Medicine for the Outdoors
Medicine for the Outdoors

Dr. Paul Auerbach is the world's leading outdoor health expert. His blog offers tips on outdoor safety and advice on how to handle wilderness emergencies.

See all posts »

What's In Your Medical Kit?

Wilderness Medicine is the official newsletter of the Wilderness Medical Society. Over the past 24 years, it has evolved from a one-page mimeographed announcement sheet to a four-color, glossy quarterly magazine supported by an editorial staff and numerous contributors. I always look forward to receiving my copy, because the publication is full of interesting stories and useful advice.

The Spring 2007 issue is no exception. One article that stands out for its practicality is in the section Backcountry Medicine and is entitled “What’s in Your Kit?” The author, Dr. Timothy Platts-Mills, is a rising star in this area of expertise. I suggest that you read what he has written, but in the meantime, here are a few “pearls” excerpted from his excellent advice:

Preparation, Organization, and Communication

Carry a cell phone in the U.S. backcountry; consider a satellite phone outside the U.S. Carry a waterproof paper and pencil for critical notes to be transmitted in rugged environments.

Foot Care and Skin Care

One way to manage a blister is to drain it with a small incision, then cover it with a cyanoacrylate tissue adhesive (“tissue glue”), cover the dried adhesive with moleskin, then cover the moleskin with duct tape, and then grease the duct tape with Vaseline.

Respiratory Problems

Always carry epinephrine for injection in an allergy kit or as an EpiPen to treat a serious allergic reaction. Oxymetazoline nasal spray (Afrin) applied to a small piece of cotton wool may be held in the nose to help control a nosebleed.

Altitude Illnesses

Acetazolamide (Diamox) is used to both prevent and treat acute mountain sickness.


Clean wounds first with clear, flowing water, then irrigate thoroughly with clean, disinfected water. Attempt to apply a significant irrigation pressure by using a plastic water bottle with a hole or a syringe attached to a needle or catheter of approximately 18-gauge. (Remember, the solution to pollution is dilution!)

Abdominal Complaints

If a pregnant patient develops abdominal pain in the backcountry, she should be evacuated for evaluation. Therefore, women of childbearing age should carry a urine pregnancy test.

Analgesia and Central Nervous System Treatments

If you are responsible for the care of persons on an expedition, carry adequate pain medications.


Cavit is useful to fill cavities. Insect repellent containing DEET or picaridin should be carried to avoid mosquito bites, which can transmit significant diseases, such as malaria and West Nile virus infection.

photo courtesy of

  • 1

Tags: Staying Safe

Was this article helpful? Yes No

Recommended for You


About the Author

Dr. Paul S. Auerbach is the world’s leading authority on wilderness medicine.