First Aid Kit: essential gear or unneccesary comfort?

Three days until departure on the next segment of our bikepacking saga.

I’m pondering what, if anything, to pack in a first aid kit. Adventure travel necessitates first aid supplies. But bikepacking necessitates a ruthlessly lightweight kit. Every item must be pedalled up 52,000 feet of rugged ascending Scottish terrain. 

My packing for the Colorado Trail two years ago was excessive but I learned a valuable lesson in minimalism as I cursed my overly loaded bike. The rule is that comfort and pack weight are inversely related to each other.

Nothing but a positive attitude can help us now

The lighter your pack, the greater your tolerance for discomfort must be. Two years ago on the Colorado Trail, I stopped at a lot of post offices to mail superfluous items home, including a first aid kit. The load on the bike had to be pared down so much that the first aid supplies had to go. Foolish? Perhaps. But when every item must serve at least two purposes (see: multitool, socks worn as mitts), there’s no room for just-in-case items like gauze and ibuprofen.

Socks as mitts. Every item must be dual function.

Did my tolerance for discomfort increase with every post office visit? I don’t think so. Ultimately, the 530-mile trip across the Rocky Mountains did involve some medical situations, none of which were solvable with a first aid kit. As I ponder the packing scheme for the longer 550-mile trip around the Scottish Highlands, I’m comforted by remembering that none of our medical ailments could be helped with a first aid kit. In Colorado, the three of us were collectively struck down by giardia, fleas and a dislocated shoulder. All inconvenient and bordering on disastrous, but none requiring the contents of the first aid kit I’d mailed home. Bandages and Ibuprofen. Good for peace of mind and comfort, but not useful enough to be included on a lean bikepacking setup.

Somewhere high in Colorado. The exhausted fleabag resting his weary bones

The truth is there may have been medical items which would have made the trip less uncomfortable, but there’s no way to know exactly what to pack in a first aid kit. The list of possible afflictions is endless. We suffered setbacks on the Colorado Trail, but were no worse for wear in the absence of the first aid supplies. The contents of the kit might alleviate some pain but discomfort is expected and so prevalent on a bikepacking journey, that it’s hard to picture what difference a few strips of gauze and an anti-pain medication will make. The point? The lighter the bike, the easier it is to pedal. The inverse: the easier the bike is to pedal, the fewer supplies and creature comforts are on it. Thus, as I assemble the gear for this summer’s adventure, the first aid kit and any expectation of comfort are both absent. 

Essential kit. Guitar over first aid supplies

At the end of the Colorado Trail, the only thing that could save us was a rental car and a quick exit out of there. Sick and uncomfortable from giardia, broken and bruised from a dislocated shoulder, scratchy and whiny from fleas, we loaded the rental car with our bikes and the scraps of clothing that had survived the militant bag inspections and hightailed it for home. Would a first aid kit have prolonged the fun and prevented the hasty retreat? I don’t think so.

grinning (grimacing) but safely packed away into a car and bound for home

Two years have gone by since we retreated from the Colorado Trail with our tails (literal and metaphorical) between our legs. We’re a bit wiser this time and more mentally prepared for the discomfort of bikepacking. Scotland Highlands 550. The uncomfortable adventure starts in three days.

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Scottish Highlands. We haven’t been there yet but here’s a photo from the internet. The discomfort awaits.


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