Build an ultralight first aid kit 

One of the best parts of spending time outside is the ability to escape routine, email notifications, and the wealth of items we surround ourselves with. Carrying everything you need for a week on your back is liberating. At the same time, it’s often difficult to decide what to bring and what to leave behind. Packing for your fears is bound to leave you with a heavy pack. On the other hand, traveling all but naked is an equally irresponsible strategy. Fortunately, light and fast trips don’t need to sacrifice safety. Building an ultralight first aid kit will give you the supplies and confidence to tackle an array of potential problems during most outdoor missions. This lightweight first aid kit is small enough to fit in a running vest, a saddle bag or come along on any day hike. 

Skills are more important than supplies 

Photo by Science Museum, London.

It’s worth noting that a well-stocked first aid kit goes only so far as your skills. Consider taking a Wilderness First Aid (WFA) or Wilderness First Responder (WFR) course to build confidence treating common backcountry injuries. A large, well-stocked first aid kit makes sense for longer trips or larger groups, but it’s often impractical. Paring down your first aid kit to a size you’ll actually carry with you is a better strategy. 

Choosing what to include in an ultralight first aid kit 

Since there’s no way to bring everything, a good strategy I learned from Randy Hertzman, a NOLS instructor, to decide what to include in an ultralight first aid kit is to think about likelihood and consequence of various injuries. It’s easy to pack supplies to treat high likelihood, low consequence injuries like blisters or a sprained ankle. It’s also worth carrying some supplies to treat less likely but higher consequence injuries like a deep wound. High likelihood, high consequence injuries vary by activity. Depending on your risk tolerance and potential hazards, high consequence injuries could be rare. Sports like base jumping or hunting call for a different first aid kit than hiking or canoeing.

Ultralight first aid kit items
Blister Kit: 

  1. KT Tape – Strong adhesive works to stop hotspots or to cover an open blister 
  1. Safety pin – For popping bothersome blisters or securing an Ace wrap or sling. 
  1. Mini-lighter – Nice for sterilizing your safety pin or in emergencies. 

Wound Care 

  1. Irrigating syringe – Use to clean wounds with water 
  2. Sterile Gauze – Use for packing deep wounds or stopping bleeding. 
  3. Ointment (antibiotic or petroleum jelly) – Use for chafing and keeping gauze moist. Common alternatives, like Neosporin, have weak antibacterial properties and can cause an allergic reaction in some people. 
  4. Steri-Strips wound closure strips – Use for closing cuts 
  5. Tegaderm semi-permeable dressings – Easier to care for than a traditional dressing, these dressings work to keep bacteria out. 
  6. Band-Aids – Tried and true, Band-Aids are good for a variety of cuts and scrapes. 


  1. Ibuprofen/Tylenol – Good for headache, pain, and soreness. Both drugs can be taken together safely. 
  1. Benadryl – Use against minor allergic reactions. 
  1. Anti-diarrheal – Use to prevent against fluid loss during diarrhea 
  2. Aspirin – Can reduce cardiac chest pain 


  1. Ace Wrap – Use for wrapping usable musculoskeletal injuries, dressing a large wound, or providing compression to an improvised splint. 
  2. Tweezers/Scissors – Good for splinters, cutting KT tape or removing clothing. 
Photo courtesy by ChelseaWa, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The above supplies make for a solid ultralight first aid kit, small enough to fit in a plastic bag. KT tape and a safety pin can treat hotspots and more developed blisters. Wound care supplies allow you to treat small cuts, as well as have the option to stop bleeding and pack deeper lacerations. Bringing petroleum jelly, as long as it remains sterile, can moisten gauze and doubles as an antidote to chafing. A few painkillers, medicine for minor allergic reactions and Aspirin for cardiac chest pain is useful. An Ace-wrap allows you to wrap usable injuries or dress a larger wound. Modify the list to fit your activity, group size and trip length.