Gas up the car. Check. Top up oil and make sure tires are inflated. Check, check. Pack up holiday gear, suitcases and food-for-the-road hamper. Triple-check. Stow first-aid kit. Oops.
While most people setting off on a summer road trip might think to pack some adhesive bandages, sunscreen and bug repellent, a fully equipped first-aid kit often never even makes it onto the travel planning list.
But public health and safety experts say that omission can be a big mistake.
“Minor injuries or emergencies can happen at any time and I think it’s part of being prepared,” Dr. Gerry Predy, senior medical officer of health for Alberta Health Services, says of carrying a comprehensive first-aid kit in one’s vehicle or while camping and hiking, especially in remote areas.
“And particularly in the summer, if people are doing a lot of outdoor activities, there is more chance of twisting your ankle or getting a scrape,” he says.
“So in order to prevent those kinds of injuries getting worse or stabilizing them until you can get to a source of medical care, a first-aid kit is invaluable.”
For instance, says Predy, a properly equipped first-aid kit can provide the essential tools to treat minor injuries, stop bleeding and reduce the risk of serious infection.
He advises that a watertight first-aid kit for home and vehicle should contain:
• Antibiotic ointment, alcohol wipes, Q-tips and liquid soap
• Acetaminophen for fever and pain; ibuprofen for inflammation
• Adhesive bandages and gauze pads in various sizes; splints
• Single-edged razor blades or scalpel blades and handle
• Chemical ice pack
• Tweezers, safety pins and scissors; non-allergenic medical tape, duct tape
• Needle and thread, pen, pencil, paper and a whistle
• Foil blanket
• First aid instruction booklet, non-latex medical gloves
• Flashlight, extra batteries
Predy says those are just the basics.
Depending on the activity, other items may be needed.
For example, a first-aid kit for back-country camping should include an unbreakable mirror for signalling for help, a water purifier, and a thermometer to check for fever in case someone falls ill.
“We’re also advising a cellphone, which if you’re in a remote area might not work.” he says.
“But certainly if you’re driving most of the major routes and get into trouble, a cellphone would be the way to get help.”
Rob Fraser, Ottawa-based product manager for St. John Ambulance, says the organization sells a variety of kits stocked with first-aid essentials based on different activities.
“We have kits that are all sizes and shapes,” says Fraser.
“For people who are on the go or if they’re camping or hiking, aside from having a more complete kit in the camper, if they’re biking or hiking, we do have a fanny-pack first-aid kit that is quite lightweight and can address immediate injury.”
Along with adhesive bandages for minor cuts and scrapes, the kits contain medical supplies for more serious injuries — pressure bandages and larger pads to cover and protect wounds, eye shields in case of an eye injury, and a CPR face shield to prevent disease transmission.
While scissors are primarily meant for cutting bandages to size and snipping tape, those in the St. John Ambulance kits are also strong enough to cut through a seatbelt in the event someone is trapped in a vehicle after a crash.
“Many of these items have multiple uses,” agrees Predy.
“A chemical ice pack used to cool soft drinks could be used to reduce the swelling of a broken leg.”
Still, Fraser says having a first-aid kit on hand is only a first step — it also helps to know how to use what’s inside.
“It’s definitely ideal for people to combine first-aid training with a first-aid kit,” says Fraser, whose 125-year-old-plus organization provides courses for schools, companies and individuals through about 500 community offices across Canada.
The bottom line, says Fraser, is to be prepared to respond if someone is hurt.
“It could be on the soccer field. It could be while you’re biking. It could be you’re walking along the sidewalk and there’s a car accident on the corner,” he says. “Injuries can happen anywhere.”