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Take Two Aspirin And Meet Me At The Trailhead
First Aid Kit Field Test
By Jeff Porcaro

It's easy to overlook infrequently used items when camping and hiking. For example, when you travel in the backcountry you seldom think about getting hurt. Your thoughts focus on the food you are going to eat or what to wear when it rains, or the many steps to the next pass.

One seldom used, but essential piece of gear is the first aid kit, which may mean the difference between a great adventure and a great tragedy. While exploring the backcountry, you're most likely to experience injuries ranging from small cuts and bruises to sprained ankles or broken bones. Today's first aid kits prepare you for these common inconveniences, and more, with better medical supplies than the homemade kits you might have made as a youth.

Our test crew reviewed first aid kits in two different categories: backcountry and weekend/day hiking. Backcountry kits are for groups of four or more people, or for longer trips (say more than 3 days), or for higher risk activities. These kits include more than any non-professional would want to have.

We reviewed the following kits in the backcountry category: Sawyer Level 700, Adventure Medical Kits Backcountry, OR Mountaineering Medical Kit, and the Atwater Carey Wilderness Medicine Pro 2.0.

The second category is weekend/day hiking. Weekender kits are designed for small groups on trips from overnight up to about five days.

In the Weekender category, we tried the Sawyer First Aid in a Pouch, OR Backpacker, Atwater Carey Backpacker, and Adventure Medical Kit Weekender.

We reviewed the following First Aid Kits:
Sawyer Level 700
Adventure Medical Kits Backcountry
Atwater Carey Wilderness Medicine Pro 2.0
Outdoor Research Mountaineering Medical Kit
Sawyer First Aid in a Pouch
Oudoor Research Backpacker Medical Kit
Atwater Carey Backpacker
Adventure Medical Kit Weekender

Sawyer Level 700
Weight 2 lbs. 6 oz.
Suggested Retail Price $90.99

The Level 700 first aid kit comes in a zippered bag with inside mesh pockets and includes all of the items needed for wound management, medications, blister care, and a first aid manual written by William W Forgey. The first aid instructions are simple and easy to find.

This kit also includes the basic supplies for handling problems from stomach ailments to severe lacerations. We really like the inclusion of the extra zip-lock bags to allow the customer to add and organize their own items. It has Nitrile gloves, which protect against latex allergies. We would prefer to have more gloves, especially since this kit is designed for larger groups.

The layout of the kit is good, though we feel they should move the gloves and some crucial items to the zippered pocket on the front for quicker access. A separate removable pouch creates a portable kit for shorter day hikes, when carrying the whole kit is unnecessary. As for medications, you'll find ample supplies of generic medications, such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, electrolyte tablets, decongestants, laxatives, and antacids. Our crew liked the inclusion of empty pill bottles for your own medications. We would, however, like to see all of the kits include a screw top vile for liquid medications.

Summary: The Sawyer Level 700 first aid kit has every medical item needed for larger groups or long trips. And it doesn't stop with just frequently used items, but also covers the items you might need for bigger emergencies. This kit gives high value for its price.

Contact Sawyer Products at 800-940-4464 or www.sawyerproducts.com


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Adventure Medical Kits Backcountry
Weight 3 lbs. 4 oz.
Suggested Retail Price $110

Adventure Medical Kits BackcountryThe Adventure Medical Kits Backcountry first aid kit comes in a zippered bag with plastic inside pockets so you can quickly spot needed items. It is the most complete first aid kit we reviewed, offering everything from bandages to a scalpel and suture strips. It also includes a SAM splint for broken bones.

We liked the empty pill bottles and the inclusion of duct tape. Again, we feel the outside pocket should include the items that are needed quickly like gloves and a CPR mask. This kit includes the most detailed first aid manual, written by Eric A. Weiss, M.D., and includes many improvisational techniques for treating injuries. The manual covers usage of all the supplies in the kit. For medications, name-brand products, such as Tylenol and Motrin, are included.

One tester didn't like the fact that the kit lacked the quantity of commonly used items like simple bandage strips. He also got heartburn when a search turned up no stomach medications. Another tester mentioned the bag doesn't have much room to add your own personal items. The kit includes a pair of Nitrile gloves to protect against latex allergies. We think that all of the backcountry kits should include more gloves.

Summary: The Adventure Medical Kit Backcountry is a great kit for the serious first-aid provider. It has everything but the kitchen sink for your first-aid emergencies. Adding more first-aid basics, like strip bandages and medications would improve the kit.

Contact Adventure Medical Kits at (800) 324-3517 or www.adventuremedicalkits.com.


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Atwater Carey Wilderness Medicine Pro 2.0
Weight 1 lb. 8 oz.
Suggested Retail Price $88

Atwater Carey Wilderness Medicine Pro 2.0The Wilderness Medicine Pro 2.0 first aid kit's smaller size and weight makes it ideal for smaller groups than the Backcountry and Level 700 kits. Like the others, it comes in a zippered bag with plastic inside pockets.

We liked having the quick access items like gloves--which are made of Nitrile--strip bandages, a CPR mask, and biohazard bag in the front pocket of the kit. It has all of the basic supplies for wound management and medications. It even includes a SAM splint for broken bones. Advil and Tylenol are among the name-brand medications included. Like the Adventure Medical and OR kits, this kit does not include any stomach medications.

The Wilderness Medicine Pro 2.0 kit is packed full of the necessities for first aid, but lacked any quantity of the most-used items such as strip bandages and medications. It doesn't have much room for adding your own items and lacks empty pill bottles. A comprehensive first-aid manual written by Buck Tilton, director of the Wilderness Medicine Institute, details the appropriate actions for most medical emergencies. We liked the Emergency Action Card located in the outside pocket, which features quick steps to lifesaving actions.

Summary: The Wilderness Medicine Pro 2.0 is great for smaller groups, or shorter visits to the backcountry. It includes the necessities for backcountry travel, when you don't expect to be performing small operations. Its small size and weight make it great for minimalists. It is the only backcountry kit we reviewed without empty pill vials. For groups, this kit is a favorite among the testers.

Contact Wisconsin Pharmacal Company at (800) 359-1646 or www.destinationoutdoors.com
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Outdoor Research Mountaineering LT Medical Kit
Weight 1 lb. 6 oz.
Suggested Retail Price $68

Mountaineering LTThe OR Mountaineer Medical kit is simple with two pockets, so all of the items are not organized into individual pockets, and includes all of the first aid supplies needed for a personal kit. It includes a snap out mesh module, which can be used for day hiking or weekend trips, and a first aid manual from the Mountaineers. One feature we liked is the full zipper on the top inside pocket. This allows you to unzip the entire top and sides of the pocket exposing all of the contents for quick access. Like the others, it comes in a zippered bag with inside mesh pockets.

The Mountaineering LT has an ample supply of frequently used items, with almost double the medications and strip bandages of Atwater Carey or Adventure Medical first aid kits. Outdoor Research decided to use generic medications and include more, rather than going with name brands. We liked the empty pill bottles. The kit has more extra space than the other bags. It is the only backcountry kit we tested that includes latex gloves. We noticed the lack of a CPR mask in the mix.

Summary: If you are travelling with competent companions, or are going on a guided trip, the Mountaineering LT includes all you will need. This kit is lightweight and has room to grow.

Contact Outdoor Research at 1-888-4-ORGEAR or www.orgear.com.


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Sawyer First Aid in a pouch
Weight 6 oz
Suggested Retail Price $19.99

Sawyer First Aid in a pouchThe First Aid in a pouch kit remains lightweight while offering the most extra space for storing extra medications or supplies. There are plenty of generic medications including ibuprofen, acetaminophen, electrolyte tablets, and nasal decongestant. This kit however lacked any gloves for protection. Another missing feature we feel is essential in all hiking and backpacking kits, is moleskin.

This kit is very affordable and would work well for most minimalist or optimists. The first aid manual written by William W Forgey provides first aid instructions, which are both simple and easy to find.

The First Aid in a pouch comes in a zippered bag with an inside mesh pocket on one side and open organizer pockets on the other. It comes with belt loops for easy carrying on day hikes or for that weekend trip.

Summary: The Sawyer First Aid in a Pouch offers great value for the money. It has room to spare for extra supplies for longer trips. This kit lacked moleskin for blister care.

Contact Sawyer Products at 800-940-4464 or www.sawyerproducts.com


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OR Backpacker Medical Kit
Weight 16 oz.
Suggested Retail Price $48

OR BackpackerThe Backpacker is designed for one to two persons. It includes empty pill bottles for your own medications. One plus with this kit is the inclusion of antacids for use after questionable meals. Another feature we like is the reusable blister donuts and moleskin. The Backpacker includes latex gloves but doesn't include a CPR mask.

This kit comes in a zippered bag with an inside mesh pocket and a fold out removable organizer that can be used for shorter trips. The LT version weighs 2 oz. less and replaces the organizer with a snap in mesh pocket. This kit includes all of the first aid supplies needed for a personal kit. It includes a first aid manual from the Mountaineers, which is just about right for the supplies included in the kit.

Summary: The OR Backpacker has room to grow and includes all you need to perform first aid on any backpacking trip. It is about the right size for weeklong trips but with the removable organizer is small enough for day hikes. If price and weight are not an issue this is the testers choice.

Contact Outdoor Research at 1-888-4-ORGEAR or www.orgear.com.


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Atwater Carey Backpacker
Weight 4 oz.
Suggested Retail Price $22

Atwater Carey BackpackerThis kit is packed full of the necessities and is designed for 1-2 people for 1-2 days. It has room for adding your own items, and includes a comprehensive first aid manual written by Buck Tilton director of the Wilderness Medicine Institute. This kit is about the same size as the snap in organizer of the Outdoor Research Backpacker.

The Backpacker comes in a fold over pouch that fastens with Velcro. This gives you quick access to the inside of the kit which includes a mesh pocket on one side and organizer pockets on the other. The Backpacker includes Nitrile gloves.

This kit had all of the basic supplies for wound management and medications, which includes name brands like Advil and Tylenol. This kit lacks any stomach medications. We felt like there could be more than two Advil and two Tylenol pills, which in most of my backcountry experiences, are gone in the first five hours.

Summary: This kit is great for day hiking and backpacking use. It is lightweight and has simple access to the supplies. The price point gives high value. We would like to see more medications and a CPR mask to round out the kit. Our testers rated this kit as the favorite weekender kit, because of price and weight.

Contact Wisconsin Pharmacal Company at (800) 359-1646 or www.destinationoutdoors.com


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Adventure Medical Kits Weekender
Weight 1 lb. 10oz.
Suggested Retail Price $55

Adventure Medical Kits WeekenderThe Weekender includes Nitrile gloves, a CFT LifeMask for CPR, name-brand pain medications from Tylenol and Motrin, and the most detailed first aid manual. Written by Eric A. Weiss, M.D., the manual includes techniques for treating most common injuries. The manual covers usage of the supplies in the kit.

One tester didn't like the medications floating free in the bag--they should be bagged separately. We would also like to see the addition of antacids. The kit is stuffed, leaving little room for personal supplies. We liked the inclusion of duct tape as well as the wider sports tape. The Adventure Medical Kits Weekender First Aid Kit comes in a zippered bag with plastic inside pockets.

Summary: The Adventure Medical Kit Weekender is the most complete weekender kit that we reviewed-- it includes everything from bandages to burn treatment. It is the heaviest of all the kits, so if you are not a group leader you may want to consider something lighter.

Contact Adventure Medical Kits at (800) 324-3517 or www.adventuremedicalkits.com.


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Jeff Porcaro is a Contributing Editor at GearReview.com, and co-founder. He specializes in stoves, GPS navigation, mountaineering, and trips to Utah's remote backcountry.


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