Vital if you need it, extra bulk if you don't, but always necessary when you travel. Get the lowdown on the humble First Aid Kit and the basic essentials it should contain...
First Aid Kits - we test out your essential travel kit, so you don’t have to…
THE TEST: The smallest and cheapest of all the kits here, this one hits the scales at just 56g. It’s made for a single person to take with them on a multitude of activities as a small ‘just in case’ option, rather than an all-singing, all-dancing fix-any-injury bag. On the outside is a lightweight water-resistant ripstop fabric, which is closed with a zip (coated).
However, inside – containing all the contents – is a tough, fully waterproof press-shut plastic pouch that ensures it packs down small. Tiny and light it may be, but it still contains an impressive array of items as standard: two butterfly closures, a roll of medical tape, eight plasters (three specifically for knuckles), four sterile gauze dressings, two safety pins, three antiseptic wipes, one sting-and-itch relief wipe and 11 moleskin blister plasters. Not bad considering the price, and, at this size, you can take it practically anywhere – and probably will.The verdict: Light and with a small number of items – but each one is useful. A great ‘just in case’ option for the single traveller.
IN BRIEFFeatures ★★★★✩
THE TEST: More cash and more weight also means the number of accessories increases, too. This kit features four dressings, two packs of assorted plasters, three wound closure strips, ten gauze swabs and six antiseptic wipes, a crepe bandage, a woven bandage, an advice leaflet on primary care, some microporous tape and some zinc oxide (good over blister plasters) tape, duct tape, scissors, tweezers, a pack of six safety pins, two pairs of vinyl gloves, a spot-check thermometer as well as packs of paracetamol and loperamide (antidiarrhoeal) tablets.
Not only does it pack in a lot but it arranges it all into three handy sections, so you can find everything you need super fast; plus it also hangs up like a bath bag. The fabric is robust and ripstop but not waterproof (though the zip is). All this does come at extra weight (354g), making it the third-heaviest here.
The verdict: A great all-round kit that comes well organised and is easy to use, but the overall lack of waterproofing coupled with a heavy weight may turn some people off.
IN BRIEFFeatures ★★★★★
THE TEST: The first thing you notice about Ortlieb’s kit is the bag. Made from sturdy, waterproof fabric, it is essentially a dry bag that folds and clips shut, ensuring all the contents remains dry and – importantly – usable. Inside, there’s a fair amount of useful items rolled into a removable inner pocket, which also helps organise supplies and can be hung up, too. These include a pair of surgery gloves, 5m of sticking plaster, two wound pads, a set of plaster strips, a gauze bandage, a rescue blanket and first aid instructions in several languages.
It’s not got as much in it as the Lifesystems kits, but is clearly targeted at those on the move in outdoor scenarios where weatherproofing is vital. The weight is also good given the size of the bag – which, if sold alone, costs in excess of £20. Coming in at just 286g, it’s also the third-lightest here and has room inside to make additions.
The verdict: Excellent weatherproofing and a fair amount of contents. This is a good choice for those heading to places where bad weather is often expected.
IN BRIEFFeatures ★★★★★
THE TEST: Coming in at the same price as Ortlieb’s Medium kit, AMK offer an even lighter option for a group size of one-to-two people (for up to four days). Expect the same layout as the smaller model (a press-shut waterproof pouch within a water-resistant ripstop bag), but lots more contents.
Inside are: three butterfly-closure fabric bandages, a roll of medical tape, eight plasters (three for knuckles), five various sized gauze dressings, two non-adherent dressings (to avoid sticking to the wound), an elastic bandage with a hook and loop closure, six antiseptic wipes, three sting-relief wipes, sterile gloves, 14 moleskin blister plasters with preparation wipes, a tick/splinter remover, three safety pins and some duct tape. You’d think this would all add a lot of weight, but at 172g it’s the second-lightest on test, though the downside is not having any separate pockets to help you find things fast.
The verdict: Well-stocked, if less easy to organise than others, the handy size makes this a great option when weight is a priority.
IN BRIEFFeatures ★★★★★
THE TEST: If you’re heading off to developing countries (where the risk of infection is high) or for a longer trip, then you really couldn’t ask for a product to offer more for your money. This one features all the same items as the £25 model but adds: a pack of ibuprofen tablets, an extra pack of medium dressings, a small plaster fabric strip (though fewer gauze swabs and plasters), as well as a whole array of sterile apparatus, including six hypodermic needles (in four different sizes), an IV cannula, five syringes (in three sizes), a scalpel and a synthetic suture (for stitches).
Once again, it’s broken down into four easy-to-find compartments, and can be hung up like a bath bag. As with the other model, it isn’t fully waterproof (though its fabric is ripstop), but it does offer all you could need for a host of adventures, and all at a weight of 471g – second heaviest on test.
The verdict: If you want the full range of options, this is a great starter bag that you can adapt to each trip – though do buy a dry bag for it if heading somewhere wet!
IN BRIEFFeatures ★★★★★
THE TEST: For an extra bit of money, you not only get a good range of accessories – in a fully waterproof bag – but you can also get a kit where the contents have been specially selected for your chosen activity – cycling motorbiking, horseriding, canoeing and trekking – at both high and ultra-high safety levels.
This one is the high-risk trekking model, so, as well as the items from the £35 kit, it includes: one sterile dressing bandage, a pack of eight plasters, scissors, an elastic dressing, an elastic bandage with its own closure, tick tweezers, five blister plasters and five blood lancets (to be used for blood tests/malaria tests). There’s also room inside for you to add personalised extras. Together with a waterproof pouch, it comes in at 510g – the heaviest here – but all that extra waterproofing will come in handy for those embarking on multi-day trekking trips.
The verdict: Good, targeted contents for hikers that will stay usable in all conditions, albeit those not heading into the wild may prefer a lighter weight and broader selection.
IN BRIEFFeatures ★★★★★
We asked gear manufacturers to submit the first aid kits that they felt were most suitable for travellers. Our editor, Phoebe Smith, then delved into the top six to see which offered the best balance of weight and contents at a comparatively good price. The kits covered here are all ‘Wanderlust Approved’, with a ‘Value Buy’and overall ‘Best in Test’ being indicated where applicable.
You’ll need a tough pack to withstand the rigours of travel, so robust and ripstop (resistant to tearing and ripping) materials are best. If using it when heading outdoors (hiking, cycling, canoeing, etc), look for waterproof – or at least water resistant – packaging with coated zips. Also think about ease of use. Some have internal organisers, so finding what you need is fuss-free, but others that focus on reducing weight may compromise on handy, easy-to-find compartments.
Let’s be honest, the most common injury you get when travelling is a small cut or scrape, so plasters, butterfly closures (to hold together larger cuts), sterile gauzes and medical tape are all vital. These will help stop bleeding as well as prevent dirt from getting into any wounds. If hiking, you can’t beat bringing a pack of good blister plasters, too – your feet will thank you.
Not all kits will come with these as standard, but they are great for removing not only splinters but also troublesome ticks, too.
These are endlessly handy for cleaning wounds or relieving insect bites, and are even good for cleaning your hands after administering first aid.
WEIGHT AND BULK
This will change depending on what you add or remove from your kit. The heaviest bag could well be the best, depending on your situation and personal needs. Think about the activities you will be doing and countries you will be visiting, and adapt accordingly. If you’re going to a developing nation with questionable healthcare, don’t leave without sterile needles or water purification tablets. But if you’re going to a place with good hospitals, it’s not worth the weight.
You can add anything you want to your kit, but particularly useful are painkillers and rehydration salts that you can take after being sick or after a bout of diarrhoea.