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Safari Vehicle First Aid Kit

As the Guide on a safari you will be responsible for the health and physical well-being of a group of people. It is possible that many of them will be unfamiliar with the environment you are introducing them to, and unaware of possible dangers. You will want to be vigilant in caring for them and advising them on safe behaviour. But also a comprehensive 1st Aid kit is one of your most important pieces of equipment, right up there with food and drink.

Guide & clients

Of course we hope you will never have to use it – but when there is an accident or illness in your party you do not want to be without this piece of equipment. The exact contents and size of your kit have to be determined by the nature of your safari and the ages and number of people being catered for but below are some general considerations and at the end of the article is a comprehensive list of items you might wish to include.

Emergency Information & Contacts

medical records

Client medical information should be obtained before you set out on your safari. For each member of the party you will need:

  • Medical consent forms
  • Medical Aid information
  • Medical history summary, including allergies, etc.

Your 1st Aid kit should also contain:

  • Emergency phone numbers, including contact information for MARS or ACE or other emergency medical services as well as for AA and the nearest police and fire brigade numbers for the area you will be in;
  • Contact numbers for colleagues or other forms of back-up.

Containers for Your 1st Aid Kit

Container Size – The container needed for a kit will vary depending on the size of the particular kit. It would be a pity to leave out materials that could be useful in an emergency because your container is not big enough! The most sensible approach would be to assemble all the materials you think are desirable for a specific kit and then look around for the suitable-sized container.

Container Type – Most 1st Aid kits call for a water-resistant container that can be secured shut. A backpack or small duffel bag could be adequate. (See below for sorting within the kit.)

Container insulation – If your safari takes you into an area of high temperatures it will be desirable that your container has a measure of insulation, to prevent the drugs it contains from over-heating. (On the whole you are not going to have to worry about drugs getting too cold in Zimbabwe.)

Container Portability – In an emergency the kit might to have to be carried some distance from your vehicle to the site of an accident. It would be good if the container has carrying handles. If it is very heavy you might consider dividing the contents into two containers, each of which could be more easily carried. You would then have to be very sure that you could lay your hands on the kit you need for an emergency – and have the other container storing only backup equipment.

Container identification – The kit needs to be clearly labeled on the outside as containing 1st Aid materials – a big, obvious red cross would be good but you could also write “1ST AID” with a permanent marker in multiple locations on the container

1st Aid Kit Packing & Storage

1st Aid kit sorted

It is vital that your 1st Aid supplies are stored safely, in an organized system and regularly checked. When you are in an emergency you do not want to be scrabbling frantically amongst unsorted and out-of-date material. Careful preparation could save a life.

You want to be able to separate items into a few general categories within the kit so you can find them easily. There are a number of ways you might do this. You might adapt the categorization used in the Comprehensive List below into a list such as:

  • Tools
  • Disinfecting
  • Dressings/bandages
  • Pain relief
  • Burns
  • Stomach upset
  • Eyes
  • Colds/coughs
  • Allergies

Various containers can serve to separate your categories:

  • You might have existing compartments in your container (like in a medic backpack or utility box) to separate your categories;
  • Labeled zip-lock bags fit well into a non-rigid container (but you need to be sure that delicate items are not going to be crushed);
  • Look for smaller, clear plastic containers like those available for crafting supplies, Tupperware or even disposable food storage containers with snap-on lids. Empty pill bottles are also useful for storing Band-Aids and other small components
  • Trauma supplies are typically required in more urgent scenarios so make sure they are stored in the most easily accessible part of your kit.

Create a Contents Checklist

1st Aid checklist

You might not be the one using the kit (you yourself might be the victim of an accident). You want anyone who uses the kit to know immediately what the kit includes (and does not include) so that they do not waste time looking for something that is not there. As you stock your 1st Aid kit record every item in large, clear print on a card or laminated paper that you will keep in the kit. The following information is important:

  • What is in the kit
  • Quantities (e.g. 10 small bandages, 20 anti-histamine tablets)
  • Expiry dates for medications or ointments. (We talk about keeping your kit current below.)

When the kit has been used you need to make sure that the checklist (and contents) have been updated.

Keep Your Kit Easily Accessible

In an emergency, you want to be able to lay your hands on your 1st Aid kit without hesitation. How this is achieved depends on the context in which the kit is being used. Usually the storage space will be a designated corner of your safari vehicle where the 1st Aid kit bag will be relatively cool, not crushed or covered by too much other luggage and easily accessible at a moment’s notice.

Be Able to Use the Kit Efficiently

  • As a guide you should take a reputable 1st Aid course every 2 or 3 years so as to refresh your ability to deal with a medical emergency and ensure sure that you can make sensible use of the contents of your 1st Aid kit. First Aid recommendations are changing all the time as medical science advances and you do not want to be out-of-date in your reactions to an accident;
  • Have a 1st Aid instruction booklet available in your kit with details of procedures that other people using the kit might need to know (or you might have become hazy about);
  • Make sure you are always on the lookout for information concerning 1st Aid tips surrounding specialised emergencies that might arise out of the guiding situation, e.g. snake bite, parabathus scorpion sting, spider bites,  heat exhaustion, heat stroke, gunshot wounds, malaria.

Keep Your Kit Updated

Creating 1st Aid box

You have done your homework, acquired and organized the contents of your 1st Aid kit and chosen and packed the ideal container. Now you are prepared to deal with a medical emergency to the best of your ability.

BUT the work does not stop there. Like a pet or a plant, your 1st Aid supplies need regular attention.

Medicines expire. Occasionally, container seals fail and leakage occurs. Someone might have raided the box for bandages or Band-Aids. Something might draw your attention to a new item you should have included.

About every three months unpack and repack your 1st Aid kit, keeping a close eye on prescription medication expiry dates. You will then be ensuring that your 1st Aid kit is completely ready to serve you and those in your care if a medical emergency arises.

Comprehensive 1st Aid Items List

Note: You are very unlikely to want to include everything from the list below in a single kit. (Often the lists include options for achieving the same end).

Your choices will be determined by your budget, your level of medical skill, etc. Use the list below to make sure you have not forgotten anything relevant to your specific purposes.

This list is divided into 10 sections:

  1.     Tools, instruments and equipment
  2.     Disinfecting/sanitizing & preventing infection
  3.     Treating open wounds
  4.     Treating broken bones, sprains & aching muscles
  5.     Treating pain
  6.     Treating skin conditions, including burns & blisters
  7.     Treating indigestion, constipation & stomach upsets
  8.     Treating eyes
  9.     Treating symptoms of colds, coughs & flu
  10. Treating allergies and stings

Tools, Instruments and Equipment

  • 1st Aid instruction book
  • Bach flower Rescue Remedy
  • Cottonwool balls and cotton-tipped applicators/swabs
  • CPR mouthpiece/breathing barrier (with one-way valve)
  • Emergency blanket
  • Eye bath/egg cup
  • Gloves, large, non-latex (nitrile) gloves x 4+ pairs
  • Oral thermometer (non-mercury/non-glass)
  • Petroleum jelly or other lubricant
  • Scalpel with blades
  • Scissors, sharp
  • Splints (2 or 3 sizes – see below under Bandages)
  • Surgical/face masks or breathing barrier (to exclude dust particles and to catch bacteria shed in liquid droplets from the wearer’s mouth and nose – NOT designed to protect the wearer from inhaling airborne bacteria or virus particles)
  • Syringe, medicine cup or spoon (for measuring liquid medication)
  • Tweezers
  • Zip-close plastic bags (to dispose of medical waste)

Disinfecting/Sanitizing & Preventing Infection

  • Alcohol prep pads/ wipes, 15+
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Cleansing wipes (for external cleaning only)
  • Liquid antiseptic e.g. hydrogen peroxide
  • Antibiotic ointment e.g. Bacitracin with zinc (used to prevent minor skin infections caused by small cuts, scrapes, or burns) – 5 packets (approximately 1 gram)
  • Anti-Bacterial bar soap (for wound cleaning)
  • Salt

Treating Open Wounds

You will be aware that you need to get the patient to a doctor as soon as possible if you cannot control bleeding from a cut or puncture wound or the wound is deep enough to see into and might need stitches. The sooner the wound is stitched (preferably within six hours) the lower the risk of infection.

Control of Bleeding

  • Suture kit (You might not feel confident about using this yourself but someone could be present at an accident who could make good use of this item)
  • Tourniquet, rubber
  • Wound powder (non-prescription topical powder, quickly forms a strong scab that completely covers the wound and helps to stop bleeding)
  • QuikClot Gauze (gauze containing kaolin, a mineral that speeds up your body’s natural clotting)
  • BleedCease (contains a coagulant that rapidly accelerates the blood clotting process in wounds and nosebleeds)
  • Blood Stopper Compress (non-adherent sterile pad with attached roll gauze made for quick application, super absorbent and helps stop blood flow fast while promoting clotting. (Can also be used as an arm sling)
  • Israeli bandage (specialized/heavy-duty, used in pre-hospital emergency situations to stop bleeding from hemorrhagic wounds caused by traumatic injuries.

Cleaning, Disinfecting

  • Syringe, turkey baster or bulb suction device for flushing wounds
  • Appropriate disinfectants from the Disinfecting/ Sanitizing/Preventing infection list above

Dressings (for covering wounds but also relevant to the next section, Treating broken bones, sprains and muscle pain)

Probably the most common 1st Aid actions will be an immediate covering of a wound to protect it from infection or strapping up an injury which will be worsened by movement. For these you will need an array of bandages to choose from.

The quantities suggested below obviously need to be adapted to the numbers to be catered for by your kit.

Place all your bandages in a clear, zip-close bag clearly labeled in permanent marker.

Dressing pads:

  • Sterile gauze pads, 50mm x 50mm x 8
  • Sterile gauze pads, 100mm x 100mm x 4
  • Sterile trauma pad 127mm x 228mm x 4


  • Triangular bandages/bandanas/”slings”, 100mm X 100mm x 140mm x 10 (with sheet of diagrams for their multiple use as dressings/ bandages)
  • Adhesive bandages, 19mm x 76mm x 2
  • Adhesive bandages, 10mm x 38mm x 2
  • Gauze bandage, 50mm x 3 rolls
  • Crepe bandages (Elasticated cotton bandage were the mainstay of 1st Aid kit for years, now superseded by elastic adhesive bandages, stretchable/”Ace” bandages, zinc oxide tape and cohesive bandages – adhering to itself but not other surfaces – but crepe bandages in various sizes are still a very useful in a 1st Aid kit to create localized pressure used to treat muscle sprains and strains)
  • Tegaderm film dressing x 2 (to cover and protect wounds, to maintain a moist environment for healing and to secure devices to the skin)
  • Liquid bandage (treatment for minor cuts and sores creating a “plastic” layer which binds to the skin, keeping in moisture and protecting the wound from infection.

Closing/fastening (for wounds or bandages)

  • Wound closure strips x 40 or butterfly closures or steri-strip
  • Adhesive paper tape, 25mm x 5 metres, 1 roll
  • Safety pins

Treating Broken Bones, Sprains & Muscle Pain

Apart from supportive and padding pads and bandages listed above you might need:

  • Finger splint (usually aluminum)
  • Multi-purpose splint(s) suitable for arms/legs
  • Pain-relieving muscle cream/gel for applying topically

Treating Pain

  • Pain relievers, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB)
  • Aspirin – 2 packets of aspirin (81 mg each) (Note: New/unexplained chest pain &/or possible heart attack, call for emergency medical help immediately and if advised, chew a regular-strength aspirin.

Warning, not to be taken by children or if you:

  • Are allergic to aspirin
  • Have bleeding problems
  • Take another blood-thinning medication
  • Have been advised not to by your doctor.

Treating Skin Conditions including Burns & Blisters

  • Hydrocortisone cream/sachets (for treating skin conditions e.g., insect bites, poison oak/ivy reactions, eczema, dermatitis, allergies, rashes)
  • Aloe vera gel (easing inflamed skin, soothing psoriasis flare-ups, fighting infection in, for example, acne and cold sores, burn treatment)
  • Calamine lotion (to treat itching and skin irritation caused by insect bites or stings, eczema, sunburn, poison ivy and other minor skin conditions)
  • Anti-fungal cream/liquid/spray (e.g. Miconazole 2% Cream to treat minor fungal skin conditions e.g. athlete’s foot and ringworm, stops itching, scaling, burning.)
  • Burn cream &/or spray (non-prescription for a simple burn is Polysporin or Neosporin ointment covered with a non-stick dressing. The ointment does not need to have antibiotics in it.)
  • Lavender essential oil (as burn treatment)
  • Petroleum jelly/vaseline (for treatment of skin scrapes and burns, as a moisturizer, to prevent friction damage)(and guess what – it is a multi-tool – it is a fire-starter too!)
  • Manuka honey for choice or ordinary honey if that is what is available

Blister Treatments

  • Molefoam (Extra soft cotton/foam padding cushions for protecting calluses, bunions and sensitive heels from shoe pressure & friction)
  • Moleskin (to create a “doughnut” to protect a blister, especially an open blister, from further abrasion) or blister pads (gel pad bordered by a thin film designed to keep blisters from drying out and protect them from further abrasion)

Treating Indigestion, Constipation & Stomach Upsets

  • Antacid tablets
  • Anti-diarrheal medication, e.g. Immodium/Loperamide x10
  • Oral rehydration tablets/salt sachets x 3
  • Stool softener and/or laxative x 15
  • Dramamine (antihistamine treating nausea, vomiting, dizziness, motion sickness) x10
  • Pink Bismuth tablets or liquid/Pepto-Bismal (used to treat diarrhea, nausea, heartburn, indigestion, gas)

Treatment of eyes

  • Shields or pads for eyes
  • Eye bath (or egg cup)
  • Saline solution (in a small squeeze bottle)
  • Lubricant eye drops
  • Eye ointment (to treat mild infection)

Treating Symptoms of Colds, Coughs & Flu

  • Throat lozenges 10+
  • Sudafed or an equivalent x10 (for temporary relief of nasal congestion)
  • Expectorant cough mixture (It is desirable to promote the coughing reflex to rid the system of mucus rather than suppressing a cough and allowing mucus to settle into the lungs, which can lead to serious complications.)

Treating Allergies

See section on Special needs/allergy kit below.

  • Anti-histamine, such as diphenhydramine, x 10

Special Needs/Allergy Kit

This kit takes into account the specific medical needs of a member of your party that might present an emergency situation, e.g. a serious allergy.

Sometimes an allergy will flare up in a person without any warning. Ideally, however, you know in advance if a client has an allergy, for example to bee stings, and you can be sure that you are prepared for a specific emergency. It is therefore highly desirable to ask a prospective client for information about allergies or other possible medical issues.

NOTE on Special needs/allergy kit

  • Your doctor can advise you on what to have in this kit. Antihistamines (such as Benadryl, Prednisone and/or epi-pens are the most likely inclusions. An auto-injector of epinephrine could be included if prescribed by the doctor. Include a couple of doses of any other frequently required medications, in case there is a delay in reaching medical help.
  • Pack the kit into a small, durable, water-resistant container, clearly marked with the person’s name and, for example, “ALLERGY EMERGENCY KIT”. This kit might have to be used by someone who is not familiar with the sufferer’s particular medical condition. Therefore:
  • On a durable card or laminated paper, clearly write/print out all instructions for how and when to use the medications.
  • Include your doctor’s phone number and any important patient information (any additional allergies, for instance).


It is absolutely possible to buy a ready-made 1st Aid kit for various scenarios.  However you might not know what you have in a ready-made kit or how to use it.  Creating your own kit will help fine-tune your response to emergency situations but if you are buying a ready-made kit make sure you become really familiar with its contents.

Below is a links to a site assessing safari 1st Aid kits.

Paddy Pacey

Zimbabwean field guide and trainer of aspiring guides

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