Building a Custom First Aid Kit 

Critical care nurse and paramedic instructor Marcus Granger has seen more than his share of blood, both on the job and in the field. He’s also an avid hunter and has used his experience in the emergency room and hunting to build his own first aid kit. It includes everything you’d find in most store-bought kits plus a few things not normally found in prefab kits.  

Granger says carrying a good kit is important for hunters, but not knowing how to use it could defeat the purpose of the kit in the event of an emergency. “You have to understand that an emergency in the field is not the time to introduce yourself to emergency medicine, “Granger explains. It’s not enough just to buy this gear and stuff it into your pack. You need to know how to use it.”

He highly recommends taking a Wilderness First Responder (WFR) course, which is around 70 hours of instruction. Basic wilderness first aid courses are between 16 and 20 hours. In addition, there’s a national course called Stop the Bleed. This course is available online and focuses on quick actions to quell major bleeding, which Granger says are essential for keeping yourself and others safe in the woods.  “Knowing how to stop bleeding is a lifesaving skill, just as much as taking a CPR class.”  


As you become more well-versed in life-saving skills, pairing your training with a solid kit will dramatically increase your ability to address backcountry emergencies and potentially save your or someone else’s life. What follows is not an entirely exhaustive first aid kit list, but Granger says it will get you on your way to carrying a more comprehensive medical system and being safer on your hunts. Whether you build your kit from scratch or use this list to supplement a store-bought kit, make sure you’re going into your hunt prepared for the worst.

First Aid Kit Essentials

Tourniquet

Lacerations are a far more common injury to hunters than gunshot wounds. If you're standing over an animal while field dressing it, one slip of the blade could produce a serious cut or even sever a major artery. A tourniquet, applied properly, is used to stop the bleeding. In a pinch, a belt can also work.

Hemostatic Dressing

Let’s say you stick a knife in your femoral artery. First, that’s bad news; you need medical attention urgently. To get you there, you’ll want a dressing to stop the bleeding along with a tourniquet. Quik Clot is a commercial hemostatic dressing that promotes blood clotting. “Ideally you get all the blood off and then stick the hemostatic gauze into the wounds,” Granger says. “You want the gauze to go as far and into the bleeding site as much as possible.

Small Gauze Pads & Tape 

While it’s important to prepare for the worst, most hunters aren’t going to cut their femoral artery. You’re more likely to get small cuts or punctures from a blade, a sharp piece of broken bone, or from falling down on sharp rocks or sticks. For less serious cuts and scrapes, gauze pads and tape can typically get you back to the trailhead safely.

Four-Inch Ace Wrap

Ace wrap is the Leatherman of the first aid kit. Break a collarbone? Stabilize your arm with the wrap and get out of the woods. Sprain an ankle or twist a knee? Wrap it up. Stab yourself with a knife? Put a hemostatic dressing over the wound and hold it in place with an Ace wrap.

Trekking Poles

Trekking poles are amazing tools not only for navigating rugged terrain, especially when hauling 80+ pounds of meat, but they can also be of use in a medical emergency.  “Adjustable trekking poles are fantastic when you need to make a splint,” Granger explains. “And you can use them as crutches to travel if you’re injured. They give me peace of mind when I’m out there by myself.” Granted, not everyone knows how to make a stretcher or pull traction using a couple of trekking poles and some parachute cord. Granger says this is why signing up for WFR is especially helpful. Regardless, trekking poles go a long way in helping you to negotiate tricky terrain safely, and they can also be put to use in many emergency scenarios.

The Small Stuff

Hopefully, the only items you’ll ever use on a regular basis are the same ones found in your medicine cabinet at home: Band-Aids, moleskin, tweezers, ibuprofen, and even maybe some baby aspirin in case you or someone else experiences chest pain or other symptoms of a heart attack. Bring Benadryl to treat mild allergic reactions to bee stings, and don’t forget your EpiPen if you need one for more serious reactions.

Satellite Communicator

While you should always tell someone where you plan to go, Granger still carries a satellite communicator device to send and receive communications without cell service. In case of an emergency, you can easily issue an SOS so rescue crews can locate you or your party if that device is on and in tracking mode. To put a worried spouse at ease, you can also check in with them each day through a couple clicks of a button.

Sam Splint 

Bust an ankle or wrist badly enough, and you will loathe the day you weren’t carrying a SAM Splint to stabilize the extremity. Without immobilizing the injury, getting out of the backcountry will be way more painful than it has to be. Combine this pliable-yet-rigid splint with an Ace bandage to immobilize an injury and make it back to the rig.

Syringe 

A 30-milliliter syringe is a handy little pocket jet used to irrigate cuts and other wounds that may have blood or grit embedded in them. With an iodine/water solution, a few blasts provide a quick clean until you can get home where you can irrigate it properly.

First Aid Knowledge 

Without a doubt, the single most important piece of equipment is between your ears. 

Like Granger mentioned earlier, having all the first aid gear in the world does you no good unless you have the training to use it properly. A basic course in first aid or wilderness survival is a small investment in time and money, especially when you consider what an emergency might cost you in the end.