August 12, 2014

What to Put In Your Whitewater Kayaking Medical Kit


If you're looking for a good whitewater kayaking first aid kit that's suitable for multi-day trips, here's the best one I've seen, compliments of Eli Ren. (Used with his permission from his post on Professor Paddle,which is linked to here.)  The following is all from Eli's post, and you can click here for the printable Whitewater Kayaking Medical Kit Checklist.

Also, this is a little off topic but I'm going to mention it because it's so important - if you rescue someone who is unresponsive, always assume they're going to make it, even if they act dead and look dead.

Mike was once involved in rescuing someone who had been floating face-down for minutes and was completely blue in the face and not breathing, but by dragging them out and basically jumping on their chest with his knee a couple of times he was able to get them breathing again. After 10 or 15 minutes they regained consciousness and eventually recovered completely. (They hadn't aspirated water, apparently a small percentage of people have a reaction that clamps off their air passageway as soon as cold water hits it.)

I know that's not traditional CPR and sounds more like a precordial thump, I'm not a first aid expert and am not recommending anything in particular, just explaining what happened. Mainly my point is, please assume that a person is going to survive no matter how bad things look - there's no harm in trying.

OK, the list:


Contents include (from top of the bag working in):


1st bag (the most urgent stuff right on top):
Face mask
CPR face shield (disposable practice shield from CPR course, but it will keep vomit out of your mouth)
Oral airway

2nd bag (wound care):
one 5x9 Combine Dressing (for serious bleeds)
a bunch of 4x4's
Tegederm - several sizes (best thing for boaters)
2 ouchless dressings (better than gauze since they don't stick to wound)
Glacier gel dressings (best thing for blisters)
Band aids (the clear tegederm-style ones are best)
Alcohol swabs
Antibiotic ointment

3rd bag (meds - double bagged)
Ibuprofen 200mg (take 800mg for serious pain)
Benadryl (a cheap, must-have, life-saving drug)
Tylenol (best thing for lowering a fever)
Aspirin (short shelf-life, but cheap and potentially life-saving)
Imodium (potentially life saving in case of a bad intestinal crisis or for just preventing dry-suit catastrophes)
(prescription pain killers if you have them - in case of serious injury)
(epi-pen if you have severe allergies to anything)

4th bag (bandages):
Triangular bandage (crucial for dislocated shoulder)
Ace bandage
Roller gauze

5th bag (intensive wound care):
Clorhexidine surgical scrub sponge
15ml sterile saline
Betadine solution
Sterile 10ml syringe
Sterile needle (for irrigation)
Skin stapler 35W (can be used without anesthetic)

Other stuff tucked in around the sides:
12hr candle, lighter, & 55-gallon trash bag (emergency heat-tent)
Sam-Splint (I can't over-state how useful this is)
Duck tape (better than medical tape)
Gorilla tape (for gear repair)
Heavy needle & 135-weight thread
~12' of 3mm accessory cord
Zip-ties (spares for my homemade break-away bulkhead)

In PFD pocket:
Another 55-gallon trash bag
Spot messenger
6' 3mm cord

And here are Eli's comments:

"I have done emergency medicine in a number of outdoor environments, and by far the most used things in the first-aid kit are 4x4's bandaids, and duck tape.

That being said, I have had to use everything on this list with the exception of the stapler, but only because the steri-stips worked well enough. You could certainly add more stuff to this list, but I find this kit covers almost every scenario in which you are not calling for a helicopter, while still being compact and light-weight.You could probably cram most of this stuff in a an Otter/Pelican box or Nalgine and wrap the sam-splint around the outside, but I think a drybag works better.

I consider a sam-splint mandatory as it is super versatile and I have been in 3 situations where the sam-splint saved the day. Don't forget to pack any prescription medications people might have. If you are doing more of an expedition, I would also consider carrying several antibiotics along with a copy of "The Sanford Guide to Antimicrobial Therapy" to make sure you know which one is appropriate. And it goes without saying, but I will say it anyway, you should get good medical training so you know how to properly utilize all this stuff."


I'd never heard of a SAM Splint but I looked them up and they appear to be pretty amazing, we've ordered two in the meantime.  Seeing as over the past few years of kayaking I have been a regular consumer of the services of our great medical system, this is probably a way overdue investment. ;)

Anyway, I thought this was a great list and I hope you find it useful. 


first aid, Gear, multi-day

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  • This list does seem like a lot of items, but I also realize that many of them are small and you may only be carrying one of them. Would you carry all of these items on the boat with you while you kayak? Or would some of them stay with the rest of your gear, and you only take one of the bags with certain items in it with you?

    Just wondering, because comparing this to what I take with me, I seem woefully unprepared. Luckily, I’ve never had a close call, but I would like to at least be prepared when it does happen.

    Paddle On!

  • Hi Christy, it sounds like Eli takes all of these things with him at least on multi-day missions and I think on regular trips as well – sometimes it’s on the short trips that something goes drastically wrong, although certainly it would be less crucial on a roadside trip vs. a remote canyon run. I personally am just assembling a kit and would be embarrassed to tell you what I have normally been taking – something along the lines of ‘snack bar and some duct tape’.

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