Climbing First Aid Kit

Climbing First Aid Kit

December 8, 2022 fmg-adminFundamentals Fridays Guides' Tech Tips Rock Climbing

A climbing first aid kit should be one item that gets packed in your climbing kit no matter what……or your mountain biking kit, hiking kit, etc; basically a first aid kit should be an essential part of any kit for venturing into the wilderness. However, WHAT you put in your first aid kit can be tricky. There are plenty of kits out there that come pre-loaded with many of the essentials, but often there are items either missing or items that are not necessary.

The longer I have been climbing the less I want to carry to the crag or up the mountain. Over the years I have worked on dialing in my climbing kit which includes my first aid. I used to just buy one of those pre-loaded kits and throw that into my pack, but I started to realize that there were items in those kits that I didn’t need and they lacked items I deem essential. For this blog I’m focusing on a basic first aid kit for a single day out cragging or multipitch climbing. If you’re planning longer trips, the items below will provide a good foundation to add to. 

Prevention

Before I get into discussing the contents of my first aid kit, I’d like to emphasize that prevention is the best first aid. Of course things happen, which is why it’s important to carry first aid supplies, but by maintaining a level of diligence we can prevent many accidents and illnesses. Outside of my first aid kit I will have preventive items such as sunscreen, lip balm, and electrolyte replacement tabs. I’ll also remind myself to drink water and eat throughout the day. Before long days out I try to get a good night’s rest and stay well-hydrated. These simple items and actions help prevent the need to pull out the first aid kit.

The Essentials

I like to divide my first aid kit up into categories of essential items and build from there. The categories I use are: bleeding control, medications, splinting, and tools. I find this system helps to keep me organized and covers everything I need without carrying excess. It’s also nice to pack items that don’t just serve one purpose. You’d be surprised by what you can do with just a roll of tape. For example, I can use a roll of tape to help stabilize an ankle or to make an improvised band-aid. However, there are some items I find are important to bring that are designed to do only one thing, but they do that one thing very well. 

Bleeding Control

This category needs to cover every end of the spectrum when it comes to bleeding whether it’s just a small scrape or a life-threatening arterial bleed, so this section of kit contains the most items. Here’s what I carry: 1 roll of athletic tape, a 2” roller gauze, a couple 2”x 2” sterile gauze pads, a couple 4”x 4” sterile gauze pads, a 4”x 4” pressure bandage, a CAT (Combat Application Tourniquet), and a couple pairs of nitrile gloves.

The gloves are important anytime you’re dealing with bleeding. It’s critical that you don’t touch someone else’s blood or other bodily liquids with bare hands. The CAT tourniquet is a specialty item, and sure, I could improvise a tourniquet, but I think when a tourniquet is necessary you should be able to just get it on without wasting time. The CAT is easy to apply and can even be applied one-handed if you need to put it on yourself. Arterial bleeds can be life-threatening, so having a way to stop it quickly is vital. As mentioned before, the tape can serve many purposes and is a nice improvised band-aid when combined with a small piece of gauze. 

Medications

The list of medications could change depending on the needs of you and your climbing partner. Think epinephrine for anaphylaxis, glucose for a diabetic, or any prescribed medicine that needs to be taken at certain intervals. However, my list of meds is very simple and covers pain management, cardiac related events, and allergies.

So, for medications I carry Benadryl (diphenhydramine) and Aspirin. I may also carry Tylenol (acetaminophen) for pain or headaches. If I’m with someone who got stung by a bee and turns out to be anaphylactic and we don’t have epinephrine, I can still give them Benadryl if they are able to swallow. This will help minimize the allergic reaction but it won’t reverse the symptoms of anaphylaxis which are life-threating. So, if you do have access to epinephrine, I would encourage you to carry it as it is a lifesaving medication. The aspirin can be used for someone who is having chest pain or for someone who just has a headache. I don’t bring many of each of these medications, maybe one to two doses. 

Splinting

There’s a lot that can be improvised when it comes to splinting such as using sticks laying around, extra clothing, slings, backpacks, etc., yet I still find it nice to carry a SAM splint, a triangular bandage, and a roll of elastic bandage. These items combined with gear already on your person go a long way. Do understand that we are just splinting to minimize movement of the extremity and reduce pain. Often, fractures are not life threatening unless a major artery has been severed (think femur), so focus on what the priorities are before spending a lot of time splinting. Also, be prepared with the training on how to splint appropriately. 

Tools

I carry five tools or instruments in my first-aid kit. The first is an emergency satellite communicator, in my case a Garmin inReach Mini. I also carry tweezers, trauma sheers, an emergency blanket, and a small headlamp. A lot can be achieved with these five items: contacting search and rescue, providing light, removing bee stingers or ticks, cutting away clothing to expose a wound, and offering a bit of shelter from the elements.  

Final Word

While carrying a first-aid kit is important, it is certainly more important to know how to use the items within the kit. You should seek the appropriate training in first aid before heading outside to climb and should consider a climbing self-rescue course particularly if you are doing multi-pitch climbing. There are many providers of wilderness first aid across the country. Courses range from Wilderness First Aid (Basics), Wilderness First Responder (Industry standard for guides), to Wilderness EMT. The Wilderness First Aid (WFA) course covers the basics over the duration of two days, while the Wilderness First Responder (WFR) course is usually 7-10 days long, depending on the provider. 

Keep in mind that prevention is the best first aid. Having a solid set of technical, physical, and psychological skills as well as practicing good self-care goes a long way in preventing accidents and illness.

Forrest Stavish
AMGA Assistant Rock Guide, Ice Instructor, WEMT-B

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