Backcountry First Aid Kit




About: Building design/consulting in SE Minnesota. Resource based problem solver... in other words, I always take a minute to peek 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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    18 Discussions


    10 months ago

    Many countries, if they catch you with drugs outside the original packaging/ containers will go BANANAS on you. Just saying. The solution is to keep everything in those cheap blister packs...

    Kink Jarfold

    11 months ago on Step 6

    Well thought out. Good job. Not much of a camper myself and I usually stay at a nice motel like this one.


    2 replies
    NoBoxEverKink Jarfold

    Reply 10 months ago

    Well, I also used to think roughing meant a European hotel where I shared a bathroom.

    After I started camping (in my late 30's!) my first aid kit never left the car. It lived there for twenty years, replenished as needed, until I passed it on to a Maryland State Trooper at the site of a three-car MVA on the Beltway who had just called for ambulances. I pulled off, walked back, handed it over, told him what it was, and left. I figured that was its best possible new home.


    10 months ago

    Good first aid kits are always important. I try to make a meeting of utility and weight-- most usefulness, minimal weight, and smallest cubic size! One thing to include is something for using to cover a bleeding wound: For years I have carried one or two sanitary menstrual pads in their original wrappers, sealed inside zip-top plastic bags. They make excellent pressure pads!

    1 reply

    Reply 10 months ago

    NBE - thanks for your message! Yes, we certainly share priorities. A recent post didn't get much attention but expect you may have used duct tape in the past to manage blisters much better than bandaids... in advance for the foot pics


    11 months ago

    Warning: Some pills do change them contents and can become dangerous to use if not stored appropriately.

    Please do not store pills in any containers - the best is to have them in the packaging that was sold to you. That information is written on the sheet of paper that comes with the pills, please read it.

    Most of the pills are totally wrong or dangerous to be used by people that has liver problems or deceases. So the best is to have the pills in the packaging and the info paper in it as they was sold by the pharmacy. Next time you do such pill boxes have this in mind.

    This is very important you cannot give to somebody a pill if he will have huge problems after using it.

    Ibuprofen i having very huge list of bad things to happen to anyone using is.

    You've been warned.

    PS(Aspirin is a pill that is less damaging the people health - most that can happen is to cause acid problems - However some people can die if the blood is too thin of the aspirin - so such a harmless pill without the receipt and the info paper will cause someone to die. You've been warned)

    1 reply

    Reply 11 months ago

    Overall pills are not for use without understanding of their effects. This list is mostly ok though.
    Ibuprophen is safer than paracetamol (acetaminophen) in terms of liver damage, and its side effects are reasonably rare, in my opinion paracetamol is useless here: it only provides small pain relief without addressing any symptoms, ibuprofen at least reduces inflammation a bit.
    Sudafed seems bad here - when you are under high physical load, you definitely don't want to hide your symptoms without curing the cause - it can lead to over exhausting and, in unlucky case, following serious illness.


    Reply 11 months ago

    We used to carry anti-bacterial soap. do you have other uses for soap in the backcountry or just for cleanup?


    Reply 11 months ago

    Just off the top of my head: soap will slow down a leak in a tent, might get you through the night. Helps stop itching, I carry a small piece of Fels Naptha which breaks down urushiol in poison ivy and it's great on bug bites. Lube for zippers or a fire making spindle; any place you might need a semi-dry lubricant.


    11 months ago

    The cylinders for AirBorne could house a complete minimalist first aid kit, the large 18 tablet size is ~5.5"/140mm, would be very complete, the smaller size would do well as well. The much smaller single serving zipfizz water supplement containers would work well too, but it may take several to house all these meds. (Zipfizz wouldn't handle the larger Pepto Bismo. . .but I've never carried that on an outing.) Re-using the zipfizz container is great, because I feel like a complete goof for ever buying something in packaging like that. . .


    11 months ago

    Several states have requirements for buying Iodine (meth crystals, etc). What is OTC will be weak. I suggest asking a pharmacist for acceptable substitutes, especially if there's an allergy risk.

    Side note, biscuit tins work fine, too :)

    1 reply

    Reply 11 months ago

    Ha, thanks Myrian! Good to know about the restrictions and allergy risk should certianly be noted!


    11 months ago on Step 6

    I would add a fishing hook an some fishing line, a marker instead of a pen and some bandages. Also, 2 BIG issues there: moisture makes your lighter useless, and your pills turn to dirt, get a quartz lighter and keep pills in their blisters or at least put some silica gel in the box.

    1 reply
    Waldemar Sha

    11 months ago

    Yeah. Here in Ukraine we have similar thing. We call it gorilka. You can apply it to desinfect the wound or just drink it to forget that you have any. Works best on wounded hart... if you have any... but we all do... so we all in danger...