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.

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.


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.