Though climbing gear makes bouldering and climbing safer, there are still chances that something will happen and first aid kits can help you be prepared just in case. Here is the climber’s guide to your first aid kit. You can purchase a general first aid kit or you can make your own. Below outlines why you should bring a first aid kit with you and 11 items that should be included.
Why You Need A First Aid Kit for Climbing
Climbing and bouldering have safety gear and processes that make it as safe as possible, you are still at risk of injury so any time you go into the mountains to climb, you should bring a first aid kit with you. Injury can be severe as death or as minor as a few scratches or a bruise and being prepared with first aid gear can decrease mortality rates and decrease chances of infection or festering.
Some climbers feel that an injury severe enough to need first aid is unlikely but research shows that injuries are common in climbing. For example, one study about the epidemiology of rock-climbing injuries said that around 50% of climbers surveyed had sustained at least one injury in the last year. In another study about injuries associated with rock climbing, traumatic injuries such as falls accounted for 18% of injuries and the remaining 82% were overuse injuries.
There are ways to prevent injury but even when you are taking steps to prevent injury, it is better to be safe than sorry. A first aid kit doesn’t have to take up a lot of space or weight and can usually fit into a climbers bag. In addition, you can usually purchase a first aid kit or build your own relatively cheap.
First Aid Kit Checklist – 20 Items
My first aid kit started out as a pre-packaged kit, but the more I get into climbing, the more I have personalized it with items that are specific for my climbing experience. Here are some first aid gear/items that I would include in your climbing pack.
No matter what, make sure that you remember #16 – you’d be surprised how important it is!
1. Climbing Tape
Climbing tape, also known as the athletic tape is sticky, doesn’t stretch, strong and can be ripped into thin strips. The climbing tape has two main purposes, tendon/structure support and skin protection. Climbers also use climbing tape to hold stuff together, which makes it one of the most used items on this list.
Unfortunately, skin splits, tears and scratches are common in climbing and an antibiotic can go a long way to helping your skin heal. If you get a scratch and want to keep climbing, it is important to clean the wound, apply a triple-antibiotic cream with a pain reliever like Neosporin and cover it with a bandaid, tape, gauze or whatever works best.
3. Antiseptic Wipe
Antiseptic wipes kill germs and sanitize skin which is the first step after getting a scrape. Soap and water is a messy and difficult process in the mountains so it isn’t the most ideal process for cleaning wounds. Hand sanitizer also isn’t a very good way to clean a wound because it kills both good and bad bacteria. Antiseptic wipes, in comparison, can be used to clean wounds safely, and prepare skin for antibiotics and bandages.
QuikClot isn’t something that you want to use but it can be life-saving if needed. Compared to gauze, it helps clot blood 5xs faster, it is flexible/pliable and easily contouring to wounds. In addition, the QuikClot has been tested and proven through years of combat use by the U.S. Military.
There are different types of scissors such as multi-purpose scissors and medical scissors. Medical scissors are relatively inexpensive so it is worth purchasing. They cut safely through bandages, tape, gauze, clothing, leather, harness straps, thin metal, and other strong materials. In addition, they are designed to cut materials near the flesh without injuring the skin.
6. Rubber Gloves – Disposable
The first thing in your climbing First Aid kit should be gloves. It’s important to always wear gloves not just to protect ourselves from blood but from ALL body fluids and ALL infection. A pack of medical gloves is relatively inexpensive so you can keep the box at home and only bring a few in your pack at a time or you can bring the whole box, depending on how big your first aid kit is.
With climbing shoes being the most uncomfortable and tight-fitting athletic shoe on the market, there is no question that blisters are a problem for climbers. Whether you have blisters from your approach shoes or are breaking in new climbing shoes, moleskin is necessary for every climber’s first aid kit. Moleskin is one of the most common dressings for blister prevention. You can apply to any clean skin (try an antiseptic wipe to clean it) including common problem areas such as the heel, side of foot, and toes. Ideally, you should apply it to problem areas before you begin climbing or hiking to the rock face.
8. Gauze Pads and/or Sterile Dressings
Gauze pads are essential to any first aid kit. Being outside and climbing there are plenty of opportunities that may result in wounds. Gauze pads can be used to treat excessive bleeding with some tape. It can also be used to apply ointments or to clean wounds, which can be useful when you don’t want to get anything oily like Neosporin in the middle of your climbing session.
Bandaids are a no brainer for your climbing first aid kit. Unfortunately, scrapes are really difficult to avoid so it is highly likely that you get a scrape out on the cliff. To prevent getting blood on the rock, it’s important to keep it covered. Prior to putting on the bandaid, clean it and apply Neosporin.
10. Butterfly Bandages
Butterfly bandages are a little different than bandaids because they are meant for holding the skin together. This is necessary if your skin splits or breaks open. After cleaning your wound with an antiseptic wipe, the adhesive surface of the bandage sticks well to the skin without sticking to the wound. A butterfly bandage is an easy way to provide quick first aid for a cut that occurs on the rock.
11. Pain Medication / Ibuprofen & Aspirin
Aspirin, Ibuprofen and/or other pain medication should be used with caution. A good rule of thumb is to only take pain medications if you are done climbing. Ibuprofen, for example, can help control swelling if you broke your ankle from a fall and are being transported to the hospital. Of course, consult a doctor or first aid book for proper use – I’m not a doctor.
If you use pain medication while climbing, you are more likely to get overuse injuries or long term injury to tendons in your hands. This is an unfortunate effect of climbers using pain medication to keep climbing when they should stop. When in doubt, only use pain management medication under the supervision/advice of a doctor. If a doctor isn’t around, use caution and think of your long term health when deciding to use pain medication and keep climbing.
Tweezers are another tool that you hope to never use but are an essential part of any first aid kit. Since climbing is an outdoor activity in the mountains, tweezers are important for removing a splinter or a tick. Prior to using the tweezers, disinfect them well before and after each use.
13. Anti-diarrhea Medication
Anti-diarrhea medication isn’t the most glamorous thing to put in your climbing first aid kit but it can create a much better experience. The mountain is the worst place to have an upset stomach. Unfortunately, rich foods, illness and drinking contaminated water isn’t the only cause of an upset stomach. It can also be from being in an atmosphere you are unaccustomed, which is common in the mountains. Anti-diarrhea medication treats discomfort and protects against dehydration.
14. Ziploc Bag
An assortment of Ziploc bags are a great addition to your first aid kit. They have multiple uses such as keeping bandages dry, carry out used antiseptic wipes, carry out used toilet paper, keep tissue dry and separate from everything else, etc. Ziploc bags aren’t biodegradable, so if you do bring them with you, be sure to pack them out and dispose of them properly.
15. First-Aid Book
Unless you have a doctorate degree and practice medicine frequently, then a first aid book can be incredibly helpful. There are compact versions of first aid books so they don’t take up too much space and can give you the information you need to provide care. When it comes to accidents while climbing, it isn’t always clear what you should do so the first aid book tells you what you need to know to help while you are waiting for emergency care or before transferring to a hospital. This is one of those “better safe than sorry” items.
16. Emergency Contact Information
This is a little different from the rest of the items on the list but still very important. Even if you are with friends who know you well, emergency contact information makes it easier for them to know who to call if something happens to you. Unfortunately, who to call isn’t usually the easiest thing to think about when you are in pain waiting for a paramedic or being carried down a mountain so a little business card can help.
17. Aluminum Blanket
An aluminum blanket is a great option to include in your first aid kit because it is small and compact. In addition to keeping you warm, it can help if someone is going into shock. You can tuck the blanket around the person on the sides and under the feet in order to keep the body heat in and cold out. It isn’t ideal for multiple uses, so if you want a blanket to keep you warm in between climbs, you should look into an outdoor blanket with water resistance or easy cleaning maintenance.
A headlamp may already be in your climbing gear bag but if it isn’t, make sure it is in your first aid kit. It isn’t safe to climb at night, nor is it safe to hike down a mountain in the night due to the likelihood of tripping or nocturnal critters. However, in a case where you might get stuck or are prevented from hiking down during the day, a headlamp is something that will make the hike less dangerous. In addition, it’s hands-free so it’s better than a flashlight and perfect for a climber who needs their hands.
19. Emergency Whistle
This one is a little different, but if you have ever seen 127 hours, then you probably recognize how important a whistle can be. Whether your hand is pinned under a rock or you get lost trying to hike back to your car, a whistle can help people find you. You hopefully won’t ever need to use it but it’s become helpful if you need it and it is inexpensive/small, making it a reasonable piece to add to your first aid kit.
20. 2 Liter Dry Sack
A 2-liter dry sack is a perfect size to carry everything in your first aid kit while keeping everything clean and ready for use, no matter the weather. Dry sacks are made with durable and waterproof material so if you are hiking through a waterfall or it starts raining, you know everything inside will be ok. 2-liter bags can be thrown inside your camping bag and some dry sacks have shoulder straps
No matter your situation or how careful you are when you climb, every climber and boulderer should have a first aid kit in their climbing bag. There is always a possibility that an accident happens and being prepared with the essential first aid gear can prevent minor infections or even save a life or loss of limb. Whether you purchase a pre-built kit or make one on your own, here is a checklist of all the items you need to make sure are in it.
In addition to the first aid kit, there is a long list of things in your rock climbing bag. For a full list of items that climbers should include in their lists, check out this post (37 Things Serious Climbers Bring With Them To The Mountains)