The 6 Best First Aid Kits
Which first aid kit is the best choice for the outdoor enthusiast? We researched over 60 models and put the top 6 to the test. We carried them on alpine climbing routes, multi-day backpacking trips, commercial guiding expeditions, and road trips into the mountains and trails of California, Washington, and British Columbia. We evaluated them based on the following criteria: quality and usefulness of the components, durability and design of the bag, versatility, and weight. Ultimately, getting the proper training in wilderness medicine is what results in both the best use of the materials and good decision making during a wilderness emergency. Read on to see which kit you should pick up, whether it is an outdoor adventure or a family road trip.
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Updated August 2017
This spring, our experts put six new contenders to the test, taking these kits with them everywhere they went. During our update, we discovered that REI is no longer selling their brand, which has changed since our last review. We have a new Editors' Choice winner, the Surviveware Small, while the Adventure Medical Kits take the cake in the other arenas.
Best Overall First Aid Kit
The Surviveware Small won our Editors' Choice award for being the best all-around first aid kit. It's small enough to take out on a day trip, yet has enough tools to support a multi-day remote trip as long as the group size is not too large. It comes with high-quality tools and a good assortment of supplies for an overnight kit. Coming in a very rugged carrying case that keeps the supplies well-organized, it is easy to find what you are looking for and keep your bag from becoming cluttered. We also like the small removable CPR kit, a feature that makes this kit handy for people on short walks away from camp or the car as well.
Read full review: Surviveware Small
Best Bang for the Buck
Adventure Medical Kits Adventure 2.0
Our Best Bang for Buck Award goes to the Adventure Medical Kits Adventure 2.0. This medium weight kit is small enough to be taken on day trips but well-equipped to be taken on an overnight hike or put in the back of a car for emergencies. It has enough tools to deal with many common small problems, and with quality supplies and included over the counter medications it is quite useful to the average consumer. For the price, the value cannot be overstated, and although there were a few places we saw room for improvement, they are easy fixes and still keep this kit at an incredibly low price.
Not too heavy for backpacking
Great value to cost ratio
No CPR mask
Read full review: Adventure Medical Kits Adventure 2.0
Top Pick for Day Hiking and Lightweight Adventures
Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight/Watertight .7
One of the most often carried kits by far, as well as our reviewers' favorite, is the Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight/Watertight .7. This kit is so light you can take it anywhere, and you'll never even notice it until you need it. We gave it our Top Pick award because of its useful components and lightweight packaging; it's small enough to fit in a day pack and light enough to carry on rock climbs, mountain bike rides, or trail runs. The contents are basic and ideal for 1-2 people for day hikes or short overnight trips. The big advantage of this model is its simplicity — there is essentially zero additional ounces in the packaging, which is made of lightweight silicone-impregnated nylon with one small watertight zipper. This outer case sheds moisture in a light drizzle and keeps the inner case protected and free from tears.
Only good for smaller groups
Low quantities of components
Read full review: Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight/Watertight .7
Analysis and Test Results
Ideally, a first aid kit is something that you always carry but never have to use. In reality, a backcountry user will inevitably encounter a variety of instances that require the use of these supplies. Day hikers who are close to their cars and front country healthcare facilities can get by with a smaller model for blister treatments and small cuts and scrapes, whereas an overnight traveler hiking far from a trailhead requires a larger assortment of tools to treat the various injuries and illnesses that might occur. There is a wide range in size, shape and usefulness when it comes to this product. The biggest factors in deciding which one to buy are the remoteness of your location, the type of trip you are taking, the length of your trip, and the size of your group. Basically, the longer the trip and/or the larger the group, the bigger your kit will need to be. Luckily, if you're traveling with a large group, you'll be able to share that group weight accordingly.
Much of the value of a kit is in the layout, durability, and construction of the bag. You'll need to resupply your bag any time it gets used, so selecting one with a durable design is a key consideration.
Types of First Aid Kits
We've broken down the different types of kits into five main categories: expedition models, overnight models, day use models, car based models, and home based models. To understand more about the differences, visit our Buying Advice Guide for a list of what products we like to see in each of the above types of kits. If you're planning on building a kit from scratch, or want to be sure that the next model you buy contains all the essential supplies, you'll also find that in our Buying Advice. It includes the details for the basic elements that we like to carry into the backcountry, as well as suggestions for emergency supplies to be kept in your car or home. While these kits may come in a variety of types, we reviewed them using the same basic criteria to evaluate their performance on their own and against each other, which you'll find below.
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. We then tallied up each score, which you can find in the chart below.
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. 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 and Surviveware models had the highest quality components, which corresponded to their kits winning all three of our award categories. 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 looked at contain supplies made in China, there seemed to be a big range of quality in these medical supply manufacturers. Although Adventure Medical uses products made in China, we found that their kits, in particular, offered higher quality products from a reputable manufacturer. Thus, Adventure Medical's kits seemed to have better quality control than others like I Go or TripWorthy, and we saw that quality apparent in the Adventure 2.0 and Ultralight/Watertight .7 kits, as well as in our Editors' Choice Survivewear Small, which earned the highest score of the bunch. To gain a better understanding of the quality found in a particular kit, as well as the contents, we'd recommend reading the individual review.
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 to us. 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 stream-lined overnight kits would fare. To measure usefulness, the majority of our kits weighed between 8 and 22 ounces (one was three pounds and 326 pieces).
Each model was scored on how useful the components were in a wilderness medicine situation. Here again, the Surviveware led the pack with useful items, like hospital grade trauma shears and fine point tweezers, and not a lot of extra items that didn't serve much purpose. Kits that were heavy on the bulky dressings and wound closure strips, though did not include any over the counter medications or blister kits did not rate as highly as those kits that had a much more even ratio of supplies. We found that 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.
While it was a quality concern for the kits whose cold compresses did not work, such as the Adventure Medical Kits Adventure 2.0, we also noted that the kits with weighty additions like pressure-activated compresses did not increase the overall usefulness, since they could be readily replaced with things like stuff sacks full of snow or bandanas dipped in mountain streams. Try to balance the need to bring the kitchen sink and treat things with specialized items with being resourceful.
How many people you plan on serving with your first aid kit will also need to be a 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 very small group, but would pale in comparison to the usefulness of a deeper kit like the AMK Adventure 2.0 when traveling in a group of 3 or 4. When going out with larger groups, make sure you are bringing enough supplies. We will 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 will be 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 will rely on during an emergency.
Organizations may require that inventories are done after each trip; most recreational users will probably find that an unrealistic standard to follow, but 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.
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 most 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.
Repackage groups of supplies together in ziplock bags, so that in the event of submersion, or a tube of an antibiotic ointment explosion, the contents are protected and the mess is contained.
The contents of the bag need to be durable as well, 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.
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 had the highest rating 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. Too often we found dozens of bandages and alcohol wipes, 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 I Go and TripWorthy were the least versatile of the small kits, and we found ourselves consistently swapping out tape, tools and medications from more quality kits such as the Adventure Medical Kits Adventure 2.0 or the Surviveware Small in order to feel more confident in our abilities to effectively provide treatments.
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 take along.
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 will actually need and use. Once we were done testing all the individual kits on their own, we experimented combining elements of each kit that we liked the most on our own personal trips. Not surprisingly, we decided that by buying both the Surviveware Small kit as well as the Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight/Watertight .7, two kits that were already award winners, that we could combine them for a great extended overnight kit, or take just the small kit but bring along the supplies that the Ultralight/Watertight .7 lacks, such as trauma shears and a CPR mask.
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 happen 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 day pack, which was the shortest test scenario for our review.
Some kits like the I Go were quite light but were filled with unnecessary or bulky supplies that undermined their usefulness. While right in the middle at 13.6 ounces the Surviveware kit because of how much you can actually do with it for little extra weight. 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.
If you're mostly on a river or car camping, then a heavier or bulkier model will work just 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. Most of the overnight models we looked at were of similar size, as there is only so small you can go without being too 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 or AMK Adventure 2.0 to the slim AMK Ultralight/Watertight .7- though be careful how light you go before you lose all usefulness.
If are a backcountry adventurer, day hiker or car camper, at some point in your outdoor adventures you may find a need for first aid, whether it is for yourself or someone in your group, or even a stranger you encounter on the trail. Obviously, we hope this never occurs to you, but being prepared for unfortunate cases of illness or injury should be a top priority for everyone. Ranging in size and content, not all kits in this review are created equally. We hope that our evaluations have helped to clarify what type of kit you need based on your intended applications. Check out our Buying Advice article for more details on the different type of kits available.
— Ryan Huetter
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