Rock climbing First-Aid kit

Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor, yadda-yadda-yadda. Simply having a first-aid kit in your pack is neither going to keep you safe, nor magically save somebody’s life if you have no idea how to use it. If you climb outdoors, do yourself a favor and take a Wilderness First Aid or a similar class.

First of all, your kit should be appropriate for your level of training and for the environment you’re going to find yourself in. If you’re not qualified to perform a cricothyrotomy, then there’s no need to bring the implements. Likewise, heat exhaustion is probably not going to be a problem on an ice climbing trip.

Second, rock climbing injuries are typically the result of a fall and therefore I am only going to focus on traumatic injuries. I would recommend taking a Wilderness First Aid class if you want to learn more about non-traumatic injuries - they are not obvious to diagnose and treat.

The things that can go wrong in a fall include spinal injuries, head trauma, bone fractures, muscle and tendon tears, skin lacerations, joint dislocations, sprains, abrasions, burns, blisters, and so on. If all this makes you dizzy - either stay at home or find a friend willing to save your ass if it comes to it.

Spinal and head injuries require rapid evacuation and there’s very little you can do to help your patient - backboards and head immobilization devices are bulky and therefore you’re unlikely to carry them with you on a climbing trip. Compound fractures, deep lacerations and crush wounds also require immediate evacuation. However, you should be able to stop the bleeding, dress the wounds and splint an injured limb before the help arrives. Some joint dislocations could be reduced in the field (e.g.: shoulder or finger), other would require qualified help and in some cases specialized equipment - immobilize with a splint and evacuate. Finally, sprains, abrasions, rope burns and flappers could be treated in the field with a few simple supplies.

Here’s an approximate list of items for a climbing-specific first aid kit:

  • Non-latex surgical gloves
  • Assortment of sterile wound dressings, bandages and gauzes
  • Triangular bandages with a few safety pins
  • Universal aluminum splint (SAM or wire mesh)
  • Assortment of bandaids
  • Blister treatment
  • Alcohol wipes
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Adhesive tape
  • Pain killers
  • Tweezers
  • Ice pack
  • Heat pad
  • Mylar rescue blanket
  • Notepad and pencil