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Backcountry Essentials: First Aid and Survival

This article was published May 2013 in the "Backcountry Safety" column of the Hunt Alaska Magazine.

Story and Photos by Jon Hunt

After hours of glassing the panoramic Franklin Bluffs, I was anxiously awaiting the opportunity for a spot-and-stalk on the elusive Porcupine Caribou herd.  It seemed that the only productive creatures around were the mosquitoes that were incessantly feeding on my blood.  I couldn’t help but wonder: is this how the Egyptians felt during the plague of flies in Exodus 8:21.

Suddenly, a haze covering much of the distant horizon caught my attention.  Unsure of what to make of this odd phenomenon, I rubbed my eyes and returned to glassing.   Eventually, I realized that this was not the blur from my mosquito netting but rather a distant dust cloud caused by the caribou herd frantically galloping along the braided gravel banks of the Sag.

I jumped to my feet, and in my haste to sprint ahead of the herd I quickly grabbed my bow and pack.  Pausing momentarily, I glanced at my .44, questioning, as I have often done, “is it worth the hassle of taking this heavy pistol with me?”  I hesitantly left the 7.5” barreled Ruger behind.  After a few miles of jugging through the tundra, I was able to strategically place myself in the midst of what eventually felt like a National Geographic video.  Hooves pounded the gravel, water splashed, and echoes of snorting and labored breathing surrounded me.  What an extraordinary experience!  I felt fortunate to experience this scene of nature unbridled, and doubly blessed because I also was able to harvest my first archery bull that year.  What I was most grateful for, though, was that I had not needed the .44 that day to protect myself.

I tell this story only to highlight the point that hunters often compromise safety for the sake of weight, size, or bulk.  Just as I left my .44 behind, many of us may make the mistake of leaving first aid and survival gear at camp or home.  Just as your sidearm is worthless if not strapped on you, so also is your first aid kit of little value if it’s left in your truck.

The frequent challenge many hunters have is keeping your kit of essential items small enough that you will still bring it along.  A second daunting task can be figuring out what specific items are essential to keep on you.  Having the perfect and comprehensive kit does you no good when you don’t have it with you.  I strongly suggest that you have the kit in your pocket, or attached to you.  This is most helpful in case you are separated from your gear, perhaps the most common precipitating factor that leads to hunters in distress.

The following information is a list of the contents that I pack in my Backcountry Kit, as well as a brief explanation as to why the item is included.  Notice this kit is a combination of both first aid and survival supplies that I always carry on me.  Rarely is there a trip where the kit is untouched.  It is intended to be small and lightweight, carrying only items that are hard to improvise in the field.  Depending on the people I am with, season, duration, and location of the hunt, I may slightly adjust the contents, but this is the basic kit:

  • CONTAINER: 420 Denier Nylon Bag, 9” x 6”, with waist strap, by Loksak.
  • FIRST AID CONTENTS: (waterproof 9" x 6" sealed bag, by aLOKSAK)
  • QuikClot Silver, 25 mg, by Z-MEDICA. Qty: 1 -Stop severe bleeding with antibacterial ionic silver.
  • Nitrile Medical Gloves, disposable. Qty: 1 pair -Field dressing game, medical emergencies
  • Medical Tape, .5" x 5 yards. Qty: 1 -Bandaging dressings
  • Adhesive Bandages, 1" x 3". Qty: 3 -General adhesives for cuts, reduce infection
  • Adhesive Knuckle Bandage, 1.5" x 3". Qty: 2 -General adhesives for knuckle cuts
  • Adhesive Fingertip Bandages, 1.75" x 2". Qty: 1 -General adhesives for fingertip cuts, reduce infection
  • Povidone-Iodine Swab. Qty: 3 -Wound cleansing
  • BZK Wipes. Qty: 2 -Antibacterial cleansing towelette
  • Gauze Pad, 2" x 2". Qty: 2 -Sterile dressing
  • Safety Pins. Qty: 2 -Multi-purpose
  • Tweezers, 1.5", protective tube, by Adventure Medical Kits. Qty: 1 -Remove foreign objects
  • Wound Closure Strips, Pkg./10, by Dukal -Non-invasive wound closure, it needs adhesive to stick
  • Topical Adhesive. Qty: 2 -Used to secure the wound closure strips
  • Glacier Gel, by Adventure Medical Kits. Qty: 2 -Blister/burn treatment dressings, durable adhesive
  • Fingernail Clippers. Qty: 1 -Trim nail injuries, cutting tool


  • Lubricant Eye Drops, sterile, by TheraTears. Qty: 4 pack -Eye irrigation
  • Triple Antibiotic Ointment, .5 g packet. Qty: 2 -Wound treatment
  • Anti-histamine, 25 mg Diphenhydramine HCl, 1/packet. Qty: 4 -Severe allergic reactions
  • Anti-diarrhea, 262 mg Bismuth Subsalicylate, 2/packet. Qty: 3 -Diarrhea relief, avoid dehydration
  • Ibuprofen, 200 mg each, 2/packet. Qty: 3 -Reduce swelling/pain
  • Aspirin, 325 mg, 2/packet. Qty: 1 -Heart attack
  • Electrolyte Tablets, 2/packet. Qty: 1 -Rehydration
  • Aleve, 220 mg Naproxen, 1/packet. Qty: 4 -Pain relief

 SURVIVAL CONTENTS (waterproof 9" x 6" sealed bag, by aLOKSAK)

  • Piranta-Edge Knife, w/ 1 replaceable blade, by Havalon. Qty: 1 -Field dressing game, sharp edge (can’t be carry-on luggage)
  • Pico Zipper LED Flashlight, by e-Gear. Qty: 1 -Compact emergency light, 10 lumen, 1 oz
  • UCO Stormproof Matches, by Industrial Revolution. Qty: 12 -Bombproof matches (not allowed by TSA. If flying to my destination I pack the Sparkie, by Ultimate Survival Technologies.)
  • Match Case, 3" orange/plastic, waterproof, by Coghlan's -Holds 12 matches plus striker. Qty: 1
  • Flagging Tape (roll), orange, approximately 15'. Qty: 1 -Mark trail, signaling device
  • Duct Tape (roll), 2" x 50", by Adventure Medical Kits. Qty: 1 -When all else fails…
  • Parachute Cord, approximately 12'. Qty: 1 -Shelter, hang meat, secure items, etc.
  • Water Germicidal Tablets, bottle/50 tablets, by Coghlan's. Qty: 1 -Iodine based, makes most water safe to drink, fast acting
  • Water Bottle, 1 L Platy SoftBottle, by Platypus. Qty: 1 -Collapsible, lightweight water storage
  • Mosquito Repellent Wipes, 30% deet, .12 oz, by Ben's. Qty: 2 -Compact repellent for desperate moments
  • Starter 1-2-3 Compass, by Silva. Qty: 1 -Compact and reliable compass with baseplate
  • Emergency Blanket, 84" x 52", by Dynarex. Qty: 1 -Shelter, first aid, signaling, ground cloth, etc.
  • Whistle, Rescue Howler, by Adventure Medical Kits. Qty: 1 -Fox 40 signaling whistle
  • Zip Tie, two 4" and two 8". Qty: 4 -Secure items
  • Sunscreen Pouch, 30 SPF. Qty: 1 -Reduce burns from snow, water and sun

I’ll be the first to admit that the list is long, but you will be surprised how small (9”x6”x2.5”) and light (19oz) it packs!  Of course, you can always add more to this list, but that’s a conversation for another day.

The importance of ensuring that you always have some basic survival and first aid gear on your person cannot be stressed enough.  Most hunters would agree in theory, yet often fail to follow through with putting this safety rule into practice.  One other thing to keep in mind is that first aid/survival items are no good to you if you don’t know how to use them.   As the Boy Scout Motto proclaims, “Be Prepared!”

Jon Hunt, an avid hunter and fisherman, is an Alaska resident and licensed Wilderness First Responder.  He is the owner of Frontier Safety And Supply, which offers training in Wilderness First Aid, CPR/AED and Standard First Aid.  The company also offers a web-store that sells first aid kits, survival gear, emergency preparedness supplies and high-end outdoor products.  Visit the store at: or call Jon at (907) 301-5155.