Backcountry First Aid Kit

“If you’re not wrecking, you’re not riding.”

Yeah, it’s a stupid saying—but if you ride, eventually you’ll wreck. When this happens in the backwoods, you need to be ready to get yourself and your friends home safe.

Below is a printable Essential First Aid Kit Checklist you can take with you into Walgreens to get ready for multi-day excursions in the backcountry.

Clean Water

Having access to clean water is critical for basic wound care.

Water Filter System

It’s good practice to carry two methods of water purification in case one fails.

A Sawyer Mini (left) is a great personal option. While it can’t filter a large quantity, it works well for an individual. Another bonus is that it is lightweight and compact. A pump style filter (right) is another effective personal method.

Gravity Filters are wonderful for large groups, as they can fill up multiple large vessels at a time.

I always carry Iodine Tablets and Taste Neutralizers in the backcountry in case my primary water filter malfunctions or becomes contaminated somehow. If you have to use this method, keep in mind that you’ll still have to filter out sediment somehow. Carry a clean cloth or handkerchief with the tablets to pour water through.

Wound Care

For basic wound care, you’ll need sterile gauze, band-aids of all shapes and sizes, non-stick sterile pads, butterfly bandages, and tape. There are various kinds of tape that work great for first aid, including athletic tape, masking tape, duct tape, and stretch wrap.

Mountain bikers are no strangers to abrasion wounds, and therefore it’s important to carry an irrigation syringe and tweezers to help coax out grit and gravel from injuries. After cleaning with fresh water, if the wound is no longer bleeding use soap to clean the area.

For aches, breaks, and sprains, carry an ACE bandage and a triangle bandage. The ACE bandage will help stabilize most ankle sprains, while the triangle bandage can be used as a sling, tourniquet, immobilization device, or as gauze for puncture wounds. It really is a miracle bandage.

If something needs to be stitched, friends of mine have had success by using Krazy Glue to hold the skin together. Make sure to clean the wound properly before using, and once out of the backcountry go see a real doctor.

Don’t forget Nitrile exam gloves! They act as a sterile barrier between the germs on your hands and the patient’s blood. They are seriously important out there.

Medication

Depending on where you’re going, you might consider taking the following medications along:

Ibuprofen - Pain and inflammation reducer.

Aspirin - Pain, fever, and inflammation reducer. Aspirin can also be used in the event of a heart attack.

Benadryl - Treatment of minor allergic reactions, like bee stings, snake bites, poison ivy rashes, etc. Non-drowsy Claritin works, as well.

Anti-diarrheal - Like Imodium, could keep you from getting seriously dehydrated in the event of food poisoning or Giardia exposure. Never take this stuff if your stool is bloody unless you absolutely have to.

Stool Softener - All those powders and weird, bikepacking foods can seriously mess with your gut.

Antibiotics - For pneumonia, bronchitis, and infection. I always keep a Z Pack in my first aid kit. If someone gets seriously ill in the backcountry, a dose of antibiotics could save their life. Know when to take them, and when to let your body take care of itself.

Building your Kit

After you get all the essentials rounded up, find a container to keep them in. A small cloth bag or Ziploc bag works great. Make sure that you label it as “First-Aid” and make it easily accessible for you and your riding companions. I recommend putting medications in a small Ziploc baggie and labeling the bag with a description of each pill and its uses. That way, no matter who is using your kit, they’ll be able to quickly and confidently use the correct medication.

Disclaimer: We are not medical professionals. Not even close. Please channel your inner girl scout and research First-Aid. Know what to use and when to use it, and never, ever give someone else medication or aid without their explicit consent. Whether you’re giving someone a single dose of Ibuprofen or simply trying to help them up after a hard crash, always wait for a confirmed “yes” to treatment. They may have allergies to certain medication. If they suffered a major fall, they may have spine injuries or head trauma.

Further Reading:

Back Country Medicine by the Squaw Butte Back Country Horsemen

How To Treat The 6 Most Common Injuries In The Backcountry by Hartley Brody

Backcountry Diarrhea: Treating The Runs by Buck Tilton, BACKPACKER Contributing Editor

Rx in the Wilderness: The 5 Medications You Need to Stay Alive by Keith McCafferty

Want to become certified in Wilderness First Aid? Consider a NOLS class. The information I learned in this class has made me infinitely more confident in my ability to take care of myself and my friends. I strongly encourage every bikepacker to learn the basics.