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The Difference Between a Wilderness First Aid Kit and a "Boo Bag"

No online article will properly train a person to administer first aid. It can, however, lead a reader to start thinking about the seriousness of the issue and take a qualified first aid course. It can also give specific pieces of information and guidance that most courses omit; either because there simply isn't enough time in an eight-hour class, or because the instructor has never experienced a particular issue. This series of articles will address a few specific topics that never came up in my first aid courses, and had to be learned the hard way: in the field.

What Is First Aid?

First aid is not about fixing boo boos. What are boo boos? They are all the little bumps and nicks we get any time we get off the couch and move around. Everything minor, from blisters to minor cuts and burns, falls into the "boo boo" category. It is true that if not addressed with preventative care, these things can become more serious, especially in the back country, but they are not by themselves what many enthusiasts consider "first aid".

So what, then, is first aid? It is emergency care given to an injured person before professional medical aid can be obtained. In a wilderness setting, first aid is critical, life-saving care, and must be taken seriously. It cannot be lumped in with fixing blisters and treating poison ivy. Since they are different disciplines, there should be two different bags in your gear: a first aid kit and a boo bag.

The first aid kit should be kept separate from the boo bag. They are two totally different groups of supplies and have nothing to do with each other. The boo bag gets raided constantly, but the first aid kit should never be opened without serious need.

Boo Bag

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The boo bag should contain band aids, blister care, etc., and are generally sold at outdoor retailers as a "first aid kit". I like to make a few changes (listed below), but the basic idea remains the same.

Keeping all the boo bag supplies away from the first aid kit helps to discourage raiding the latter, and keeps all your tools exactly where you remember them. If you need something in a hurry, you want to find it the first time you reach for it.

Boo Bag Supplies

A well-stocked boo bag can make life as a camper or backpacker much more comfortable. I recommend starting with a standard outdoor retailer "first aid kit" and making the below additions:

1 x snake bite kit

1 x after bite itch reliever

1 x tube of neosporin

1 x very sharp small folding knife

1 x pack of blister treatment cushions

I also take out all the generic bandages and replace them with brand name, premium band aids. Be sure to check the expiration dates of all the over the counter medications in the bag and replace as needed.

First Aid Kit

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A proper first aid kit is reserved for real emergencies. You need to set it up yourself, not buy a pre-purchased one. The reason is that if you put it together yourself, you will know exactly what is in the kit and how to use each included item. If you don't know what it is or how it works, it doesn't need to be in your kit. For example, I do not have any surgical airway supplies in my kit, but I do have needle decompression materials.

First Aid Kit Supplies

A standard first aid includes all of the below items, and you should be trained in their use. Together, they are a bit heavy and bulky. My kit rides on the outside of my pack for quick access.

  1. 1 x surgical shears
  2. 1 x very sharp knife or scalpel
  3. 1 x face shield
  4. 1 x NPA - nasopharyngeal airway w. lubricant
  5. 1 x OPA - oropharyngeal airway w. lubricant
  6. 2 x 4" modular bandages
  7. 1 x blast bandage
  8. 2 x self adhesive bandage wrap
  9. 2 x petroleum gauze
  10. 2 x wide tactical tourniquets
  11. 2 x combat gauze (Quick Clot)
  12. 1 x 15mg pack of CELOX powder (if you can get it)
  13. 2 x small mold-able splints
  14. 1 x emergency blanket
  15. 1 x Epinephrine auto-injector
  16. 3 x pairs latex gloves

A 1quick note on CELOX and Quick Clot products: These are hemostatic agents designed to cause near-instant clotting. The patient may feel like he is on fire (it really hurts) and fight you.

Some of these materials have their own expiration dates. Please remember to check them periodically and replace as needed.

Training Matters

Train the group on what materials are in each bag, and what they are used for. This will help everyone recognize the need to not dig through the first aid kit for minor cuts and burns. It will also instill confidence in you as the medical responder should any emergency arise.

Remember that not every medical emergency involves bleeding or anaphylaxis, so pay attention to your group's actions and mental states. Your first aid kit is not a life insurance policy, it is a set of tools. The best tool you have to prevent or address any medical emergency is between your ears.

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