Building First Aid and Repair Kits for the Backcountry

Post by blogger | October 14, 2015      

Sarah Carpenter

A successful field repair.

A successful field repair.

Backcountry skiing can be so much fun: exploring new places, skiing powder with friends, moving efficiently through the mountains. But every once in a while, something goes wrong. A binding breaks, skin glue gets cold and loses its stick, that old ski boot rivet finally blows out. Or worse yet, you hit a buried stump and tweak your knee, your partner slices her head open on a tree branch, your spouse gets a nose bleed that just won’t stop.

It’s times like these that the people and gear repair kit at the bottom of the pack comes in handy. The kit is an item that lives in my pack at all times. It’s that piece of gear that I almost never use, but am psyched I have it when I need it.

The obvious pieces that live in my repair kit are the multi-tool, 3-4 ski straps, duct tape, 10-15 feet of p-cord. These are the pieces that can fix the simple problems -– loss of a skin tip, skins with no skin glue, loss of a snowboard binding strap.

I always carry a headlamp, a lighter, and fire starter just in case I get caught out in the cold. I also carry a small bivy sack/tarp in case I need to stay out or keep a patient warm, and a chunk of bright flagging in case of needing outside help.

One of the less obvious pieces that I carry is a large hose clamp. It has come in handy when my partner blew his heel piece up on a tour. I strapped his boot to his ski with the clamp and we skied out. It was much better finish to our tour than a three mile post-hole.

Regarding the people repair kit, I carry medical tape, blister repair including moleskin, mole foam and 2nd Skin, and steri-strips. I carry a pair of gloves, scissors (unless they are on my multi-tool), ibuprofen and Benadryl. I also carry a few tampons. They are hard to improvise, you are the superhero if you have them when they are needed. They are also good for nosebleeds. I don’t carry many gauze pads or band-aids, as I can improvise these from clothing and other items in the first aid kit.

The people and gear repair kit changes size based on the objective. Multi-day or multi-week trips merit a larger repair kit –- more of the essentials and added pieces that might be needed on an extended trip. Ski objectives where weight matters might lend to a lighter kit and a triple check on the condition of your gear. A guiding day calls for a larger kit than a ski day out with my husband.

The important piece is to have a repair kit for gear and people. I have the essentials in two zip lock bags and add or subtract as my objectives dictate.

(WildSnow Guest blogger Sarah Carpenter has spent most of her life on skis. She is the co-owner of the American Avalanche Institute and an AMGA certified ski guide. She lives in a strawbale house with her husband, Don, in Victor, ID. A year spent building a house convinced Sarah that backcountry skiing, climbing, and working in the outdoors is easier than working in construction.)



25 Responses to “Building First Aid and Repair Kits for the Backcountry”

  1. Mike October 14th, 2015 9:31 am

    Bailing wire. Hose clamps can be finicky.

  2. Scott in Canada October 14th, 2015 10:33 am

    I bring trusting friends who have the same sized boots….

  3. Sarah Carpenter October 14th, 2015 10:50 am

    Scott, Great idea….
    Mike, I’ve had mixed success with bailing wire. It can be useful, though.
    I’ve moved towards bringing 2 different sizes of hose clamps and that’s worked well for me.

  4. Scott October 14th, 2015 11:34 am

    I’ve switched from Bivy to Bothy bag in my essentials kit. I like the 2 person size since it can also work solo to wait out a storm or cut wind chill. Multiple sizes are available for larger parties.
    It is designed for a sitting up position and props open with ski poles and grants just enough room to change out a sock, dress a wound, read, journal or brew up.
    Not ideal for a planned bivouac, rather an emergency one.

  5. XXX_er October 14th, 2015 12:29 pm

    also you can screw 2 hose clamps together

    IME those ski straps are good to fix the exploding rad heel piece, they will also hook together to make a very long strap and make sure you get the very long sizes

  6. Jack October 14th, 2015 1:26 pm

    Two things:
    zip ties – light and strong
    needle and thread – I recommend sailmaker’s needles, a thimble, and some strong waxed thread

    The second item is small, light, and will repair a lot of things from torn packs, straps, to malfunctioning zippers. Very handy.

  7. Sarah Carpenter October 14th, 2015 3:02 pm

    I’m taking notes! Thanks for the comments. I haven’t used a Bothy bag, but I might have to test one out. XXX_er – ski straps are the #1 thing I make sure I have. They can fix so many things. Jack – I agree about zip ties, except in the cold. Then I’ve had them become brittle and shatter.

  8. DavidB October 14th, 2015 7:00 pm

    Lou, I too carry zip ties, a couple of different sizes. You can even get them long enough for the boot repair.
    An emergency blanket (space blanket) they weigh nothing and are flat. a 5 or 10cm conforming bandage and a disposable CPR mask.
    If you ever have to perform CPR on a stranger, one of these is comforting, trust me, first aid is my day job. Again, they’re light and pack small if you use the key ring type as opposed to a pocket mask.

  9. Matt October 14th, 2015 7:58 pm

    ditto on the cpr mask.

    combat gauze is another thing. it’s a blood clotting agent. seriously life saving and doesn’t weigh anything.

    And up the number of gloves! Nitrile, not latex. Bring as many gloves as you can shove inside of the cpr mask case.

  10. Ryan October 14th, 2015 8:18 pm

    Thanks for all the info!
    There are outdoor zip ties that are good in cold. You can get some from electrical supply stores or flag down a telephone or cable tv technician… we have several varieties in our vans. They can be joined too alot like the hose clamps.

  11. Thomas October 14th, 2015 9:20 pm

    2 small hose clamps
    2 3 inch pieces of old aluminum ski pole cut length wise
    I have used this a few times to fix broken ski poles. Duct tape and something rigid can work for survival but this is way better. Totally useless for carbon. Thanks for all the great suggestions

  12. Jon October 14th, 2015 11:01 pm

    This season I’m adding a spare heel and toe piece each for multi day tours. I’m on TLT Speed Superlights so the weight penalty is negligible. And at least one of my partners has the same bindings, so we can split it up. At the very least, carry 4 extra binding screws.

    +1 on the bothy bag and nitrile gloves. The gloves also make a good VBL glove liner in case the temps drop unexpectedly low. Test this out in a controlled situation before you have to use it in an emergency. Not everyone reacts well to a VBL.

  13. dmr October 15th, 2015 3:42 am

    I’ll second the steri-strips, very useful and effective. I also carry Neosporin to treat cuts and abrasions.

  14. JC October 15th, 2015 6:47 am

    Duct tape. everything from first aid, binding/skin repair, patching ripped clothing, and making splints. no tools required to apply or remove.

  15. Sarah Carpenter October 15th, 2015 7:07 am

    If you’re carrying extra toe and heel pieces, think about adding steel wool (to help biding screws bite) and plumbers putty (works well in cold). Depending on the trip, I might also add some sort of auger or drill bit for a multi tool or binding buddy, in case the existing binding screw holes are stripped.
    And yes. I too carry a CPR mask. Good point!

  16. Blair October 15th, 2015 11:27 pm

    One half of a hacksaw blade, for repair and fabrication. 35 years ago we used it in Little Yoho to make pins out of nails to fix our three pin binders. Gate closed and locked with car on the wilderness side? Trolley locked across the river in unplanned evacuation?…just sayin.

  17. Don Gorsegner October 16th, 2015 10:19 am

    I have found an extra tail clip and strap for my skins to be very helpful. On a few outtings some of my buddies were very thankful when they lost a clip.

  18. Lee October 17th, 2015 6:40 am

    If you are going to bring fire starter, consider a titanium or ss cup as well.

  19. Darwin October 17th, 2015 4:31 pm

    Ok, Bothy just got added to my gear purchase list! Plus a few extra voile straps and either bailing wire or hose clamp as my ski boots are ‘well used’

  20. RobinB October 18th, 2015 12:23 pm

    The multi tool might be obvious, but I prefer to bring the smallest vice grips, a t-handle driver, and 1/2 of a hacksaw blade. Now you can grab stuff while you use the driver. You can grip the hacksaw blade firmly because the pliers lock. Use it in the pull-to-cut orientation.

    The recent explosion of impact drivers means it is easy to find drill bits that fit 1/4″ hex drivers. Choose the size that will let you remount a binding. Oh, and a couple extra binding screws.

    Ski patrollers fix everything with zap straps and electrical tape. There are many levels of quality for zap straps – the good ones are less brittle.

    Bug your local bike shop for the extra torx driver that comes with almost every set of Avid brakes – they fit the Dynafit screws, and are small and light.

    Single serve packets of epoxy are available, if you are hut based, or camping multi day- this could make for a stronger binding remount.

    A scrap of old alu pole, a couple hose clamps, 2 or 3 of those old school smash to close rivets for skins, a spare pole basket, a bit of baling wire, two key rings (replace a broken pack buckle), and it seems I have Voile straps in every pocket!

    On longer trips, a Clamp-tite tool is a great fix all. Weighs a bit, but you only need one in the party. Can stay at the hut/base camp. I have rebuilt a broken carbon pole with this and some epoxy.

  21. Paul October 20th, 2015 6:22 pm

    I also add a couple of caffeine gel (Gu-type) packs to get me back when I don’t feel good or (theoretically) when a 3 hour tour turns into an all night epic, a couple of Lortabs, a few aspirin (after encountering a heart attack on the trail), and a couple of cough drops. Years ago I found a drill bit set that fit into a 1/4 in drive posidriver and I carry one of those bits and a handful of screws on hut trip (actually used it one time to remount a tele binding that tore out). And of course spare mitts and a bright colored puffy jacket. Another clever related trick I heard about someone using – they watched a heli circling, looking for them, realized they were hard to spot in earth tones and fading light, and then thought to trigger on an airbag pack.

  22. Gerard October 29th, 2015 4:59 pm

    A T-nut and matching bolt will fix a broken boot pivot. You can find plastic bolts to keep the weight down.

  23. Lou Dawson 2 October 29th, 2015 5:03 pm

    Robin B, those are some real insider tips! Thanks also Paul and Gerard!

  24. Dave October 30th, 2015 8:16 pm

    Based on this thread/article, I bought a Bothy Bag. Will now be in my pack at all times. Will use it for lunch breaks in foul weather as well. Thxs!

  25. Mark November 8th, 2015 9:04 pm

    I like to carry a few extra chemical hand warmers. Or better yet, one of the bigger 6″x6″ versions. Haven’t used it yet but would be nice for someone waiting for an evac.

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