What belongs in medical kits for climbers and hikers?

(Reuters Health) - For mountain climbers and hikers, injuries often include broken bones, sprains and skin wounds, but many don’t carry the right supplies for the injuries and illnesses they are most likely to face, a recent study found.

Researchers analyzed data from 11 previous studies of injuries and illness among climbers, and came up with the list of medical supplies that should be in every mountaineer’s backpack.

Then they surveyed climbers on 11 mountains in Colorado higher than 14,000 feet to see what medical supplies they carried. More than a third of the climbers weren’t carrying a medical kit at all.

“It is hard to come up with a ‘one size fits all’ approach,” said Dr. Robert Quinn, a professor of orthopedics at the University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio, who studies mountain injuries and preparedness.

“Experienced climbers will learn over time what is essential and what just takes up space and weight,” Quinn, who was not involved in the study, told Reuters Health.

Dr. William Brandenburg of the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Denver and a colleague write in the Journal of Travel Medicine that people hiking, climbing, backpacking and doing other sporting activities in mountain areas run the risk of injury or illness with little medical care available nearby.

To identify the most common difficulties experienced while mountaineering, the study team searched a medical database for studies of injuries and illnesses among climbers and hikers.

Based on those studies, the most common problems needing medical care resulted from falls or other accidents, which made up 58 percent to 76 percent of all injuries.

Strains and sprains, which made up 25 percent to 29 percent of injuries, were more common among people involved in events or trips.

Stomach upset and flu-like sickness were the most commonly reported illnesses, but were less likely to need formal care than dizziness or light-headedness.

Of the 355 individuals surveyed on the mountains, only 212 carried a medical kit.

Among the 158 people who provided descriptions of their medical kits, the most commonly carried medical supply was Band-Aids or other types of bandages. The most common medications carried were non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) drugs like ibuprofen.

Some mountaineers also carried ointments, including Vaseline and antibiotic creams.

The research team offered new recommendations for hikers’ and climbers’ medical kits, including wound care supplies such as medical gloves and medical tape, bandages and splinting materials.

The researchers also advise carrying syringes, tweezers, skin glue, Vaseline and blister treatments. In addition, bring NSAIDs, fever reducers, anti-diarrheal medicines and rehydration packets. For climbers who have proper training, opioid painkillers and anti-vomiting drugs may be carried as well, they suggest.

Quinn noted that the recommendations for what climbers will need are likely true across the world, though outside of North America, mountain-goers may need to be more concerned with water treatment and antibiotics.

“BE PREPARED! Don’t underestimate the outdoors, particularly the mountain environment,” Quinn said by email. “Become educated about the potential dangers before you go and bring the proper equipment,” he said, adding that in addition to medical kits, this includes proper clothing, water, navigation and communication equipment.

SOURCE: Journal of Travel Medicine, online January 20, 2017.