The really good prepackaged kits are often awfully expensive, and I find they may not have what I want in them anyway. The cheap-ies tend not to have much in them at all, and after years of experimenting, I have a system for building my own medical kits.
First, you need a portable, durable container. My main "vet bag" for animal emergencies is a large, soft sided tool bag with wheels from Harbor Frieght. I think I paid all of $12 for it. That's going to be too big for most folks, so I would recommend checking out discount stores like Walmart, Kmart or Family Dollar in the purse section. Yes, I said purse. There's a whole bunch of large purses or small backpacks made out of canvas or nylon these days that you can catch on sale or even better, clearance!, for a few dollars. You can also, of course, check out tag sales or the thrift store, just go for clean, or reasonably clean and washable. It just makes things easier if you have to respond to an emergency out in the yard, etc., if you can grab everything and carry it conveniently, instead of raiding the medicine cabinet and distributing bandaids across the grass for half a block.
Next, go to the farm and ranch or pet supply store. Yep, I'm crazy, always have been. But listen. Anyone who actually works with their hands knows you can't actually keep a bandage on. Unless of course you get one of the waterproof, will-never-come-off, will-take-off-a-layer-of-skin-when-it-goes kind. I have a better way. We do construction, and I can keep a snug, safe bandage on my husband and I both with Vetrap. It's sold also as Co-Flex, and a few other names, and it started out as a bandage for racehorses. It runs around $1.50 to $2.00 per roll, and it's a darn long roll. It's a flexible, stretchy bandage kind of like the old Ace bandages, but it sticks to itself and is somewhat waterproof. And it WON'T stick to skin or hair, and you can pull or cut it off when you are done with no collateral damage. It comes in a bunch of fun colors and I like to keep a half dozen rolls on hand at all times. It also comes in a 2 inch width (great for fingers) and a 4 inch width (bigger boo boos or to immobilize a break or sprain). I recommend having both widths around.
Next item: blood stopper powder. Now, when a cut is incurred, the blood flow is designed to cleanse foreign material from the cut. However, I think in this day and age of "CSI", everyone knows what it means to "bleed out". Pressure just "upstream" of the wound is great, but if you have enough damage or enough flow to prevent clotting, it can be darn helpful to have a few other ways to get it slowed down. A good dowsing with a bloodstopper powder from the vet supply (or cornstarch in a pinch), followed by a dressing or continued pressure with a clean cloth, may buy you enough time to get to the ER.
Next tip: go to the bathroom cabinet. Ladies, what product lives there that's designed to absorb (blood, naturally) and does such a magnificent job? Heck, they even come wrapped up in discreet little packages to make them portable. Yep. A bandage will only hold so much, and if you have a serious "oil leak", let me tell you, a maxi pad makes a heck of a bandage. Further, in case of a puncture wound, a tampon may plug a hole. Please use some caution and have some basic knowledge of anatomy before using this tip, long enough to save a life. Plus it has a string for easy retrieval, lol! Hey, I'd rather show up at the hospital and have to explain why I've got a Tampax as body jewelry, than never be able to explain anything again.
Did I mention this was a lengthy tip?
Ok, back to the farm and ranch store. I have an earscope (intended for pets) in my medical kit. It's amazing how many times I have used this little guy. I have small children, and the what-will-fit-in-my-nose-ear-other-orifice game holds just as much fascination for them as for all other kids from the dawn of time. The scope is lighted and has different tips, it's the right size to prevent it from doing damage to an ear, and is ever so much better than trying to improvise with a flashlight. I believe I paid $13.00 for it, and I've replaced the batteries once in 5 years.
With regards to the farm and ranch supply thing. If you don't have one in your area, or even if you do, I recommend checking out Jeffers supply. They can be found at Jeffersequine.com or Jefferspet.com. They have three different catalogs, and you will need at least the pet and the equine to find what you want. The Vetrap is in the equine catalog, and the earscope is in the pet catalog. You can also call them at 1-800-533-3377 and request actual catalogs. I have been ordering from them for probably 15 years, and they are great. They will not charge you for shipping with a minimum order (unless you order something heavy) and their customer service is awesome. I have stores in my area, but I order wormer, collars and all kinds of other stuff from them several times a year.
Next: sharp scissors. Like a pair of those devious little "nail scissors" that we've probably all accidentally amputated something with in the past. Well, if you have a horrible, ragged wound (and I'm talking a minor one here, if this is going to require surgery, then you need to leave plenty for the surgeon to work with), it can be very helpful to delicately trim ruined edges of skin that will never mend correctly, less scarring. Next pair: bandage scissors. I got mine from Jeffers for just about $3 or $4, and they are very high quality. If you need to cut off some clothes or an old bandage safely, they are angled, blunt nosed and very sturdy. I haven't tried it yet, but I bet I could get through a seat belt in a few seconds, too.
Forceps. No, this isn't going to turn into something Alan Alda should have had as a prop for MASH, but forceps are like long, strong tweezers, and can be great for pulling out a foreign object like a big ol' splinter where your average tweezers are just out of their depth.
Please note: I am not advocating laypersons committing major medical procedures without experience. BUT, AND THIS IS A BIG BUT, if I am hurt and there is no convenient hospital or ambulance, I personally will thank any old person with some supplies to do what they can. And I have patched up animals that otherwise wouldn't have made it at least long enough to get them to the vet. Just stopping bleeding can make the difference between life and death to someone who has the misfortune to crash in your front yard. On that note, a nice first aid course is a wonderful thing to attend, and any books or laminated information cards regarding emergency medicine should be included in your kit. Of course, the thrifty way to go here is to print them yourself off the internet on card stock and laminate them...: )
A trip to the camping/sporting goods section of a discount will net you a tin foil looking packet called a "space blanket" or emergency blanket. They are inexpensive (less than $5) and indispensible. Someone who is really chilled, or in shock, needs to retain heat in order to survive, and that little shiny blanket is remarkably effective. On the same note, throwing in some candy and/or an energy bar can be pretty helpful in giving someone enough energy to safely get them out of a bad situation and to help.
Ok, we're nearing the end here, thank heavens! A nice broad collection of various bandages is good. I buy quite a lot of mine at the dollar store. I can get away with that because, as previously stated, NO bandage will stay on if you actually DO anything, so I will clean and dress a wound with triple antibiotic cream, apply the appropriate bandage, then cover with a layer of Vetrap. Bingo--nearly indestructible bandage. Further, because the Vetrap is stretchy, you can use it to apply pressure to a bleeding wound. Please use a grain of common sense and don't cut off the circulation by putting it on too tight.
Triple antibiotic cream. I catch it on sale and buy the store brand by the handful. There's all kinds of stuff out there, and I will sometimes make an herbal concoction for a specific problem, but for a cheap fix that works, that does the trick.
Cleanser for wounds. There's of course, the diabolical old Bactine. Fortunately now you can get things that are less painful to use, but it's pretty important to have.
I like to have either some heavy duty butterfly bandages, steristrips, or good, inflexible adhesive tape in there too. You may need to pull the edges of a wound together and secure it, and boy is it ever faster and less hideous to tape it than it is to stitch it!
I also like to have an empty, sterile syringe or two, no needles necessary. You can fill it with clean water or wound wash and use it to flush debris from a wound that would otherwise be terribly difficult to get to. This particularly works well if someone has had a tooth pulled and gets food stuck in the hole.
Clean cloths. They don't have to be fancy, although a cheap pack of white washclothes or kitchen towel works great, and you can use old clean T-shirt scraps, whatever. Just make sure they are clean, you can boil them and dry them if you want, then package them in Ziploc bags to keep them that way. In fact, I organize my other supplies, especially the bandages, in baggies to keep them easy to access and dry.
So, beyond these things that I really find necessary, you can dump in anything that suits your fancy. A flashlight is always good, I like the shakey ones or the ones you crank, because when it's been sitting around unused for a while, you never have to deal with dead batteries and of course matches can be good. Add stuff as you see fit, being aware that it's always good to know how to use it.
There's a wealth of information out there in this day and age, and some of the survival sites will give good ideas for emergencies, too. But the $20 dollar kit that came with your car, etc. will probably not give you actual tools to really do anything in an emergency. When it's your loved one that's injured, that's not the time to wish you'd taken time to put together something better.
Source: Too many sources to mention over the last 30 years, but quite a bit from my dad, and some from my own experience.
By Gina J. from Montana
First aid kits can be purchased as a set or put together by you. I prefer to put my own together, that way I know how to use all the items in it and I can customize what it contains. Of course you can add any additional items to a prepackaged first aid kit, I would just recommend that you know what all the contents are for and how to use them. After all, you won't have time to learn in an emergency.
For the most part all camping or hiking first aid kits should include:
A first aid kit can only do so much. Before beginning any trip you would be wise to familiarize yourself with any potential hazards in the area. Are there poisonous snakes or plants? Is the mold count high? These along with other factors can detract from any camping adventure and lead to possible emergencies. Thus the best way to stay safe is to plan ahead. You should also make note of where the nearest phone is and ranger stations.
If anyone on the trip has severe allergies to something they could potentially encounter (such as bees) it would be wise to consult a doctor before the trip as well as pack an EpiPen. EpiPens contain a prescribed dose of epinephrine and can be self injected if there is an allergic reaction.
Hopefully you will never need to use your camping first aid kit, but it is very important to always bring one along just in case something happens.