In the week leading up to a trip to Mount Rainier last summer, Tara Garland, an emergency medicine physician and avid outdoorswoman, got the same question from three different colleagues: “What do you carry in your first-aid wilderness kit?” It wasn’t the first time Garland, who carries a kit for both herself and others, had been asked. She’d added first-aid gear to her list of outdoor necessities after once coming across a mountain biker who had taken a terrible fall and having no supplies to help. “I ended up taking off my extra shirt and making a sling for him, but I really wished I could have at least given him something for pain and bandaged him up a bit more,” she says. “It’s really a bad feeling to be a doctor and not have a single thing to help someone with besides reassurance.”

Garland had noticed that, especially with more people getting out into the wilderness during the COVID-19 pandemic, and more search and rescue calls coming in as a result, her colleagues had become even more curious about what she considered to be first-aid staples. At Rainier, Garland joked with Mindy McCutcheon, the friend she was camping with, that she should prepare a master list of supplies for sharing with co-workers. McCutcheon, who specializes in aerospace textiles, stopped her right there. What if, instead of a list, they designed the ultimate wilderness first-aid kit themselves? Thus, Garland and McCutcheon’s new company, Cascade First Aid, was born.

Cascade First Aid’s kits differ from most on the market in that each item has multiple uses, for fixing either injured bodies or broken equipment — or both. The signature strap McCutcheon designed to hold the kit together, for example, can double as a sling, splint or equipment tote. Dehydrated towels can be paired with antiseptics for wound cleaning or a self-adherent wrap to make a pressure dressing for bleeding wounds, while Kinesio tape offers a superior fix for blisters and doubles as regular athletic tape, too. The kits are also as compact as possible, weighing just under a pound.

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“Cascade First Aid was certainly not built out of a hope to stop people from seeking care, but to encourage them to think about recreating responsibly,” Garland says. “It’s about having the tools to stop someone from going from ‘This is an inconvenient blister’ to ‘Wow, this is a really bad scenario and I can’t get myself out.’”

Weighing just under a pound, the kit contains items like dehydrated towels, antiseptics, self-adherent wrap, Kinesio tape, toilet paper and pads. Courtesy of Tara Garland

The company, which formally launches in February, embodies the multiple interests and skills that Garland, 35, has developed over her professional, personal and athletic life. Born in Spokane, Washington, Garland grew up “doing everything outside,” she says. Her family spent summer vacations fishing and backpacking in Alaska, while winter weekends found them on the slopes in Washington and British Columbia. “Both my brother and I were on skis pretty much as soon as we could walk,” she says.

Garland also studied dancing for 18 years, and as she got older, she became involved in Seattle’s arts and burlesque community. This interest inspired her first venture in making durable, high-quality gear. When she was getting married, Garland handcrafted sparkly nipple pasties for all of her bridesmaids — a skill she later carried over to her medical residency, making pasties for all the women in her class. “It was never a formal business venture, although I’m sure [my classmates] would be excited to advertise them as such,” she laughs. “I just thought it was a funny thing to do.”

Garland does not recall a eureka moment when she decided to become a doctor, but she remembers always being fascinated by science and biology. Both she and her older brother enrolled in medical school, becoming the first in their family to pursue that career path. A wilderness first responder course and a temporary job at Seattle’s only level-one trauma center shaped Garland’s interest in emergency medicine. She also appreciates the fact that every day on the job is different. “It really requires a jack-of-all-trades mentality, because you never know who’s going to walk through the door,” she says. “You have to be ready for anything at any time.”

Garland’s business partner and co-founder of Cascade First Aid, Mindy McCutcheon, and Garland. Courtesy of Tara Garland

After completing a residency in Colorado (where she managed to find time between rotations to conquer an infamous 38-mile overnight ski race), she moved back to Washington and began practicing emergency medicine in Auburn. Despite her love of the outdoors, she’s found that trauma cases are not her favorites to treat. Instead, she most appreciates those that are medically complex, such as patients from nursing homes who have multiple comorbid conditions. “Trauma is the sexy thing that everyone loves on Grey’s Anatomy, but it’s cognitively less exciting to me,” she says.  

If all goes according to plan, Cascade First Aid will help to keep some minor setbacks from becoming serious incidents that could lead to the trauma ward. As Garland says, “There’s a lot of unfortunate scenarios where people could be helping themselves earlier.”

Down the road, Garland hopes to partner with groups geared toward getting women and girls into the great outdoors, such as SheJumps. “I think there’s a huge opportunity to get in there and help women feel empowered to deal with emergencies in backcountry,” Garland says. “It’s not stuff that’s difficult to do, it’s just a question of having the right tools to do it.”