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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.

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Rescue Essentials: The Outdoor Gear You Need

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First aid kit
Wilderness medicine folks are often considered to be “gearheads.” That is, we love to try out new outdoor equipment, whether it is for our activities, search and rescue, or personal safety. Improvisation is important, but it’s better to have what you need, particularly if you can pack light and accomplish your mission without unnecessary bulk and weight. There are numerous suppliers of equipment online. From time to time, as I am made aware of these, I will let you know.

Rescue Essentials is a frequent exhibitor at wilderness medicine continuing medical education meetings, and so I have become familiar with their carried product lines. Importantly, Rescue Essentials carries the complete product line for SAM Medical Products, which include the SAM Splint series and BlistOBan blister (prevention) bandages. The company sells equipment for persons who respond to outdoor medicine situations, tactical medics, search and rescue personnel, and wilderness emergency medical technicians.

As a reminder of what a layperson might need to consider carrying in order to be prepared to assist a person outdoors in need of medical attention, here is a list that appears in the 5th edition of Medicine for the Outdoors. From this list, one would select the desired items:

General Supplies

  • medical guidebook
  • first-aid report form
  • pencil or pen with small notepad
  • steel sewing needle
  • paper clip
  • safety pins
  • needle-nose pliers with wire cutter
  • sharp folding knife
  • disposable scalpels (#11 and/or #12 blades)
  • paramedic or EMT shears (scissors)
  • Swiss Army® knife or Leatherman®-type tool
  • seam ripper
  • sharp-pointed surgical scissors
  • bandage scissors
  • splinter forceps (tweezers)
  • standard oral thermometer: digital, mercury, or alcohol
  • low-reading hypothermia thermometer
  • wooden tongue depressors (“tongue blades”)
  • rolled duct tape (3 in x 1 yd, or 91 cm)
  • 1/8- to 1/4-inch-diameter braided nylon cord (minimum 10 ft, or 3 m)
  • water bottle (such as Nalgene® 1/2 to 1 liter)
  • blue “baby bulb” or “turkey baster” suction device
  • waterproof flashlight (such as Pelican® MityLite™) 
  • headlamp (and spare batteries) – preferably with floodlight and flash settings, able to withstand moisture and temperature extremes
  • CYALUME® fluorescent light sticks
  • CPR mouth barrier or pocket mask (such as a Microshield® X-L Mouth Barrier™ or NuMask® Pocket CPR Kit)
  • sterile (hypoallergenic or latex) surgical gloves; if you are allergic to latex, bring other (such as nonlatex synthetic) nonpermeable gloves
  • signal mirror
  • magnifier
  • waterproof matches
  • fine-mesh head net or travel tent to repel insects
  • Oral Rehydration Salts or Cera Lyte 70 oral electrolyte powder
  • rubber cement
  • urine pregnancy test

Wound Care—Preparations and dressings

  • elastic bandages (Band-Aid® or Coverlet®), assorted sizes (strip, knuckle, and broad); cloth with adhesive is preferable
  • Band-Aid® Liquid Bandage
  • butterfly bandages
  • adhesive strips for wound closure (Steri-Strip™ or Cover-Strip® II), assorted sizes (such as 1/4 in x 4 in, 1/8 in x 3 in, 1/2 in x 4 in), reinforced (plain or impregnated with an antimicrobial) or elastic
  • 3 in x 3 in or 4 in x 4 in sterile gauze pads (packets of 2 to 5) (such as Nu-Gauze® highly absorbent)
  • 5 in x 9 in or 8 in x 10 in sterile gauze (“trauma”) pads (packets of 2 to 5)
  • nonstick sterile bandages (Telfa), assorted sizes
  • 1 in, 2 in, 3 in, and 4 in rolled conforming gauze (C-wrap or Elastomull®)
  • 1 in x 10 yd (9.1 m) rolled cloth adhesive tape
  • 1 in x 10 yd (9.1 m) rolled paper or silk (hypoallergenic) adhesive tape
  • 1 in x 10 yd (9.1 m) rolled waterproof adhesive tape
  • 1/2 in x 10 yd (9.1 m) rolled waterproof adhesive tape
  • Blist-O-Ban® blister bandages (assorted sizes)
  • Molefoam (41/8 in x 33/8 in)
  • Moleskin Plus (41/8 in x 33/8 in)
  • Spenco® 2nd Skin® (1.5 in x 2 in, 3 in x 4 in, 3 in x 6.5 in) and Spenco® Adhesive Knit Bandage (3 in x 5 in)
  • Aquaphor moist nonadherent (petrolatum-impregnated) dressing (3 in x 3 in)
  • Hydrogel occlusive absorbent dressing (4 in x 4 in x 1/4 in)
  • Tegaderm® transparent wound dressing (also comes in combination with a Steri-Strip™ in a Wound Closure System)
  • liquid soap
  • sterile disposable surgical scrub brush
  • cotton-tipped swabs or applicators, sterile, 2 per package
  • safety razor
  • syringe (10 ml to 60 ml) and 18-gauge intravenous catheter (plastic portion), for wound irrigation (do not use plastic disposable syringes to administer oral medications, as the small caps can dislodge and inadvertently eject into the patient’s throat.)
  • Zerowet Splashield or Supershield (2)
  • tincture of benzoin, bottle or swabsticks
  • benzalkonium chloride 1:750 solution (Zephiran)
  • povidone iodine 10% solution (Betadine), 1 oz bottle or swabsticks
  • suture material (nonabsorbable monfilament nylon on curved needle, suture sizes 3/0 and 4/0; consider sizes 2/0 (thicker) and 5/0 (finer)
  • stainless-steel needle driver
  • disposable skin stapler (15 staples)
  • disposable staple remover
  • tissue glue

Splinting and Sling Material

  • cravat cloth (triangular bandage)
  • 2 in, 3 in, and 4 in elastic wrap (Ace)
  • 4 1/4 in x 36 in SAM® Splints (2)
  • aluminum finger splints
  • Kendrick® femur traction device

Eye Medications and Dressings

  • prepackaged individual sterile oval eye pads
  • prepackaged eye bandages (Coverlet® Eye Occlusor)
  • metal or plastic eye shield
  • sterile eyewash, 1 oz (30 ml)
  • contact lens remover (or mini-marshmallows)
  • ofloxacin, moxifloxacin or gatifloxacin eye drops
  • oxymetazoline hydrochloride 0.025% eye drops

Dental Supplies

  • oil of cloves (eugenol), 3.5 ml
  • Cavit™, 7 g tube
  • Intermediate Restorative Material (IRM®)
  • Express Putty
  • zinc oxide powder
  • dental floss
  • mouth mirror
  • paraffin (dental wax) stick
  • wooden spatulas
  • cotton (rolls and pellets)

Topical Skin Preparations

  • hydrocortisone cream, ointment, or lotion (0.5 to 1%)
  • potent corticosteroid ointment
  • bacitracin ointment
  • mupirocin ointment
  • mupirocin calcium 2% cream
  • bacitracin-neomycin polymyxin B sulphate ointment
  • miconazole nitrate 2% antifungal cream
  • silver sulfadiazine 1% (Silvadene) cream
  • insect repellent
  • sunscreen lotion or cream
  • lip balm or sunscreen
  • sunblock
  • Adolph’s meat tenderizer (unseasoned)
  • Kenalog in Orabase (oral adhesive steroid for canker [mouth] sores), 5 g container
  • aloe vera gel
  • hemorrhoidal ointment with pramoxine 1%

Nonprescription Medications

  • buffered aspirin, 325 mg tablets
  • ibuprofen, 200 mg tablets
  • acetaminophen, 325 mg tablets
  • antacid
  • decongestant (such as pseudoephedrine) tablets
  • decongestant (such as oxymetazoline) nasal spray
  • loperamide (Imodium A-D), 2 mg caplets
  • Glutose™ (glucose) gel tube
  • stool softener (such as docusate calcium, 240 mg gel caps)
  • caffeine, 200 mg tablets (to stay awake for survival purposes, such as during a rescue)

Prescription Medications

Select from this list, and from information throughout this book, what you feel you might need; the drugs listed are for example.

  • Pain medication(s): e.g., hydrocodone 5 mg with acetaminophen 500 mg
  • Asthma medication(s); e.g., metered-dose bronchodilator (albuterol)
  • Allergy medication(s): e.g., epinephrine (injectable) and prednisone, 10 mg tablets
  • Antibiotics: e.g,
  • penicillin V potassium, 250 mg tablets
  • azithromycin, 250 mg tablets
  • dicloxacillin, 250 mg tablets
  • ampicillin, 250 mg tablets
  • amoxicillin-clavulanate, 500 mg tablets
  • erythromycin, 250 mg tablets
  • cephalexin, 250 mg tablets
  • ciprofloxacin, 500 mg tablets
  • tetracycline, 500 mg tablets; or doxycycline, 100 mg tablets
  • trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole, double-strength tablets
  • prochlorperazine (Compazine) suppositories, 25 mg
  • promethazine (Phenergan) suppositories, 25 mg

Allergy Kit

  • allergy kit with injectable epinephrine (EpiPen® auto-injector [0.3 mg] and EpiPen® Jr. auto-injector [0.15 mg]; or Twinject® 0.3 or 0.15 mg auto-injector)
  • diphenhydramine, 25 mg capsules

For Forest and Mountain Environments

  • water disinfection equipment or chemicals (such as Potable Aqua tablets or Polar Pure iodine crystals)
  • calamine lotion
  • SPACE® Emergency Blanket (2 oz, 56 in x 84 in) (alternatives include Pro-Tech Extreme bag or vest,  SPACE® brand emergency bag, SPACE® brand all-weather blanket)
  • hypothermia thermometer
  • hyperthermia thermometer
  • whistle
  • acetazolamide (Diamox), 250 mg tablets
  • dexamethasone (Decadron), 4 mg tablets
  • nifedipine (Adalat CC), extended-release 30 preparation
  • powdered electrolyte beverage mix (Oral Rehydration Salts)
  • instant chemical cold pack(s)
  • hand warmer (mechanical or chemical)
  • Kendrick® Traction Device (leg splint)

For Aquatic Environments

  • waterproof dry bag or hard case (such as Pelican Case, Storm Case, or OtterBox), to carry first-aid supplies
  • motion sickness medicine
  • acetic acid (vinegar) 5%
  • isopropyl alcohol 40%
  • hydrogen peroxide
  • VoSol otic solution
  • Ofloxacin 0.3% ear drops
  • Safe Sea® Sunblock with Jellyfish Sting Protective Lotion 

A sole supplier, such as Rescue Essentials, will be unlikely to have everything you need for every situation, but it is a good place to begin to get a handle on what is available and what the cost is to consumers. Remember: allow yourself enough lead time prior to any outdoor adventure in order to gather your belongings and to be properly prepared.

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Tags: Backpacking , Climbing High , In the Water , Products , Staying Safe

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About the Author

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

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