Two Tins and a Bag: A Minimalist First-Aid Kit for Cyclistsby Tamia Nelson

Travel on two wheels for very long and you’ll likely get hurt. Stuff happens. Farwell recently managed to tumble off his bike before he’d even got going, a consequence of an off-side mount that went badly awry. And I haven’t escaped entirely unscathed, either. Luckily, the injuries that result from such mishaps are usually relatively minor: superficial abrasions (“road rash”), shallow lacerations, bumps, and bruises. That said, even minor injuries can be a perishing nuisance, and if you’re really having a bad week, a simple cut can be followed by a life-threatening infection. Which is why I have a first-aid kit in my bar bag. It’s not very elaborate. But it has everything I need to treat and protect most injuries that don’t leave me lying unconscious in the road. Here it is:

Tamia's Health and Wellness Kit

As you can see, it’s divided between two small tins. (Altoids tins are just the right size, but there’s no reason why you shouldn’t use something else if you don’t have a couple of them lying around the house—Sucrets tins come to mind.) One tin holds my “wound management” kit. The other holds a small inventory of over-the-counter (OTC) medications. A few remaining items go into a ziplock bag.

Now here’s a peek inside the meds tin:

Meds Kit

What does it hold? Just this:

Pill Count

The tiny ziplock pill pouches came from Walmart. They’re ideal for storing the small quantities of OTC meds that constitute my traveling pharmacy: an NSAID for aches and pains, a couple of remedies for stomach upsets, and a nostrum that goes by the appetizing sobriquet of “Mucus Relief,” the primary weapon in my unending battle against the allied forces of pollen and auto exhaust. And that’s it. (The item marked “Herbal Answer” in the background is lip balm, by the way. It helps prevent drying and sunburn.) There are no prescription items here. Any affliction that these OTC medications can’t deal with is outside the realm of first-aid.

My wound management tin is just as spartan:

Wound Management

“Wound management” is mostly a matter of cleaning and covering, so this tin holds a modest selection of bandaids and gauze pads. (Cleaning is readily accomplished by spraying the raw meat with a jet of water from my reserve water bottle. It works a treat.) Heavy bleeding would require much more absorbent capacity, of course—and maybe a tourniquet, too—but in such an emergency I’d just press spare clothing into service while I waited for the ambulance. There’s no room in my bar bag for an operating theater and surgical supply store, after all.

I also carry a few sachets of triple-antibiotic ointment. It’s no substitute for proper cleaning, nor is it of any value in an established soft-tissue infections, but it does make it easier to peel old gauze off an abrasion. And the Breath Right strips? They aren’t first-aid materials, strictly speaking, but I’ve found them invaluable on humid, high-pollen days. (I notice that some Tour riders use them, too, and that’s an endorsement of sorts. But I still can’t quite manage a 60 kph sprint. Go figure!)

Which leaves just the contents of the ziplock bag to explore:

Bags in Bags

This contains Potable Aqua chlorine dioxide tablets (used to disinfect “wild” water in an emergency), toothpicks (good for more things than cleaning teeth), and alcohol swabs (while not a substitute for proper washing, these are a useful adjunct). It also holds a reserve supply of Breath Right strips.

And that really is that. The whole kit and caboodle fits neatly into the two front pockets of my Louis Garneau handlebar bag, where it’s both protected and accessible.

Stow It

To prevent confusion, each tin in labeled: FIRST AID and MEDS, respectively. (You can just see the ziplock bag tucked into the pocket with the FIRST AID tin.) Peace of mind seldom came cheaper or rode lighter. Note that you’ll want more than this minimalist kit for expeditions that take you far off the beaten track, out of reach of cell-phone networks and local rescue squads. But for much of the riding that I do, this is just what the doctor ordered.

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For half a century, Tamia Nelson has been ranging far and wide by bike, boat, and on foot. A geologist by training, an artist since she could hold a pencil, a photographer since her uncle gave her a twin-lens reflex camera when she was 10, she's made her living as a writer and novelist for two decades. Avocationally her interests span natural history, social history, cooking, art, and self-powered outdoor pursuits, and she has broad experience in mountaineering, canoeing, kayaking, cycling, snowshoeing and skiing.