By Rod Moser, PA, PhD
There are all types of camping, from sleeping out under the stars on a bed of pine boughs to traveling in a half-million dollar recreational vehicle. You can choose to hike deep into the wilderness, days away from medical care, or stay in a modern campground. What you need to bring in your medical kit depends on where you are going, how long you will be traveling, and of course, any anticipated medical needs based on your medical history.
We were traveling to a remote part of Baja, Mexico where we would be kayaking for about eight days on the Sea of Cortez. Being the only medical people in this 8-person group, my wife and I were put in charge of the first-aid supplies. We packed enough to start a clinic and had little room in the kayaks for food and water, so I attempted to get rid of some of the medical supplies, including a small bottle of antibiotic eye drops (for pink eye). She refused to give up those drops, even after I insisted that eight adults are not going to get pink eye. I had to eat those words, when not one, but ALL of us came down with pink eye! That little bottle was the only thing we used in the 25 lbs. of medical supplies we brought.
Obviously, you cannot anticipate every illness or injury, but there are some medical conditions that are more common when you are traveling to remote locations or sleeping in tents:
- Personal Medications: Any prescription medications that you usually take should be carefully packed for each day of your trip and a few extra days just in case.
- Sunburn: No rational person should ever get sunburned since you can prevent it with clothing/hats and sunscreen. Bring the sunscreen and some ibuprofen for the ones who don’t use it. Include a burn ointment in your first aid supplies. This can be used for sunburn as well as a campfire burn.
- Insect bites: Mosquitoes and ticks are the main pests for campers, so some DEET-containing repellents are best. Have some hydrocortisone cream for itching and a good pair of tweezers in case you have to pull off a tick (also used for splinters). Itching can also be improved by an oral antihistamine like Benadryl. If you are in a Lyme disease area, preventing tick bites is extremely important. If anyone in the group has a bee sting allergy, bring a bee sting kit including an EpiPen.
- Cuts and Abrasions: People fall down on uneven pathways, so make sure to have a good supply of an antiseptic solution to clean the wound and a topical antibiotic ointment. Have a good supply of bandages (see below), including some moleskin for new-shoe blisters. Never buy new hiking shoes before a long trek.
- Water-purification: You can buy excellent water filters now, so there is no reason to drink out of a stream filled with diarrhea-causing parasites and bacteria. Your backpacking supplier can help you chose an appropriate water-purification kit, or sell you a bottle of iodine tablets.
- Diarrhea medication: In most cases, diarrhea is a normal response and can be left untreated, but camping is a special circumstance. While the cause of the diarrhea may be unclear and require further investigation when you return from the trip, treating it with Imodium or even Pepto Bismol tablets is appropriate. Powdered electrolytes that can be mixed with purified water will hopefully prevent dehydration.
- Bandages: From an assortment of band-aids to gauze and sterile pads, the mainstay of any first aid kit is plenty of bandages.
- Basic First-Aid Tools: Include a small, penlight flashlight, sharp scissors, and some good tweezers. A good penknife with a recently-sharpened blade may also be helpful, but don’t think you will be doing your own surgery.
In preparation for your trip, take a good first-aid class and modify your supplies based on personal needs or the needs of those with you.
If you were never a Boy Scout or Girl Scout, at least you may remember their motto:
Always be Prepared.