The Dirt #001: Overlanding Medical Basics
Medical Considerations for Overland Travel
By CJ, Line4Expeditions
What medical gear do you carry in your rig? The two answers I hear most often are an IFAK (Individual First Aid Kit, commonly referred to as a Blow Out Kit), and the basic Johnson and Johnson first aid kit. While neither of these answers is necessarily wrong, I would like to give context to the medical planning that goes into your next trip. I have been a Navy Corpsman for over 12 year, and while tourniquets, chest seals and other trauma gear are essential, far too often I see them replace the simple interventions for more common injuries seen around the campsite or out on the trail. This article is not to sell you on any specific product, but if you are building or buying a first aid kit there are a few considerations.
First, the size of your group. Larger groups equal more stuff. Also consider the constitution of your group, children, pets, etc. Second would be the type of trip and distance you will be from the next echelon of medical help. Third, what is the probability of injury or the severity of potential injuries. Think mountaineering vs. camping at a campground. Please remember that first aid is going to buy you time, but not replace professional medical care!
The equipment in my truck is divided into three distinct categories; Trauma, First Aid and Preventative Medicine.
Let’s get trauma out of the way. This will be your sexy high-speed Velcro pouch with all the “tactical” interventions you see on social media… Okay, actually this is a fairly simple kit. I recommend various hemorrhage control measures including quality tourniquets, pressure bandages and hemostatic agents. As far as more advanced interventions for establishing an airway etc., DO NOT carry anything that is above your current level of training. Please take a quality Wilderness First Responder or EMT course to gain this knowledge if you’re not a professional first responder. For my truck I use a visor mounted trauma kit by Dark Angel Medical, which includes 2 tourniquets, chest seals, nasopharyngeal airways, trauma shears, decompression needles and hemostatic gauze.
Next up is First Aid, although largely taken for granted in modern society this is a backcountry essential as even a small cut that is not properly cared can lead to an infection that will adversely affect you and your expeditions plan’s. Any quality first aid kit will contain most the basic items like band aids and ace wraps, but there are some items that are overlook and can be missed if you need them in the wild. Dental is a real show stopper from a pain perspective, because of this I suggest you include some temporary filling material. This is available off the shelf at most pharmacies, and will be a cheap insurance policy for anyone hours or days away from dental care. Also remember, most kits are not built with the intention of redressing wounds. Therefore basic nursing care should be considered on longer trips. Just imagine being in the wilds of Canada and suffering an injury requiring multiple dressing changes, not one that has happened on any high profile Youtube shows. The kit in my truck I use a Blue Ridge Overland Large First Aid kit that I stocked myself. I chose this bag for the capacity and packing style as it's similar to the M9 Medical bag I’ve carried for years.
The final category is Preventative Medicine, which in my opinion is the most overlooked category in recreational overland travel. This will include your water treatment system, camp hygiene, food prep/storage and medications/ vaccinations for your specific region of travel. Boiling this down, pun intended, the best way to not get sick is practicing good camp hygiene and some common sense. Purifying your water, properly preparing your food and keeping yourself clean will eliminate most preventable issues while on expedition. If you’re traveling abroad, I recommend using the CDC’s website to look up vaccine requirements for the areas you will be visiting.
This article is meant to be a broad overview and give you some ideas about planning more effectively for your next overland adventure! There are lots of resources out there, and I encourage you to do your own research. Just know that these three categories will all apply at some level, and spending money on medical supplies is an investment for all members of your team.
CJ is an Active Duty Navy Corpsman with over 12 years of experience, currently stationed in Virginia. His military service includes both combat and humanitarian deployments to Iraq, Africa and the South Pacific. He is a certified Navy Instructor, CPR Instructor, Military Wilderness First Responder, and holds certifications for ACLS, MPIC, Remote EMT, along with being both a qualified Fleet Marine Force and Expeditionary Warfare Specialist. In addition to his Navy medical duties, CJ is a Nationally Registered EMT.
Before joining the Navy in 2007, CJ earned the rank of Eagle Scout, and that love of camping and the outdoors became a passion for overlanding that has only grown during his time in the Navy. Since crashing his BMW GS while exploring the Mojave, he’s focused his overlanding efforts on building his Toyota Tacoma and company, Line 4 Expeditions and Consulting.