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Our expert gear testers have spent 7 years reviewing the best first aid kits. Our selection includes 16 top-performing and popular models. Kits are evaluated using a set of standardized metrics to allow us to rank and score them against each other fairly. Our test team is comprised of mountain guides, ski patrollers, and Wilderness First Responders who have a high sensitivity for quality medical supplies. Our trained professionals put these critical pieces of equipment to the test.
The Surviveware Small kit is comprised of a solid variety of quality supplies in a rugged container. It is condensed but not too small, and it features everything you need to deal with most injuries, minor or major. It contains quality components that increase its value, such as hospital-grade forceps, trauma shears, and ace bandages. We also appreciate the inclusion of gloves and a CPR mask in this compact travel kit.
One surprising downside we found with this kit is the lack of over-the-counter medicines. You will need to add your own to be sure you have them on hand. We also added an extra roll of tape and additional gloves. There is extra space for these items or any other additional custom items you want to include for your trip's specific needs.
If you are looking for solid value, check out the AMK Mountain Series Hiker kit. This small kit is about as wide as a postcard, so you won't have any trouble fitting it into even your tiniest daypack. It weighs in at 10 ounces, and you can lighten it even more by removing the first aid book. We love taking this kit along on mountain bike rides, day hikes, and multi-pitch rock climbs because of how little it is and everything it includes for the price.
We highly recommend this product because of the value it boasts. Still, it doesn't have extra nitrile gloves or a CPR mask, meaning it has less protection for the user if encountering bloodborne pathogens, rendering it less adaptable. You can add these pieces to the kit on your own. The quantities in this kit are low to keep it lightweight, so it's best suited for just one or two people as opposed to a larger group.
If you want a simple first aid kit for everyday needs that might arise, our recommendation is to keep the handy Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight/Watertight .7 in your pack. We carry it with us when heading outdoors for the day to cover anything that arises should we need it, knowing that it doesn't overload us when we don't. It includes valuable pieces in an easy-to-carry container. We also like that it is waterproof and seemed well-built.
This kit is made for fast and light travel and doesn't include a few typical first aid staples like trauma shears, ankle tape (the included tape is too thin), and a CPR mask. Our testers added those items after the fact to create a more well-rounded (but still lightweight) kit. Additionally, the low quantities mean that you do have to refill its supplies regularly. These caveats limited the usefulness of the Ultralight/Watertight .7 to day trips where you won't be straying too far from the trailhead. This kit will support any of your simple first aid situations, but you will want to pack something more substantial for long-distance trips into the wilderness.
The AMK Smart Travel Kit stands out as an ideal offering for world travelers. This kit could be brought along on a hiking trip, but we found it to be best suited for someone going on a vacation or a trip abroad. The included materials and medications are more applicable, such as an easy-to-use visual guide to support people with a language barrier at foreign clinics. The Smart Travel Kit has everything you need, except a passport.
This 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. This kit's main drawback is its layout and organizational structure, which was underwhelming compared to other products. We still feel like this first aid kit has a lot to offer to those who are traveling, especially in foreign countries, and it's small enough that people living out of their luggage should be able to bring it along without going over the weight limit.
The Adventure Medical Kits Mountain Series Explorer is a great choice for large groups and longer trips. Many of the kits that we feature in our review are for minor, incidental injuries that occur close to home or on shorter day hikes. Since many of us also travel on extended sojourns deep into the forests, mountains, and deserts far away from definitive care, you may need more to really be prepared. This first aid kit provides a more comprehensive set of supplies to deal with heavier bleeding, a wider range of medicines, and extra informational resources to help you select the best course of treatment when you are unable to communicate directly with a medical professional.
Best suited for long trips far from the trailhead, the Mountain Series Explorer kit is not solely meant for overnight excursions. We also found it useful on day trips with large group sizes, so that we would have the resources to treat many small incidents and one large event.
Total Weight: 31 oz | First Aid Manual: Yes (eBook)
REASONS TO BUY
Well-organized with a tear-away pocket kit
Advanced tools for injury and illness treatment
REASONS TO AVOID
First Aid book only available as a digital eBook
The MyMedic MyFAK is the burliest first aid kit we've tested. It looks and feels like something a combat medic might be issued. This kit features the heavy-duty medical gear that most other kits lack. Pressure bandages, saline irrigation tubes, medical-grade thermometers, and trauma shears are just a few of the quality pieces of equipment included.
This kit is bulky and heavy, which means you probably won't be bringing it along for shorter hikes. More than other kits, this model will be appreciated by those with legit medical experience. It is best for situations that require medical attention in remote areas when you don't have to worry too much about the weight of the first aid kit. We like this kit for car camping, job sites, off-road driving, or other activities where you can establish a well-stocked home base.
Testing these kits is a combination of testing in the field, in more controlled environments (like Wilderness First Responder courses), and expert observations. During the WFR training, we gave the kits to both novices and first aid veterans. We took everything apart and evaluated the quality of the contents. We weighed the kits on a digital scale and compared our measurements against the manufacturer's specs. We tested these kits using trauma simulated during WFR training. The diversity of injuries and the simulated environment was an effective approach to gain loads of hands-on data to produce a comprehensive review.
Our first aid kit testing is divided across five rating metrics:
Quality (20% of overall score weighting)
Usefulness (20% weighting)
Durability (20% weighting)
Versatility (20% weighting)
Weight (20% weighting)
For review author and Mountain Guide Ryan Huetter, first aid isn't something to be taken lightly. As a mountain professional, injury prevention is his primary risk management tool, but he always carries a quality, well-stocked first aid kit for both personal and professional trips. Ryan holds a bachelor's degree in Outdoor Adventure Management from Western Washington University. Since earning this degree, he's racked up an impressive climbing resume, with over twenty Yosemite big walls and seven seasons in Patagonia, including 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.
Contributing testers and authors Jackie Kearney and Ben Applebaum-Bauch both bring decades of backcountry experience to this review. Kearney is a ski patroller and EMT who has worked at Kirkwood Mountain in California and now calls Telluride Ski Resort in Colorado home. She spends her days treating minor cuts and scrapes to life-threatening injuries in remote environments. In her spare time, she ski tours in the remote San Juan Mountains, goes on long trail runs, and has completed expedition-style ski trips around North America. Applebaum-Bauch got his start in the outdoor industry as a trip guide and Wilderness First Responder, leading backpacking, cycling, and canoeing trips throughout northern New England. He has since completed several of America's most iconic long trails including the Pacific Crest Trail.
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 will likely demand from these kits. Below, we discuss the significance of each metric and the notable performers in every area.
You can purchase a small watertight bag and make your custom kit. However, this is a time-consuming process, and the costs add up quickly. You'd likely end up with plenty of supplies to restock your kit, but you'd have to spend much more than the price of a pre-built model. For those that want to forego this slow and expensive venture, retail first aid kits offer excellent value. The AMK Mountain Series Hiker provides a balanced selection of first aid supplies at an excellent price.
Tradeoffs in this gear category are typically the quality and quantity of the contents. A kit stuffed full of items of dubious utility doesn't provide the same value as a kit with a more selective approach to its contents, focusing on fewer, but higher quality contents. For example, a kit like the AMK Ultralight/Watertight .7 has a selective number of high-quality products that can be filled out with the addition of a few high-quality tools. We would like to note that your specific needs can change the value of any product.
Quality is a crucial factor when considering a first aid kit. To test the quality of each particular kit, we carefully examined the tools, medical supplies, medications, and storage case or pouch. We evaluated quality control from the manufacturer to ensure the list of contents matched the included supplies. We ensured any medication was in good standing, with at least a year before its expiration date from when we purchased the kits.
Since we are largely looking at backcountry use, a container and materials that can stand up to the elements are important. The quality of the components in the different models in our fleet varies significantly. For example, some come with solid trauma shears similar to those a paramedic uses in an ambulance. In contrast, other kits have small scissors made from cheap plastic that bent once we attempted to cut something with them. Unreliable tools in your kit exponentially decrease utility, especially in time-sensitive situations.
Other items that exhibited a wide range of quality were the rolls of medical tape, triangle bandages, tweezers, and CPR masks. Overall, the Adventure Medical Kits models, Surviveware Small, and My Medic MyFAK impressed us with their high-quality components. The Johnson & Johnson All-Purpose is another high-quality kit. Though it loses points for a carrying case that definitely is not backcountry-ready, it includes J&J brand-name products — BandAid, Neosporin, Bengay, and Tylenol.
Another factor in this metric is a kit's internal organization. When medical incidents strike, it's reassuring to have your first aid contents clearly labeled and easy to find. The AMK Explorer, Hiker, and the MyFAK are a few of our favorites for their intuitive and intentionally designed organization features. Supplies in these kits are easy to locate, remove, and put into action. Fold-out organizer pockets and removable mini kits aid organization. Other models forced us to dig excessively or remove everything to find our desired item. After a few uses, they became hopelessly cluttered, negatively impacting the entire kit's overall useability.
Given the potential scenarios we might encounter on a trail or mountainside when far from home, we want to be confident that the bulky bag of medical supplies we've 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 large group could carry a duffel-sized first aid kit with incredible usefulness, but we wanted to see how well the smaller, streamlined overnight kits fared.
Each model was scored on how useful the components are in a wilderness medicine situation. The Surviveware is full of useful items, like hospital-grade trauma shears and fine point tweezers, and not many extra items that serve little or no purpose. It is heavy, but if you're engaging in activities with a high probability of serious injury, the MyFAK kit is perhaps the best equipped to handle large wounds among kits of its size. Kits that were heavy on bulky dressings and wound closure strips, but lacked over-the-counter medications or blister kits, did not rate as highly as those kits with a more balanced range of supplies. Well-balanced kits provide enhanced versatility and allow you to take care of common trail injuries and the occasional serious ones.
Be wary. Some manufacturers name their kits based on the number of pieces in the kit. This can overstate the utility of a kit by exaggerating how well-stocked they actually are. Does it matter if a kit has 299 pieces if 175 of them are just bandaids?
The Smart Travel model is incredibly useful for its designed application. As the name implies, it serves its user best when it's tucked in a carry-on during domestic or international trips. It receives a high score in this metric due to its great utility in travel scenarios, with its inclusion of antidiarrheals, rehydration salts, and a visual aid for communication across language barriers. However, it lacks some essentials for effective wilderness use.
There are a few markedly heavy items included in some kits that we aren't entirely convinced of their necessity. Notably, cold compresses are weighty, but modern medical courses are doing away with the standard RICE treatment (rest, ice, compress, elevate). Moreover, current recommendations are to treat acute injuries with light movement instead of cold. In our testing, we saw kits where the cold compresses did not activate, like in the First Aid Only, or hardly became cool, as with the Swiss Safe. With a little bit of innovation, these hefty cold compresses can be replaced with items found in the field such as a bag of snow or a t-shirt dipped in a frigid mountain stream, and you can use that weight on many more useful items such as an extra set of gloves and roller gauze. Similarly, some bulkier kits included glow sticks, which could be useful for a roadside emergency, but a backcountry excursion will probably have a headlamp and spare batteries to replace these. We believe it's best to balance specialized treatments with creative resource management.
How many people you plan to serve with your kit is also a key consideration. A small, lightweight kit like the Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight/Watertight .7 could be incredibly useful for a day trip for a one or two-person group, but it pales in comparison to the usefulness of a deeper kit when traveling in a group of 3 or 4, such as the Adventure Medical Kits Mountain Series Explorer. When going out with larger groups, make sure you bring enough supplies. We often add extra gloves, moleskin, bandages, tape, and medications, leaving the quantities of the less frequently used materials behind.
Two components that will likely stay with you for the kit's lifetime are the bag and included tools, so it is important to consider the durability of these items. Use or expiration will lead you to have to replace individual components (such as medications), but that doesn't mean that you should have to replace them preemptively if their sterile packaging breaks down (as with low-quality bandages). Generally speaking, first aid incidents don't happen on every outing, so kits may bide their time unused at the base of packs for long periods. Periodic inspections are necessary for safety and reliability, but we also expect the quality of our emergency equipment to last between these checks.
While some commercial organizations require that kits be re-inventoried after each trip, a more realistic standard for recreational users may be to inventory monthly or after a set number of trips. At a minimum, consumable items like moleskin, over-the-counter drugs, and tape should be continuously restocked. This is necessary to ensure you are equipped with everything you need in the case of an emergency. The manufacturers of Surviveware and Adventure Medical Kits not only include a helpful inventory list, but also a medical supply reordering service to easily restock your depleted items with similar quality resources.
The kit's storage case itself also reflects the types of trips you take. Those embarking on backpacking trips will likely benefit from having a case that secures the contents from damage and would do well to seek out a heavy nylon pouch like the one the Surviveware comes with. We were impressed with the effort put into making the AMK Ultralight/Watertight's bag, which is weather-resistant and protects 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 Welly Quick Fix comes in a metal tin. Though it's not obviously designed to be watertight, it will keep contents dry if it inadvertently takes a quick dip.
Repackage groups of supplies together in ziplock bags so that in the event of submersion, or the explosion of an antibiotic ointment tube, your kit's contents remain protected, and the mess is contained.
You can certainly take more precautions to protect the contents of your kit. However, all the included items need to be durable, reliable, and capable of withstanding some abuse. We found the majority of the kits lacked waterproof and even water-resistant cases. While individual resealable packages can help, you'll have to purchase an additional dry bag to ensure your supplies won't spoil, given the climate. Using bandages that have unraveled due to moisture is not safe or sterile, meaning the protection of contents is of the utmost importance.
This category takes into account how large of a group the different kits could serve and the range of activities they are good for. A kit lost points if it was too heavy and did not have the added benefit of being able to serve more people in a remote environment.
The most versatile models are those with the highest quality components and good weight-to-usefulness ratios. We also tried to consider how many potential injuries a kit could treat — some kits boast an astounding number of supplies but are mostly just stocked with simple bandaids and cotton swabs. We reviewed two kits that rose to the top for use on longer trips and with big groups, the AMK Explorer and the MyFAK. Both offer bigger-than-average storage for a wider range of supplies, making them the most versatile on extended trips. The Explorer boasts versatility on long trips and for larger groups, while the MyFAK is best utilized in a base camp scenario. It's also our favorite for dealing with severe trauma.
We commonly came across kits packed with tiny bandages and alcohol wipes only suitable for cuts and scrapes to match. However, when we needed a tiny piece of moleskin to patch up a blister, there was nothing to be found. This was the same case for tape rolls wide enough to stabilize an ankle. The Swiss Safe kit did come with a small pocket knife, but we found it to be practically useless by itself, and would prefer to use one of our favorite pocket knives instead.
The I Go and Uncharted Supply Co. 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 effective treatment. And while we liked the usefulness of the Smart Travel kit in travel scenarios, it was far from being an all-around champ.
Buy the first aid kit you are actually going to bring with you on your trip. There is no sense in getting the best and biggest kit if it sits in your car because it is too heavy to carry with you.
If your kit isn't as versatile out of the box as you'd 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 to build the ultimate kits for both short and long trips. By combining the Surviveware Small kit and the AMK Ultralight/Watertight .7, we found that we had an excellent selection of resources. We were able to build a robust kit perfect for a large group on an extended trip. And by splitting them up, we could reduce weight and size as well as compensate for some of their individual deficiencies, such as the lack of shears in the Ultralight/Watertight .7.
If your group size is large enough (over 4-6), then you might consider opting for the double kit system we mentioned above. Groups do split up, itineraries can change, and injured or ill victims may require evacuation while other group members stay in the field, so having the option to split up resources is a good idea. Even for short hikes away from camp, it can be nice to take a small kit with you while the large base kit stays in camp.
We measured the weight of all the kits in our review and ranked them accordingly, while also considering what contents they included. Except for one kit, all were compact enough to fit into a daypack, which was the shortest test scenario for our review.
The Welly Quick Fix is the lightest kit in our review at just over 2 ounces. It fits discretely into a side or hipbelt pocket. However, it is worth noting that this is a truly quick fix kit better suited for a picnic than any kind of hiking adventure. Other kits like the I Go were quite light but filled with unnecessary or bulky supplies that undermine their packability. While sitting 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 matter, such as alpine climbing and lightweight backpacking, we awarded the top score to the AMK Ultralight/Watertight .7 due to its weight and usefulness in these specialized applications. We give an honorable mention to the scant 10-ounce AMK Hiker and HART kits.
If you're mostly river boating or car camping, a heavier or bulkier model should work fine. The non-outdoor-ready models worth noting are the Welly Quick Fix, which is much better suited for a school backpack or purse, and the Be Smart Get Prepared - 326 Piece, Be Smart Get Prepared - 110 Piece, and Johnson & Johnson All-Purpose models which are home and office-specific products that are hard to compare to others designed for wilderness outings. Though less likely to come with us on a hiking trip due to its weight, our favorite kit for heavy trauma is the My Medic MyFAK. 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 in the Smart Travel model, you can save weight and space by leaving it at home. If you aren't trained in first aid, however, it's probably best to bring the manual along, and it's a good piece of reading material when you finish the group's shared copy of Moby Dick.
Most of the overnight models we looked at were of similar size because you can only go so small 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 is no comparing the Surviveware to the slim AMK Ultralight/Watertight .7 — though be careful how light you go before you lose the usefulness you desire.
Two of the heaviest models that we would actually consider taking with us on a trip rather than leave behind at home or in the car are the AMK Mountain Series Explorer and the MyFAK. Both of these kits are much better suited for big groups, long trips, or heavy trauma with their extensive toolsets. Each fills a slightly different role — the Explorer received an award for keeping weight and bulk low while still offering the ability to care for multiple people for multiple days. The MyFAK gets recognition for being so burly and of such high quality while recognizing its best use is in a basecamp scenario. Weight matters, but life-saving equipment weighs something, so you might just have to suck it up and leave that extra flask of sleeping aid behind!
Everyone needs a quality first aid kit. Whether you never leave the house or you go out for multi-day treks deep into the mountains, you should be prepared for unforeseen medical emergencies from minor cuts to major trauma. Frontcountry and backcountry users alike will keep themselves, their friends, and bystanders safer if they're equipped with a first aid kit. We hope you never need to use them, but being prepared is the first step after prevention. Thanks for reading this review, and stay safe out there doing the things you love to do!
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