• 2014
  • Sep
  • 14

JMT - John Muir Trail 2014 - Gear Review - First Aid Kit

For our John Muir Trail hike this summer I was preparing a “First Aid Kit”. First Aid in your normal urban scenario usually only deals with stabilizing a patient and getting help - which usually arrives in minutes - on the trail even if you are carrying a SPOT or satellite phone (and we don’t) you can expect help to take hours to arrive.

My wilderness first aid kit covers a lot more than that - and is designed to help us keep going and be light and small - since you don’t want it to be in the way, or in the bottom of the pack and it needs to fit into the bear canister during the night.

Without sunscreen (see below) this “urgent care” pack is at 413g/14oz

Every day

On the trail during the day you will mostly be looking at blister prevention and blisters, so lets start with that:

I never believed it - but it seems to work wonders. If you haven’t tried it - get the smallest size and give it a shot, you might be equally surprised.

Athletic Tape
I did bring “Leukotape P” which works great to cover hot spots, also holds bandages in place firmly. It gets increasingly difficult to remove the glue from feet and socks, after some time - so I would try KT tape pro (uncut) the next time. But the tape works great! which ever type you bring - test it before for allergic reactions and to ensure that it sticks well to your feet.

Blister Bandages
These are a last resort - if a blister develops and opens and leaves you with raw feet you need to cover the wound and help it heal. Nothing I have found works as well as blister bandages. My kit includes 10 blister bandages, but we needed none. In the future I would probably take 5.

Injection Needles
Eventually you will be developing some blisters, and if you need to walk the next day you need to puncture and drain blisters. You might need to talk to your doctor to get injection needles. Otherwise insulin syringes will work as well, but the needles are very short, too small to easily drain blisters and bend easily.

As a general antiseptic I carry iodine tincture in a tiny bottle. It costs nothing and works great. It can be applied to any bandage and does not affect the adhesive of the bandages like antibiotic ointments do. 5ml are sufficient for a long time.

Other small bandages
I also carry some small finger bandages and finger cots since both my wife and I have had cuts in our fingers before. For covering other small cuts and bruises I carry Antibiotic Fabric Bandages in 2 sizes - 10 of each size, which seems to be a good amount. These can also be used underneath the athletic tape to cover blisters if needed. In that case I would cut off excess adhesive parts.

Severe Issues

For more severe issues my first aid kit includes:

Surgical Gloves
When handling open wounds you need to ensure that you are not introducing any contamination, and in case you or your hiking partner has an open injury you don’t want to start out with taking minutes to wash your hands. If you are encountering a 3rd party you might want to protect yourself as well. I am thus carrying 2 pairs of surgical gloves.

Elastic Bandages
I carry elastic ACE bandages in 2 sizes (1x small and 1x medium), with clips, in order to stabilize joints, or fractures. I chose the once with clips since the clips can be reused, even if the bandage needs to be cut.

Triangular Bandage
This is also a great multi-use item, similar to the elastic bandage it can be used for anything from holding a gauze in place, to help splint broken bones, as slings for broken arms, broken collar bones, or dislocated shoulders and in the worst case it can also be useful as tourniquets, which can stop severe bleeding if really necessary.

Butterfly Wound Closures
If there are any deeper cuts to cover - I carry 2 of these small closures, they are super light weight, and might save the day.

Sterile Pads
In case of a strongly bleeding wound or it a blister exceeds the size of the bandages mentioned above, I do carry 8 sterile pads (4x 2′’x2′’ & 4x 3′’x3′’). These can easily be cut to size to work cover wounds and be hold in place by the elastic bandages mentioned above, or the triangular bandage or make for a custom size adhesive bandage when combined with the athletic tape.


For headaches and altitude sickness, as well as pain pain relieve in case of a major injury I carry ibuprofen. In contrast to aspirin it does not affect the blood coagulation. It also helps with inflammations.

For severe cold symptoms/fever - I carry the content of 3 bags, assuming that after 3 days I should be getting better.

If you encounter something you did not know you where allergic to:
Diphenhydramine HCI 25mg

Skin Irritations
To cover for allergic skin reactions, unexplained rashes, and even poison oak I carry 3x 1g of Hydrocotisone cream 1%. In the future I will also take some skin ointment.

All drinking water should be filtered (I prefer a water filter over chemical treatment) but you will be washing yourself in lakes and creeks, and at the edge of civilization there are some rather suspicious water sources…
Loperamide HCL 2mg

I know this is somewhat controversial, but I carry ciprofloxacin in my “first” aid kit. It can help in cases of severe urinary tract infections, lower respiratory tract infections, and animal bites. All of which are probably reasons to head for the the next exit. But if this is 5 days away better start early and not let an animal bite fester for 5 days.

Cranberry Extract
For minor urinal track infections I am also carrying some cranberry extract capsules. There effectiveness is controversial but at 5g for 14 capsules they are worth the extra weight.

Athlete’s foot
If the pure thought of staying at a Motel (even one as perfectly clean as the Dow Motel in Lone Pine) makes your feet itch I suggest you carry something against athlete’s foot - Undecylenic Acid tincture is probably the lightest you can get.Especially in a 5ml eye dropper.

Tools and Parts

Of course you also need some basic tools:

When you buy tweezers, make sure you get pointed tweezers that close tight and allow you to grab really tiny things. You might use them to grab dirt out of a wound, or pick a tick (probably not on the JMT), or extract a splinter.

If you carry a swiss army knife you don’t need separate scissors, the tiny pair in those knifes works great for cutting bandages, athletes tape, etc. But I would not reply on the tweezers included there.

Duct Tape
A small role of duct tape that can be used for anything from fixing clothes, raingear and tents can also be used to attach bandages and splints, so it ended up in the first aid kit. I would not use it on hot-spots or even blisters, athletic tape is designed to go on skin, duct tape is not. i

Zip Ties
For backpack repairs and other emergencies I am carrying two small zip ties in my first aid kit.

Sleeping Pad Repair Kit
The sleeping pad repair kit includes alcohol pads and rubber stickers and I have decided to also carry it in the fist aid kit. In the future I would leave the alcohol pads at home, and carry some rubbing alcohol instead.

Lessons learned

Not needed
Dr Scholl’s Moleskin will not be included in my pack in the future - athletic tape, pro glide and small bandages seem sufficient and have more uses than moleskin.

I will also take fewer blister bandages.

What worked well
We have decided to store the sunscreen in the first aid kit, since it needs to be readily accessible, like the first aid kit. 3 FL OZ of SPF 30 worked well for 2 people and 10 days and would probably have lasted another 2 or 3 days.

and I will fill the tinctures above in 5ml eye dropper bottles to reduce weight.

In order to keep the information for the different drugs at hand I scanned those and put them as PDFs on our amazon kindle. This worked very well.

We packed everything in a bright orange eagle creek bag which was always very visible, and much more robust than a zip-lock bag.

What else to include or do

  • 5ml surgical alcohol
  • 5ml skin healing ointment

I hope this pack list helps you identify what you might want to take on your next trip.