It’s Just a Flesh Wound: Bikepacking First Aid Kit

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What essentials belong in a proper first aid kit for backcountry bikepacking? How about items to include for an international dirt tour in the developing world? Find out from our resident nurse. Plus, bikepacking safety gear…

Accidents do happen. Take it from someone who catapulted into five foot drainage ditch while cycling through Zambia. Although a basic first aid kit isn’t likely to save your life in the case of a major emergency, it can buy a rider the time to get out of the woods and find medical assistance. Better yet, proper and timely treatment of minor wounds and ailments might make the difference between being able to complete an intended route and having to cut it short.

Building a Bikepacker’s First Aid Kit

There are tons of pre-packaged first aid kits available for purchase at your local pharmacy, recreational outfitter, or on-line. Pre-packaged kits have a couple of advantages over home-made kits. They usually cost less than putting together your own kit and come in a specially designed storage bag with handy pockets and compartments. On the downside, they are often unnecessarily bulky and contain items that are poorly made (i.e plastic tweezers) or simply non-essential.

There are advantages to putting together your own kit…

Because you have to purchase more than a single Bandaid or Betadine prep pad, you’ll have a small stock from which you can resupply your kit(s) as needed. Better yet…you could put together a kit for a friend (nothing says “I care” like plastic gloves and sterile gauze). You can also purchase higher quality, long-lasting supplies, such as stainless steel tweezers. And, most importantly, you can individualize your first aid kit to fit your needs.

Like I said, make a kit so that it fits your needs. Where will you be traveling (domestically or internationally, industrialized, developing, or devolving)? How long will you be on the road? Will you be touring along nicely graded rail trails, sticking to the pavement, or grinding gravel (anywhere along the Yungas Road?) Does your intended route include double black diamond singletrack? What resources will be available? How far might you have to pedal, push, or crawl to get to the nearest clinic?

Here are my suggestions for 2 (slightly) different first aid kits. These suggestions assume that the user does not have any allergies to, or contraindications for using included items and knows how to use them properly.

Bikepacking First Aid Kit

The fairly minimal bikepacker’s first aid kit outlined below weighs about 200 grams (7 ounces) and is about the size of a grapefruit.

Home Land Security

A minimal kit or 5-7 days in the backcountry on mostly double and singletrack.

  • Clean water (or a way to make clean—iodine tablets or a filtration system).
  • Soap: Small packets of castile soap or castile soap wipes are convenient, but bar soap or Dr. Bronner’s will do the trick.
  • Irrigation syringe (20cc is a good size).
  • 4-5 Povidone-iodine (Betadine) prep pads/wipes/towelettes OR a small bottle of the solution (better for wound disinfection and healing than alcohol or hydrogen peroxide).
  • 1 good pair of tweezers: Stainless, not plastic; pointed, not blunt (to remove spines, splinters, visible wound debris, and TICKS).
  • Bandaids: Chose a small assortment for minor scrapes and cuts.
  • 2-3 butterfly bandages or Steri-strips (if you can get ‘em).
  • 1 small roll gauze bandage (kling wrap): Cut the gauze to clean wounds with iodine and/or use it to wrap wounds as needed.
  • 1 large sized sterile non-stick pad: Cut it down to size as needed.
  • 1 roll self-adhering compression wrap (Coban), or, if you aren’t as space/weight concerned, 1 elastic (Ace) wrap.
  • 1 roll cloth/fabric tape: Duct tape may be used alternatively, but it’s just not as good at conforming to weird anatomical contours.
  • Antibiotic ointment (Neosporin, Polysporin): 1 small tube or 2-3 “individual serving” packets. This is up for debate based upon the increased bacterial resistance, but, for now, go for it.
  • 2-3 safety pins.
  • Ibuprofen (for pain, sprains, muscle aches, inflammation).
  • Benadryl (in case of minor allergic reactions such as insect stings, dermatitis from poison ivy, etc.).
  • Epinephrine aka an EpiPen: I suppose this is a smart item for anyone to carry who’s spending a lot of time in the backcountry. In all honesty, I never have and probably won’t carry one in the future. BUT, if you’ve ever experienced an anaphylactic reaction or have experienced even moderate allergic reactions to insect or spider bites or contact allergens, you should carry one.

Bikepacking First Aid Kit, medicines, international

A Passage to India

2-3 months touring through rural or remote areas in developing, tropical countries, mixed terrain, including moderately technical singletrack:

  • Clean water: Iodine tablets are quick, lightweight and effective, and, in this case, it doesn’t matter if the water tastes bad.
  • Soap: Small packets of castile soap or castile soap wipes are convenient, but bar soap or Dr. Bronner’s will do the trick.
  • Thermometer: Manual thermometers are generally more accurate, but require protection from breakage.
  • Irrigation syringe for flushing wounds (20cc is a good size).
  • Suture/syringe kit: This is probably overkill. Most likely, if treatment is available so are clean supplies, but if you are traveling to the Congo, you may want to play it safe. To get such a kit through customs often requires a letter from your doctor on letterhead stationary.
  • A small handful of Povidone-iodine (Betadine) prep pads/towelettes or 1 small bottle. The bottle supplies a larger volume with less waste, but it adds weight and the risk of staining everything you carry.
  • 1 good pair of tweezers: Stainless, not plastic; pointed, not blunt (to remove spines, splinters, visible wound debris, and TICKS).
  • Bandaids: an assortment for minor scrapes and cuts.
  • 4-5 butterfly bandages or Steri-strips (if you can get ‘em).
  • 2-3 small rolls gauze bandage (kling wrap): Cut the gauze to clean wounds with iodine and/or use it to wrap wounds as needed..
  • 2 large sized sterile non-stick pads: You can cut them down to size as needed. They wont be sterile anymore, just try to keep them clean.
  • 1 roll self-adhering compression wrap (Coban).
  • 1 elastic (Ace) wrap.
  • 1 roll cloth/fabric tape: Duct tape may be used alternatively, but it’s just not as good at conforming to weird anatomical contours.
  • Antibiotic ointment (Neosporin, Polysporin), 1 small tube or 5-6 “individual serving” packets.
  • 2-3 safety pins.
  • Ibuprofen (for pain, sprains, muscle aches, inflammation).
  • Benadryl (in case of minor allergic reactions- insect sting, dermatitis from poison ivy, etc.).
  • Tylenol (for pain and, more importantly, FEVER).
  • Loperamide aka Imodium (for persistent diarrhea…helps treat the symptoms, not the cause). Unless you are in a remote location, cannot get to medical treatment AND are at risk of dehydration, do NOT use antimotility medications if fever or bloody diarrhea are present.
  • Electrolyte replacement solution, tablets, or powder aka “rehydration salts”.
  • 2 “courses” Cipro: Most travelers diarrhea is caused by bacterial infections. Although some bacteria have developed quinolone resistance, Cipro is still a standard first approach to treating TD. Begin treatment after you have experienced 3 or more loose stools within an 8 hour period of time. It is often prescribed at 500mg twice daily for 3 days. Single dose and 1 day therapy have also been well established. Discuss the options and recommendations with your MD.
  • Epinephrine aka an EpiPen: If you are traveling abroad, with likely exposure to unfamiliar foods and insects, your chances of encountering a significant allergen increase.

Check the CDC website and/or refer to a travel clinic to make sure that you have received any recommended or required vaccinations. Also, be sure to carry written prescriptions(generic names) for any medications you may take on a regular basis. Malaria prophylaxis should also be considered depending upon your travel destination.

Bikepacking First Aid Kit and Safety Gear

Have a Safe Journey

A few other items that should make the gear list of any backcountry bikepacker with a tendency toward self preservation:

  • Helmet: Duh. There have been points in time when I went sans nut-case, but I’ve heard too many gore stories.
  • Bear Whistle: It’s not really a bear whistle, but it could be, and has been used as such. Really the reason to carry a whistle is to call for help in the event of an injury.
  • Emergency blanket: Not necessary for many situations, but if you’re traveling light in a mountainous region where weather can be unpredictable, it’s not a bad idea.
  • Bear line: I recommend about 30-40’ of line to allow plenty of room for reaching higher branches. Nine and a half times out of ten I tie my food up in a bear bag at night. One of the few times I didn’t, I had a bear sniffing around my tent at 4AM. According to most sources, a bear bag should be about 12-15 feet above the ground and six feet away from the trunk of a tree. Also, some suggest that the bear snag be about 100′ away from camp, and 300′ in grizzly country.
  • Blaze orange: Wearing blaze colors is mandatory in fall month in many portions of the US. You never know when you’re waltzing through a hunt and visible from someone’s deer stand.
  • Spot Tracker: The Spot acts as an emergency beacon and notification device when you are out of cell range.
  • GPS: The modern day compass, and map. Carrying a GPS, and sometimes maps in addition, is especially important when covering new territory. In addition, make sure to carry a couple of sets of spare batteries.
  • Headlamp and Blinkie lights: A rear blinker is a good idea for times when you have to connect a paved road.
  • Gorilla tape and lighter: Store in a plastic bag to make sure it stays usable.
  • Water Filter: And/or iodine/purification tablets; we recommend the Sawyer Mini.
  • Folding Knife.

Note: The kits outlined here are simply guides based on our research; use your judgment and knowledge of your own health to formulate a personal first aid kit. And, if you’ve got any friends who are doctors or nurses, hit them up for a few supplies.

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  • Bigdaddytucson

    I would like to add that taking the time to train on common injury treatment is key. Learning how to identify problems ( shock, hypothermia anaphylaxis etc), by taking more than just a basic first aid course. just like anything else in your bicycle repair gear you want to become proficient at your medical kit. Practice,practice, practice. Knowing your kits location on your rig and having quick access to it and knowing location of its contents will pay dividends when your really banged up.

  • http://www.bikepacking.com/ BIKEPACKING.com (Logan)

    Good point.

  • MG

    Being from a country that is bear-free, I’m curious about the bear line. In order to be effective, wouldn’t you have to suspend all your food, plus all your bike bags (and jersey) you’ve been keeping your food in throughout your journey?
    Otherwise to a bears keen sense of smell, wouldn’t the now empty bags (presumably still attached to your bike and near your bivvy) smell just like dinner to a grizzly?

  • http://www.bikepacking.com/ BIKEPACKING.com (Logan)

    I usually store my food in plastic bags within a drybag, so that helps keep it separated. It is advised that you don’t have the clothing in which you cooked within your tent, but I have never worried about it that much (of course most of my experiences are in black bear country, not the world of grizzlies)…

  • mikeetheviking

    Great write up… I needed this. I have to admit I am a “no first aid kit” offender:) I’ll have to start packing this stuff:) But hey… this is a great place to throw that super glue in again:) I have washed, dried and superglued more wounds than i can count on both hands.

  • Callum Bucknall

    Hey there, im’ looking at Bike packing but on a road bike, so not quite as exciting, but honestly, this website so far has been quality. Found it quite good reading about bear line, as the only bears where i live are in zoos!, brilliant website.

  • Brian Sims

    I’ve added a maxi pad to my first aid kit. (Is the generic term a panty liner? Sorry I’m a dude ?) Combined with something like duct tape it’s a super absorbent gauze.

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