Assembling the Right Wilderness Emergency Medical Kit
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Many people are reluctant to consider the potential that they or a loved may suffer an injury or need emergency medical supplies. While understandable - many people hate to focus on the negative - a lack of planning in this area may have serious and potentially even fatal results. Simply purchasing a basic first aid kit designed for normal household use will pose a risk of not having certain crucial supplies handy if one wishes to have supplies for an incident involving more severe trauma or an emergency situation. A fully stocked kit can be purchased or assembled and kept on board private aircraft, watercraft, vehicles, or used in remote areas where emergency medical response may be slow or even non existent. These same supplies may also be useful in a home setting should a situation (such as a disaster) take place which reduces the availability of emergency medical services.
In this article, I will attempt to present some ideas as to what one may want in an emergency medical kit, as well as some cautions regarding the use of items sometimes found in such kits. Before going any further, I would like to offer a basic caution. Equipment can not in and of itself substitute for knowledge and experience. It is highly recommended that an individual avail themselves of basic first aid or EMT courses such as those available from the American Red Cross, various Community Colleges, and other sources in ones community. If at all possible, one should also avail themselves of emergency medical assistance at the earliest opportunity when an emergency arises. This advice is also meant to be an overview and is not intended to take the place of a proper and extensive first aid manual.
Before embarking on any extended outdoors adventure or traveling to a new area, it is always a good idea to consult with a family doctor and dentist in order to get a check up before leaving. Nothing ruins a dream vacation in an exotic destination quite so quickly as finding out that there was an otherwise treatable dental problem, such as a cracked tooth, only to find that the island paradise one is visiting doesn’t have a dentist. Consult the CDC and State Department’s web sites regarding conditions in a destination country if traveling overseas. These will contain information on any vaccinations that are suggested or diseases that might be prevalent in a given area. Make arrangements with your health care provider well in advance for these medications, as some have to be taken a certain time in advance of a trip. Some of the common vaccinations needed are those for hepatitis, tetanus, typhoid, yellow fever, MMR (measles, mumps, rubella), polio, meningitis, Japanese encephalitis, and good old flu shots. One should also investigate whether anti-malarial medications will be necessary if traveling to a given area.
Your family health care provider will have access to your medical history and should have a good idea of your overall health. Discuss with your health care provider any pre-existing conditions which may be affected by these drugs/vaccines. Also ensure that you have an adequate supply of any medications that you need on hand for maintenance of pre-existing conditions at any given time. This means taking a supply of needed medications along even on day trips. A sudden burst of inclement weather can turn a day hike into an overnight stay, which would be a bad time to have left critical medications behind at the hotel. Remember the “Gilligan’s Island Rule” - sometimes a three hour trip becomes an adventure!
I suggest starting a kit by either adding - or ensuring that there is already in place - personal hygiene and protection equipment. These are items designed to minimize contact with bodily fluids and pathogens as well as environmental problems. Items to look at including would be things like a bar of soap. If reptiles are common in an area, then consider iodine soap as this does a good job of killing salmonella. It is often used by owners of pet reptiles and at pet stores for just this reason. (In an emergency situation, lizard might also be on the menu.) Waterless hand sanitizer is also always a good idea. It can be used as a fire starter if an alcohol based version is used. This is also useful in relatively mundane situations such as cleaning one’s hands after relieving one’s self outdoors without depleting the potable water on hand. Nit-rile gloves are another useful item to have on hand. Remember - some people are allergic to latex. Nit-rile gloves can also be of use when cleaning game, handling water purification chemicals, cleaning a firearm, and other basic camp chores.
Other items to consider include a disposable plastic apron. This can be used as a barrier from bodily fluids either in case of a severe injury or if one has to prepare and clean large game in a survival situation. Wearing the insides of a deer on your clothes won’t be a pleasant experience and also attract scavengers or even bears. A bio hazard bag is also useful to properly dispose of and mark any used supplies that have been exposed to bodily fluids. Consider adding a CPR face shield and N95 masks. The CPR face shield can protect one from exposure to bodily fluids during a recitation attempt. The N95 masks offer at least some protection from inhaled particles to include dust.
Don’t forget to protect yourself from the elements. Chap stick or lip balm, sunscreen, insect repellent, and even a mosquito net can all make life much more bearable in an emergency. A Heatsheets or other “Space” type blanket can also be a nice inclusion in a kit in order to offer some protection from the elements or assist in treating casualties caused by cold weather.
Consider including either sterile water or saline solution in a kit. These are useful for wound irrigation and cleaning. In a pinch, Coast Guard approved water ration packets work well for this. If one has the proper training, a wound irrigation syringe and a suture kit are also good ideas. With less training, butterfly sutures can still be used for wound closure.
Open fires and cooking with flame are both common in a wilderness setting or emergency. This can result in burns. Consider including a Water Gel Burn kit and/or other burn creams and relief products. To cure burning sensations of another sort - don’t forget to carry sting relief medications and topical treatments for poison ivy.
Most often found in home kits, but potentially of use in a wilderness kit, are syrup of Ipecac and activated charcoal. These are usually found in homes with children as they are used to treat accidental poisonings. Ideally, these are used in conjunction with advice from your local poison control center. In brief, the syrup of Ipecac forces one to expel the contents of their stomach whereas activated charcoal absorbs it. These might be useful additions to the medical supplies of - for example - a hunting guide, for use in situations such as a client eating the wrong type of berries.
Imodium and other anti diarrhea medicines are often found in first aid kits. These should be used with caution. While diarrhea can be quite inconvenient, it is serious only when adequate fluids are not available. If adequate potable water is available, there are times when loose bowels are simply the body’s way of excreting a poison or toxin. Eating strange foods or simple stress can cause a person to have loose stools. While Imodium and similar medicines certainly have a place in a first aid kit, one should use caution and common sense in utilizing them.
Not often found in first aid kits, but a useful addition, would be a supply of water purification tablets. Those offered by Katadyn come in handy single use foil packets. They will not take up much room in a kit and their addition will help guarantee a supply of potable liquids for re hydration. I also suggest including a collapsible water container such as a Platypus bag somewhere in one’s emergency supplies in order to have a container to purify water in.
Glucose tablets or packets are another item sometimes found in first aid kits that ought to be used with caution. While these can be useful, there are also risks associated with their use in conjunction with certain medical conditions. If someone is diabetic and is planning a trip, they should consult with their doctor for an opinion regarding the use of glucose tablets.
Other concerns regarding common first aid kit medications - aspirin can be of use as a mild pain killer and in cases of heart attacks. However it can cause stomach problems for some users, and it can affect blood clotting. Ibuprofen, meanwhile can reduce swelling, but can cause problems for those with ulcers. Tylenol (or a generic substitute) may be the best in terms of causing the fewest undesirable side effects. I have doubts regarding the efficiency of Hydrogen peroxide. I prefer sterile water and alcohol for wound cleaning and disinfection. Povidone iodine solution can also be of use, but while some manuals suggest using it to purify water, my understanding is that it’s utility for such has not been fully proven. There are certainly better water purification methods available including water purification tablets. Benadryl is worth including in case of allergic reactions, but remember that it tends to make many individuals drowsy. Antacids are a simple item that will be used more often than one expects, as the camp chili might not agree with everyone.
In terms of trauma supplies, I like to see something beyond a basic assortment of band aids. As mentioned earlier, butterfly sutures are a good place to start. Also worthy of inclusion are Ace bandages, Kerlex, and Israeli type military trauma bandages. In conjunction, these articles can be life savers in case of a traumatic injury. A tourniquet can be useful if one has the training to use it appropriately and understands the limitations of one. Quick Clot (or a similar clotting agent) is another potential life saver that one should seek training in the use of before relying on. It is great to have in a kit, but seek the proper knowledge as to what it can and cannot do. Medical tape and smaller trauma pads should also either be added or already in the kit.
For longer trips, or those involving a lot of physical activity, it might be worth including a SAM splint for an arm, cold packs, and finger splints. If one is assembling a smaller kit, then Popsicle sticks and medical tape can be used to splint fingers with the proper training.
Finally, don’t omit foot care. Some Gold Bond medicated power, a change of socks, and some mole skins can provide a great deal of relief and help - literally - to keep one on their feet.
Military Medical Professional
About the Author
Yvonne Edwards is a Hospital Corpsman in the U.S. Navy and has also worked as an EMT and a medical volunteer at SCA events. Her views are her own and are not based on the opinions of the military or Best Glide ASE. Assembling the Right Emergency Medical Kit is another survival tutorial offered by Best Glide Aviation Survival Equipment. Best Glide ASE is a supplier of quality survival equipment, survival gear, medical kits and survival kits to the US Military, Corporations, Aviators, Adventurers and individuals.