Make your own custom first aid kit, for you and your dog
When I first started trail running with my husband, Pat, he concerned me by heading into the high country by himself, oftentimes for 20-30 miles in one go. When trail running, you have to pack minimally, and only pack the bare bones essentials for whatever layers and supplies you might need. Pat was convinced that he didn’t need a first aid kit and that it would be too heavy for him to run with.
I was determined to make sure that both he and I (and also, Bella) had at least a few supplies in case of an emergency, but I ran into some challenges. Prepackaged first aid kits oftentimes contained items we didn’t need, frequently didn’t have items we wanted, were usually too bulky and heavy for our needs, and were too expensive to boot. I found that if you get creative, you can really make a decent first aid package that weighs almost nothing, and is catered to the specific needs of you and your dog. While we typically trail run where most people would hike, our suggestions would also be perfect for day hikers, or even a night or two of backpacking.
Disclaimer: The information in this blog is informational in nature, please consult your veterinarian or doctor if you have concerns about the health of your dog or yourself. We are not and do not claim to be medical or veterinary professionals, and our first aid list is not necessarily a comprehensive list.
Consider the scenarios
Think about what scenarios or situations you perceive you might encounter. Consider minor injuries, which to us means you can still hike out…even if it takes awhile. Think about major injuries, where you may need to prevent or treat shock, and wait for rescue. Both scenarios require extra water, calories, and layers in addition to first aid supplies. An emergency could also be caused by a weather system moving in (think hypothermia). Think about who you are traveling with, and also what injuries your dog might sustain. We consider sprained ankles, lacerations from falling on rocks for us, and paw problems for Bella as some of our highest probability injuries. Also, consider your dog’s weight. If Bella were unable to hike out, Pat and I would have to take turns carrying her or look for extra help. She’s 60 lbs, so getting her out could take us a while. For a very large dog, you might need to rally an even larger rescue party.
The mental game
When dealing with injuries, simply having some ibuprofen or bandages can mentally make the difference for the injured person. Personally, I’m embarrassed to say I go into shock easily, and can get dizzy and lose consciousness even from a moderate trail running fall. In most cases, getting the injured person to sit down, then help to assess their injuries in a calm manner is my first course of action. When my running partner badly sprained her ankle when we were descending a 14er last fall, she was panicked that her running season was ruined. We also thought she could potentially have a broken bone, as her ankle immediately swelled to the size of a softball (thankfully, it was not broken). Taking some Ibuprofen and soaking her ankle in a cold mountain stream might not have fixed the sprain, but it made her physically feel better, and perhaps even more importantly helped her feel as though the situation was under control, and slightly expedited our slow hobble down the mountain. When I’ve helped children with broken bones and concussions during horseback rides, keeping them calm and getting them professional help quickly is critical (a chemical ice pack that turns cold when you smash it is a great mental advantage for a more comprehensive first aid kit, particularly when adventuring with children.)
This summer, Pat actually used his emergency bivy on a 14er, but thankfully not for himself. His hiking party came across a man that had fallen and had sustained serious injuries, including a fractured leg, and the bivy helped to regulate the man’s temperature and ward off shock until the Flight For Life helicopter arrived.
An ounce of prevention…
A first aid kit is no excuse for not playing it safe. Check weather, bring layers, be cautious. It’s important to know about local hazards in your area and prepare for them. For example, we know of a dog in our area that died from a tick-borne illness this spring, and another that was paralyzed from a tick bite during the summer. We also decided to attend a snake-avoidance class with Bella, to learn training techniques to teach her to avoid rattlesnakes. We learned that for dogs like Bella that aren’t aggressive towards snakes, but accidentally might be bitten when running through the grass, they most frequently will be bitten on the chest and stomach. When in rattlesnake territory, we keep Bella on leash and oftentimes opt to use a Brush Guard. And of course, if you need to use an emergency item from your kit, don’t forget to restock it!
Finally, don’t forget to tell someone where you are going. Pat and I frequently head out before the break of dawn to go to remote wilderness areas, the fewer people the better…if a serious emergency were to occur, we’d be SOL in many cases if no one knew where we were. We always at least text someone else our destination and trailhead entry point before heading out of cellphone service.
What’s in our pack?
So what are the most critical supplies you should bring? The answer will vary depending on your outdoor activity and the individual needs of you your dog. If you want to go further, you might even ask your veterinarian if there are any medications you could have prescribed to have on hand in case of a canine emergency. However, we do think that many of these items are fairly universal staples that most adventurers would benefit from carrying. When mountain trail running and longer day hikes, we carry our items in Osprey’s Duro/Dyna 6 Trail Running Pack, while Bella carries her own supplies in her Ruffwear Single Trak Pack. Our first aid items are packed into a sandwich baggy and wrapped tightly with a piece of packaging tape. You will notice many of the items in the dog and human kits are similar, but we choose to make sure everyone has supplies, in case someone forgets to pack a kit.
Hints for making these items smaller and lighter: For tapes and wraps on rolls, start to lift the tape off of the store roll, and roll it into your own tiny travel sized roll. Tiny jewelry bags from craft stores make great holders for pills such as ibuprofen and iodine tablets. Want to save money? Buy Vet Wrap and Tefla pads at a ranch or feed store. We use it for both humans and animals.
Bella’s First Aid Kit:
- Small roll of Vet Wrap: not sticky, so it won’t stick to fur. It only adheres to itself.
- 1-2 Tefla Pads
- Small roll of elastic tape
- Small roll of waterproof tape: on shorter excursions, can act as a temporary booty around Tefla Pads and Vet Wrap
- Tick Key: ticks can transmit deadly diseases and infections!
- Mushers Secret in a small baggy for paw pad injuries
- Rad Dog Pocket Bowl
- Saline wipes
- 2 Saline Ampules: to flush eyes or wounds
- 1 individual pack of triple antibiotic ointment
- Buff (sprayed with natural insect deterrent, for ticks)
Bella’s Altitude/Long Distance Additional Gear:
- A bootie (we pack a single Grip Trex by Ruffwear),
- A rain jacket also serves as a wind block/warm layer for treks above the tree line.
- A small, waterproof safety light
- Ruffwear Quick Draw Leash if in an area that permits Bella to be off leash
- Ruffwear’s Brush Guard for use in areas with rattlesnakes and/or dense brush
- Extra calories/treats
Our First Aid Kit:
- Small roll of Vet Wrap: can also be used as a makeshift bandage for sprained ankles. We use the large width meant for horses…you can always cut it smaller and narrower
- Small roll of elastic tape
- Small roll of waterproof tape
- 2 wrapped, Gauze Pads: cover large wounds that are too tricky for band-aids with gauze and packed wraps/tape
- 1-2 Tefla Pads: sized for horses. Stops major bleeding, also great for nosebleeds.
- 2-3 large, Band-aid Tough Strips cover larger wounds, also good for blisters on the back of the heel
- 2-3 smaller Band-aid Tough Strips are great to pacify children, help with blisters, and sensitive tourists with hangnails (yes, this has come up).
- 3-4 Butterfly closures: keep a wound together, for now, that may require stitches later
- 3-4 Advil Liqui-Gels (ibuprofen): can be used to ease pain and swelling in many scenarios. However, be cautious with serious injuries. When Pat assisted with the injured man on the 14er, his paramedic buddy advised against it, in case doctors wanted to use different medication at the hospital. It would keep their options open.
- 1 individual pack of triple antibiotic ointment
- 2 Saline Ampules can rinse bugs/toxins out of eyes, or flush large/deep wounds
- Multi-tool with a serrated edge to cut bandages
- Iodine tablets purify water in a pinch, make sure they aren’t exposed to air and/or sun.
- Individually packaged saline wipes
- Tampon – ok, not just for the ladies here. Although great to have an extra kicking around, this can help with nosebleeds, puncture wounds, or even with starting a fire. (Not packed together with first aid)
- Small facial sunscreen stick (Not packed together with first aid)
- Chapstick with SPF (Not packed together with first aid)
- Extra Calories, not packed together with first aid (we like Clif Products)
It seems like a lot, but it packs down very small! Our first aid kits are in sandwich bags, wrapped with packaging tape to be about 6” long by 2” high by 1” deep.
Our High Altitude/Long Distance Additional Gear:
- Small Headlamp: with a locking feature, to prevent it from turning on in your pack and wasting batteries.
- Emergency Bivy
- Packable running shell
- Arm Warmers
Still not up for putting this all together yourself?
There are great first aid kit options for you and your dog out there, and you could always modify these kits to fit your adventuring needs as you see fit! Adventure Medical Kits come in a variety of sizes to suit a range of needs.