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DIY First Aid Kit for Trail Runners – The Essentials

Hey EB Tribe! Let’s offer a warm welcome to our newest contributor, Liza Howard! Liza recently finished 4th female at the Bandera 100km while overcoming a crazy ankle sprain the weekend before the race. Tough girl with a big heart. Liza is part a growing tribe of passionate and insightful runners that are going to crank up the value, crank up inspiration, and simply crank up the fun as we explore this sport as a region right here on Endurance Buzz.


I’ve spent the last twelve years teaching wilderness medicine for the Wilderness Medicine Institute, and practicing it as a field instructor for the National Outdoor Leadership School. Wilderness medicine is simply medicine that is practiced in remote environments under austere conditions – the places we like to run and race.

(If you can’t see the video, click here.)

I had the opportunity to combine my career with my passion for ultra running last November during the trail running camp I helped organize for Team Red, White & Blue. I put together a “First Aid on the Run” class during which hapless runners were struck down with various ailments and injuries over the course of a 45-minute jog. David’s idea for this series of posts was born from that snake-bitten, hypoglycemic, sprained, blister-filled chaos.

Sharing safety tips at last November's trail running camp.

First Aid Kit Essentials List

I think the simplest way to start is to describe what I carry in the first aid kit that lives in my hydration pack. These are the few items I’ve used regularly over the years and the ones I’ve been very thankful to have with me.

1. I always have a roll of athletic tape with me in case someone rolls his ankle severely.

There are lots of ways to tape an ankle. Here’s the one WMI teaches for someone who’d be hiking. I’d use this tape job on a runner who was able to bear weight on her injured ankle, but needed support to get to the trailhead comfortably and without further injury– or on someone who wanted to hike to the finish line rather than drop from a race.

(If you can’t see the video, click here.)

Athletic tape also makes for a good bandaid when someone falls and slices their hand on a rock and the cut won’t stop bleeding.

2. I carry an irrigation syringe.

There’s nothing like pressure irrigation to clean dirt, small rocks and other debris out of a wound. This is the tool I use most when I work medical at Tejas Trails races – and as a mom. Cuts, scrapes, lacerations, abrasions, gashes, avulsions… Nothing cleans or prevents infection better than high pressure water. And nothing creates more pressure than this little syringe. It costs $1. Hold the syringe close to the wound and use about half the water in your handheld to do a good job. I’ll save wound cleaning and wound care for another post and video though.

I also wrap some good duct tape around my irrigation syringe. Duct tape is a great way to remove prickly pear cactus splinters and needles. And, of course, duct tape is good for quick gear or shoe repairs.

3. Rescue whistle. There’s no mistaking the sound of a whistle as a signal of distress. Some hydration packs have a whistle built into the chest strap. Why wouldn’t you carry a whistle?

4. Garbage bag. (Trash compactor bags hold up best.)

This is my emergency rain jacket and my emergency warm layer when temperatures drop unexpectedly. It could be a sling, the beginnings of a splint, a small bivvy sac, a pillowcase for emergency napping… a broach, a pteradactyl. Honestly, though, a garbage bag is worth its weight in gold. (Note the emergency ponytail tie too.)

5. Map. I carry a map with me unless I know the area like the back of my hand – and, even then, I sometimes carry a map. I want to know the easiest way out of an area if I’m dealing with someone who’s sick or injured. I want to know the fastest access to a road. I want to know the best way to tell someone to find me if I’m phoning for help.

6. Tiny pencil.

On the off chance I have to take care of someone I’m running with for a while, I want to be able to record signs and symptoms and what I’ve done and when etc., so that the ambulance crew or the hospital has an accurate understanding of what’s transpired and how the illness or injury has progressed. I’ve never had to pull the pencil out on a run, but I know it’ll work if I ever need it because it’s a pencil. Pens and markers are unreliable in the cold and rain or after a long time of disuse.

7. Cell phone. ‘Nuf said.

There are other items I’ll carry if I’m going more than an hour from the trailhead – or if I’m running with blister prone friends, — or if I’m running somewhere other than South Texas, but this is where I always start. The key is that a trail running first aid kit has to weigh next to nothing. If it’s heavy, you’ll leave it behind.

The Essentials

Is there any gear you always carry with you on a run?

– Liza Howard

About the author

Liza Howard Liza Howard became addicted to ultra running belt buckles back in 2008 and now runs for New Balance and coaches fellow ultra runners. She also teaches for the Wilderness Medicine Institute and is a field instructor for the National Outdoor Leadership School. For more information on Liza, check out the About page where you can learn about her coaching, trail running camp, and daily life musings.

8 Responses to “DIY First Aid Kit for Trail Runners – The Essentials”

  1. on 31 Jan 2013 at 8:27 am Jonathan

    AN ID tag on my shoe with pertinant info. I always have an Ultralight .5 oz first aid kit in my dropbag for emergencies. I carried it with me the whole time running Jemez. I’ve never needed it but I’m glad I have it with me, just in case.

  2. on 16 Feb 2013 at 12:08 pm Cathy

    A mylar blanket from a previous marathon makes a great emergency blanket or poncho; it can be folded up so that it takes up almost no space and is very light.
    I also keep some spares in my car in case of an emergency.

  3. on 20 Feb 2013 at 9:22 am David Hanenburg

    Like the ID…I am a big RoadID fan.

    Mylar blanket is good stuff as well.

    Thanks for sharing!

  4. on 12 May 2013 at 12:05 am Ben Simon

    One of my wife’s ankle’s is especially prone to being rolled / sprained.

    Of late, I’ve thrown an ace bandage in my day hiking kit.

    Would you recommend athletic tape over an ace bandage? Or are they more or less equivalent?

    Thanks for the useful post.


  5. on 15 May 2013 at 6:08 am Liza Howard

    I’d use either the ACE or the tape. Both aren’t necessary. The tape will give more support with bad strain/sprain. But the ACE is faster to put on and can work fine for a short hike out.

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  7. on 23 May 2013 at 6:39 am Ben Simon

    Liza – Thanks for the info!


  8. on 10 Jun 2013 at 6:29 pm Dave

    I always carry a 2X2mg dose of hydromorphone. If I get injured badly and need to self extract from a remote area, I can still do it with the help of pain killers.