To evaluate the different models in our review, we tested them on real-world conditions in California, Washington, and British Columbia on trips, including rock climbing, backpacking, ski touring, and alpine mountaineering. We also took the kits on more typical day hikes and road trips in the car.
We opened up all of the contents to see what kind of quality we were dealing with, and then put them to the test to determine how they performed in simulated first aid scenarios as practiced in Wilderness First Responder courses and recertifications. These scenarios were able to illustrate whether both veterans of wilderness first aid situations, as well as novices with little training, were able to use the equipment effectively and to test out how user-friendly it is.
We then evaluated individual performance using a set of pre-defined metrics to ensure fair and standard testing.
We assessed quality by inspecting the case for notable weaknesses and then opened the kits up to critique the quality of the contents. We first looked at the medical supplies such as the bandages, which are likely to see the most use. Packaging goes along way in ensuring that the contents are kept sterile, so we were critical of those kits whose supplies are inadequately protected. We also looked at the kit's additional tools, whether that included trauma shears, forceps, or extra items like cold compresses.
Whether or not a kit is useful does depend on the intended application, so in evaluating a kit's usefulness, we were careful to describe how it might be useful and to whom. We don't want to carry a suitcase-sized first aid kit on a day hike around our local trails, so we separated kits into trip types to then give you a better idea as to how they would best be used.
Not all of us want to buy five different first aid kits so that we have just the right one for each of our outings, rather, it would be great if one served a number of different purposes. In evaluating versatility, we looked to see if the kit could easily be pared down or beefed up based on the trip length and group size. We also looked at the type of supplies that were present and whether they had the ability to treat beyond the typical cuts and scrapes. Some of the kits come with handy first aid books, but cover incidents that the kit itself does not have the equipment to deal with adequately.
A first aid kit is only as durable as its case, so that is the first thing we considered. The internal organization was also key, as the more cluttered the contents become the less quality and useful they become. Many contents are considered one-time use, and so ease of resupply is an important consideration, but tools like trauma shears should last for quite a while, and flimsy plastic ones showed a lack of durability.
Weight and packed size is generally a function of usefulness and versatility when considering first aid kits. The smaller they are, the fewer supplies they contain. Some kits did show a very high ratio of usefulness to weight, but this is not a metric that you want to base your entire purchase on.