No matter where you are, the need for first aid treatment can arise. We researched dozens of models before settling on 10 of the best first aid kits to test. Since the stakes are high, you need a first aid kit that is up to the task at hand, which is why we spent months using these kits in real-life situations as well as during wilderness first responder courses. Our testing team took these kits on backpacking and climbing trips to the Pacific Northwest and Canada, long-distance thru-hikes along the John Muir Trail, and road-tripping around the West Coast, giving us the experience to fully assess each one and report our findings to you.
The Best First Aid Kits of 2019
|Price||$36.95 at Amazon||$25.00 at REI|
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|$25.99 at Amazon|
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|$34.99 at Amazon|
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|$23.50 at REI|
|Pros||Very durable, quality tools, removable CPR kit||Compact, lightweight, quality materials, handy wilderness first aid guidebook||Lightweight, minimal packaging, waterproof, quality components, compact||Very well organized, useful||Light, compact, useful first aid book|
|Cons||No medications, no first aid manual||Limited medications, no CPR mask||Limited group size, minimal quantities||Bag is only moderately weather proof||No gloves, no CPR mask|
|Bottom Line||A great choice for those in rugged environments where durability is a concern.||This kit is a great choice for short weekend trips, containing the essentials to guard against many trailside emergencies.||The best choice for trips where weight matters, without compromising on quality.||A cleanly organized first aid kit for small groups and short excusions, the AMK Backpacker anticipates the medical needs of most backpackers.||This compact and well-organized kit is great for a weekend getaway, with quality implements at an affordable price.|
|Rating Categories||Surviveware Small||Mountain Series Hiker||Ultralight/Watertight .7||Mountain Series Backpacker||HART Health Weekend|
|Specs||Surviveware Small||Mountain Series...||...||Mountain Series...||HART Health Weekend|
|Total Weight (oz)||14 oz||10 oz||8 oz||14 oz||10 oz|
|Dimensions (inches)||3.1" x 6.2" x 6.7"||6.5" x 5.5" x 3"||7.5" x 10" x 2"||7" x 6" x 3.5"||6.5" x 5.5" x 2"|
|First Aid book||No||Yes||No||Yes||Yes|
|CPR Mask/ Face Shield||Yes||No||No||No||No|
|Type of Gloves||Nitrile gloves||1 nitrile gloves||Nitrile gloves||Nitrile gloves||None|
|Medications||No||Yes - acetaminophen, ibuprofen, asprin, antihistamine||Yes - antihistamine, aspirin, ibuprofen, acetaminophen||Yes - acetaminophen, ibuprofen, aspirin, antihistamine, diamode, sting and bite relief wipes||Yes - acetaminophen, ibuprofen, asprin, antihistamine|
Best Overall First Aid Kit
Our Editors' Choice Award for best all-around kit goes to the Surviveware Small. It comes in a durable and compact case that is very well organized, making it easy to find what you need and to keep your supplies orderly. This kit comes with quality equipment like trauma shears and tweezers and includes enough quantities to make it versatile for individual or group use. The included CPR kit is a great addition, and can easily be carried in a pocket for emergency CPR needs.
There are not any medications included in this kit, so that is something you will need to consider purchasing and stocking separately. If you find certain items lacking in quantity, there is ample room in the kit to add more (we brought extra athletic tape on longer trips). This kit is not the lightest of the bunch, but with that extra weight, you get tools that actually work rather than fall apart on first use.
Read review: Surviveware Small
Best Bang for the Buck
Adventure Medical Kits Mountain Series Hiker
Our Best Bang for Buck Award is earned by the AMK Mountain Series Hiker kit. It's a trim and compact first aid kit that is perfect for tossing in a daypack or overnight bag for a weekend out in the wild. Weighing only 10 ounces, it hardly weighs a thing. An additional 1.8 ounces can be taken out if you do not need to bring along the handy pocket-sized wilderness first aid booklet.
With a very strong value to cost, we recommend this kit but should note that adding a CPR mask and extra nitrile gloves will make this kit much more versatile and protective for the user to guard against bloodborne pathogens. The quantities in this kit are pretty slim, making it an appropriate solo kit or for a group of two heading out on a short trip, although it is advertised as a three-person kit.
Read review: Adventure Medical Kits Mountain Series Hiker
Top Pick for Day Hiking and Lightweight Adventures
Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight/Watertight .7
If you're looking for a minimal (but still useful!) first aid kit to toss in your pack for daily adventures, the Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight/Watertight .7 is our top recommendation. We bring this kit along on our day hikes, multi-pitch climbs, and mountain bike rides because it's reliable when you need it but goes unnoticed in a pack when you don't. It's lightweight, but the components and tools are not cheap. The case is waterproof and holds up well.
Geared toward fast and light, this kit lacks a few standard first aid items, such as a CPR mask, trauma shears, and ankle tape (the tape included is too thin for effective ankle wraps), but our testers added these items in to make for a more inspiring yet still lightweight kit. Regarding materials, there aren't high quantities, so you'll need to refill your kit more frequently than other packs reviewed. These caveats seemed to limit our fondness for the Ultralight/Watertight .7 to day trips not too far from the trailhead. It can fix basic first aid needs, but should not be overly relied upon on trips deep and distant into the wilderness.
Read review: Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight/Watertight .7
Top Pick for Travel
Adventure Medical Kits Smart Travel
The AMK Smart Travel Kit stands out as a unique offering to the world traveler. This kit could be brought along on a hiking trip, but we found it to be best suited towards someone going on a vacation or a trip abroad. With more applicable items and medications, as well as a handy visual guide for those who might be experiencing language barriers at a clinic, the Smart Travel Kit has all you'll need, except your passport.
The Smart Travel Kit is designed to be used on the go and can be hung from the back of a door. It's made of durable material that should resist wear and tear, though the organization and layout of the kit left something to be desired when compared to other available models. We feel like this first aid kit has a lot to offer to those who are traveling, especially in foreign countries, and is small enough that people living out of their luggage should be able to bring it along without going over their weight limit.
Read review: Adventure Medical Kits Smart Travel
Why You Should Trust Us
For review author and Mountain Guide Ryan Huetter, first aid is not something to be taken lightly. You can bet a thoughtfully selected first aid kit is in his pack when he goes out with a client. Ryan holds a bachelor's degree in Outdoor Adventure Management from Western Washington University, and since completing this has racked up an impressive climbing resume, from over 20 Yosemite big walls to 7 seasons in Patagonia, with an ascent of Fitz Roy. He is a fully certified IFMGA mountain guide and works around the world guiding rock, ski, and alpine climbing trips.
Testing these first aid kits was a combination of close examination, taking them out in our packs on several trips, and using them during Wilderness First Responder (WFR) courses. During the WFR training, we gave the kits to both novices and first aid veterans, noting the ease and effectiveness with which they were used. We took everything apart, examining the quality of the contents. We weighed the kits, comparing our measurements to the manufacturer's specs. We never used these kits to treat trauma other than that which was simulated during the WFR training, but we feel it was an effective substitute, which has resulted in a comprehensive and informative review.
Related: How We Tested First Aid Kits
Analysis and Test Results
Our methods of testing involved investigating all the items inside the case and using them in real or simulated medical incidents and emergencies. To score all models in an equal manner, we devised several test metrics based on the most important performance aspects users demand from these kits. Below, we discuss why each metric is significant as well as notable performers in each.
Related: Buying Advice for First Aid Kits
You certainly can purchase a small canvas bag and attempt to buy individual supplies to create a customized first aid kit. This takes time, effort, and the costs add up quickly. You end up with lots of equipment to resupply your kit, but will typically spend much more than you would have with a pre-built model. For those that want to forego this timely and expensive venture, first aid kits provide excellent face value.
Trade-offs in this gear category are typically the quality and quantity of the contents. A kit stuffed full of items of dubious utility doesn't share the same value of a kit with a more selective approach to its contents, focusing on fewer, higher quality contents. Keep in mind that individual needs can alter the value of any given product greatly.
This is one of the most important factors to consider when choosing a first aid kit. When scoring how a product performed in the quality category, we looked at the tools, medical supplies, medications, and the case or pouch.
It's frustrating to pull a component from your bag and have it underperform when you need it - just because the manufacturer tried to save on costs. The component quality of the different models in our fleet ranged dramatically. For example, some had solid trauma shears similar to those a paramedic carries on an ambulance, and others had small scissors made of cheap plastic that bent when we tried to cut anything with them.
Other items that had a wide range of quality were the rolls of tape, triangle bandages, tweezers, and CPR masks. Overall, the Adventure Medical Kits, Surviveware, and HART models impressed with high-quality components. We also looked at quality control on the part of the manufacturer to provide supplies that matched the list of contents, and to make sure that any over the counter medications were not expired or at risk of becoming expired within one year of purchasing the kits.
While many of the first aid kits we tested contain supplies made in China, there was a big range of quality in these medical supply manufacturers. Although Adventure Medical uses products made in China, their kits offered higher quality products from a reputable manufacturer. Thus, Adventure Medical Kits and HART Health have better quality control overall than others like I Go or TripWorthy. The Surviveware Small also backed up quality contents with dependable quality control.
Another factor in this metric is a kit's internal organization. When medical incidents strike, it's a relief to have your first aid contents labeled and easy to find quickly. Some of our favorites for their intuitive and well-designed organization include the AMK Mountain Series Backpacker and the Best Buy winning AMK Mountain Series Hiker. Supplies are easy to locate, remove, and put into action with this kit. Other models forced us to dig excessively or remove the contents of the container to find the right item we sought, and after a few rounds of use, some kits became hopelessly cluttered, which impacted the quality of the supplies inside.
Given the potential scenarios we might encounter when far from home on a trail, a river, or a mountainside, we want to be confident that the bulky bag of medical supplies that we have been hauling along is going to be useful. We scored these kits based on how useful they were for their given weight. Of course, a group could carry a duffel-sized first aid kit and have ultimate usefulness, but we wanted to see how well the smaller, streamlined overnight kits fared.
Each model was scored on how useful the components were in a wilderness medicine situation. The Surviveware was full of with useful items, like hospital-grade trauma shears and fine point tweezers, and not a lot of extra items that served little or no purpose. Kits that were heavy on the bulky dressings and wound closure strips, but lacked over the counter medications or blister kits, did not rate as highly as those kits that had a much more even ratio of supplies. An even ratio of supplies made it possible to treat the common day to day injuries encountered on the trail as well as the more serious ones.
An exceptional model among the contenders is the Smart Travel model, despite being less useful in a wilderness setting. As its name implies, it serves its user best tucked in a carry-on during domestic or international trips. It still received a high score in this metric due to its great utility in travel scenarios, like the inclusion of antidiarrheals, rehydration salts, and visual aid for communication across language barriers.
As for cold compresses, we aren't entirely convinced of their necessity in a first aid kit. We've experienced kits where the cold compresses did not work, such as the Swiss Safe which barely became cool. We also noted that the kits with weighty additions did not necessarily increase the overall usefulness. For example, pressure-activated compresses can be readily replaced with things like stuff sacks full of snow or bandanas dipped in mountain streams. Those leaving their kits in the trunk of the car for roadside emergencies may find a need for glow sticks, but anyone going into the backcountry will likely already be carrying a headlamp and spare batteries. Balance the need to treat things with specialized items with being resourceful.
How many people you plan on serving with your first aid kit is also a key consideration. A small, lightweight kit like the Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight/Watertight .7 is incredibly useful for a day trip while solo or in a group of two, but pales in comparison to the usefulness of a deeper kit, like that of the AMK Backpacker, when traveling in a group of 3 or 4. When going out with larger groups, make sure you are bringing enough supplies. We often add extra moleskin, bandages, tape, and medications, leaving the contents of less frequently used materials the same.
It's important to consider the durability of the bag and tools that you are buying because these are two components that stay with you for the lifetime of the kit. Individual components need to be replaced either from use or because they expire (such as in the case of medications). Given that we do not perform first aid on ourselves or hiking partners every day that we go out, our kits may languish unused at the bottom of our packs for long periods without being used. While periodically checking to ensure that the contents are still in good condition is mandatory, we also expect long-term quality from the equipment we rely on during an emergency.
Organizations may require that inventories are done after each trip. Most recreational users probably find that an unrealistic standard to follow. At the very least, keep your kit stocked up on consumable items like moleskin, over the counter drugs, and tape. So you won't be surprised by a fully depleted supply of an important item, you'll want to give your kit a full inventory once every few trips. Several of the manufacturers of these kits, such as Surviveware and Adventure Medical Kits, not only include a list of contents with which to inventory your bag, but also provide an easy medical supply reordering service so that you know that you are getting similar quality items to refresh your depleted stores.
You should feel free to resupply your kits based on other lists as well, and with what you actually need for your intended application. The Washington Trails Association has a great list of supplies to use when you are ready to restock your kit.
The bag itself also reflects the types of trips you take. A weight-conscious alpinist needs a simple construction that is made of silicone impregnated nylon, like the AMK Ultralight/Watertight .7, rather than a beefy Cordura nylon (like an expedition model may have). We were impressed with the effort put into making the AMK Ultralight/Watertight's bag weather-resistant and protecting the kit's components with a reversed watertight zipper and taped seams. Other products like the Be Smart Get Prepared kit uses a hard plastic case that can be wall-mounted for easy access in a workplace setting.
The contents of the bag need to be durable and able to hold up to the rigors of use. While the majority of the kits we tested were not labeled as being waterproof or even water-resistant, by containing the supplies in individual and resealable packages, the kit is more durable in wet or humid environments. We still suggest an additional dry bag when in these climates to keep your supplies from spoiling. It is not only annoying but also unsafe when bandages have opened up inside your kit due to moisture, as they are no longer sterile.
Versatility For Multiple Environments and Group Size
This category took into account how large of a group the different kits could service and the range of activities they were good for. A kit lost points if it was too heavy and did not have the added benefit of being able to service more people in a remote environment.
The most versatile models are those with the highest quality components and good weight-to-usefulness ratio. Again, the Surviveware performed exceptionally here as it struck the right balance of weight vs. tools that were useful to a wilderness user as well as to a car camper, and also includes a small pocket-sized kit for short walks away from camp. The HART kit also has a smaller, removable bag for short jaunts when you don't need the full kit.
Too often we found dozens of bandages and alcohol wipes in various first aid kits, perfect for small cuts and scrapes, but when we tried to find a piece of moleskin for a small blister or a roll of tape wide enough to effectively stabilize an ankle, we were out of luck. The Swiss Safe kit also included a small pocket kit, but this was not incredibly useful on its own.
The I Go and TripWorthy displayed little versatility among the small kits. We continually swapped out tape, tools, and medications from more quality kits such as the AMK Hiker or the Surviveware Small to feel more confident in our abilities to provide treatments effectively. And while we liked the usefulness of the Smart Travel kit in traveling scenarios, it was far from being an all-around champ.
Just because your kit does not come as versatile out of the box as you would like it to be, don't let that stop you from replacing consumable items like athletic tape or moleskin with the supplies you actually need and use. After reviewing each individual kit, we began mixing the contents of some kits to build the ultimate kits for both short and long trips. By using both the Surviveware Small kit and the AMK Ultralight/Watertight .7, we found that we had an excellent selection of resources. By combining them into one, we had a robust kit perfect for a large group on an extended trip. And by splitting them, we could reduce weight and size as well as make up for some of the deficiencies (like the lack of shears in the Ultralight/Watertight .7).
If your group size is large enough (over 4-6), then you might consider bringing the double kit system we mentioned above. Groups split up, itinerary changes occur, and injured or ill victims may require evacuation while other group members stay in the field, so having the ability to split up resources is a good idea.
Weight and Size
We measured the weight of all the kits in our review, and ranked the different models accordingly, considering what contents are included as well. The measured size was also factored in, though, with the exception of one kit in our review, all were compact enough to fit into a daypack, which was the shortest test scenario for our review.
Some kits like the I Go were quite light but filled with unnecessary or bulky supplies that undermined its packability. While hovering in the middle of the pack at 13.6 ounces, the Surviveware kit scored well because of how much you can do with it without the extra baggage. A key consideration in cases where every ounce and cubic inch matters, such as alpine climbing and lightweight backpacking, we awarded the top score to the AMK Ultralight/Watertight .7 due to its weight to usefulness in these specialized applications, and give an honorable mention to the scant 10 ounce AMK Hiker and HART kits.
If you're mostly on a river or car camping, a heavier or bulkier model works fine. The main outlier in this metric was the Be Smart Get Prepared model, which is a home and office-specific product that is hard to compare to a product designed for wilderness outings. Car and home-based kits can afford to have greater quantities of common supplies as well as heavier and bulkier components like Ace wrap bandages and cold compresses since space and weight are not an issue. The Red Cross has a great list of items that should be considered for a home kit.
AMK's Smart Travel model also lands on the heavier side of the spectrum, yet it's appropriate for its intended usage. Several extra ounces in a suitcase is less of a concern than it is in a backpack. Furthermore, if you are skilled and confident enough to embark without needing the first aid manual provided with the Smart Travel model, you can save weight and space by leaving it at home. If you aren't trained in first aid, though, it's generally best to keep the manual handy and is a good piece of reading material when you have finished the group copy of Moby Dick your expedition brought with.
Most of the overnight models we looked at were of similar size, as there is only so small you can go without compromising on the contents you bring with you. The day-tripping models that garnered such high scores in this metric were indeed featherweight- there was no comparing the Surviveware to the slim AMK Ultralight/Watertight .7 - though be careful how light you go before you lose the usefulness you need.
No matter who you are, or whether you choose to recreate close to the trailhead or far from it, you need a first aid kit to guard against injury and illness. While the stakes may be higher far from definitive care in a wilderness setting, even by going on a short walk close to home you may find the need for emergency life-saving equipment such as a CPR mask while someone calls the paramedics. While we sincerely hope that no one has to use these kits to treat serious injuries, it is important to plan for the worst. Hopefully, our review has prepared you to shop for the best first aid kit that will suit the needs of your group size, trip length, and planned activity so that you are covered in the event of an accident. Stay safe out there!
— Ryan Huetter