Introduction: Backcountry First Aid Kit

About: Building design/consulting in Vancouver, WA. Resource based problem solver... in other words, I always take a minute to look in construction dumpsters :) ---the way some have to workout everyday... i have to …

There are many First Aid / Zombie / Survival Kits on Instructables. The goal here is to show how to build the lightest weight kit that delivers the most function/cubic inch for backcountry camping and extended travel.

The kit is packed in the same film container I've used since taking a gap year in 2001. Limited reuse but I love that this film canister has been with me for 17 years... once ubiquitous is now vintage (almost)!

Included in this instructable:

  • Kit Ingredients
  • Reused Container
  • Minimal Packaging
  • Items Carried Outside the Kit
  • Additions + Extended Travel
  • Reference + Notes (why no gauze or fire starter!)

Step 1: Kit Ingredients

Before each big trip I refill my kit. Here's a look at the supply coming into the July '18 refresh.


  • (2) Pepto Bismo (linkto $.17/pill) - a convenient item to have around for a common complaint
  • (2) Imodium AD (link to $.35/pill) - 2mg tablets. not shown but needed. These small pills take up minimal space and can save the day!
  • (14) Ibprophin (link to $.01/pill) - 200mg tablets
  • (4) Acetaminophin (link to $.02/pill) - 500mg tablets... not included in my photos but you'll also want (4) asprin to thin blood. Potentially life saving to defend against a heart attack on a trail
  • (2) Vicodin (link)- only one pill left but can easily be split to ration. --leftover from a break five years back. great to have if someone is really hurt and needs to hike out
  • (14) Benedryl (link to $.01/pill) - 25mg tablets
  • (4) Zytrec (link to $.04/pill) - 10mg tablets
  • (4) Sudafed (link to $.25/pill) - 10mg tablets
  • (12) Iodine (link to $.15/pill) - 2 tablets / liter to purify. 2 tablet / tbsp to sterilize a wound
  • (1) Bacitracin (link to $.08/packet) - triple antibiotic pack
  • (1) Needle (link to $.06/needle) - essential. most commonly sterilized and use or popping blisters. also handy for stitching

Cost: Total cost given the mainly generic ingredients above is $4.50!! (w/o the vicodin)

Download: The provided file is an easy sorting sheet. I've included generic names to make it easier to search if browsing in a big box or dollar store. ---please remember to consult a physician before taking any medication. Also important to note allergies.

Most packaged options online (even those over $100) fall far short ---in my opinion. They pack a kit full of bandages but aren't licensed to sell the basic medications that are far more valuable. Most these items can be accumulated over as part of regular household medicine cabinet.

Step 2: Reused Container

My Approach - I use an old film container. It has worked well for me and I like my familiar little cylinder.

Not practical as film containers don't even exist anymore... here are a few packages I would look to for replacement.

  • Aluminum Pill Bottle - I have the smallest one I can find... at 1-1/4" model. I would likely buy a slightly 3" model if going for new.
  • Mints Container - here is the smallest container of altoids I could find.
  • Toothpick Container - this bougie little product has a nice box or a mit.
  • Pill Bottle - available with any medication
  • Cigar Sleeve - not finding it online but a great little aluminum container.
  • Film Canister - my old favorite

Cost: The canister should really be something you reuse. Bonus if there is some sentimental value.

Step 3: Packing a Container

Plastic wrapped pills fit nicely together. There's no way to take up minimal space and use original packaging. For just a few I decided to keep the original packaging.

My Approach - use the corner of plastic bags and plastic wrap.
The Goal - minimize space/weight to maximize the supply. See in the photos how I fold plastic around the medication and use the smallest amount of tape to seal the small packets.

Step 4: Items Outside the Kit

These are items I consider part of the pack's first aid but aren't apart of the kit.

  • Lighter - regular old bic
  • Paracord (link to $.11/ft @ 100') - shown as wrapped on lighter. Typically I carry at least 25'. ---I try to never cut paracord... there's always a way to get creative and avoid a cut. carry twine as well...
  • Rubber Gloves (link to $.20/pair) - can never be too careful if you decide to help someone on the trail. Would hate to do a good deed and expose yourself to a virus... at a 1/2 ounce per pair it's weight i'm happy to carry.
  • Electrical Tape (3pack at any dollar store) - my go to tape. I actually prefer the stuff for most tasks over duct! ---so much less expensive, less weight and less variability... some duct is terrible
  • Salt - more than just for cooking. It's my first defense for sterilization and any sore throat is met with salt
  • Knife (link to tinkerer) - Thanks to Victorinox/Leatherman! I've had this trusty simple knife for years! Excited to add a Letherman Surge to my pack this summer thanks to the A-Frame Chicken Coop I posted in the Pet's Contest !! So excited, first placed instructables!!
  • Pen - an essential. If there ever is an emergency you'll need to be able to leave notes.
  • Duct Tape - my most common use for duct tape backcountry is as 'mole skin' for blisters. You know it will stay in place!
  • Aluminum Foil - Thanks to Tanner for noting the foil in his post on survival kits. I always carry but didn't have it on my list.
  • Heavy Plastic Bags - maybe the most valuable item in the backcountry.

Cost: Most items you should have around the house. Most items should run less than a dollar except the paracord and a knife.

Step 5: Additions + Extended Travel

Iodine Supply - this container is something I stumbled on at dollartree. The waterproof aluminum container is perfect for carrying iodine. Many don't like the taste of iodine but I grew up with it. An easy taste to acquire. There are many options for treating water but Potable Aqua is very dependable and the least weight. A backup everyone should carry even if you have a fancy new Lifestraw!

Ace Bandages - if anyone is prone to sprains you'll definitely want to keep an Ace Bandage handy

Extended Travel - mainly drugs that are handy to have available

  • Zithromax - Zpacks are now only (2) 500mg tablets. Great if you can get your hands on this before a trip
  • Keflex - A good general antibiotic
  • Cipro - Even 5-10 pills are pretty handy for minor infections

---medication note: consult a doctor before taking any medication. I speak casually about medications I've gotten to know. Please take every effort to manage medication responsibly for yourself and others.

Step 6: Thanks + Reference Notes

Thank you for taking the time to read!
Hope this helps you slim down your kit and add a few items you may not have considered.

Reference. Here are a few others in the long line of instructable survival posts:

Starting Fires. One thing I think people dedicate too much space to is fire starting... in a recent instructable I posted how I build fires (Beach Fires). If you are ever in a place where you can't find material to start a fire you likely won't find wood fuel to burn.

Bandages + Gauze. Kits online are packed full of these items. It makes sense to me if you have a car and a group of kids who will be easier to maneuver if they have a bandaid... as real survival/first aid they are a bit lacking. I always carry a few items that are one step away from becoming rags (easiest are shirts or lightweight pants). ---when I led youth trips we always carried pads. I carried a few extra and reduced my count of gauze.

Region Specific. Be sure to customize your kit to the region you are traveling.

--I'll update further if there are additional notes provided. Always interested in any feedback! --Jeff

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