Pain medications on the trail

I want to say I am no Doctor or medical professional of any sort. I didn’t even stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night. What I have had is combat training (and experience) and (limited) medical training associated with it. In the military I had been used to being given ibuprofen (Motrin being a brand name) for any aches and pains that occurred. We referred to it as “Ranger Candy”. In the backpacking world it has had many nicknames. I usually hear it referred to as “Vitamin I”. Whatever it is referred to as, it is probably the most commonly used pain reliever by backpackers/hikers (in my experience) for minor aches and pains as well as reducing minor swelling. On my last deployment to Afghanistan I was having a lot of pain from a previous shoulder injury. I went to the medics expecting to get prescription strength (800 mg) ibuprofen and was surprised when I was told ibuprofen (and aspirin) thinned the blood and prevented blood clotting in serious cuts and would not be prescribed due to the risk of injury. Instead they prescribed prescription strength (500 mg) naproxen. I was told that some people report it even works better than ibuprofen at relieving pain. My shoulder quickly got better and things moved on. I had been planning a backpacking trip to the Appalachian Trail upon my return. As soon as I was state side I quickly packed. I made sure that I had a least 3 to 4 days of 200 mg, over the counter, “vitamin I” for the trip in my first aid kit. While on the trip I began to realize that my ankle was beginning to hurt and starting to swell. I pushed on but almost halfway through the Great Smoky Mountain’s National Park I realized my leg was swollen up almost twice its normal size and I knew that I was going to have to stop. I was amazed at how fast I went through the ibuprofen having to take it every 4 to 6 hours. I took two “zero” (no mileage) days in Gatlinburg, TN. While there I had to resupply my stock of over the counter ibuprofen. I remembered my deployment and the medics giving me naproxen and so I decided to check out its over the counter version. The directions called for one pill every 12 hours. As a lightweight and UL weight backpacker I am always weight conscience and looking for ways to cut weight in my pack. However, I am always cautious about cutting weight from my first aid kit. Because I consider these items lifesaving they’re not subject to my normal weight cutting rules. I would not use a lighter weight pill or use less than what I thought was needed just to save weight at the expense of safety. Naproxen however seems like a better candidate all around in my opinion. I can carry less pills because it takes less to accomplish the same effects and I can carry less because I only have to take them one every 12 hours instead of every 4 to 6 hours. Naproxen has the fever reduction capability as well and on top of all this naproxen causes less issues with blood thinning. I consider that a serious issue while traveling in the backcountry. Why take a chance when it isn’t necessary. I now stay away from blood thinners even before I leave for a trip.

Overall I can say that naproxen has now replaced ibuprofen and aspirin in my first aid kit.

All opinions in this article are solely mine. I am not a medical doctor. Taking medication other than recommended or prescribed by the medication or by a doctor is NOT recommended by me and can lead to serious health issues. Using any medication is done at your own risk. Consult a doctor or pharmacist if you have any questions: especially about dosages, prescribed uses or if any medication is right for you or a situation.


About coolbreezesblog

I am into all things backpacking!
This entry was posted in Backpacking, Nature, Travel, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Pain medications on the trail

  1. Hey there! Great post, and it inspired me to do a bit of research. It’s turns out that they’re correct. Here are two studies that I found supporting naproxen over ibuprofen: and

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