Mountain medical kits: epidemiology-based recommendations and analysis of medical supplies carried by mountain climbers in Colorado

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Objective: To provide medical kit recommendations for short mountain wilderness recreation trips (hiking, trekking, backpacking, mountaineering etc.) based on the epidemiology of injury and illness sustained and best treatment guidelines. Additionally, to compare these recommendations to the medical kit contents of mountain climbers in Colorado.

Methods: A primary literature review concerning the epidemiology of injury and illness in mountain wilderness settings was performed. This information and literature on the efficacy of given treatments were used to derive recommendations for an evidence-based medical kit. The contents of 158 medical kits and the most likely demographics to carry them were compiled from surveys obtained from mountain climbers on 11 of Colorado’s 14 000-foot peaks.

Results: Musculoskeletal trauma, strains, sprains and skin wounds were the most common medical issues reported in the 11 studies, which met inclusion criteria. Adhesive bandages (Band-Aids) were the most common item and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs were the most common medication carried in medical kits in Colorado. More than 100 distinct items were reported overall.

Conclusion: Mountain climbing epidemiology and current clinical guidelines suggest that a basic mountain medical kit should include items for body substance isolation, materials for immobilization, pain medications, wound care supplies, and medications for gastrointestinal upset and flu-like illness. The medical kits of Colorado mountain climbers varied considerable and often lacked essential items such as medical gloves. This suggests a need for increased guidance. Similar methodology could be used to inform medical kits for other outdoor activities, mountain rescue personnel, and travel to areas with limited formal medical care.

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