Be Prepared: A Tiny First Aid Kit for Hiking With Dogs

I do a lot of stuff with my dogs, but if for some reason (weird bet? evil genie? blackmail?) I was forced to only pick one activity to do with them for the rest of my life, there’s no question in my mind: we’d hike. I looooove hiking with my dogs. We’ve lived in a lot of different places in North America, and hiking has been a wonderful constant; because we move so much, there are always different places to go and different things to see, and it’s a fantastic way to get to know a new area. And it makes the dogs really happy: they are seasoned hikers and campers at this point, and they love being out in the world.

This week’s hikeventure at Madera Canyon.

I tend to pack pretty light when I hike, a holdover from my occasional backpacking trips where I have to be careful about every single ounce. Because I’m usually carrying a fair bit of water (I live in the desert, after all!), the things that I take tend to be light, compact, adaptable to many different conditions, and above all else, practical. In practice, what this meant is I used to skimp on first aid gear: every hiking guide tells you that you MUST bring first aid stuff with you, especially if you’re hiking with pets, but it’s easy to rationalize that, eh, it’s just a day hike, you’ve got your phone, you’re near enough to civilization, you don’t really need to bring that much with you. So I used to occasionally toss some Neosporin in my pack, maybe some vet wrap if I thought of it, and just hope that nothing went wrong.

I was once a Girl Scout, and even though my own scouting experience was pretty lackluster (lots of making bath salts and godseyes, basically zero “Let’s All Learn To Build A Fire!”), I did come away from it with a deep feeling that above all, you have to Be Prepared. So even while I was dashing off into the woods with nothing but some water and a granola bar, I had a certain amount of anxiety that something might happen to the dogs (or me, but: the dogs!) and I wouldn’t be ready for it. Thankfully, nothing has gone really wrong so far, but I have definitely had some cactus spikes that needed removing from noses, rocks stuck between the toes and the occasional ripped nail or paw pad that needed doctoring on the trail.

What precipitated me actually sucking it up and putting a first aid kit together turned out to be….Girl Scouts! A few years ago, Nellie and I did a Dog Jog 5K at the (awesome) Richmond, VA SPCA, and afterwards, we were approached by some Girl Scouts who were giving out little portable pet-geared first aid kits that they’d made (Scouts have gotten more interesting since I was one, apparently!) And here’s the best part: they made them out of recycled pill bottles, to which they’d attached a small clip that could hook on a backpack, a leash, a dog pack, whatever.

Girl Scout Troop #344: you guys are geniuses!

The kit included a couple of little first aid supplies and a small card with the number for (US) Animal Poison Control (888-426-4435) and spaces to write the number of your vet, plus your dog’s name and microchip number. Because of the way it was built, it had a couple of things that are, for me, very useful in a hiking first-aid kit:

  • Very small and light
  • Water resistant
  • Just big enough for really useful stuff, not so big that I’m tempted to take the kitchen sink
  • Can be just clipped to a bag and forgotten about so I never have to remember to bring it along with me (this is also why I have a bag holder and a roll of bags on all my leashes: remembering basic stuff is not my strong suit.)

I did a little bit of tweaking of the contents to optimize it for my dogs, and now I think I’ve got a nice little kit that balances my desire for minimal pack weight with my desire to be able to solve problems when they happen. Here’s what my kit looks like today:

Here’s what’s what (roughly counterclockwise):

1) The kit itself: as previously mentioned, it’s the genius combo of a pill bottle and a small clip (a little caribiner would also work.) In my Very Extensive Research for this post, I called up the pharmacist at Walgreens and asked if it would be possible to buy just a bottle to use for a kit (since we can’t all have friendly Girl Scouts around). His response? “Um, you can…just have one. In fact, you can have like fifty.” So there you go!

Also, the little card with the microchip numbers, etc. slides right in.

2) Rubber glove. This is useful in three ways: first, it’s a great way to handle a cut on your hand on the fly (I have skinned up my hands more than once while hiking). Second, it can wrap around a cut paw and serve as a temporary bootie that’ll get you home. Third, you can stuff it in the top of your tiny first aid kit to cover the other stuff and make it even more water resistant. Multifunctional FTW!

3) Gauze: great under vet wrap or for making an impromptu sponge if you need to clean a wound off (since you will of course have water with you).

4) Bandages: a small one for you and a large, heavy duty one for your dog that can cover, say, a cut on the belly.

5) Antibiotic wipe: the kind I have now is a little generic one that I got from a human first-aid kit, but when I can find them, I always have a few Neosporin wipes in there (I tried taking mini-packs of Neosporin at first, but I found they always punctured and got gross.) Be careful that your dog doesn’t lick the Neosporin: I usually use it under bandages to be safe.

6) Alcohol pad: for on the fly cleaning/disinfecting of wounds.

7) Benadryl: In small doses, this is safe for (otherwise healthy) dogs: do double check to see how much is appropriate for your specific dog (25 mg is what’s recommended for medium sized dogs, 30-50 lbs.) This is helpful if your dog has an allergic reaction to itchy plants/bug bites or if your dog is stung by a bee.

8) Buffered aspirin: This is more along the lines of reasonably safe than safe-safe for dogs, since all dogs metabolize it differently; however, if you’re in an emergency situation and your dog requires a painkiller, it’s a good choice to keep on hand. Note: when I say aspirin, I mean aspirin and nothing else–a lot of the things we use as interchangeable OTC painkillers (like Tylenol or Advil) can be quite toxic to dogs. I’m the only one who’s ever taken the aspirin in my first aid kit, admittedly, but I like to know it’s there.

9) Strike-anywhere matches: less necessary in a first aid situation, but I feel like you should pretty much always have matches with you. That, and the foil I wrapped the matches in, are pretty much a direct consequence of reading too many Gary Paulsen children-surviving-in-the-wild books when I was a kid (they used foil to start a fire and signal a plane in one book! I was dazzled.)

10) Styptic Swabs: These guys? Best things I own. You break off the tip, some styptic liquid comes out, you spread it around with the other tip, bleeding stops. Great for torn dog nails.

Here’s what it looks like all packed up (just imagine the glove nestled on the top):

One thing that I nearly always have in here (though I didn’t when I took the picture) is a small amount of vet wrap. It’s water resistant, it tears easily, and it sticks to itself: this means you can clean and gauze up a cut and then use the vet wrap both to support the injured area and keep the cut together. It’s one of the most useful things I carry (which is why I was out of it!) so I didn’t want to leave that off the list.

Also, I thought I’d mention the other things that I tend to take with me for the dogs when I’m hiking: I’ve gotten good use out of everything here, so they’re nearly always in my bag when I’m out on an adventure.

1) Light-up collar: I love this thing–it lights up when you press the button on the side so you can see your dog in the dark, which is very helpful if your hike involves dusk/nighttime, and/or if you have a dog who is prone to running off into the woods after critters when they’re off leash and temporarily forgetting that they know about recall (*glares at Lucy).

2) Bear bell: see above about Certain Bad Dogs: this is another good way to find them. These things have a little magnet in the bag that silences them when not in use, they velcro onto your dog’s collar, and since we actually have run across bears when hiking before….it seems smart.

3) Multi-tool: nice to have with first aid kit. The two things I use most frequently are the tweezers (cactus spikes and ticks) and the small blade (for cutting vet wrap and opening packages, mostly).

4) Fold-up travel bowl: must have, especially if you don’t want your dog slobbering on your water bottle.

One other great thing to take along is a small flashlight like this one: even if you’re not going to be in the dark, it’s very helpful for getting a good look at, say, a stubborn spike in your dog’s paw.

So go out, play with your dogs, get dirty, go off into the woods, let them romp around. And just in case: bring a tiny first aid kit!

(PS: do you have any first aid must-haves for when you’re out hiking with your dogs? Let us know in the comments!)

44 thoughts on “Be Prepared: A Tiny First Aid Kit for Hiking With Dogs

  1. Those are all fantastic items to have on a hike!

    Lately, I’ve been looking at “Altoid Tin survival kits” online, which is an interesting way to think about everyday preparation for unforeseen situations. I’m intrigued and impressed by the Girl Scout first aid bottle. When I was in Girl Scouts, it was essentially arts and crafts (not so with my friends who were in Boy Scouts, who actually learned useful survival things. Gender gap much?)

    • I didn’t last long in the Girl Scouts. It was all arts and crafts and I had no interest in that sort of stuff. I’m glad to see they’re more up on survival things these days!

      • I am not down on arts and crafts, but there are lots of places for that, and very few/no other places where girls can go out and have adventures. And I am very pro-adventure!

        We did an overnight campout at a Girl Scout camp once, but it involved cabins, other people cooking/building fires, no hiking, no swimming and again, more pot holders. That was very much the opposite of what I was looking for.

    • I looooooove altoid survival tins, though I’ve never made one (I am just a sucker for that kind of stuff. Tiny wire saw? Iodine tablets? Yes please!)

      I had the same experience in Scouts, which was a bummer (I actually got kicked out, making me the third generation of women in my family to be expelled from Girl Scouts. Go us!) Lots of latch hook pot holders, no camping. Everything I hear suggests that Scouts have gotten way awesomer, which is a relief.

    • The BSA now offers a co-ed program for ages 14 – 21 called Venturing. It is based around high adventure-type activities and provides a lot of leadership, too! Check it out at

    • Don’t worry. ..the Boy Scouts aren’t allowed to do anything useful anymore. .to much fear of lawsuits. (Or, at least Cub Scouts…we left Scouting after 2 years of Arts&Crafts)

  2. Great list! I especially love the Girl Scout pill bottle idea, so convenient and SMART. Like you, I love to hike with the dogs and usually toss some things in a bag and call it good. Now I want to go make these awesome kits and stash them everywhere!

    • I should probably make another to keep in my dog’s backpack! Right now the primary home for my kit is in my car, but it never hurts to have forgetfulness insurance.

  3. I was just thinking on Monday that I need to get my hike first-aid back together…I used to carry all kinds of crazy stuff and have since drifted too far the other direction. The pill bottle kit is genius!

    • Me too: I remember hugely overpreparing the first long hike I did with Lucy. It’s really easy to get all, “HOW WILL I EVER HIKE IF I DON’T HAVE AN ICE AXE????” and then before you know it, your pack weight is like 50 pounds.

  4. This is brilliant. I admit to being a total moron when it comes to bringing first aid stuff and um…bring nothing (except a water bowl and water). I really need to get my act together and bring stuff just in case.

    • I used to totally be like that! That’s the nice thing about this, though: it’s super light and super easy to just throw in your bag and forget about (until somebody gets stung by a bee, and then you get to think, “Oh yeah, I’M A GENIUS!”)

  5. That little pill vial thing is brilliant. Somewhere along the line I won or was given a little first-aid kit. I think it’s technically for pets, but I stuck some Advil for me and some Benadryl for general use in it and it’s a nice, tidy thing.

    Vet wrap is a thing of wonder. I also carry an old bandanna in my pack. It is potentially useful for a lot of things, but in a first-aid scenario, would be useful as an improvised muzzle for a dog who is hurt, in pain, and lashing out.

    • That’s a really good idea. And you can also wet it down and tie it around your dog’s neck if they get too hot. [*adds to pack]

  6. Here’s one I learned from seasoned hikers – they wrap a quantity of duct tape around their hiking poles, and then always have the makings for a splint, emergency bandage, or equipment repair.

    If you cut the tape down lengthwise, you could wrap a good amount of it around your pill bottle.

    Duct tape is amazing in an emergency. So many uses!

      • Oh yeah, duct tape…I don’t hike without it! I wrap a few layers of it around one of my water bottles, that way it’s always with me. One other thing I’ve added to my kit is instead of gauze I take a small, thin menstrual pad. It’s small, sterile and super absorbant, and it can double as a bandage when you add your vet wrap or duct tape over it. Excellent homemade bandage for you or for your dog :)

  7. A girl scout troop is only as good as it’s leaders.

    I was going on week-long survival challenges in high school. We were camping on scout land, and could easily walk to the ranger’s station, but we were foraging and fishing and otherwise trying to make do. Without adults. And very hungry. That was circa 1979, in the metro Detroit area.

    So if you hated your girl scout experience, blame the adults. Our leader had us start each year with a group think determining the badge/merit goals and subsequent projects we would be doing as a group through the year. We loved it.

    • I bet there were/are some awesome troops out there! Ours definitely suffered from leaders who did not think that fun adventure stuff was all that appropriate for girls, which was a huge bummer. But definitely: there’s nothing inherently boring about Scouts and I really do like the model (and I definitely like their politics better than those of the Boy Scouts.)

  8. Hi,
    I’m new here and it’s (it is contracted) great to see such an active community.
    I hope you will not mind me taking this opportunity to tell you about my book The Flyball 5, but it was written to encourage people to be kind to dogs and spread the word about the great sport of Flyball.
    I also hope it’s (there’s the contracted it is again) an entertaining read.
    The Flyball 5 is available in Amazon’s Kindle store.
    I know this is a blatant plug, but it’s not spam as I truly believe the people on this site will enjoy reading my book and that it has the potentially to encourage respect for dogs, which sadly is lower at present in many parts of the world than it has been for years.

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  11. The one thing I would add to the kit is a small vial of medicinal grade lavender essential oil – that is like having a “swiss army knife” first aid helper.
    Lavendula angustifolia is anti-bacterial, anti-pruritic (anti-itch) and has
    powerful skin regenerative properties. It is calming, will take the sting out of bug bites, heals burns and will clean and disinfect wounds.

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  13. We live in the Sonoran desert (Phoenix) and I never, ever go hiking without a comb. Best thing ever for getting cactus off dogs.

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  15. In a different container, put steel wool in it. Carry a battery somewhere on you. If need to make fire, gather a little kindling, touch battery to steel wool and you have a starting of a fire.

    • Yeah, it is definitely possible to go bigger with this kit, and I like the steel wool/battery trick, which I’d never heard of. However, my goal with this kit was to keep it small, light and portable–the kind of thing you’d remember to throw in your bag for a short hike–so bringing another container full of steel wool and batteries doesn’t make as much sense to me as just tucking a couple of matches into a the little kit. YMMV, though, and if you’re looking to do a longer hike and for some reason don’t want to bring a lighter, your trick is a good one.

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