Cara-Lyn Reynolds is a mountain first aid instructor and WEMSi wilderness medical tech (for more biography see the foot of this review). Lifesystems, who make a range of ready made kits, recommended their Mountain First Aid Kit when she asked which would be most appropriate for a couple or small group of friends wild camping in Scotland.
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Related UKC Forum discussions
I have my own thoughts on the pack, but since I'm a medical professional thought these may be slightly biased. I therefore took the pack to a mountain first aid course I was instructing, and asked for my students' views, both before and after the course. This review is a combination of my opinions and contributions from students.
Contents of Lifesystems Mountain First Aid Kit
First impressions were that the pack appeared well organised. Sections are see-through and labelled 'medication', 'bleeding', 'breaks/sprains' and 'accessories'. Lifesystems obviously appreciate that in the heat of the moment and panic, it's all too easy to fumble about with a pack while your mate's in trouble, and I think the labelling is a good idea.
Also inspired are the inclusion of gaffa tape, which we all know has a multitude of uses, and a lightstick. We discussed whether a mini headtorch would be more useful, and in the end agreed with Lifesystem's choice, since batteries can corrode or fail for a multitude of reasons and an emergency lightstick is pretty failsafe. So far so good – this pack seems designed by hillgoers for hillgoers.
"So far so good – this pack seems designed by hillgoers for hillgoers..."
However, I felt the designers of the pack had a few Jekyll and Hyde moments. For every genius brainwave idea, there seemed some pointless inclusions. The zip pulls are not big enough to be easily used in winter with big gloves and the zip itself could be sturdier. Given that people will be discouraged from carrying a first aid kit if it adds too much bulk and weight to their pack, I felt there didn't need to be both paramedic tuffcut shears and scissors included. I've happily trimmed toenails with my tuffcuts, and can't see the need to double up on cutting instruments.
An info sheet is a good idea, but it's written in tiny font - not ideal for limited light and stressful emergency situations. Info on pre-trip vaccinations, insurance and sexually transmitted diseases doesn't seem relevant for this kind of first aid kit, and the directions for CPR don't correlate with those issued by the UK Resuscitation Council for non-professionals. I don't think the advice not to give food or drink to a casualty is appropriate in a remote setting with risk of hypothermia, and it contradicts Wilderness Medical Society practice guidelines. More useful would be a small set of cards in larger fonts with VERY simple algorithms for CPR, choking etc.
I felt it was fine to include analgesia since this pack is NOT designed for leader use, but including the cardboard packets seemed to me to add unnecessary bulk. Of course they can't include everything, but as they've included paracetamol and Ibuprofen, I'd also have included aspirin (for chest pain), glucose tablets, and rehydration salt sachets. The omission of glucose and rehydration salts was picked up on by many of my students after completion of their course. If packaging is minimised, and other unnecessary items removed, no bulk or weight would be added and two more simple emergencies could be treated.
It's great that Compeed are included, since non mountain first aid kits would not include any. However, I would double or triple the amount, and add a few more sizes for a small group. I'd also add a large, folded sheet of cling film which could be effectively used to cover burns or large open abrasions. Cling film was another recommendation from at least half the students.
Next, the accessories. Replacing tweezers with a tick removal tool would be a brilliant move. I think Tempadot thermometers are unreliable in the outdoors, since they are hard to read, mouth temperature in the cold does not reflect core temperature, and if used in the axilla, the casualty has to be repeatedly exposed to cold to apply and remove. On a wilderness medic course I've been advised to use fridge thermometers which have long leads to the sensor – the sensor can then be placed in the axilla and display kept outside the casualty's clothes, so the first aider can continuously monitor the temperature. These may cost a bit more but are so much more useful.
Finally, the one thing that was highlighted as lacking was a small piece of waterproof paper and pencil. If this could be a casualty record card on one side, and blank paper on the other, all the better. This could act as an aide memoire for info to record (age, allergies, medical hx, medications given, basic obs etc) as well as giving the facility to note down any info needed at the time.
SummaryThis may all seem very negative, but this kit is a massive improvement on many on the market, with visible, labelled contents, lightstick, gaffa tape etc. This is just a plea to Lifesystems – if you're going to go down the road of a kit for hillgoers, please, please stay on that road. Remember we improvise. Remember some of the most common hill emergencies are blisters, heat exhaustion, hypothermia, and hypoglycaemia and help us deal with them. Keep the mindset of the improvising mountaineer, and give us multi-use items that enable us to do just that! The kit is good, and with a few tweaks, could be brilliant.
Response From Lifesystems
We are always encouraged to see reviews of our products by people who use them in the field. Cara-Lyn is a very experienced professional and the reviews from knowledgeable people such as her are particularly welcome. We, at Lifesystems, pride ourselves on constant development of our products and to hear that Cara-Lyn really rates our product is great to hear. Product improvements were mentioned and we will look at all of the comments to see if we can adapt the product accordingly. Price, competition and size of pack are points we have to consider at all times, but any feedback is always considered. To take some particular points in turn:
Finally, we understand that the outdoor enthusiast first aider is very improvisational and we hope that our kits do provide plenty of options to repair, mend or ease pain. However, although some improvisations are very valid and we would certainly use them ourselves, by putting them in a kit, we are stating that they are medically suitable, which can put us on dangerous ground. Putting cling film or fridge thermometers into a pack would practically be very useful, but would cause issues in terms of sterility and accuracy. On these things, we have to leave it to our customers to “add” products to their kits.
We hope our reply helps readers understand why we do what we do, but we are always willing to listen and adapt. We cannot always do everything, and sometimes cannot do anything, but as our kits are made in the UK and we will always strive to make the best kits for outdoor enthusiasts, we pride ourselves on being able to adapt pretty quickly.
Lifesystems – Surviving Adventure
UKC Articles and Gear Reviews by Cara-Lyn Reynolds: