The Ultimate First-Aid Manual: First Aid Improv

"Be prepared" is a great maxim, but be honest: Who among you packs a SAM splint and an irrigation syringe on every backpacking trip? Fear not–everyday items can serve as medical equipment in a pinch.


Eat two teaspoons of menthol toothpaste mixed with cold water.

Antibacterial Ointment

Use honey to discourage infection and promote healing. (it’s a natural antibacterial agent). Spread it over the surface of minor cuts, burns, abrasions, and frostbite (but not directly in a wound) and cover with gauze.


Cut a thin strip of fabric out of a T-shirt (snip in a circular pattern around the shirt to get the longest dressing possible).

Cervical Collar

No SAM splint? Roll a bulky jacket or fleece, leaving the sleeves out, and wrap it around the patient’s neck (see left). Tie it in place with the sleeves. Or cut a foam pad into a collar and tape it in place.

Cold Pack

Soak the injury in cold water, or wrap soaked bandannas or cotton T-shirts around the site.

Irrigation Syringe

Force water out of a hydration tube or squeeze a zip-top bag with a pinhole poked in it.

Medical Gloves

Put your hands inside clean zip-top bags.


Pull the bottom of the patient’s short-sleeve shirt up and over the injured arm and pin it to the front with two safety pins. Long-sleeve shirt? Pin the sleeve of the injured arm (with the arm in it) to the shirt.


closure strips Cut 1/4-inch-long strips of duct tape; punch pinholes to let fluid drain.