’re not a true substitute for classic bandages or gauze.
Butterfly Bandages or Closures Can (Temporarily) Secure Lacerations
You might be less familiar with butterfly bandages, but these are a nifty little invention that can help you keep two sides of a laceration (a deep cut) together.
Analogy: use a butterfly bandage in the same way you would tape torn pieces of paper together. This will help protect the wound (which should probably be wrapped too) while you seek more in-depth medical treatment.
Adhesive bandage packs tend to include a few butterfly closures but you can generally find dedicated boxes of them for a few bucks. Try to keep 5–10 or more on hand.
Note: we’ve seen the high-tech “wound-closure devices” from brands like MicroMend and Senvok but we haven’t bothered to try them out because of their cost relative to ordinary butterfly bandages.
Antibiotic Ointments Help Prevent Infection (in Minor Wounds)
Antibiotic ointments (like Neosporin) may help wounds heal faster by limiting the likelihood of bacterial infections. Keeping a few packets or a tube on hand might be a good idea for the dirty outdoors, especially since regular handwashing isn’t generally possible.
Disposable Gloves Help Maintain a Sterile Environment
Disposable gloves made of nitrile or another non-latex, synthetic material are smart because they’ll A) help keep the wounds your treating clean, and B) keep you relatively safe and clean. Blood is a biohazard; you don’t want to get it on you.
Bring as many as you can fit without compromising your container but avoid latex gloves because many people are allergic to them. Don’t use powdered gloves for this purpose either; the powder can irritate wounds.
Gauze Helps Staunch Bleeding (and Helps Protect Wounds)
Gauze is arguably one of the most important items to keep in your camping first aid kit. It’s highly absorbent and generally durable, so it’s good for staunching bleeding, dressing wounds, or covering other materials used to dress wounds.
There are two types, both of which deserve a place in your first aid kit. Gauze pads are good for placing directly over wounds while gauze rolls are used for wrapping wounds or other dressings.
Both forms of gauze should take precedence over small adhesive bandages. Ideally, keep 1–2 rolls and at least 5–10 gauze pads of various sizes in your kit. Make sure they’re sealed and sterile.
Triangular Bandages Have Many, Many Uses
Triangular bandages are similar to gauze in that they can be used to staunch bleeding or dress wounds. However, triangular bandages can also be used to craft a sling, splint, or tourniquet. As with camping in general, redundancy and versatility are useful perks so keeping at least 2–3 in your kit is smart.
Sidenote: if you’re crafty, a good belt can be used to make a sling, splint, or tourniquet too (check out our Trayvax belt reviews for a solid example).
Burn Gel Can Offer Relief for Minor Burns
Burn gel or even aloe vera-type gels can offer relief for small burns.
However, they can actually do more harm than good for severe burns. Also, you shouldn’t use burn gels for chemical burns as the gel may trap the belligerent chemical to your skin, causing more damage.
Regardless, a couple packets or a small bottle of aloe can’t hurt—but they may take up space that would be better served by other first aid items.
Pro tip: when treating a burn, wrap it loosely with sterile gauze to avoid putting pressure on the damaged tissue. Do not remove clothing that’s stuck to a burn.
Hydrocortisone Is Good for Itching Caused by Insect Bites or Allergens
Hydrocortisone ointment can take the edge off itchy insect bites. We wouldn’t call hydrocortisone essential, but you’ll definitely wish you had something if you’re camping in a mosquito-ridden hell.
Over-the-Counter Medications Treat Pain, Fever, Swelling, Allergies, etc.
OTC medications can offer much-needed relief for pain, inflammation, fever, allergies, and so on. Plus, keeping properly labeled medicines in your kit takes up little space.
Just be sure to listen to your doctor’s advice on medications (and remember that we’re not here to give out medical advice).
Example: spring camping in Carrizo Plain, CA can be a nightmare for people with severe allergies. The wildflower blooms are as brutal on allergies as they are gorgeous. Every time we visit, we’re sure to pack some extra allergy meds with our gear.
Anyway, consider keeping a few doses worth of any OTC medications you might need in your DIY first aid kit. Oh, and remember to replace them as they expire.
Here’s a general list:
- Pain relievers
- Fever reducers
- Antihistamines (for allergies)
Bandage Scissors Offer 2 Critical Functions
No, those little scissors you find in first aid kits aren’t for ‘field surgery’ or anything crazy like that (this isn’t the Civil War).
Bandage scissors are there to help you cut through clothing so you can properly address a wound without removing X, Y, or Z. It’s a lot easier and safer to cut off a shirt sleeve than it is to take off an entire shirt, for example.
Additionally, bandage scissors can be used to size bandages (surprise!).
The scissors you have in a multi-tool might be fine in place of bandage scissors if they’re sharp enough (see our Gerber multi-tool reviews for an example). Just be sure to sterilize them first with some isopropyl.
Tweezers Pull Splinters, Stingers, and Ticks
Tweezers are another good tool to keep in your first aid kit, especially if you’re camping in a woodsy area with ticks (the CDC has a good article on tick removal if you’re not sure how to remove ticks safely).
Bonus: Mini multi-tools like Victorinox’s Classic SD have tweezers and scissors so they’re great for DIY first aid kits (check out our Victorinox Classic SD review if you want to learn more!). Alternatively, if you want a more substantial pocket knife, see our Victorinox Spartan review instead!
Sealable Waste Bags Allow You to Safely Dispose of Biohazards
Leaving bloody rags, old Band-Aids, or any other medical waste for the next campers (or critters) to find is rude. Be a good camper and pack it out!
Resealable plastic bags (i.e., Ziplocs) are perfectly acceptable for this and they can be used for other purposes. Treat these bags the same way you would treat food: old bandages, etc. will attract critters.
A Small Medical Book Can Help With Less Common Dangers
Even if you’re a first aid master (is that a thing?), the people you’re traveling with might not be. Keeping even a basic first aid guide in your kit is smart. Plus, you might encounter an issue that’s not common in first aid, like a weird insect bite.
Bonus: The Red Cross first aid app is one of the best camping apps to keep on your phone. It’s still good to keep a physical guide on hand in case your battery dies though.
An Instant Cold Pack Helps Reduce Swelling
Instant cold packs take up a lot of space in camping first aid kits but you might want to consider them, especially if you’re hiking or backpacking. Turning an ankle on a trail is a miserable experience; cold packs can offer a little bit of relief and help reduce swelling.
Alternatively, if heat exhaustion is a real danger, instant cold packs can reduce your body temperature for a short time.
In any case, we keep a couple in our kit.
Emergency Blankets Can Keep You Warm (and Help Victims in Shock)
Foil emergency blankets are essential. If you’re in a bad spot with the weather, they’ll keep you warm. More importantly, they’ll help maintain body heat for people who are in shock, physical or psychological.
Try to have at least 1 per person in your camping first aid kit.
Another option is to keep a bivvy like this one from S.O.L. with your camping gear.
Info for First Responders May Save Your Life
Finally, keeping some identifying information available is wise. If you’re unconscious, first responders may be able to use this information to save your life.
Things to include:
- Your name and basic identifying info
- Emergency contacts
- Blood type
- Special medical considerations (high blood pressure, medicine allergies, etc.)
- Prescriptions you take
4: Building Your First Aid Kit for Camping: Special Items
Almost done! Here are a few more special considerations for making a first aid kit.
Epi-Pens for Life-Threatening Allergies
If you need to carry an Epi-Pen for daily use, do the same for camping.
Glucose Pills or Insulin for Diabetics
If you have diabetes or suffer from another ailment relating to blood sugar, be sure to include spare glucose pills, insulin (you’ll need a specialized insulin solution for camping), or any other relevant medications in your first aid kit.
Your Prescription Medications
Just because you’re camping doesn’t mean you can skip your prescription medications. Keep spare doses in your first aid kit if you can.
Emergency Stock of Menstrual Products
Finally, keeping spare menstrual products in your first aid kit may prove wise for obvious reasons, but here are some words of caution.
Contrary to common thought, the feminine hygiene industry is not well regulated and menstrual product manufacturers are not required to make their products sterile—as in, pads and tampons aren’t much better than using t-shirts as bandages. In other words, don’t replace your gauze with menstrual products as a ‘two-birds-one-stone’ solution.
5: A First Aid Kit Is Almost Useless Without Training
Last but not least, we need to talk about first aid training. We strongly, strongly advise that you take a basic first aid class before going camping. Most classes are cheap (or even free) and they’re offered almost everywhere (even online!). This Red Cross tool is especially useful for finding first aid classes near you.
You Should Know How to Use Everything in Your Kit
Learning how to use every item in your camping first aid kit can go a long way in ensuring the well-being of yourself and your fellow campers.
That said, we don’t subscribe to the idea that you should leave items behind that you’re unfamiliar with. Why? Simple: because others may know how to use them.
There’s Always More to Learn
We’re big advocates of the ‘there’s-always-more-to-learn’ philosophy. Try and keep up with the latest first aid techniques and recommendations (we’ll try and update this article as new ideas emerge).
Sidenote: if you want to learn more camping-specific tips, check out our post on debunking terrible camping hacks!
Know When It’s Time to Seek Medical Care (and/or Call 911)
First aid can only get you so far. Remember, your first aid kit’s purpose is to buy you more time while you wait for real medical treatment (unless we’re talking about a tiny cut).
Don’t be arrogant or dumb, if there’s even a chance that you or the person you’re treating needs actual medical treatment, err on the side of caution.
Final Thoughts: Why Limit Yourself to 1 First Aid Kit?
Learning how to make a first aid kit for camping is pretty straightforward, right? If so, it might be helpful to build a few for different purposes. For example, we keep a basic kit in our backpack and a more comprehensive pack in our vehicle. When it comes to first aid, redundancy is your friend!
Anyway, we hope this guide proves useful, and let us know if we missed anything! We’re always looking to improve our guides and reviews!
Cheers and happy camping!
The operators of Renegade Camping may receive a commission for purchases made through links on our site. But that doesn’t mean we’re shilling random crap! We thoroughly research and/or own all the products we review on our website. We want to build unshakeable trust with our readers, and that means offering honest, transparent reviews and guides. Cheers!– The Renegade Camping & EDC team
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