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First aid in hiking and backpacking

One should never embark on a hike or backpack without a well equipped first aid kit and basic instructions on how to use it effectively. Working with limited space, improvisation does come into play. Each member of a party should care for his/her own personal medical needs, such as asthma, diabetes, knee or ankle problems and sunburn. An effective first aid kit should be compiled considering the medical emergencies with which hikers and backpackers may be faced. Excessive bleeding, respiratory arrest and shock are the three most serious physical problems that may be encountered and require immediate ‘on site’ action. Other medical problems that may be experienced are:

Bites and stingssnakes, insects and ticks
Muscle cramps
Nose bleeds
Pan sprains

First Aid Kit

The following is a guideline, as to what a first aid kit should contain. It is recommended that all kits are in a clean, waterproof container to keep the contents safe.


Small pair of sharp scissors
2 scalpel blades
1 small torch (Maglite)
Safety pins


Triangular bandage
2 x 50mm crepe bandages
2 x 100mm crepe bandages
1 x 75mm elastoplast roll
2 x 5 sterile gauze squares
1 space blanket
2 pairs examination gloves
1 packet cotton wool balls
Eye bath, eye pad/dressing
1 x 25mm roll of zinc oxide or elastoplast
20 x sealed individual plasters
Steri-strips, wound closure – used if patient requires stitches!
Wound dressings – non adhesive sterile (Telfa) dressing
Adhesive wound dressings (Primapore)
Plastic wound dressings (Tegaderm)
Burn shield
Very narrow gauze (ribbon gauze) for nose plugging
1 small and 1 large zip lock bag for contaminated articles


Antihistamine cream – Anthisan, Phenergan or Stopitch
Antihistamine tablets – Allergix x 10
Antacid tablets – Maalox or equivalent x 10
Antidiarrhoeal tablets – Immodium x 20
Anti-emetic suppositories – Valoid x 5
Anti-inflammatory cream – Voltaren or Reparil gel or equivalent
Anti-inflammatory tablets – Voltaren, Brufen, Norflam T
Antiseptic cream – Betadine, Savlon
Antiseptic solution – sachets – Betadine, Savlon
Ear drops – antiseptic/analgesic – Aurone
Eye drops – Voltaren and Sulphacetarmide ointment
Isotonic drink – Rehydrate or equivalent x 5
Nose drops – pseudoephadrine (very handy to use for a nose bleed if plugging is necessary)
Painkillers – Panado, Disprin, Norfex Co.
Water purification tablets x 50
Sterile water/saline – small vaculitre or 20ml plastic ampoules
TNT spray may also be added for angina pain (heart).

This is a relatively large first aid kit. A good way to carry all of the items on a backpack, would be to divide it into two or three where the leader and one or two experienced hikers would each carry a part thereof. Obviously it depends on the length of hike and the nearest to medical treatment.


Dr. Arthur Morgan of the MCSA rescue team Hiking Trails of South Africa by Willie and Sandra Olivier These days snake bite anti-venom is not recommended.

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Sue Glanville (Club Administrator)
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