Top fifteen items to have in your travel first aid kit

travel first aidEven if the worst travel-related malady you’ve suffered is a touch of turistas, it pays to pack at least a few first aid essentials in your luggage. If you carry nothing more than Band-Aids, moleskin, Neosporin, and Pepto-Bismol tablets, you’re set for minor emergencies that might otherwise derail a day of sightseeing.

If, however, you travel frequently/do adventure travel/spend time in developing nations, it pays to have a fully-loaded first aid kit. It’s no substitute should you get seriously ill or injured, but its contents can likely stabilize you until you’re able to get medical assistance

You don’t need to spend a lot of money on a kit, either. You can pick one up for as little as $12 at REI, and augment it as needed. The most expensive thing is filling prescriptions for antibiotics (just in case) before you leave home. Cipro is really pricey, but broad-spectrum drugs like Doxycycline are very inexpensive.

Below, my picks for travel first aid kit essentials.

1. Band-aids/gauze pads/moleskin (for blisters)

2. Surgical tape
Use it to hold dressings in place, or to strap sprains or strains. A roll of this saved my ankle after a bad fall while backpacking.

[Photo credit: Flickr user ffi]travel first aid3. Sewing needle and safety pins
Sterilize and use to drain blisters, remove splinters, or make a makeshift sling.

4. Small mirror
Useful if you get something in your eye or have a facial injury. If you’re the outdoorsy type, it’s an emergency kit essential for signaling should you get lost.

5. Prescription drugs
All of your regular prescriptions, as well as antibiotics or other meds prescribed by your doctor. Be sure to keep them in their original bottles, and carry copies of your prescriptions with you.

6. OTC drugs
Imodium, Pepto-Bismol tablets, antihistimines, Pepcid, ibuprofen, eye drops. For women: Uristat and an OTC or prescription for yeast infections. Comprehensivey, these meds cover a wide range of ailments, from food-borne illness to allergies, but reserve the Imodium only for emergency situations where you must travel (it’s a potent anti-diarrheal).

7. EpiPen
This isn’t just for those with known anaphylactic allergies. When you’re traveling abroad, you never know what might trigger a reaction; it’s also possible to develop a sensitivity to things you haven’t previously had a problem with.
travel first aid
8. Alcohol wipes and hand sanitizer
Sterilize your hands, implements like tweezers, even wounds, if necessary. Sanitizer is something you should be in the habit of carrying when you travel, regardless.

9. Tweezers and non-safety nail scissors
Remove splinters and insect stingers, cut surgical tape or bandages; there are endless uses for these two.

10. Thermometer
If you develop a sustained fever of 100.4 or higher, it’s time to seek medical attention.

11. Electrolyte powder packets and Emergen-C
If you’re suffering severe diarrhea or vomiting, it’s absolutely essential you rehydrate and replenish electrolytes. If you have access to Gatorade, you can down that, along with bottled (if necessary) water. I use Airborne and Emergen-C after long flights and at other times I need to keep my resistance up, or if my immune system is taxed.

12. Antibiotic ointment and hydrocortisone cream
Don’t underestimate the importance of these two, especially if you’re traveling in the tropics, where things tend to fester, or you have a coral cut, serious blister, sting, bite, or rash.
travel first aid
13. Matches
Sterilize needles or safety pins; matches are also an essential for wilderness emergency kits. Store in old film canister or Rx bottle to keep dry. You can additionally waterproof by painting the tips with nail polish.

14. Ziploc bags
You never know when these will come in handy. You can make an impromptu ice pack, store creams and ointment in them to prevent spillage, use them as an extra layer to keep meds dry, etc..

15. Mini first aid or wilderness safety manual
If you’re traveling long-term or spending lots of time outdoors, you’ll find this useful at some point. Many first aid kits come with one.

[Photo credits: knee, Flickr user Sukianto; Pepto-Bismol, Flickr user chris.corwin;dressing, Flickr user tiny_packages]

Top five antibiotics to keep in your travel first aid kit

I’m not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV. But I do make my living off of eating while traveling which, if I have my way, usually entails sampling a lot of street food. That said, I do take precautions, but sometimes the inevitable happens anyway.

Back alley eateries aside, experienced adventurers know that it pays to visit a travel medicine clinic or their primary physician (an internist is best) before heading off the beaten path. I’ve learned through painful, sometimes embarrassing, experience to take a portable pharmacy with me when I travel, so I’m prepared when disaster strikes. Checking the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention site is a must when planning a trip to developing nations, so you can get the appropriate immunizations; plan far ahead, as some of these require months to take effect.

Please note that I’m not endorsing self-diagnosis, the purchase of dubious or over-the-counter pharmaceuticals, or the casual use of antibiotics. You can buy OTC meds in many countries, and I’ve had to do so more than once. But I wouldn’t recommend it unless it’s an emergency, you can’t get to a doctor, or the only medical assistance available is more high-risk than trying to diagnose and treat yourself.

Get legal prescriptions from your own doctor, one who hopefully understands tropical and/or travel medicine. Carry paper copies of your prescriptions with you, in case you find yourself subject to a random bag search (because life in a Thai prison isn’t fun, no matter what anyone tells you). For this reason, I don’t carry sterile syringes or hypodermic needles in my first-aid kit. If you’re diabetic or have a medical condition that requires injections, be sure to wear a medical alert bracelet and carry the appropriate paperwork on your person at all times.

I carry a small, nylon, wilderness first aid kit in my backpack. Besides the usual OTC stuff-hydrocortisone cream, antibiotic ointment, Airborne, ibuprofen, antihistamines, Imodium, and Pepto-Bismol tablets, my top five must-haves are listed below. Obviously, your list and doseages will vary based on your individual needs (I’m allergic to Penicillin), and you need to be extremely cautious about potential drug interactions, which is why you need a doctor to prescribe this stuff. All of these drugs are available in less-expensive generic forms.

1. Cipro: The big gun for serious bacterial infections
2. Doxycycline: a less expensive, less hardcore drug for bacterial infections, or for use in combination with other drugs for amoebic infections
3. Erythromycin: used for respiratory and streptococcal infections
4. Flagyl (metronidazole) for anaerobic bacterial, and certain parasitic infections
5. Gentomycin: an antibiotic eye ointment for stys, conjunctivitis, or other infections
6. Bonus round for women: Bactrim (for UTI’s, but also useful for GI infections), and Diflucan or Terazol (for yeast infections). If you’re traveling in the tropics or are withholding water consumption due to logistics (say, a 15-hour trip on a bus that has no toilet), you’ll be glad you have these on you. Trust me.

[Photo credit: Flickr user DawnVGilmorePhotography]

Gadling’s ultimate camping gear guide

With Memorial Day just around the corner, we are rapidly approaching the unofficial start of summer and, with it, the start of camping season. Of course, many people go camping all year long and either live in perpetually warm climates or simply don’t mind bundling up and enduring the cold. The vast majority of campers, however, eagerly await the arrival of Summer so that we can pack up our cars, hit up our favorite campsites and enjoy as many weekends as possible in the great outdoors.

Several of us Gadlingers are psyched about the arrival of camping season (while others who shall remain nameless prefer to stay only in luxury hotels and bathe regularly), so I polled the team on what gear is most essential when heading out on a camping trip. Our list is primarily geared towards car camping, which allows for more (and heavier) gear. But even backpackers will want to grab some of the equipment listed below before heading out on their treks.

We touched on some camping basics in an episode of Travel Talk, but now we’re going to help you pack everything you need before you leave the city (or suburbs) behind.A roof above your head

When you think about camping, what’s the first image that pops into your mind? If you said, “Getting killed by Michael Myers,” then you’ve watched too many horror movies. Most likely, visions of tents pop into your head. While some people choose RVs or campers, most people hunker down for the night in a tent. There are countless tent manufacturers and styles from which to choose.

If you only plan to camp in pristine conditions and perhaps only once or twice a year, you can probably get away with a cheaper, less durable tent. However, investing in a good tent ensures that you will have it for years to come. Meaning that it will have a chance to eventually pay for itself in the enjoyment that it provides over time.

For your large tent needs, the Big Agnes Big House 6 is phenomenal. With 90 square feet of space, you won’t be piled on top of your friends and it’s good for gathering the whole group together for a game of UNO if it rains. Add the optional vestibule and you’ll have a total of 154 square feet of space, meaning you can keep all of your gear close by and covered. For more information, read the full Gadling review of the Big Agnes Big House 6.

For two person trips, the Mountain Hardwear Raven 2 has plenty of room and is fantastically lightweight (only five pounds). Meaning that it’s also a terrific option for trekking. With two doors, two dry-entry vestibules and a color-coded pole system, the Raven 2 is easy-to-use and sacrifices nothing with its light weight.

Both of the tents recommended above come with a rain fly included. Rain flies are essential for keeping you and your gear dry in inclement weather. We also recommend purchasing a footprint for your tent to provide an additional layer of material between you and the ground.

Sleep like a mummy

Once it’s time for bed, you’ll want to curl up in something warm. A comfortable sleeping bag along with a quality pad will help you forget that you’re far away from your expensive Swedish sleep system. Sleeping bags are rated by the minimum temperature at which you would still be safe from the elements. If you are a casual camper planning on camping only in the spring and summer, there is no need to shell out the money for a 0° bag. You want comfort for the conditions in which you will be camping. Anything beyond that will leave your wallet emptier and you sweatier.

The EMS Solstice Switchback 25/45 is my personal sleeping bag of choice. It has thicker insulation on one side, meaning it can keep you warm should you elect to use it during the shoulder seasons or in the midst of an unexpected cold snap. The less insulated side is more than warm enough for your typical summer evenings in the woods.

If you plan to take your significant other into nature with you, you’ll enjoy The North Face’s Twin Peaks two-person sleeping bag. More than warm enough (it’s 20° rated), it allows for a little romance and coziness in the wild. If you’re joining a group on an excursion, an invitation to share your Twin Peaks may be the perfect way to escalate things with a new friend. The extra size does mean that it’s significantly heavier than other packs, but you won’t mind the weight once you get to the cuddling.

Under any sleeping bag, you will want to place a pad. The Big Agnes Air Core pad is durable, lightweight and doesn’t leave you winded after inflating it. If you prefer a pad that is self-inflating, the Big Agnes Hinman pad is incredibly comfortable. It even comes in a double-wide (50″) size which is perfect for pairing with The North Face Twin Peaks bag.

Let there be light

Your bladder doesn’t care what time it is. Come nightfall, that walk to the bathroom facility (or into the deeper woods) is going to be pitch black. Campfires provide some light, but they sit in one spot and burn out once you call it a day. Portable light sources keep you safe and also allow you to enjoy time in your tent before falling asleep.

Headlamps keep your hands free to cook dinner, do emergency repairs on your gear or simply unzip your pants. The Black Diamond Cosmo headlamp is perfect for the casual camper or the hardcore outdoorsman. It offers three brightness settings so that you don’t accidentally blind your tentmates.

If you prefer a good old-fashioned flashlight, the Gerber Option 60 may be the last flashlight you ever purchase. It’s water-resistant, bright, lightweight and can take AA, AAA or CR123 batteries. It can handle being dropped and is sturdy enough to use as a weapon should someone try to steal the last hot dog.

When it comes time to retire to your tent to study maps of hiking trails or simply talk with your companions, a lantern is the best lighting option. The Black Diamond Apollo lantern is small yet powerful enough to illuminate even the largest tents. It’s easy to pack and its collapsible loop makes hanging it from your tent a cinch.

Chow time

Plenty of campers cook all of their meals on an open fire. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that, though it does add an element of danger and diminishes the control you have on the cooking conditions. If you want to make some eggs for breakfast or brew some coffee without singeing your fingers, you’ll want to pack a camping stove.

A camping grill with one stove top will provide you with all of the flexibility that you’ll need when cooking outdoors. The Brunton Profile Duo can whip up a full breakfast, lunch and dinner even if you can’t get that campfire started. At only ten pounds, it’s easy to pack and can burn for an hour-and-a-half on a single gas tank. It provides a spacious grill and a sturdy burner to meet all of your cooking needs. Obviously, you’ll need to pack a propane or butane tank (or two) to power the grill.

As far as what cookware you’ll use on that grill, it all comes down to how persnickety you are with your pots and pans. I have never used a dedicated camping cookware set. I’ve always packed one pot and one pan from home. However, if you are going to be cooking on the fire, using a cookset with a removable handle will save you from having to worry about ruining your home cookware and scalding your hands.

When it’s time to eat, there may be no better camping utensil than then Light My Fire XM Spork. It’s heat resistant, doesn’t melt, won’t scratch your cookware, comes in an array of colors and it’s a spork that has a serrated knife edge on one its fork prongs! It works perfectly with Sea to Summit’s X Bowl and X Plate. Both are collapsible, which makes them easy to store and perfect for car camping or backpacking. They’re the right size for hearty meals by the fire, easily rinse clean and can take a pretty good beating.

Safety first

Never go camping without a first aid kit. It’s that simple. The Adventure Medical Kit Ultralight/Watertight .9 has all the basics and then some should something go wrong on your trip. We cannot stress enough that a first aid kit is a must-have when camping.

Bug spray is another necessity. Ben’s Insect Repellents keep mosquitoes, ticks and other potentially disease-carrying bugs at bay. They do, however, contain DEET. If you’re not a fan, there are plenty of DEET-free alternatives out there. Like first aid kits, bug spray is a must-have. Whatever your brand or chemical preferences, be sure to pack some kind of repellent to be safe.

In that same vein, you’ll want to pack enough sunscreen to last you the weekend. Something waterproof if you plan to enjoy a nearby lake or will be sweating while you hike. Shoot for something SPF 30 or higher for proper protection.

If you’re in bear country, be sure to bring gear to suspend your food above your site. Regardless of wildlife, pack containers to seal up any food and be sure to keep perishables on ice in a cooler.

Whether you’re simply driving in multiple cars on the way to the campsite or splitting up on a hike, maintaining the ability to communicate outside of civilization is critical. A couple of sets of Motorola Talkabout MR350R two-way radios will ensure that your whole party can stay in touch even when cellphones lose signal. With a 35-mile range in optimal conditions, 22 channels, 11 emergency weather channels and 121 privacy codes, these two-way radios will allow you to find an unused channel for communication and track any storms that may be heading your way. 10-4, good buddy.

Pack a pack

The benefit of car camping is that your entire car becomes your pack. However, for the day hikes and short treks that you’ll be taking on your camping trips, you’ll want a solid pack to carry your water bottles, lunch and that first aid kit we talked about. The Black Diamond Nitro pack is comfortable, sturdy and big enough for a day spent away from camp. Available in 22 liter and 24 liter sizes, it’s spacious while not being unwieldy.

Since hydration is key and you won’t have a faucet handy, you always want to have water with you while you’re at camp and when you set out for the day’s activities. The Camelbak Octane 18X hydration pack can carry up to two liters of water while also providing 18 liters of storage space for snacks, trails maps and the Cabbage Patch Kid that you’ve taken everywhere since you were six.

Odds & ends

Any list of camping gear could go on forever. You can truly pack just about anything and make the case for why you need it in the wild. But these items will be handier than others:

A good multi-tool is great for minor gear repairs and saves you from having to pack an entire toolkit. The Leatherman Juice S2 is a pocket-sized dynamo that even the most casual of campers will enjoy. It may not have all of the bells and whistles of its big brothers, but it has scissors, screwdrivers, pliers and a can opener. All of which may come in handy when you’re roughing it for the weekend.

Do not leave home without several books of matches, a couple of lighters and, if you really want to cover all of your bases, a DOAN Magnesium Firestarters Tool. Unless you want to spend half of your trip rubbing sticks together, you need to pack your own fire.

Creature comforts

Beyond the essentials listed above, you can certainly customize your trip to make it more comfortable. To take your trip to the next level, you may also want to pack these treats:

A camping/travel pillow goes a long way towards making your sleep more restful. The Therm-a-Rest Compressible Pillow significantly enhances the comfort level of your sleeping bag and pad setup.

Camping chairs provide more places to sit around the fire and, more importantly, dry spots to sit after a rain.

A camping hammock turns your campsite into a resort. Not in the mood to go for a swim or exhausted after a hike? Steal a nap on the Eagles Nest Outfitters Double Nest Hammock. At only 22 ounces, it’s easy to pack but holds up to 400 pounds.

Camping is about keeping things simple, so don’t go too overboard with the gear. Pack the essentials, be safe and then get out there. If you enjoy camping, then you know that adaptability is key. Follow our suggestions and you’ll be able to handle nearly any situation that comes your way and enjoy your time away from modern life.

Oh, we do have three more items that are 100% necessary for any camping trip: graham crackers, chocolate and marshmallows. But those should go without saying.

What are your favorite pieces of camping gear? Did we leave out any essential items? Share your thoughts on camping equipment, suggestions about gear and tips in the comments below!

Ten “must have” road trip safety products

Road trips are a fantastic way to see the country – I’ve covered thousands of miles driving to my destination instead of flying – and while the experience may lack the relaxing time on board the plane, it also lacks the hassles of trying to actually get on the plane.

When you are in the air, you can rely on the flight crew to assist you if something goes wrong, but when you are on your own covering the roads, you’ll need to rely on your own ingenuity and some technology. In this lineup, you’ll find ten “must have” products that could help you stay safe on the road.

(Photo from Gadling Flickr pool member ohad*)
GPS + points of interest

A GPS on its own isn’t enough to keep you safe. If you plan to use the GPS in an emergency, you’ll also need to know how to operate it. Don’t count on reading the manual when it is too late. There are some simple steps you can take to ensuring your GPS won’t make you lose your way. For starters – always try to keep the maps on the unit up to date. New maps will cost about $100. Learn how to enter and pick locations, and spend some time with the various detour options.

Also, consider manually adding “points of interest” to your unit. Not every GPS has an extensive database of locations, and in many units, you can download and transfer these locations yourself.

And finally, don’t consider your GPS to be the final word in your routing. If you are on the highway, and it suddenly tells you to take the next exit towards the middle of nowhere – think for a moment and decide whether the unit could be mistaken. Check out our other tips on GPS safety.

SPOT mobile satellite messenger

You think the coverage on your mobile phone is weak where you live? Try coverage in the middle of nowhere. It isn’t hard to find yourself in an area with zero coverage on any of the major mobile operators. A satellite messenger beacon is by no means a necessity for your average road trip, but if you plan to do some off-roading, or head 100’s of miles into a national park, the $150 investment may be a wise one.

These beacons can summon emergency services, relay your GPS position to friends and family, and even send messages telling people you are alright.

AAA Membership

The AAA membership is a tricky one – because a lot of people think it is a waste of money. Those are people who have never had to call for an expensive tow. The low fee of a AAA membership makes it the perfect roadtrip safety product. Not only will your membership cover the cost of a tow, AAA also offers additional services like traffic ticket assistance and check cashing.

Plus, the membership can get you some nice discounts at hotels and car rental locations.

Winter gear

If your roadtrip takes you anywhere through an area where there is a chance of snow, be sure to carry some winter gear. This doesn’t stop at a snow brush and ice scraper – it also means warm clothing, some water/supplies and anything else you need to get you through the possibility of becoming stranded.

Window hammer/seat belt cutter

This is another of those $10 accessories that could save your life. A window hammer is what you’ll need to break the windows of your vehicle should it become impossible to open your doors. If your car falls underwater, you’ll need the hammer to get out.

Paper maps

Think back to how we all navigated ten years ago – remember paper maps? They didn’t come with spoken turn by turn directions, but they also won’t let you down if technology fails you (and it will sooner or later).

On a long road trip, you won’t need a town level map, but a comprehensive major road map can be a great backup to carry in your vehicle. Combine a map with a good old compass, and you’ve got yourself a fail-safe navigation aid.

Compressor/jumpstarter

This is a personal favorite – because it has really saved me several times. For about $70, your local auto store or super store will sell you a 3-in-1 air compressor/battery booster/power pack. If you screw up, and drain your battery in the middle of nowhere, a pair of booster cables are only going to help if there is someone else around to boost you.

The portable power pack has an internal battery and its own booster cables. Simply turn the unit on, hook it up to your car and start your vehicle. You don’t always have to carry it in your car, but when you head out on a long trip, I’d recommend finding a spot for it in the trunk.

Don’t fall for those $20 battery units that plug into your car power socket – you need something with more juice than that. The added bonus of a compressor means you can keep your tires at their correct pressure, or even add some air to the spare tire, as they tend to be on the low side any time you actually need them.

Car safety/first aid kit

Often overlooked, basic safety products like a first aid kit are just as important as maps. Your local warehouse store usually sells comprehensive safety kits for under $30, containing everything you need to help yourself in a (minor) emergency. Be sure to carry a first aid kit, and to refresh it before its contents go out of code.

Products like band-aids won’t have the same shelf life as those you keep inside your home as the heat in your car will spoil them pretty quickly.

Fire extinguisher

This is another cheap product nobody should travel without. A car rated fire extinguisher won’t cost more than $20, and can be a real life saver for yourself, or others in trouble.

Don’t just carry the extinguisher – make sure you know how to operate it in an emergency. Pay close attention to the instructions, or check the Internet for video clips on how to correctly use one.

Mobile phone chargers

Help! Smoke! Fire! Car stolen! Sure – the actual risk of your car being “inaccessible” is small. But think about the hassles of not being able to charge your phone in your car. Always pack one or two backup phone chargers in your bag. Chargers are so cheap nowadays that you should have no excuse for not being able to charge your phone anywhere you are. Better yet, carry a battery backup pack which allows you to charge your phone without a power outlet.