Having a robust first-aid kit is a no-brainer, but it can feel like betting against yourself. After all, if you’re careful and prepared, you shouldn’t need to use a first-aid kit. But you never know what type of wound you might have to treat, and having a pared-down kit is key if you want to keep your load light. Even after two decades of dealing with many minor—and a few major—injuries on rivers, I still prefer to leave the decision of what medical gear to pack to the professionals. That’s why I always turn to my Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight/Watertight .5 ($19) every time I’m out in the wilderness overnight or far in the backcountry.
My love affair with AMK began in the summer of 2007. I used to manage a whitewater rafting company, and part of my job was keeping track of the first-aid kits. I was a pro, so when I created my first proper and robust first-aid kit—for a buddy surf trip to the Mentawais in Indonesia—I thought there was no way I would buy a premade kit. And that’s when my bro hubris bit me in the ass. I still remember the pit in my stomach when the materials alone—not even including the two-liter Sea to Summit Dry Sack ($14) I already owned—rang up to nearly $80 at my local CVS.
When I interviewed Shana Tarter, assistant director of NOLS Wilderness Medicine, she brought up the important fact that a premade Adventure Medical Kit would be cheaper than any kit I could make myself. “Realistically it will be more economical to buy a commercial first-aid kit and then customize it rather than trying to build the pieces from scratch,” Tarter said. You likely won’t need an entire box of butterfly closures, so just pay for the two (in the case of my Ultralight .5 kit) that AMK gives you. The company will even replace what you use at a discount.
And while I’ve treated hundreds of minor injuries during my river guide days with those first-aid kits, I’ve only had to use one butterfly bandage from my current stock, and that was to treat my sister-in-law’s finger when she cut it open on a spiralizer. After all, the best first-aid kit is one you never have to use but lends you confidence knowing you have it just in case.
Though first aid is by its nature clinical, Adventure Medical Kits knows how to have a little fun with it. The brand introduced the smallest of its kits in 1987, which came in at $15, and called it “The Optimist.” It no longer goes by that name, but AMK co-founder Frank Meyer laughs when recalling how poorly the moniker was received. “I don’t think everybody appreciated that,” Meyer says. “We’ve never been really great at the names, and we’re not about overselling or hyping something.”
The Ultralight/Watertight .5—with the addition of a QuikClot Sponge ($10) and WoundSeal Powder ($12)—fits my needs, but that doesn’t mean that it will fit yours. If you’re wondering which kit will be right for you, pick one based specifically on your desired activity (AMK even makes them for certain sports). And trust the experts. Meyer possibly summed it up best when he recalled his first interview with Outside decades ago: “Andrew Tilin said, ‘What would you take out of this kit,’ and I replied, ‘What don’t you want to be prepared for?’”