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How to Get Your First Aid Kit Ready for Summer

Here are some basics you'll want to gather together to make sure your first aid kit can handle summertime emergencies and keep summer fun.
How to Get Your First Aid Kit Ready for Summer
Young lady paddling the kayak in the calm bay with limestone mountains

Summer means sports, hikes, vacations, cookouts and all kinds of other exciting outdoor activities, but nothing can ruin an outing faster than an accident or health emergency. That’s why planning ahead and getting your first aid kit ready can mean the difference between fun and fiasco.

Keeping Cramps at Bay:

A long bike trip can result in incapacitating leg cramps. And do your arms cramp when you are paddling a canoe or kayak? Luckily, you can prepare for this by making sure your mobile first aid kit is stocked with packets of yellow mustard. Swallowing a tablespoon or two of mustard at the first sign of a muscle cramp can make it disappear promptly.

The mustard does double-duty for nighttime leg cramps and it can also serve as a burn remedy. If you are roasting marshmallows around the campfire and someone accidentally gets burned, mustard on the burn can ease the pain and reduce blistering. It needs to be left in place at least until it dries.

Soy Sauce for Burns:

You might also have a few packets of soy sauce in the first aid kit for the same reason. Soy sauce can be very helpful in soothing a minor burn. Ideally the burned area is first immersed in cool water. (A serious burn deserves prompt medical attention.)

Tending to Cuts and Abrasions:

Cuts and scrapes are also unwelcome on vacation. We like to carry packets of finely ground black pepper to stop the bleeding. Apply pressure and then a bandage to protect the wound. (Make sure you have a few handy sizes in the fanny pack or backpack that holds your first aid supplies.) For a scrape, an antiseptic wipe can be helpful to remove dirt before applying the bandage.

Taking Care of Sprains and Blisters:

We think any extended expedition deserves a first aid kit with an elastic wrap for a sprained ankle or wrist and 2nd Skin, a water-based gel dressing for blisters or burns. A high-quality splinter forceps or tweezers for removing splinters (and ticks) is another basic tool.

Preventing Sunburn and Bug Bites:

Prevention is always important. Make sure you pack your bag with sunscreen (at least SPF 15) and bug repellent. Both mosquitoes and ticks can carry disease, and a bug spray such as Sawyer Picaridin (with 25 percent picaridin) does a good job of discouraging both.


We also like to have some roasted almonds, candied ginger or sugarless gum handy to ease the heartburn that might result from a campground feast. Sugarless gum, like yellow mustard, is a multipurpose remedy. In addition to soothing heartburn, chewing sugar-free gum can also alleviate the constipation that may accompany travel.

Multi-Purpose Remedies:

A small re-sealable plastic bag with baking soda or meat tenderizer can be handy to soothe stings, and a little bottle of castor oil or a small tin of Vicks VapoRub can ease itches. Castor oil applications may also prevent bruising after a fall. A pain reliever is always a good idea when vacationing.

Easing Insomnia:

If you have trouble sleeping, valerian is an herb that might be helpful. Keep the capsules in a tightly sealed container, however, because they smell like sweaty socks or ripe cheese.

Where will you keep your supplies? You might dedicate a fanny pack or small rucksack, or look for an empty first aid bag. You’ll find them online ranging from about $10 to $35, depending on size and features. It is helpful to have a bright color like red so you can spot it in an instant when you need it. Check to make sure you can organize your first aid equipment in your bag instead of having to sort through a jumble in an emergency.

Just Take It With You:

Once you have your first aid kit ready, all you have to do is make sure you take it along with you when you head out for summer fun.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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