The Best First Aid Kits of 2020
Best Kit Overall
The Surviveware Small first aid kit is made up of good quality supplies in a rugged case. Compact but not tiny, this kit features all the things you will need to treat small and large injuries alike. Quality implements such as hospital-grade trauma shears, forceps, and ace bandages add to its value. We especially like the small pocket-sized kit that includes a CPR mask and gloves.
We were a bit surprised by the absence of over-the-counter medicines in this kit, so that is one component you will need to stock yourself. We also added extra tape on most trips, as well as an extra pair of gloves. This case does have a lot of extra space, so it is easy to add items in for longer trips or when there is a higher likelihood of a more serious injury or illness.
Read review: Surviveware Small
Best Bang for Your Buck
Adventure Medical Kits Mountain Series Hiker
Our award for offering the best value goes to the AMK Mountain Series Hiker kit. It's a compact kit that is barely as wide as a postcard, which makes it easy to squeeze into even the smallest of daypacks. It only weighs 10 ounces, and you can reduce the weight even further by taking out the first aid book. This is one of our favorite kits to bring along on day hikes, multi-pitch rock climbs, and mountain bike rides due to its small stature, but also due to its high quality-to-value ratio.
With a very strong value to cost, we certainly recommend this kit but should note that adding a CPR mask and extra nitrile gloves would make it much more versatile and protective for the user to guard against bloodborne pathogens. The quantities in this kit are pretty slim, so it's most appropriate as a solo kit or for a group of two heading out on a short trip.
Read review: Adventure Medical Kits Mountain Series Hiker
Best for Day Hiking and Lightweight Adventures
Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight/Watertight .7
If you're looking for a minimal, but useful, kit to toss in your pack for daily adventures, the Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight/Watertight .7 is our top recommendation. We bring this kit along on adventurous days because it's reliable when you need it but goes unnoticed in your pack when you don't. Although it's lightweight, the components and tools are not cheap. The case is also waterproof and seemed to hold up well.
This kit is geared toward fast and light travel and 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). Our testers chose to add these items to assemble a more inspiring yet still lightweight kit. Regarding materials, the quantities aren't high, so you'll need to refill the kit more frequently than other packs reviewed. These caveats seemed to limit the usefulness of the Ultralight/Watertight .7 to day trips not too far from the trailhead. Although it can meet basic first aid needs, you probably shouldn't rely on it for trips deep and distant into the wilderness.
Read review: Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight/Watertight .7
Best for Travel
Adventure Medical Kits Smart Travel
The AMK Smart Travel Kit stands out as an ideal offering for world travelers. This kit could be brought along on a hiking trip, but we found it to be best suited towards someone going on a vacation or a trip abroad. With more applicable items and medications, as well as a handy visual guide for people struggling with a language barrier at a foreign clinic, the Smart Travel Kit has everything you need, except a passport.
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. The organization and layout of the kit, however, left something to be desired compared to other available models. We still feel like this first aid kit has a lot to offer to those who are traveling, especially in foreign countries, and it's small enough that people living out of their luggage should be able to bring it along without going over the weight limit.
Read review: Adventure Medical Kits Smart Travel
Best for Large Groups and Long Trips
Adventure Medical Kits Mountain Series Explorer
The Adventure Medical Kits Mountain Series Explorer is our Top Pick for Large Groups and Long Trips. Many of the kits that we feature in our review are for minor, incidental injuries that occur close to the home or while on light hikes near the car. Since many of us also travel on extended sojourns deep into the forests, mountains, and deserts far away from definitive care, you may need more to really be prepared. This first aid kit provides a more comprehensive set of supplies to deal with heavier bleeding, a wider range of medicines, and extra informational resources to help you select the best course of treatment when you are unable to communicate directly with a medical professional.
Best suited for long trips far from the trailhead, this is not solely meant for overnight excursions. We also found it useful on day trips with large group sizes, so that we would have the resources to treat many small incidents as well as one large event.
Read review: Adventure Medical Kits Mountain Series Explorer
Best for Basecamp Use
The MyMedic MyFAK is the burliest first aid kit that we have reviewed. It looks and feels like something that a combat medic might be issued. This kit features the heavy-duty medical gear that most other kits lack. Pressure bandages, saline irrigation tubes, medical-grade thermometers, and trauma shears are just a few of the quality equipment included.
This kit is heavy, to be sure, and not the most compact, so you probably won't be throwing it in your daypack for a short walk in the woods. More than other kits, this model will be appreciated by this with legit medical experience. It is best for situations that require medical attention in remote areas when you don't have to worry too much about the weight of the first aid kit. We like this kit for car camping, job sites, off-road driving, or other activities where you can establish a well-stocked home base. That's why we awarded the MyFAK our Top Pick for Basecamp Use.
Read review: MyMedic MyFAK
Why You Should Trust Us
For review author and Mountain Guide Ryan Huetter, first aid isn't something to be taken lightly. As a mountain professional, injury prevention is his primary risk management tool, but he always carries a quality, well-stocked first aid kit for both personal and professional trips. Ryan holds a bachelor's degree in Outdoor Adventure Management from Western Washington University, and since earning this degree, he's racked up an impressive climbing resume, with over twenty Yosemite big walls and seven seasons in Patagonia, including an ascent of Fitz Roy. He is a fully certified IFMGA mountain guide and works around the world, guiding rock, ski, and alpine climbing trips.
Testing these kits was a combination of close examination, taking them out in our packs on several trips, and using them during Wilderness First Responder (WFR) courses. During the WFR training, we gave the kits to both novices and first aid veterans while noting the ease and effectiveness with which they were used. We took everything apart and evaluated the quality of the contents. We weighed the kits on a digital scale and comparing our measurements against the manufacturer's specs. Although we didn't use these kits to treat trauma other than that which was simulated during the WFR training, we feel it was an effective substitute that helped result in a comprehensive and informative review.
Related: How We Tested First Aid Kits
Analysis and Test Results
Our methods of testing involved investigating all the items inside the case and using them in real or simulated medical incidents and emergencies. To score all models in an equal manner, we devised several test metrics based on the most important performance aspects users will likely demand from these kits. Below, we discuss the significance of each metric and the notable performers in every area.
Related: Buying Advice for First Aid Kits
Although you certainly can purchase a small canvas bag and attempt to build your own customized first aid kit, this would take time and effort, and the costs would add up quickly. You'd likely end up with plenty of supplies to restock your kit, but you'd have to spend much more than the price of a pre-built model. For those that want to forego this slow and expensive venture, retail first aid kits offer excellent value.
Tradeoffs in this gear category are typically the quality and quantity of the contents. A kit stuffed full of items of dubious utility doesn't provide the same value as a kit with a more selective approach to its contents, focusing on fewer, but higher quality contents. 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 examined the tools, medical supplies, medications, and storage case or pouch.
It's frustrating to pull a component from a kit and have it underperform when you need it — just because the manufacturer wanted to save on costs. The quality of the components in the different models in our fleet ranged dramatically. For example, some came with solid trauma shears similar to those a paramedic uses in an ambulance. Others, in contrast, had small scissors made of cheap plastic that bent as soon as we tried to cut anything with them.
Other items that exhibited a wide range of quality were the rolls of tape, triangle bandages, tweezers, and CPR masks. Overall, the Adventure Medical Kits, Surviveware, and MyFAK models impressed us with their high-quality components. We also evaluated 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 us purchasing the kits.
While many of the first aid kits we tested contain supplies made in China, there is a wide range of quality in these medical supply manufacturers. Adventure Medical is no exception, but their kits are filled with higher quality products made by a reputable manufacturer. Thus, Adventure Medical Kits and HART Health have better quality control overall than others like I Go or First Aid Only. The Surviveware Small also backed up quality contents with dependable quality control.
Another factor in this metric is a kit's internal organization. When medical incidents strike, it's reassuring to have your first aid contents clearly labeled and easy to find. Some of our favorites for their intuitive and well-designed organization include the AMK Explorer, Hiker, and the MyFAK. Supplies in these kits are easy to locate, remove, and put into action. Fold-out organizer pockets and removable mini kits aid are our favorite methods of organization. Other models forced us to dig excessively or remove all the contents of a container to find the item we sought, and after a few rounds of use, they became hopelessly cluttered, which impacted the quality of the supplies inside.
Given the potential scenarios we might encounter on a trail or mountainside when far from home, we want to be confident that the bulky bag of medical supplies we've 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 large group could carry a duffel-sized first aid kit with incredible usefulness, but we wanted to see how well the smaller, streamlined overnight kits fared.
Each model was scored on how useful the components are in a wilderness medicine situation. The Surviveware is full of useful items, like hospital-grade trauma shears and fine point tweezers, and not a lot of extra items that serve little or no purpose. It is heavy, but if you are engaging in activities with a high probability of serious injury, the MyFAK kit is perhaps the best equipped to handle large wounds among kits of its size. Kits that were heavy on bulky dressings and wound closure strips, but lacked over the counter medications or blister kits, did not rate as highly as those kits that had a more balanced range of supplies. A better balance of supplies made it possible to treat the common day to day injuries encountered on the trail as well as the occasional serious one.
An exceptional model when it comes to usefulness is the Smart Travel model, despite it being ill-suited for a wilderness setting. As the name implies, it serves its user best when it's tucked in a carry-on during domestic or international trips. It receives a high score in this metric due to its great utility in travel scenarios, with its inclusion of antidiarrheals, rehydration salts, and a visual aid for communication across language barriers.
As for cold compresses, we aren't entirely convinced of their necessity in a first aid kit. Modern medical courses have done away with the old standby RICE treatment (rest, ice, compress, elevate) from the current curriculum. Instead of treating with cold, current recommendations are to treat acute injuries with light movement. We've seen kits where the cold compresses did not work, such as the Swiss Safe, which barely became cool, or the First Aid Only, which never activated. 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. Those who leave their kits in the trunk of the car for roadside emergencies may find a need for glow sticks, but anyone going into the backcountry will likely already be carrying a headlamp and spare batteries. We think it's best to balance the need to treat things with specialized items with being resourceful.
How many people you plan to serve with your kit is also a key consideration. A small, lightweight kit like the Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight/Watertight .7 could be incredibly useful for a day trip for a one or two-person group, but it pales in comparison to the usefulness of a deeper kit when traveling in a group of 3 or 4, such as the Adventure Medical Kits Mountain Series Explorer. When going out with larger groups, make sure you bring enough supplies. We often add extra gloves, moleskin, bandages, tape, and medications, leaving the quantities of the 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 will stay with you for the lifetime of the kit. Individual components will need to be replaced either from use or expiration (such as medications). We generally don't perform first aid on ourselves or hiking partners every day that we go out, so our kits can languish unused at the bottom of our packs for long stretches of time. 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.
Some commercial organizations require that kits be re-inventoried after each trip. Many recreational users, however, may find that an unrealistic standard to follow. At the very least, keep your kit stocked up on consumable items like moleskin, over-the-counter drugs, and tape. To avoid being 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 an easy medical supply reordering service so that you know that you are getting similar quality items to refresh your depleted stores.
You should feel free to resupply your kits based on other lists as well, and with what you actually need for your intended application. The Washington Trails Association has a great list of supplies to use when you're ready to restock your kit.
The kit's storage case itself also reflects the types of trips you take. Those embarking on backpacking trips will likely benefit from having a case that secures the contents from damage and would do well to seek out a heavy nylon pouch like the one the Surviveware comes with. We were impressed with the effort put into making the AMK Ultralight/Watertight's bag, which is weather-resistant and protects 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.
The contents of the bag need to be durable and able to hold up to the rigors of use. Although most kits we tested were not labeled as waterproof or even water-resistant, by containing the supplies in individual and resealable packages, a kit can be made more durable for wet or humid environments. We still suggest an additional dry bag when in these climates to keep your supplies from spoiling. It is not only annoying but also unsafe when bandages have opened up inside your kit due to moisture because they are no longer sterile.
Versatility For Multiple Environments and Group Size
This category takes into account how large of a group the different kits could serve and the range of activities they are good for. A kit lost points if it was too heavy and did not have the added benefit of being able to serve more people in a remote environment.
The most versatile models are those with the highest quality components and good weight-to-usefulness ratios. We also tried to consider how many potential injuries a kit could treat — some kits boast an astounding number of supplies but are mostly just stocked with simple bandaids and cotton swabs. We reviewed two kits that rose to the top for use on longer trips and with big groups, the AMK Explorer and the MyFAK. Both offer bigger-than-average storage for a wider range of supplies, making them the most versatile on extended trips. The Explorer wins a Top Pick Award for this versatility on long trips and larger groups, while the MyFAK is best utilized in a basecamp scenario. It's also our favorite for dealing with severe trauma.
Too often, we found kits filled 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 Swiss Safe kit also included a small pocket kit, but this was not incredibly useful on its own.
The I Go displayed little versatility among the small kits. We continually swapped out tape, tools, and medications from more quality kits such as the AMK Hiker or the Surviveware Small to feel more confident in our abilities to provide effective treatments. And while we liked the usefulness of the Smart Travel kit in travel scenarios, it was far from being an all-around champ.
Just because your kit isn't 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. After reviewing each individual kit, we began mixing the contents to build the ultimate kits for both short and long trips. By combining the Surviveware Small kit and the AMK Ultralight/Watertight .7, we found that we had an excellent selection of resources. We were able to build a robust kit perfect for a large group on an extended trip. And by splitting them up, we could reduce weight and size as well as compensate for some of their individual deficiencies, such as the lack of shears in the Ultralight/Watertight .7.
If your group size is large enough (over 4-6), then you might consider opting for the double kit system we mentioned above. Groups do split up, itineraries can change, and injured or ill victims may require evacuation while other group members stay in the field, so having the option to split up resources is a good idea. Even for short hikes away from camp, it can be nice to take a small kit with you while the large base kit stays in camp.
Weight and Size
We measured the weight of all the kits in our review, and ranked the different models accordingly, while also considering what contents they included. Except for one kit, 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 undermine their packability. While sitting 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 the extra baggage. A key consideration in cases where every ounce and cubic inch matter, such as alpine climbing and lightweight backpacking, we awarded the top score to the AMK Ultralight/Watertight .7 due to its weight and usefulness in these specialized applications, and give an honorable mention to the scant 10-ounce AMK Hiker and HART kits.
If you're mostly river boating or car camping, a heavier or bulkier model should work 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 others designed for wilderness outings. Our favorite kit that is less likely to come with us on a hiking trip but is actually super useful and addresses heavy trauma better than any kit we tested is the MyFAK by MyMedic, which won the Top Pick Award for Basecamp Use. 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. The Red Cross has a great list of items that should be considered for a home kit.
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 in the Smart Travel model, you can save weight and space by leaving it at home. If you aren't trained in first aid, however, it's probably best to bring the manual along, and it's a good piece of reading material when you finish the group's shared copy of Moby Dick.
Most of the overnight models we looked at were of similar size because you can only go so small 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 is no comparing the Surviveware to the slim AMK Ultralight/Watertight .7 — though be careful how light you go before you lose the usefulness you desire.
Two of the heaviest models that we would actually take with us on a trip rather than leave behind at home or in the car are the AMK Mountain Series Explorer and the MyFAK. Both of these kits are much better suited for big groups, long trips, or heavy trauma with their extensive tool sets. Each fills a slightly different role — the Explorer received an award for keeping weight and bulk low while still offering the ability to care for multiple people for multiple days. The MyFAK get its own award for being so burly and of such high quality while recognizing its best use is in a basecamp scenario. Weight matters, but life-saving equipment weighs something, so you might just have to suck it up and leave that extra flask of sleeping aid behind!
Everyone needs a quality first aid kit. Whether you never leave the house or you go out for multi-day treks deep into the mountains, you should be prepared for unforeseen medical emergencies from minor cuts to major trauma. Frontcountry and backcountry users alike will keep themselves, their friends, and bystanders safer if they're equipped with a first aid kit. We hope that you never need to use them, but being prepared is the first step after prevention. Thanks for reading this review, and stay safe out there doing the things you love to do!
— Ryan Huetter