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April 2000

Perfecting Your First Aid Kit

Whether it's old and dirty or fresh off the store shelf, your first-aid kit should be able to handle any emergency.

Buy A New Kit

The advantage of opting for a new, commercially made first-aid kit is convenience. While most will set you back more than a few bucks, they do come with almost everything. No need to buy adhesive bandages in bulk or spend time searching for hard-to-find items, like a SAM Splint.

“I like premade kits because they give me a place to start,” Dr. Donner says. “Most of us don’t want to spend half a day at Walgreen’s putting it all together.”

Another advantage is the container itself. The better kits hold items firmly in place and display everything in a highly visible, accessible fashion-far preferable to digging through loose items floating around in a stuff sack.

Dr. Donner’s advice for assessing any first-aid kit’s contents is this: You have to weigh the likelihood of using an item against your ability to improvise if you don’t have it, then factor in the weight and volume it’ll add to your load. For Dr. Donner, that means the critical items mentioned previously make the cut, but a triangular bandage doesn’t. Likewise, most preassembled kits are filled with a variety of bandages, gauze wraps, and other M.A.S.H.-style material that Dr. Donner finds nonessential. “It’s not that I think those things are unnecessary,” says

Dr. Donner. “I don’t think they’re critical. If I have an ACE wrap and a splint, I can handle it.”

Following these principles, we reviewed first-aid kits that leading manufacturers say are appropriate for two to five people on a backcountry trip of up to 10 days. We focused on the accessibility, utility, and ease of use of the contents.

These kits should cover the needs of all but very large groups and extreme trips. If you’re heading out solo or with a partner for a long weekend, simply pare down the contents. Add or subtract items according to environmental concerns, personal needs, and your

tolerance for weight. Always carry

Dr. Donner’s “Kit Essentials.”

The bottom line: Which kit you take-or whether you build your own-depends on you. What you’re doing (dayhiking in Arkansas, peak bagging in Banff) is a big factor. So, too, is the personal tradeoff between weight, bulk, and your need to feel more or less fully prepared. Because I’m paranoid, I like to carry a pretty hefty kit. But I rarely use it. Customize the kit if you want; remember, the goal is to create a first-aid kit that gets the job done…no more and no less.

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