Outdoor First Aid Kit: 15+ Essential Items for Trail Running

Run enough trail miles and you're bound to get beat up a little. Scrapes, cuts, bee stings, a nasty fall...it happens. Be prepared with an outdoor first aid kit.

Have you ever been in a trail running situation where you thought: "Wow, that could’ve turned out better if only I had a first aid kit?"

I sure have… keep reading for some gnarly stories that might scare you into carrying an outdoor first aid kit.

  • After all, when accidents happen, our cherished, happy-go-lucky trail run can turn into a stressful situation at best and dangerous situation at worst, especially if we’re not prepared. 
  • Without adequate supplies, minor situations can turn into major emergencies, which are even scarier when deep in the woods alone, or even with a group, miles into a run, far from civilization.
  • We cannot prepare for every worst case scenario, or have all the best equipment tucked neatly into our running packs.

Yet, with a little bit of thought and a few carefully selected first aid items, we can alleviate many injuries and abrasions while miles deep in the woods.

Before your next trail run wipeout, bee sting, or nasty fall, put together an outdoor first aid kit.

3 real-life incidents + gnarly trail injury stories

Maybe you're not convinced you need to run with an outdoor first aid kit.

What's the big deal? You've ran a million miles without incident. Why pack along something you don't need?

A little bit of advice: At some point, you're going to need an outdoor first aid kit. Maybe not now, not tomorrow, or next week.

But eventually you or someone you're running with will go down bleeding, end up with a gash, or some other gnarly bodily abrasion, and you'll wish you had an outdoor first aid kit to make it better.

👉Here's a few examples that prompted me to put together an outdoor first aid kit and carry it with me...

Incident number 1

There I was, iPhone in hand, squatting down low at the end of an 11-mile, steep, point-to-point trail run, waiting to capture a photo of the four friends with whom I had just shared an awesome adventure.

  • They came around the bend onto the parking lot connector trail. 
  • Cheering and smiling, I positioned my iPhone as they approached. 
  • When just 10 feet away, one of the women tripped and tumbled head-first into the trail’s  jagged rocks.
  • A pained, gut-wrenching sound came from her crumpling body.

😲I leapt up, and as we gathered around her, we saw that a several-inch flap of skin hung from her forehead, revealing her skull.

NO ONE HAD FIRST AID.

One of the women took off her heavyweight cotton Mount Summit sweatshirt and wrapped it around her head.

I took off sprinting as hard as I could after a passing vehicle, because our ride wasn’t there yet. 

We hopped into the vehicle and desperately tried to call local emergency services to no avail. We were in a zero-reception zone.

After rushing her to the hospital, she left with 24 stitches in her head. 

Incident number 2

A friend met me on a nice fall evening for a five-mile out-and-back trail run.

Midway on the run, we had to balance our way across a log to cross a creek where a bridge had recently been washed away by flood. 

  • After successfully teetering across the log, we were moving along quickly, ducking under rhododendron bushes and low tree branches, to get back to the main trail.
  • She gasped and screamed. 
  • I whipped around to see her hand covering her eye. A branch had just smacked her in the face. When I asked her to lift her hand to assess the damage, I saw that her eyelid had been sliced, forming a half-inch-wide, deep cut. 

😲We had zero FIRST AID, so I removed a glove to compress her eyelid in order to control the bleeding.

When we returned to my house, my husband administered first aid.

No stitches were needed, but it took a while for the cut to heal. We considered ourselves lucky that we got out of the woods before dark and that I had a glove to spare.

Incident number 3

I was running with a large group of friends.

We were almost done with a three-mile trail loop, less than a quarter mile from the parking lot. 

  • As we navigated through slippery boulders along a Class V kayak section of a local creek, one woman slipped.
  • Her ankle slid between rocks, and she shouted in pain.
  • We got her up, instructed her to keep on her shoe and guided her to the creek to soak her foot in the ice-cold water. 

😲The outcome: a fractured ankle. 

Scraped knees and hands from tripping on trails are easily mended when adequate supplies are stowed in a running pack or pockets. (Photo/author)

More gnarly-trail injury stories...

So those three incidents aren't enough to convince you to carry an outdoor first aid kit with you when you trail running?

Fine. Here's a few more...

🏃‍♀️Other incidents encountered with friends

  • Tripping and scraping open their knees, hands and shins 
  • Bee stings, requiring Benadryl and sting aid 
  • Tick bites, requiring removal by tweezers

😲Then there are the incidents I’ve personally experienced in the woods that have made carrying FIRST AID and a cell phone an absolute must.

These situations have occurred while trail running, hiking and mountain biking:

  • Black-out concussion with abrasions to the face
  • Getting lost in the Pennsylvania Game Lands for three hours with no water, phone or map, until after dark, then hitchhiking home
  • Fractured forearm
  • Sprained ankle
  • Branch falling on my head, resulting in concussion and being back-boarded out of the woods

Since those incidents, I now carry an outdoor first aid kit on runs longer than one hour, and I encourage you to do the same. 

After many miles and years of trail running, these are the items that have been most used or needed in small and big emergency situations. (Photo/ author)

Put these 15 items in your outdoor first aid kit

What's in the kit...

  • Benadryl
  • Sting Relief wipes
  • StingEze
  • Athletic tape
  • Syringe
  • Calmoseptine for lube, itching or moisturizing protective barrier
  • Tweezers (for removing ticks)
  • Toilet paper tablets / sometimes regular toilet paper
  • Gauze pads
  • An assortment of antibacterial adhesive bandages
  • Small scissors (for cutting flaps of skin from abrasions or blisters)
  • Kinesiology tape
  • Knife (like this one by Spyderco)
  • Extra sandwich baggie to serve as a trash bag
  • Charged cell phone (held in a separate pocket in hydration vest)
  • Tampon and maxi pad (not pictured), but an excellent addition if you are a woman, if running with a group of women or to use for wounds. They absorb blood very well!
  • Emergency whistle (not pictured. Often these are attached to running hydration vests. 
First aid kits for all your favorite sports are a good idea. On the left, a kit for mountain biking, and on the right, one for white water kayaking. (Photo/ author)

Different outdoor first aid kit supplies for different seasons or long runs

Winter first aid

  • Hand warmers
  • Extra set of gloves 
  • Windbreaker
  • Emergency blanket
  • Flashlight and running headlamp if running in the afternoon into sunset

😎Summer first aid

🏃‍♀️Long run and fastpacking first aid

🌄When running on new trails...

👉The most important things...

  • Live tracking, always turned on via Garmin, so my husband knows where I am in case of emergency
  • Charged cell phone. This device has saved me more than any other first aid item
  • TIP: If it is raining or humid, cell phones can become too wet to respond to touch if kept in a pack without coverage. To avoid this I put my cell phone in a ziploc baggie with a packable face towel for drying off wet hands.

💪Multisport athlete? Consider kits for everything. 

  • It’s a good idea to have multiple first aid kits for all of your preferred sports that are kept in one location and easy to grab and go.

Does building your own first aid kit feel like too much of a task?

Not to worry. Packable kits like these are available for purchase:

Outdoorgearlab.com also provides a thorough review of several packable first aid kits.

Here’s to happy, safe running! 

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Brynn Cunningham
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Trail runner, ultrarunner, white water boater, cyclist (mostly MTB), swimmer, backcountry skier, yogi, mom and writer. www.inhaleexhalerun.com

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