Posted on March 03 2018
As I said in the article “6 Items You’ll Start the PCT with That You Shouldn’t” the majority of the PCT is a well-worn dirt path with a few rocky sections. The most common medical emergencies beyond the typical blisters are scrapes, nicks, sunburn, and bug bites. I can assure you, you won’t be stitching anyone up or performing surgery on the trail. You will get evacuated for these kind of real emergencies and no med kit is going to do more than applying a tourniquet out of a bandana or holding direct pressure to a gaping wound and elevating the wound to reduce the bleeding. So here’s what a simple backpacking first aid kit should contain.
It should contain sterile wipes to clean a small wound. It should contain bandages to cover wounds, burns, nicks, scrapes, etc. You should have some sort of antibacterial ointment that can be applied to a wound. You should have sterile gauze if needed to wrap around a larger wound like a puncture from a crampon or branch if you fall going over a downed tree. And medical tape of some sort to secure bandages/gauze, I prefer Leukotape over anything else.
Beyond medications you might be carrying for your own health treatment, you should carry something to treat:
- General Pains - Ibuprofen or Motrin
- Allergic Reactions - antihistamine like Benadryl
- Anti Nausea - Pepto Bismol
- Anti Diarrheal - Imodium
- Fever Reducer - Tylenol
These are the primary over-the-counter medications a good medical kit would include. The logic behind each of these is if you’re in pain, you can lower the pain level and get yourself out to receive medical attention; if you have an allergic reaction you can stop it or reduce it; if you’re vomiting you can help settle the stomach so you can hopefully keep water down and not become too dehydrated; if your having diarrhea you can stop the loss of fluids from that; and if you have a fever, you can control it and keep it from becoming dangerously high. These are all TEMPORARY until you can get to medical attention but each one is important and potentially life saving if you are suffering from a nasty bout of something.
On the PCT you are never more than 3 days walk out and in most cases it is likely 1 day or even less if you head down a dirt road or take a side trail. Many people carry personal beacons and I haven’t met anyone who wouldn’t activate a beacon for someone in need of evacuation in an emergency situation. In the United States, there is usually no fee for true emergency evacuations. In the event you come upon someone who’s in a life or death situation and you have a beacon and they do not, activate yours and stay with the hiker! Having said this, the likelihood of this happening is significantly less than 0.5%. However you should be smart, make good decisions, and don’t put yourself in a precarious situation. Don’t hike out into an upcoming snowstorm. That’s the number 1 way hikers get lost, hurt, or worse yet, disappear. DON’T DO IT! If locals are telling you it’s not safe, then wait out the storm! Locals know best! They are not fear mongers. They have seen hikers disappear off the PCT. But I have digressed from the true article “PCT First Aid Kit”.
Let’s wrap this up. You’ve looked at your medkit and you have all of the items listed above, but how many of each item do you have? I usually carry the following on a long hike:
- Gauze - 1 large and 1 small or 1 tiny roll
- Sterile wipes - 2 - 4
- Antibacterial ointment - 2 single use packets (I usually get 2 uses per packet)
- Bandages - 3-4 small/standard, 1-2 large
- Antihistamine (Benadryl) - enough for 3 days
- Pain Reliever (Ibuprofen) - enough for 3 days
- Fever Reducer (Tylenol) - enough for 3 days
- Anti Nausea (Pepto Bismol) - enough for 3 days
- Anti Diarrheal (Imodium) - enough for 3 days
- Medical Tape (Leukotape) - 2-4 feet, also great for small repairs
- Super Glue
- Safety Pin
- Paper with emergency contact info and any allergies you have to medication.
I’m not prone to blisters now that I have my shoes and socks all worked out. I hike in Altra Olympus and wear Injinji Socks exclusively. But if you are prone to blisters I’d carry plenty of Leukotape, 4 feet minimum. I’d carry either Blister Pads or Glacier Gel, minimum 4. These couple of items will work wonders. They are similar products and work amazingly! Here’s a protip for you: If you feel a hot spot, any kind of rubbing, stop hiking IMMEDIATELY! Take off your socks and shoes, be sure the area that is burning/hurting is clean and dry, then place Leukotape directly over the area. Put on your socks and shoes. Resume hiking. If you are prone to blisters, you’ll fall in love with Leukotape!
Additional comments. My tweezers are on my Mini Swiss Army Knife as are my scissors. I also carry superglue because I find it handy not just for fixing gear but for putting on small splits in my hand that come about from all the hot dry weather and over deep cracks in my dry heels. Fill in the cracks and cover the splits with super glue. Make a couple layers if necessary. By the time the super glue wears off, the cracking/splitting will be healed!
One final note. While it’s great to want to help everyone on the trail, your medical kit should contain enough for you! This doesn’t mean you can’t share your items but don’t bring “extra” thinking you will be taking care of all these other hikers. Backpacking is strenuous enough carrying all your own gear and hiking 15-30 miles every day. Don’t make it harder by thinking about everyone else’s needs. Rest assured that you will be able to replace used items in towns and that honestly, even these items that I’ve listed - most of them won’t be used at all. You’re hiking on a very long trail with lots of other people, not surviving in the wilderness alone for 5 months. This medical kit is very adequate for the PCT.
Wishing you a very safe and wonderful hike!