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The ongoing trend in the consumer market of providing small, ready-to-go, individual size packages of consumables has been a win-win for the lightweight and ultralight backpacking communities. Always looking to shave a few extra ounces or grams off of our overall pack weight, these individual servings are the perfect fit for trail snacks, drinks, condiments – you name it.
However, these nicely packaged individual servings can come at a premium. They can often be pricy or difficult to find without going online and ordering in bulk + shipping. That’s when the creative types among us come up with ingenious solutions that lets us make our own alternatives using things we usually have lying around.
Which brings me to today’s topic – individual size packages of antibiotic cream. I’ve carried a few of the Neo-to-go (Neosporin) packets with me as part of my first aid kit for quite some time. They’re small, handy and easy to use, but they have some downsides. Firstly they are expensive, secondly each packet contains way more ointment than I need for a small cut or graze – an awful lot more and once it’s been opened it shouldn’t be reused or saved.
I recently stumbled upon a really clever solution to this problem that involves a tube of antibiotic ointment (generic), a plastic drinking straw, a Bic lighter and a pair of needle-nose pliers (I use my Leatherman Squirt PS4). For the life of me I can’t find the website that I saw the original version of this on so I’m going to repeat it as best I can remember – apologies to the original author.
We’re going to make very small, single use packets of antibiotic ointment using a generic alternative to Neosporin and a clean (unused) drinking straw. If you’re like me and have kids, chances are very good that you have an open tube of antibiotic ointment in your medical cabinet. On its own it is too large to carry on a backpacking trip, so we’re going to re purpose it.
Place the straw over the opening of the ointment tube and carefully squeeze in a small amount of the ointment that is approximately one quarter of an inch in length. You’ll notice that transparent straws work best for this.
Use you fingers to squeeze the end of the straw so that it pushes the ointment further up inside the plastic straw. This will provide a clean area for sealing the end of the straw without having the ointment ooze out while you are holding it with your pliers.
Hold the end of the straw with your needle-nose pliers so that a small amount of the straw is protruding. This will be used to melt and seal the end of the straw. Take your Bic lighter and carefully melt the end of the straw so that it forms a seal. I like to quickly pinch the melted end with my pliers to ensure a good seal.
Turn the straw around and find the point where the ointment went up to inside the straw. Pinch just past that with your needle-nose pliers and cut off the excess straw with a pair of scissors making sure to leave a small amount of the straw protruding for sealing with your lighter just as you did in the first step.
Now you have a single use packet of antibiotic ointment that you can carry with you as part of your UL backpacking first aid kit. These are also perfect for EDC carry in a pocket or even your wallet.
I’ve yet to have one of these burst or fail on me. Simple, affordable, and very convenient. A great way to make use of those open tubes that are lying around with just a small amount of ointment left in them. Pretty clever idea that can be used for other purposes, what do you think?
Editor-in-Chief’s Note: Brian is an avid lightweight backpacker and author of the popular Brian’s Backpacking Blog. Originally from Southampton, England, Brian has lived in the US for over 15 years, finally settling in North Carolina. His love of the outdoors started at a very early age, almost as far back as he can remember. Now he spends as much time backpacking as his work schedule and family life will allow. Be sure to check out his blog for other great backpacking tips & tricks and gear reviews.
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Great idea - one suggestion I'd add: copy the expiration date of the ointment from the original package onto the straw with a fine point sharpie.
Are you using just ordinary drinking straws you'd get from a fast food place (for instance)? Or, are you using thicker, re-usable straws?
Excellent Idea... I suppose this would also work with tooth paste too, since apparently it works with a lot of things... I'll definitely have to try that out... always looking for ways to cut weight.
Back in the '70s I used this same technique to seal up items for a small survival kit I carried in the shoulder pocket of a parka I had. The parka is long since gone and I'd forgotten about this.
Everything old is new again.
(Also, keep in mind that triple antibiotic ointment is mostly petroleum jelly and is a good firestarter.)
Back in the '70s I used this same technique to seal up items for a small survival kit I carried in the shoulder pocket of a parka I had. The parka is long since gone and I'd forgotten about this. Everything old is new again. (Also, keep in mind that triple antibiotic ointment is mostly petroleum jelly and is a good firestarter.) Thanks.
Awesome, I have never thought to do this. I do the same with matches though. Perfect way to waterproof them.
i agree. with the wealth of info its worth the 14 cents a day. just gotta get the lump sum together lol
Awesome DIY. I will definitely be trying this out. Mostly for my wife as we have a two year old and she always has issues with our daughter getting into the diaper bag or her purse and getting into everything she can. (typical two). This is going to be great for my purpose
Mini zip baggies (apple bags) make great single serving pouches for light weight backpacking. You can get 100 for ~$5 at a head shop or jewelry/kraft store. They come in varying sizes, so you have options when it comes to serving size. You also have the option of carefully sealing the bag with a lighter for some added security.
Your best tip so far. I love it. This will be perfect for my EDC bag and Adventure bag. It's almost time to start saving my 14¢ with the consistency of good tips you guys are putting out.
I use an old hair straightener to seal the ends of my straws. I also put mouth wash, salt, spices, wooden matches, ibuprofen, tylenol, etc into straws & seal them up. I have better luck getting liquids sealed using the hair straightener for some reason.
Here is another way to carry small amounts of antibiotic ointment. Cut a square or rectangle of wax paper. Put a dab of ointment in the center. Fold the paper over and press. The ointment stays clean and secure until needed. The wax paper makes a good applicator. Place several of these in a pill pouch or other suitable container.
The ends should be able to be popped open with fingers or teeth, but a knife or scissors would be a bit more sanitary.
I like this idea and will make some for myself. However, as in the BPA-free drinking containers, could this lead to any chem leakage from the small straw melt? I'm sure some nitpicker will bring this up. Anyhoo, it won't bother me. Good idea.
You may want to check out the Lightweight Backpacking series. Brian goes over the basics and it really helped me out on some hikes: http://www.itstactical.com/series/lightweight-backpacking/
Hey Bryan great idea, I'll try this. We're doing a week long hike in Yellowstone in a few months (summer). What would be the top thing I could 'life hack' to save weight?
I don't backpack, but I'm going to make some of these for when I fly. My carry-on liquids bag is always too crowded, so this looks like an awesome and clean way to carry small amounts of creams and ointments.