Hiking First Aid Kit Essentials – Fish River Canyon

Hiking First Aid Kit Essentials


Ever since I started with multi-day hiking, the question of what should be in a hiking first aid kit has been in the back of my mind. While I have done my share of research online, I have never quite found an article or blog that comprehensively answers this question for me. This is an unusually long post, but I am hoping that you will find it an interesting and thought provoking read.

Disclaimer: This Blog Does Not Provide Medical Advice

This blog post, including, but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material contained therein is for informational purposes only. The purpose of this blog post is to provide information on various topics relating to hiking and first aid kits. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care treatment programme, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog post.


From the outset, I must add that I have received first aid training in South Africa and have been registered with the Health Professions Council of South Africa as a Basic Ambulance Assistant. I say this because when I prepare a first aid kit for a hike, I do so with the understanding that I will perform the duties as the self appointed hike medic, even though I may not be the only medically trained person in the hiking party. I tend to pack in medical supplies that I can use if and when someone else in the party needs emergency medical assistance.


Something else to be aware of is that the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) determines what first aid equipment and what medication may be administered to people who may require emergency care. As a Basic Ambulance Assistant, I would be able to use certain pieces of equipment, while a first aider would not. There is also a range of medical equipment and medication / drugs that I would not be able to use or administer to someone else. It is important that as a first aider and a medical professional that you only use procedures, equipment and medication / drugs for which you have been trained and that is within your protocol. In this post, I will indicate the equipment that should only be used by BAA medics or a higher medical qualification. These protocols or rules were put in place to protect the best interests of the patients being treated. This however does not mean that a diabetic without a medical qualification cannot use his or her own glucometer or that an asthmatic cannot use his or her own inhaler on themselves.


The issue of what should be in a first aid kit has become front of mind for me as I prepare to do the Fish River Canyon hike in Namibia again in May 2018. We are going to be 12 people in the hiking party with at least 1 other person with a similar level of emergency medical training as me. Through proper preparation, I am confident that if we experience a minor to moderate medical emergency in the canyon we will be able to deal with it as a team and have a successful outcome. The outcome of a major medical emergency may, due to our geographical position and time from a trauma hospital, be out of our hands.

First aid is a skill involving lots of improvisation and just doing what you can with what you have, at the time. It is also a good idea to have someone in the group who can make something out of nothing, like a real life ‘MacGyer’.What concerns me though is that we may not have the essential equipment for the given situation. My thinking is that we are going to be hiking through a canyon where advanced medical care is at least 12-24 hours or even days away. This means that even relatively minor medical problems could escalate over time and become life threatening.

I have not lost sight of the fact that whatever I include in my hiking first aid kit, I will have to carry on my back for the duration of the hike, which in our case will be 6 days. Therefore whatever I think should form part of the kit should first be evaluated, based on the following practical criteria:


  1.   Is it essential to the hike being undertaken?
  2.   Is it practical for use on a hike?
  3.   Is it the smallest version or quantity of what I need?
  4.   Is it the lightest version of what I need?


There is no cell phone reception in the Fish River canyon at all. Not having the ability to immediately call for help changes the game completely. To mitigate that potentially serious shortcoming, I will be looking into renting a satellite phone to carry with the group through the Fish River canyon. The alternative is to wait until someone has managed to hike out on one of the escape routes and to make contact with the first person they encounter, wherever and whenever that may be. I am told that there are only two ways out of the canyon; on foot (your own or on a stretcher) or by helicopter.

In order to get an idea of what should go into a hiking first aid kit, it is important to look at the most common hiking injuries and how they are normally treated whilst in the field. Obviously preventing such injuries would be the first prize, but if they were to occur, what first aid material or equipment would be necessary to be able to adequately treat such injuries in the field? I have put together a list of the most common hiking ailments and injuries. These ailments and injuries are echoed in many online articles that deal in some way or another with hiking first aid. This blog post does not deal in depth with how to treat such ailments and injuries, but focuses more on what first aid consumables and equipment you would need to have with you to treat such ailments and injuries.


  1.   Sunburn
  2.   Scalds & Burns
  3.   Blisters
  4.   Insect Bites
  5.   Snake Bites
  6.   Eye Injuries
  7.   Minor Abrasions & Cuts
  8.   Chaffing
  9.   Muscle Cramps & Aches
  10.   Sprains & Strains
  11.   Open & Closed Fractures
  12.   Nausea & Vomiting
  13.   Diarrhea & Constipation
  14.   Physical Exhaustion
  15.   Heat Illnesses
  16.   Hypothermia


1.   Sunburn

This may seem like a minor affliction, but a significant case of sunburn can turn an enjoyable hike into a miserable experience. Sunburn can be prevented by wearing long sleeve clothing and pants and by regularly applying sun screen, especially after a swim. Do not forget to protect your lips from the damaging effects of the sun. Invest in a good quality lip balm that includes a SPF. Lip Sano makes a lip balm with a SPF of 30.

If the sun has managed to subvert your precautionary measures, you can make use of an ‘after sun’ product or liquid Burnshield® Hydrogel to cool the burns.

It comes in various sizes, the most useful of which is the 50ml bottle.  Burnshield® Hydrogel also comes in a sachet and a burn dressing form.


First Aid Equipment Needed

Burn Shield Hydrogel, Burn Shield sachets, Lip Balm & various ‘after sun’ products.


2. Scalds & Burns

Part and parcel of any multi-day hike involves making food on some type of portable gas stove. The cooking pots balanced precariously on top of the stove contain anything from boiling water to pasta or something else delicious. The constant danger in working with a portable camping stove is that you may get burned by the open flame or scalded by the contents of the pot that tips over on top of you.

Depending on the severity of the burn, different treatments are required. This may include liberal amounts of Burn Shield on the minor burn wound to the application of a dry dressing to a more serious burn to prevent infection, after removing clothing from the affected area.

Don’t forget to try and cool the burn wound first by gently pouring water over the wound for at least 15-20 minutes. It might be easier to move your injured comrade to the waters edge to allow easy access to cool water to pour over the wound.

If clothing sticks to the burn wound, leave it in place and cover the wound with a dry sterile dressing to prevent infection. Be alert to the symptoms of shock and treat accordingly, by keeping the patient warm and comfortable and hydrated.

First Aid Equipment Needed

Burn Shield Hydrogel, Burn Shield sachets, Burn Shield bandages and dry sterile dressings


3. Blisters

This may seem like an inevitable injury associated with medium to long distance hiking, but it can be prevented with early detection and treatment. My wife and I have managed to complete several hikes without developing problematic blistering.

Some suggested ways to prevent a blister forming is to wear correctly sized boots/shoes that have been sufficiently worn in before a hike and to minimise the rubbing action between the sock and the skin of your foot. Your feet also need to be as dry as possible while walking. If excessive rubbing does occur, identify the so called ‘hot spots’ on your feet and tape them up with athletic tape or ‘moleskin’. This should prevent further rubbing and swelling.  You can also rub Vaseline on the areas of your feet that are prone to blistering. Moleskin is not generally available in South Africa, but Nexcare do make a very similar product that really seems to work.


First Aid Equipment Needed

Moleskin, Nexcare blister plasters

Here is a link to a website that sells a moleskin type product

4. Insect Bites

These insects would include mosquitoes, horse flies and bees, etc. To prevent being bitten or stung by insects on a hike, you could wear long sleeved clothing and loose fitting long trousers that are breathable. You could also apply an insect repellent like Tabard to ward off these pesky critters. There is some type of tiny fly in the Fish River Canyon that bites, sore. I am hoping to avoid them.

If you have been bitten or stung by an insect, an oral antihistamine can be taken to reduce the itchiness of the bites. What you don’t want is to scratch the bite site and cause it to become infected. A topical anti-bacterial cream should also be part of your first aid kit. I found a nice product at my local pharmacy which is an antiseptic spray with 5% tea tree oil and is said to provide relief for insect bites and stings. It can also be used to treat fungal infections, cuts and grazes, rashes and mild burns. A nice all round product with multiple uses and it’s a small 30 ml bottle.

If you have a moderate to severe allergy to an insect bite/sting ie bees, you must bring along the emergency medicine with you necessary to treat the allergic reaction, for example an EpiPen. Just remember that on a hike like the Fish River Canyon, you are several hours away from a hospital and one EpiPen may not be able to contain the anaphylaxis until you can get the help you need. You will need to bring at least two or more EpiPens with you to manage a single allergic reaction. That is not something I can afford to bring with me as they cost around R1000 each. I will just have to make sure that anyone in the hiking party that has a severe allergy has the necessary medication.


First Aid Equipment Needed

Antiseptic spray, Germolene cream



5. Snake Bites

The best treatment you can give for a snakebite is to get the person to the hospital where a doctor can treat the symptoms. If you are close to a hospital, instead of spending precious time treating the snakebite in the field, rather get the person to the hospital as quickly and as safely as possible.

If you are a few hours away from a hospital or doctor, there are a few things that you can do to help the person who has been bitten, but your main focus should still be to get the person to a hospital facility especially if the person is experiencing severe symptoms, ie difficulty with breathing. If the person stops breathing, you would need to make use of a bag valve mask to deliver rescue breaths to the person along with chest compressions (CPR).

Each person in your hiking party should have practiced knowledge of how to perform CPR. If they don’t, I challenge you as the first aider in the group or as an avid hiker to empower yourself and then teach everyone you hike with to be able to perform CPR correctly. It is an extremely tiring activity and the more people who can contribute and take over when someone is tired, the more successful the attempt to save that person’s life will be. 

If you call an ambulance, you can find out where they are travelling from and meet them halfway.  The ambulance will have the necessary equipment to stabilize the patient en route to hospital. In the Fish River Canyon, a helicopter extraction may be your only option, if the person is beginning to show significant symptoms of envenomation (the snake has successfully injected venom into the person’s body).

For further information on the treatment of snake bites, please visit my blog post on a Hikers’ Guide to Snake Encounters & Snakebites. This blog post will provide more information about the different types of snake venom and when to use a pressure bandage, like the Smart bandage and when not to.


First Aid Equipment Needed

Smart bandage, sterile gauze, *** Bag Valve Mask [BAA only or higher]

Note: You must not use tourniquets to treat snake bites. They can cause further harm.


6. Eye Injuries

This can occur relatively easily when moving through an area with low hanging branches or vegetation that grows to head height.

The eye should be flushed with a syringe containing saline solution or water that is clean enough to drink. The flushing should be as gentle as possible to prevent further injury to the eye. To protect the eye from further injury and dust, it should be covered with a gauze type pad and a semi rigid eye patch with an elastic strap to hold it in place. I purchased the Polyrinse product, depicted below, at Atlantic Medical Supplies.


First Aid Equipment Needed

Polyrinse product, Eye pads, Eye bath, Plastic Eye patch, 10 ml Syringe for irrigation (without a needle)



7. Minor Abrasions & Cuts

These type of injuries normally result from a temporary loss of balance and a fall or a physical encounter with a tree branch or a sharp rock.

They can again be prevented by wearing long sleeve clothing and long pants. Also the correct use of a trekking pole can provide you with a more stable hiking platform and should prevent you from losing your balance and falling.

Adequate treatment of a minor abrasion or cut on the trail would include cleaning the wound with antiseptic solution like Savlon and to place a plaster over the wound to prevent any infection. The wound should be monitored regularly for signs of reddening or swelling over the duration of the hike and treated for infection if it occurs. A suitable product to use on these types of minor small wounds is a waterproof occlusive plaster. It keeps the wound protected from infection, by keeping out water, dirt and germs.

First Aid Equipment Needed

Antiseptic solution, Anti-septic spray, Germolene, Water proof plasters




8. Chaffing

This type of injury is not something that one of your party will easily tell you about, but it can cause the person significant discomfort and take all the pleasure out of the hiking experience.

This type of injury can be prevented by wearing a pair of sports underwear that is made of a stretchy material that sits lower down on the thigh instead of wedged in the groin area where it can cause friction and skin irritability. You should also keep the area dry and clean.

Treatment could include the use of a Vaseline or aloe vera gel product. You could also apply talcum powder to the affected area to keep it dry.


First Aid Equipment Needed

Vaseline, Aloe Vera gel product, Talcum powder



9. Muscle Cramps & Aches

This injury usually raises its ugly head after a long day’s hiking in the hot sun and after you get into your bunk bed or tent or, in the case of the Fish, your river front plot. There is nothing like a strong muscle cramp in your hammy to get you up and out of bed, or off the ground, in a shot! Hopefully you were not sleeping on the bottom of a double bunk at the time.

Muscle cramps can be prevented by drinking enough water during the day and not just when you feel thirsty. Just as important as drinking enough water, is that you should also be eating food that is rich in magnesium, calcium and potassium.

Electrolyte replacement drinks, like Rehidrat Sport, are very effective in replacing the lost electrolytes. If you are susceptible to muscle cramps perhaps include a Magnesium supplement (eg ‘Slow Mag’) tablets in your backpack. Another effective treatment for muscle cramps is to mix a take-away sachet of salt into a glass of water and to drink that. Trail runners swear by the table salt sachet as a quick fix solution to muscle cramps.

It is perfectly normal to have tired and sore legs at the end of a long day on the trail. To ease the aches and pains, you can make use of a variety of products that profess to ease minor muscle aches and pains. The ones that I have found the most effective are Deep Heat, or Arnica Ice or a combination of both.


First Aid Equipment Needed

Rehidrat Sport sachets, Deep Heat muscle rub, Arnica Ice cream (not the edible kind!)



10. Sprains & Strains

This is an injury that can either be shaken off relatively quickly or it can stop a hiker dead in his or her tracks. It has a higher risk of occurring when the hiker is boldering or walking on an even surface.

The use of boots with ankle support and a trekking pole can usually prevent these types of injuries. Also take note that taking your eyes off the trail and turning your head to speak to someone walking behind you elevates your risk of mis-stepping and injuring yourself. True story!

The most effective ‘old school’ treatment of a twisted or sprained ankle is to get off it and rest it. This is however the one thing you probably cannot do on a multi day hike through the Fish River Canyon. Modern thinking is the complete opposite. If you are able to continue to walk you should as this will prevent the affected ankle from stiffening up and limiting movement of the ankle. Another treatment option is to ice the ankle, again not really a viable option on a multi day hike in a desert, unless you have an ice pack that works after being activated (cracked). New research is showing that the ice treatment should not be given for more than about 10-15 minutes and is mainly for pain management. The treatment that is available to you is probably limited to strapping the ankle (compression) and thereby providing support to the joint.

I found a a couple of products at my local pharmacy that can be used to strap the ankle and provide additional support to the joint. I put it on and it does provide relatively good support to the ankle, but it may need to be reinforced with another bandage.

It might also be a good idea to lighten the injured hiker’s backpack to lessen the pressure on the affected ankle. An oral anti-inflammatory can also be taken to reduce the swelling around the joint. However, swelling is not all bad, according to new thinking.

First Aid Equipment Needed

Instant Cold Compress pack, Ankle wrap, Knee guard, Ankle guard


11. Open & Closed Fractures

There is always a chance that a fall will not be limited to just an abrasion or a laceration, but may possibly result in a fracture. Splinting of a closed fracture can be done with equipment carried with you on the trail like a trekking pole, a pillow, a camping mattress, or even a branch cut from a tree. A purpose designed SAM splint may be more effective in stabilising the effective limb. I have been carrying a SAM splint with me on my last few hikes and fortunately have not had cause to use it yet. It must be said that they are quite bulky, although lightweight.

If you encounter a finger fracture or dislocation, an aluminium finger splint can be very useful or even a wooden tongue depressor, depending of the severity of the fracture / dislocation. I used to carry a single aluminium finger splint in my first aid kit, but have replaced it with 2 wooden tongue depressors.

I have recently purchased a set of green plastic splints that can be used individually for an arm or snapped together for a leg. The plastic is slightly heavier than the SAM splint so I may have to choose one type of splint over the other for Fish River, due to space and overall backpack weight considerations.


First Aid Equipment Needed

Rescue scissors, Splints (arm & leg), various sized bandaged to hold the splints in place, dry sterile dressings, wooden tongue depressors as finger splints.

I purchased the SAM splint, along with a number of my other medical supplies at Atlantic Medical Supplies in Table View.

You can find their website at:



12. Nausea & Vomiting

There are various causes of nausea and vomiting from eating some dodgy food, to a tummy bug to physical overexertion. Depending on how badly the affected hiker is feeling and whether or not he or she is actually vomiting, an anti-nausea tablet can be quite effective. If the nausea is more severe or as a result of physical overexertion, the hiker might find it difficult to swallow or keep the tablet down. This is where an anti-nausea suppository can be quite effective in treating the nausea. Vomiting is the bodies way of telling you that you have over done it. While it is not what you want to hear on a multi-day hike, if your fellow hiker is vomiting as a result of over exertion, he or she needs to rest more than anything else. That will require no small measure of patience from you and the rest of the hiking party to afford the ill hiker time to rest.

Vomiting can obviously lead to dehydration so it is important to keep the ill hiker hydrated and to replace lost electrolytes. If you are at a place that can facilitate a pick up, advise the hiker that he or she should probably call it a day and call for help. As far as the Fish River Canyon is concerned, you and the rest of the hiking team will need to keep the ill hiker hydrated and allow for more breaks along the trail so that he or she can regain some strength through rest.  It will also be a good idea to lighten the person’s backpack by sharing the contents with the rest of the group. That is why it is always a good idea not to pack your backpack to capacity in terms of space and weight, but to allow for some items and a couple of kilograms in weight in case you have to assist another hiker in your group.


First Aid Equipment Needed

Anti-nausea tablets & suppositories, Rehidrat Sport sachets



13. Diarrhea & Constipation

Both of these afflictions can lay any hiker low. Diarrhea can be a real concern if it persists and if the person loses valuable liquids and food at a faster rate than it can be replenished. If left untreated, diarrhea over a day or two can become a serious medical condition. Diarrhea goes hand (hopefully washed) in hand with dehydration.

Constipation can occur on a hike due to a change in diet and the lack of familiar and accessible toilet facilities. It can also occur as a result of dehydration.

Diarrhea can be treated with a product like Immodium while constipation can be treated with an over the counter laxative, like Senokot. These medicines should be part of any multi day hiking first aid kit.


First Aid Equipment Needed

Anti-diarrhea tablets (Immodium), laxative tablets (Senokot)


14. Physical Exhaustion

You can expect to feel tired and sore at the end of long day on the trail. This is perfectly normal. Even extremely fit people get tired and experience muscle ache, so I have heard. However when your body has been overexerted, usually without the necessary water, food or rest, or exposed to extreme heat, or a combination of all of the above, it will begin to protest by going on a ‘no pay no work’ strike. The only currency your body will accept is rest, and plenty of it. It is your body’s way of telling you that it cannot tolerate anymore physical activity and you need to stop and rest immediately. General body pain, weakness and vomiting are not uncommon symptoms of physical exhaustion.

Hikers who experience physical exhaustion can have a diminished awareness of their surroundings and are at risk of falling. As a hiking medic, you will need to be alert to these signs and symptoms.

This condition can be prevented by drinking a sufficient quantity of water and by wearing some sort of head gear (cap/hat). Take plenty of breaks out of the direct sunlight, if possible, and drink electrolyte replacement supplements like Rehidrat, at the end of the day’s hike. It helps the body to prepare and replenish itself for the following day. Rehidrat, or its equivalent, should form part of your usual hiking supplies and not just in your first aid kit.

Again the best treatment for exhaustion is rest, coupled with fluid replacement and a healthy meal. Make it a habit to drink water regularly during the day and do not wait until your get thirsty, because by then it is already too late.

First Aid Equipment Needed

Rehidrat, Drinking Water, Salt sachet



15. Heat Illnesses

Heat illnesses normally take two forms, one more serious than the other. Heat exhaustion can occur by being exposed to hot conditions or as a result of physical overexertion or a combination of both. Symptoms include nausea, thirst, dizziness, excessive sweating and a headache.

Move the hiker to shade if possible and lie them down with their feet slightly higher that their head. Remove clothing and cool the body down. On a previous hike in Fish River Canyon, one of our hiking party developed heat exhaustion after a particularly long day in the boiling hot sun. We took the hiker to the river and completely submerged her in the water and poured water over her head for about 20 minutes before her temperature began to return to within a normal range again.

Heat stroke is a more dangerous heat illness. This occurs when the body is no longer able to regulate its own temperature. Symptoms include a high temperature, red dry skin, headaches, dilated pupils, disorientation and loss of consciousness. Like heat exhaustion, treatment involves moving the person out of the heat and into shade and by pouring water of the person or immersing them in water in order to rapidly reduce the person’s body temperature, being careful not to induce hypothermia.

First Aid Equipment Needed

Thermometer, water source for cooling.



16. Hypothermia

Hypothermia occurs when the hiker’s body temperature drops as a result of exposure to a cold environment. This is often exacerbated by a lack of food, inadequate clothing and physical overexertion. The onset of hypothermia occurs when the body’s ability to produce heat is overtaken by the heat lost by the body. Symptoms include shivering, slow movements, lack of co-ordination, a blue colour around the person’s lips and nose, a difficulty talking and a loss of consciousness.

Treatment involves moving the person out of the inclement weather and removing wet clothing. The use of an emergency bivvy bag can be useful where no suitable shelter is readily available. Read my blog post on emergency bivvys for more detailed information. Replace wet clothing with dry clothing and wrap the person in an emergency space blanket or inside a sleeping bag. It is not advisable to rub the hiker to restore circulation or place the person in front of a fire. If the person’s body temperature does not respond and begin to normalise after the above treatment, consider putting someone in the sleeping bag with the hiker to raise their body heat in that way.

An important piece of first aid equipment that you will need to monitor the body temperature of the person and to determine if the treatment is working is a thermometer.

First Aid Equipment Needed

Thermometer, space blanket, bivvy bag




Other Possible Medical Incidents on the Trail

Moderate Bleeding

Bleeding should always be stopped as quickly as possible. Serious bleeding is a life threatening emergency. Once the body has lost a large quantity of blood and quickly, the brain and vital organs will not have enough oxygen and glucose to function properly which will lead to shock. Shock can be a life threatening condition if the cause is not addressed adequately. Any first aid kit should have enough bandages to stop a severe bleed. You could also just use an item of clothing or a towel if a bandage is not readily available.

First Aid Equipment Needed

On a multi day hike, the first aid kit should be able to deal with more than one bleeding wound. It should include the following bandages or their equivalent:

10 x gauze pads [75 x 75mm]

1 x triangular bandage (96 x 96 x 136cm)

2 x conforming bandage (5cm x 4.5m)

1 x stretch crepe bandage (75mm)

5 x waterproof occlusive bandages

10 x single plasters

10 x double plasters

No 1, 2, 3 & 5 First Aid dressings

5 x sterile gauze compress bandages (100 x 100mm)

6 x wound closure strips



Severe Bleeding

When you are out in the wilderness or more than an hour or two from a hospital with an emergency room, bleeding control can be a huge challenge. A severe arterial bleed from a compound fracture can be difficult to stop, especially if the artery has retracted inside the affected limb. The use of a tourniquet, placed above the wound, is extremely effective in stopping the bleeding quickly.

Relatively new research conducted by the US military has dispelled earlier held views that having a tourniquet in place for more than an hour or two results in tissue death. Tourniquets are regularly used by doctors in hospital theaters during surgery to control bleeding. I have recently invested in a CAT Generation 7 tourniquet. It is quite expensive, but is built for purpose and very effective.

I purchased my CAT (Generation 7) tourniquet from Wild Medix in Montague Gardens, Cape Town. They cost between R700 – R800 each and are also available on their website.




Diabetic Emergency

It is important to know if any of your hiking party has been diagnosed with type 1 or type 2 diabetes. It is a disease that is becoming more and more prevalent and the chances are good that if you have a large hiking party it will include at least one diabetic person.

An extremely low blood glucose level is life threatening condition and needs to be treated immediately. One of the most popular options available to you is to give an oral glucose supplement to the person to raise their HGT (GlycoHemoglobin Test) levels. It can either be in the form of honey or a gel product like Glucojel. These are taken orally. The difficulty arises when the person loses consciousness due to extremely low blood glucose levels. In those instances the effectiveness of the Glucojel or honey being rubbed into the person’s mouth (in front of the teeth) and gums is limited because the person is not swallowing the liquid.

On a recent first aid course I attended at Wild Medix, the instructor alerted us to the effectiveness of inserting boiled sweets, like Sparkles, rectally for maximum glucose absorption. Shove a few up there to increase the rate at what the glucose is absorbed into their system. Remember to take the wrappers off please! Obviously if the person is conscious and can do it him / herself, rather hand the sweets to them to insert. Who said sweets were all bad! Only consider this course of action when there is no other method available. As a method it is unorthodox so only use it if someone’s life is in danger and the oral method is not working.

Include at least 5 Glucojels in your first aid kit and consider adding more if you have more than one diabetic in your party.

First Aid Equipment Needed

Glucometer (portable machine to test HGT level), test strips, lancets, alcohol swab, oral glucose (Glucojel)

*** All of the above first aid equipment and consumables require a BAA qualification or higher.




Breathing Emergencies

It is just as important to know if any of your hiking party is an asthma sufferer. It is a common respiratory complication and again the chances are good that if you have a large hiking party it will include at least one asthmatic. Generally an asthma sufferer will have an inhaler with them or medication. If you have an asthma sufferer in your party it is good idea to take along an extra inhaler with you. If their inhaler fails, is lost or runs empty after an attack, you will thank your luck stars that you have a spare. Make sure that you get the same type of inhaler from the person with the exact same dosage strength the person normally uses. An asthma attack is a life threatening emergency. Give it to the person to use themselves as the timing and deep breaths will need to be in sync.

If the person stops breathing as a result of a severe asthma attack, you can make use of a bag valve mask to provide rescue breaths to the person, along with chest compressions.

First Aid Equipment Needed

Inhaler *** can only be made available to the asthmatic person and not administered by someone else unless that person has the proper training and medical qualification

*** Bag Valve Mask [BAA only or higher]




Here is a summary of the medication that I would include in a hiking first aid kit (for personal use):

10 x anti-inflammatory tablets (Gen Payne, Panamor)

10 x aspirin powders (Grandpa)

6 x Panamor suppositories (when vomiting is present)

10 x antihistamine tablets (Allergex)

6 x anti-diarrhea tablets (Imodium)

3 x  electrolyte sachets (Rehidrat)

2 x cold & Flu medication sachets (Med-lemon)



If you are going to be taking part in a multi-day hike far away from a doctor or emergency room, I would take along a 5 day course of broad spectrum antibiotics. This is something that would be specific to you and your own medical history. It  would not be wise to give it to another person in your party, as it may cause more harm than good. I normally take a 5 day course of antibiotics with on a long hike, just in case.

In order to be allowed to hike the Fish River Canyon, you are required to have a medical examination done by a Doctor within 40 days of your hike starting. You can use the opportunity of the Doctor’s visit to get a script for a 5 day course of antibiotics that you can fill and take with you on the hike.


General First Aid Kit Items

A hiking first aid kit will not be complete without the inclusion of the following general first aid items. The quantity of each item will depend on how many persons will be in your hiking party and for how long your will be on the trail.

4 pairs of nitrile gloves

1 x space blanket

2 x pair of rescue scissors

10 x safety pins

3 x small bandage clamps

10 x alcohol swabs (Webcols)

1 x syringe (10 ml) [For irrigation purposes]

1 x pair of metal tweezers

1 x hand sanitiser bottle (20ml)

2 x rolls of adhesive tape




First Aid Kit Bags

There are so many different kinds of first aid kits bags on the market. It really comes down to a personal preference as to which one or two you choose. The only advice that I can give in this regard is that you should get a first aid kit that has separate compartments or sleeves that allows you to separate the contents of the kit into some sort of order.

I have recently bought a smaller first aid kit bag and filled it with some of the contents of the larger bag and put it on the outside of my backpack. The reasoning behind this is that when you are confronted with a medical emergency, it is preferable to have a first aid kit immediately available rather than having to open your backpack and unpack it to get to your first aid kit. The smaller first aid bag should contain some of the items you would need in an emergency like gloves, bandages, gauze, rescue scissors, Glucojel and a burn dressing. You can decide on what is important for you to have close at hand, depending on your given needs.



Final Thoughts

This has been a rather long post filled with lots of detail and suggestions. It is not the intention of the author to get you to run out to your nearest pharmacy or to a medical supply store to buy everything mentioned in the article and carry that with you on every hike from here on out.

What I would like you to take with you is the knowledge of what could happen on any day or multi day hike that you take part in, either to yourself, or one of your hiking party. With that knowledge, you should be in a much better position to prepare for your next hike based on the potential risk of these types of injuries occurring. Some of these injuries can be adequately treated out in the field without any specific or specialised first aid equipment. Again it should be mentioned that first aid is all about making do with what you have at the time.

That being said, taking on the Fish River Canyon over the course of 6 days is not the normal multi day hiking scenario and the harsh environment should be treated with the respect it deserves. Chat with your hiking party beforehand and see what equipment you think should be taken along and split it up among the group so that one person is not expected to carry everything in his or her backpack. This should also eliminate duplication of first aid consumables and equipment carried by each individual member of the group. Rather have something with you and not need it than need something urgently and not have it!

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