Need a first aid kit to take with you on your next adventure? We've got you covered. After researching 60+ products, we had our experts test the best 8 models. We packed these models along on alpine climbing missions, extended backpacking trips, commercial guiding expeditions, and road trips through the mountains and trails of California, Washington, and British Columbia. We also took them with on first aid courses. Critical factors like the quality of the kit's contents and their usefulness were heavily considered. We also weighed and measured each pack to verify manufacturer claims. Ultimately, getting the proper training in wilderness medicine results in the best use of the materials and good decision-making during a wilderness emergency. Read on to see which kit suits your needs best, from budget-friendly to ultralight to the best overall.
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Updated April 2018
Keeping up with the best first aid kits on the market, we sent our lead tester two new models to test through late Winter/early Spring. The AMK Smart Travel kit as a new addition that proved to be a worthy travel companion on domestic and international pursuits, winning a Top Pick Award for such use. We were also impressed by the useful organization of the AMK Mountain Series Backpacker model, although it didn't break into the winners' circle. The Surviveware kit remains the one to beat, though, for overall quality, versatility, and organization.
Best Overall First Aid Kit
The Surviveware Small won our Editors' Choice award for being the best all-around. Compact enough for a day trip, yet it has suitable contents to support a multi-day remote trip for small groups. It comes with high-quality tools and a good assortment of supplies for an overnight kit. Coming in a rugged carrying case that keeps the supplies well-organized, it is easy to find what you are seeking. We also like the removable CPR kit (step-by-step CPR guide included), a feature that makes this kit handy for people on short walks away from camp or the car.
You'll need to supplement this kit with after-market medications, as none are included. There also isn't a first aid manual. There is space for these items, though, so you can customize the kit to your liking. The robust tools and plentiful other items equate to a larger, heavier package than other models reviewed, but we see the trade-off for scissors that actually cut and bandages that stick worth the extra. For weekend trips and overnights with small groups, this exceptional stand-alone first aid kit is the best out there, and modestly priced, too!
Read review: Surviveware Small
Best Bang for the Buck
Adventure Medical Kits Adventure 2.0
Our Best Bang for Buck Award goes to the Adventure Medical Kits Adventure 2.0. This medium weight kit is small enough to be taken on day trips but well-equipped to be taken on an overnight hike or put in the back of a car for emergencies. It has enough tools to deal with many common, minor problems, and with quality supplies and included over the counter medications it is quite useful to the average consumer and adventurer.
Not too heavy for backpacking
Great value to cost ratio
No CPR mask
The case design lacks organization, though. Although the two large compartments are clear, it often took dumping out most of the items to find the one we needed. This pack doesn't include a CPR mask or a functional cold compress, and the materials were low in numbers overall. For the price, though, the value cannot be overstated. There are a few places we saw room for improvement, but they are easy fixes and still keep this kit at an incredibly low price.
Read review: Adventure Medical Kits Adventure 2.0
Top Pick for Day Hiking and Lightweight Adventures
Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight/Watertight .7
Only good for smaller groups
Low quantities of components
If you're looking for a minimal (but still useful!) first aid kit to toss in your pack for daily adventures, the Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight/Watertight .7 is our top recommendation. We frequently bring this kit along on our day hikes, multi-pitch climbs, and mountain bike rides because it's reliable when you need it but goes unnoticed in a pack when you don't. It's lightweight, but the components and tools are not cheap. The case is waterproof and holds up well.
Geared toward fast and light, this kit lacks a few standard first aid items, such as a CPR mask, trauma shears, and ankle tape (the tape included is too thin for effective ankle wraps). Regarding materials, there aren't high quantities, so you'll need to refill your kit more frequently than other packs reviewed. These limitations relegate this model to day trips and occasional overnights for one or two people, but that's precisely what it's designed for. Ideal for day-to-day activities, it lives quietly in your pack until you need it.
Read review: Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight/Watertight .7
Top Pick for Travel
Adventure Medical Kits Smart Travel
The AMK Smart Travel Kit is a superb choice for those who are not venturing deep into the backcountry, but rather venturing out on a vacation or an excursion to a foreign country. This kit comes with many of the useful items that similarly sized first aid kits include, such as wound care supplies and over-the-counter medications. It also includes some excellent resources for travelers such as a thorough 220-page medical information book, with a visual reference card to help you communicate with medical providers if there is a language barrier.
Useful first aid guide and visual aid
Not our favorite carrying case
The Smart Travel Kit is designed to be used on the go and can be hung from the back of a door. It's made of durable material that should resist wear and tear, though the organization and layout of the kit left something to be desired when compared to other available models. We feel like this first aid kit has a lot to offer to those who are traveling, especially in foreign countries, and is small enough that people living out of their luggage should be able to bring it along without going over their weight limit.
Read review: Adventure Medical Kits Smart Travel
Analysis and Test Results
Our experts set out to systematically test and assess the best kits on the market. Following extensive research on the available options, we purchased the most popular and top-rated models. Our methods of testing involved investigating all the items inside the case and using them in real or simulated medical incidents and emergencies. We also took them to Wilderness First Aid courses where medical professionals weighed in on each pack's utility and quality. To score all models in an equal manner, we devised several test metrics based on the most important performance aspects users demand from these kits. Below, we discuss why each metric is significant as well as notable performers in each.
You certainly can purchase a small canvas bag and attempt to buy individual supplies to create a customized first aid kit. This takes time, effort, and the costs add up quickly. For those that want to forego this timely and expensive venture, first aid kits provide excellent face value. However, there is a lot to be said for the value of manufactured kits. Trade-offs in this gear category are typically the quality and quantity of the contents. A kit stuffed full of items of dubious utility doesn't share the same value of a kit with a more selective approach to its contents, focusing on fewer, higher quality contents. The chart below expresses the performance of each product reviewed in relation to its price. The lower right quadrant displays the models with the highest overall value. Keep in mind that individual needs can alter the value of any given product greatly.
This is one of the most important factors to consider when choosing a first aid kit. When scoring how a product performed in the quality category, we looked at the tools, medical supplies, medications, and the case or pouch.
It's frustrating to pull a component from your bag and have it underperform when you need it - just because the manufacturer tried to save on costs. The component quality of the different models in our fleet ranged dramatically. For example, some had solid trauma shears similar to those a paramedic carries on an ambulance and others had small scissors made of cheap plastic that bent when we tried to cut anything with them.
Other items that had a wide range of quality were the rolls of tape, triangle bandages, tweezers, and CPR masks. Overall, the Adventure Medical Kits and Surviveware models impressed with high-quality components. We also looked at quality control on the part of the manufacturer to provide supplies that matched the list of contents, and to make sure that any over the counter medications were not expired or at risk of becoming expired within one year of purchasing the kits.
While many of the first aid kits we tested contain supplies made in China, there was a big range of quality in these medical supply manufacturers. Although Adventure Medical uses products made in China, their kits offered higher quality products from a reputable manufacturer. Thus, Adventure Medical's kits have better quality control overall than others like I Go or TripWorthy. The Surviveware Small also backed up quality contents with dependable quality control. To gain a better understanding of the quality found in a particular kit, as well as the contents, we recommend reading the individual review.
Another factor in this metric is a kit's internal organization. When medical incidents strike, it's a relief to have your first aid contents labeled and easy to find quickly. One of our favorites for its slick organization is the AMK Mountain Series Backpacker model. Supplies are easy to locate, remove, and put into action with this kit. Other models forced us to dig excessively or remove the contents of the container to find the right item we sought.
Given the potential scenarios we might encounter when far from home on a trail, a river, or a mountainside, we want to be confident that the bulky bag of medical supplies that we have been hauling along is going to be useful. We scored these kits based on how useful they were for their given weight. Of course, a group could carry a duffel-sized first aid kit and have ultimate usefulness, but we wanted to see how well the smaller, streamlined overnight kits fared.
Each model was scored on how useful the components were in a wilderness medicine situation. The Surviveware was full of with useful items, like hospital grade trauma shears and fine point tweezers, and not a lot of extra items that served little or no purpose. Kits that were heavy on the bulky dressings and wound closure strips, though did not include any over the counter medications or blister kits, did not rate as highly as those kits that had a much more even ratio of supplies. An even ratio of supplies made it possible to treat the common day to day injuries encountered on the trail as well as the more serious ones.
An exceptional model among the contenders is the Smart Travel model, despite being less useful in a wilderness setting. As its name implies, it serves its user best tucked in a carry-on during domestic or international trips. It still received a high score in this metric due to its great utility in travel scenarios, like the inclusion of antidiarrheals, rehydration salts, and a visual aid for communication across language barriers.
While it was a quality concern for the kits whose cold compresses did not work, such as the Adventure Medical Kits Adventure 2.0, we also noted that the kits with weighty additions did not necessarily increase the overall usefulness. For example, pressure-activated compresses can be readily replaced with things like stuff sacks full of snow or bandanas dipped in mountain streams. Balance the need to bring the kitchen sink and treat things with specialized items with being resourceful.
How many people you plan on serving with your first aid kit is also a key consideration. A small, lightweight kit like the Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight/Watertight .7 is incredibly useful for a day trip while solo or in a group of two, but pales in comparison to the usefulness of a deeper kit like the AMK Adventure 2.0 when traveling in a group of 3 or 4. When going out with larger groups, make sure you are bringing enough supplies. We often add extra moleskin, bandages, tape, and medications, leaving the contents of less frequently used materials the same.
It's important to consider the durability of the bag and tools that you are buying because these are two components that stay with you for the lifetime of the kit. Individual components need to be replaced either from use or because they expire (such as in the case of medications). Given that we do not perform first aid on ourselves or hiking partners every day that we go out, our kits may languish unused at the bottom of our packs for long periods without being used. While periodically checking to ensure that the contents are still in good condition is mandatory, we also expect long-term quality from the equipment we rely on during an emergency.
Organizations may require that inventories are done after each trip; most recreational users probably find that an unrealistic standard to follow, but at the very least, keep your kit stocked up on consumable items like moleskin, over the counter drugs, and tape. So you won't be surprised by a fully depleted supply of an important item, you'll want to give your kit a full inventory once every few trips. Several of the manufacturers of these kits, such as Surviveware and Adventure Medical Kits, not only include a list of contents with which to inventory your bag, but also provide an easy medical supply reordering service so that you know that you are getting similar quality items to refresh your depleted stores.
The bag itself also reflects the types of trips you take. A weight conscious alpinist needs a simple construction that is made of silicone impregnated nylon, like the AMK Ultralight/Watertight .7, rather than a beefy Cordura nylon like an expedition model may have. We were impressed with the effort put into making the AMK Ultralight/Watertight's bag weather resistant and protecting the kit's components with a reversed watertight zipper and taped seams. Other products like the Be Smart Get Prepared kit uses a hard plastic case that can be wall mounted for easy access in a workplace setting.
Repackage groups of supplies together in ziplock bags, so that in the event of submersion, or a tube of an antibiotic ointment explosion, the contents are protected and the mess is contained.
The contents of the bag need to be durable as well, and able to hold up to the rigors of use. While the majority of the kits we tested were not labeled as being waterproof or even water resistant, by containing the supplies in individual and resealable packages, the kit is more durable in wet or humid environments. We still suggest an additional dry bag when in these climates to keep your supplies from spoiling.
Versatility For Multiple Environments and Group Size
This category took into account how large of a group the different kits could service and the range of activities they were good for. A kit lost points if it was too heavy and did not have the added benefit of being able to service more people in a remote environment.
The most versatile models are those with the highest quality components and good weight-to-usefulness ratio. Again, the Surviveware performed exceptionally here as it struck the right balance of weight vs tools that were useful to a wilderness user as well as to a car camper, and also includes a small pocket-sized kit for short walks away from camp. Too often we found dozens of bandages and alcohol wipes, perfect for small cuts and scrapes, but when we tried to find a piece of moleskin for a small blister or a roll of tape wide enough to effectively stabilize an ankle, we were out of luck.
The I Go and TripWorthy displayed little versatility among the small kits, and we were consistently swapping out tape, tools, and medications from more quality kits such as the Adventure Medical Kits Adventure 2.0 or the Surviveware Small in order to feel more confident in our abilities to effectively provide treatments. And while we liked the usefulness of the Smart Travel kit in traveling scenarios, it was far from being an all-around champ.
Buy the first aid kit you are actually going to bring with you on your trip. There is no sense in getting the best and biggest kit if it sits in your car because it is too heavy to take along.
Just because your kit does not come as versatile out of the box as you would like it to be, don't let that stop you from replacing consumable items like athletic tape or moleskin with the supplies you actually need and use. Once we were done testing all the individual kits on their own, we experimented combining elements of each kit that we liked the most on our personal trips. Not surprisingly, we decided that by buying both the Surviveware Small kit as well as the Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight/Watertight .7, we could combine them for a great extended overnight kit. Or, we could only take the smaller kit but bring along the supplies that the Ultralight/Watertight .7 lacks, such as trauma shears and a CPR mask.
If your group size is large enough (over 4-6), then you might consider bringing the double kit system we mentioned above. Groups split up, itinerary changes occur, and injured or ill victims may require evacuation while other group members stay in the field, so having the ability to split up resources is a good idea.
Weight and Size
We measured the weight of all the kits in our review, and ranked the different models accordingly, considering what contents are included as well. The measured size was also factored in, though, with the exception of one kit in our review, all were compact enough to fit into a daypack, which was the shortest test scenario for our review.
Some kits like the I Go were quite light but filled with unnecessary or bulky supplies that undermined their usefulness. While hovering in the middle of the pack at 13.6 ounces, the Surviveware kit scored well because of how much you can do with it without extra baggage. A key consideration in cases where every ounce and cubic inch matters, such as alpine climbing and lightweight backpacking, we awarded the top score to the AMK Ultralight/Watertight .7 due to its weight to usefulness in these specialized applications.
If you're mostly on a river or car camping, a heavier or bulkier model works fine. The main outlier in this metric was the Be Smart Get Prepared model, which is a home and office specific product that is hard to compare to a product designed for wilderness outings. Car and home-based kits can afford to have greater quantities of common supplies as well as heavier and bulkier components like Ace wrap bandages and cold compresses since space and weight are not an issue. AMK's Smart Travel model also lands on the heavier side of the spectrum, yet it's appropriate for its intended usage. Several extra ounces in a suitcase is less of a concern than it is in a backpack. Furthermore, if you are skilled and confident enough to embark without needing the first aid manual provided with the Smart Travel model, you can save weight and space by leaving it at home. If you aren't trained in first aid, though, it's generally best to keep the manual handy.
Most of the overnight models we looked at were of similar size, as there is only so small you can go without compromising on the contents you bring with you. The day-tripping models that garnered such high scores in this metric were indeed featherweight- there was no comparing the Surviveware or AMK Adventure 2.0 to the slim AMK Ultralight/Watertight .7- though be careful how light you go before you lose the usefulness you need.
If are a backcountry adventurer, day hiker or car camper, at some point in your outdoor adventures you may find a need for first aid, whether it is for yourself or someone in your group, or even a stranger you encounter on the trail. Obviously, we hope this never occurs to you, but being prepared for unfortunate cases of illness or injury should be a top priority for everyone. Ranging in size and content, not all kits in this review are created equally. We hope that our evaluations have helped to clarify what type of kit you need based on your intended applications. Check out our Buying Advice article for more details on the different types of kits available.
— Ryan Huetter
Still not sure? Take a look at our buying advice article for more info.