A well stocked first aid kit is a critical part of any survival or preparedness setup. How large your first aid kit needs to be is largely dependent on your individual situation, and whether the kit will be carried, tucked away in a vehicle, or in a closet at home.
I keep a first aid kit in my car, in my range bag, and at home. That’s three different kits in various sizes with different contents. The home based first aid kit is obviously the largest. When assembling a first aid kit, it’s useful to begin with one that is pre-made. Pre-manufactured kits usually come with their own bag or case, which is handy. I started out with the STOMP Mobile Hospital. It’s a top-of-the-line first aid setup with virtually everything you need to handle trauma at home or in the field, and it’s while it’s big, it all fits in a backpack that can be quickly grabbed for transport if necessary.
Military STOMP Portable Hospital, an advanced first aid kit that requires some training to fully utilize.
For my car, I started out with the Master First Aid Kit. It’s not as big as the STOMP Mobile Hospital and doesn’t take up much room in the trunk, but it’s still a good well rounded kit. An more robust alternative might be the Tactical Trauma Backpack. If you need something a bit cheaper, the Tactical Trauma Kit is a good place to start. The Tactical Trauma Kit is small enough to fit in some motorcycles as well.
Whether you are heading out on a hunting trip or down to the range to punch some holes in paper, you should always carry a first aid kit. In my range bag I carry an Individual First Aid Kit (IFAK) that is supplemented with a Res-Q Pack which includes two Quik-Clot hemostatic emergency dressings. This makes the perfect blow-out kit for a possible gunshot injury. Nobody ever goes out hunting, or to the range, expecting to get hurt but every year hundreds of accidents happen. If you’re going to be around guns, it’s a good idea to have a first aid bag with a blow-out kit. Hopefully you’ll never need it to treat an actual gunshot, but it’s nice to have for minor accidents too: I’ve been very glad I had some burn gel in my first aid kit after doing the “hot brass dance!”
Naturally, I added some extra items to all of my kits, customizing them to their anticipated roles. The home based kit is the most heavily augmented first aid kit. Along with the enormous inventory of the STOMP Mobile Field Hospital, I added the following items:
- Antihistamine (Benadryl)
Individual First Aid Kit (IFAK), perfect for a small portable emergency kit.
- Activated Charcoal (in case of poisoning)
- Rescue Inhaler (prescription)
- Nitrile Gloves
- Permanent Marker and Notepad
- Blood Pressure Cuff
- Hand Warmers (instant heat pack)
- Duct Tape
- Super Glue
- Powdered Sports Drink
- Tampons and Maxi-Pads (un-scented and non-deodorized, these are sterile and excellent for staunching blood flow)
- Snake bite Kit
The Master First Aid Kit I keep in the car is pretty well outfitted just as it comes, but I went ahead and added a Res-Q Pack to it along with some sunscreen, insect repellent, a flashlight, permanent marker, Para-Cord, duct tape, super glue, respirator, tampons, and an assortment of drugs including an antihistamine, epi-pen, and ibuprofen.
While most of these kits are heavily outfitted with gauze and bandages, I always add more. Gauze is one thing it seems that you can never have enough of. It is used to treat almost every type of bleeding wound, and so runs out quickly. Other items you may want to add to any first aid kit include an extra set of shears and a tourniquet (if the kit does not already have one). For some time, the use of a tourniquet was discouraged as it could lead to the loss of a limb. Modern emergency medical practice however has recognized the value of a tourniquet in reducing blood loss, despite the chance of losing the affected limb from over-tightening.
US Army Staff Surgeon Maj. Alec C. Beekley commented on his experience with the use of tourniquets saying, “It was my experience that if they came in with an extremity wound and they had a tourniquet on, they had a fighting chance. If they didn’t have a tourniquet, or they had a tourniquet that wasn’t effective, they died. I don’t know what other injuries they might have had, so I can’t say whether a good tourniquet would have made the difference. But soldiers who came in with tourniquets on, even if they were hard to resuscitate, they generally were able to survive.” As with many other items in your first aid kit, seek out specific training when it comes to the proper use of a tourniquet.
I wanted to know what other items people add to their kit, so we opened up our Facebook page and asked people what items they felt were indispensable for an individual first aid kit. There were a number of great suggestions, such as duct tape and super glue which is great for closing wounds when you don’t have sutures, and duct tape is fantastic for treating a sucking chest wound. A number of people, jokingly we felt, suggested alcohol. Denatured rubbing alcohol is often found in many first aid kits, but in fact potable ethanol such as Everclear or basically any high proof (150 proof or higher) alcohol does have a valid place in a first aid kit. Not only does it work as a sterilizing agent, but it can be used as a cooking fuel if necessary and, in an extreme emergency, as a relaxant or pain management tool. Don’t misunderstand, alcohol can be very dangerous due to the complications it brings when ingested by an individual suffering from acute trauma. Alcohol lowers blood pressure, thins the blood, depresses respiration and can increase the chances of a seizure; but when used by a trained first responder it can still be a valuable asset.
The best response to our Facebook query came from one of our fans 2xMakina, an admin on the PrivateAidAssociation.org Forums, who recommended the following when building a first aid kit from scratch:
1) Utility life: 3 days to a week, max. No long-term care capability beyond that.
2) Assumed that there MAY NOT BE definitive care to transport to — this is a Bugout Bag kit, not a Hiker’s kit. The stuff in here is when YOU are your ONLY medical resource and there IS no higher care to which to transport (a primary reason why stabilization measures such as oxygen, IV’s, adjunct airways, etc. are specifically and DELIBERATELY not included. When a patient is bad off enough to require these things, the amount of equipment and long-term care is cost- and weight-prohibitive, and having only small amounts of stabilization gear does not affect ultimate patient outcome under non-transport conditions. Not even a doctor can fully treat (not just stabilize) major trauma in the field without a significant amount of equipment — more than one human can carry.
3) This kit is designed to be integrated with the rest of the PAA BoB (Bugout Bag) system. Certain choices were made specifically to be used with other BoB components.
4) This kit was designed with the following four criteria in mind, attempting to balance them: a – utility for weight, b – integration, c – cost-effectiveness, and d – general availability. In other words, we also considered NOT single-sourcing ourselves for equipment; What good is having a standard if a critical component isn’t available anymore?
20 Sterile 4×4’s
10 Sterile 2×2’s
10 Sterile non-stick 3×4’s
5 Cling Rolls, 3-inch
5 Cling Rolls, 2-inch
2 Packages butterfly closures or steri-strips (minimum 10/pkg)
1 Box Band-Aids (Preferably flexible fabric)
5 Knuckle Band-Aids (can be in box of bandaids)
1 Package Moleskin
3 Unscented, non-deodorized feminine maxipads (Minimum – 6 maximum)
2 Rolls medical tape (1 of which preferably hypo-allergenic) 1 or 2 inch (your pref)
1 Ace or other elastic bandage
8 oz. Hibiclens (or other Chlorhexadine Topical)
8 oz. 75.5% Ethanol Alcohol – potable (EverClear-available in FL) — this is a multipurpose liquid: Antiseptic, Relaxant, and stove fuel if necssary — integrates with the rest of the PAA BoB (Bugout Bag) kit.
10 Ibuprofen 200mg
10 Extra Strength Tylenol 500mg
10 Aspirin 325mg
10 Benadryl 25mg
10 Imodium AD 2mg
10 Antihistamine of your choice (Sudafed, Actifed, Zyrtec, Chlor-Trimoton, etc.)
0.45 Fl Oz Orajel (Benzocaine 20%)
10 Neosporin Neo To Go (1/32oz)
5 Day Supply of Your Emergency Medication (Keep in correct scrip bottle for legality — add sterile cotton to keep quiet if necessary)
1 Box Benadryl 25mg dissolving strips
1 Inhaler, Primatene Mist
20 Calcium carbonate chewable antacid tablets
1 Thermometer (preferably non-digital)
1 Packet Q-tips (Travel Size)
Insect Repellent (Travel Size)
5 oz. Bullfrog Superblock Sunscreen (45spf)
1 stick Blistex Lip Balm (30spf)
1 Trauma Shears
4oz. Gold Bond Powder
3 NIOSH N95 respirators
4 Safety Pins (your choice of size/color/type etc.)
Notepad (Preferably Rite-in-the-rain)
10 Pr (Minimum, Max 30pr) Nitrile non-sterile examination gloves
I’ll recommend adding the following items:
1) Some kind of cold medicine for suppressing cold symptoms — if you’re in the field solo or with someone else, cold symptoms will definitely slow them or you down to the point of limited function, and if you’re in an emergency situation, that could kill you. Have it. Pick one and go with it. Have enough for three days.
2) A sharpie marker, for writing things down on your patient or yourself…things like “tourniquet 3/6 at 1420 hrs” or “Bitten here 1100 hrs” or “Pedal Pulse Felt Here” or “Not this hand” or “Do NOT take blood pressure.” — this is kinda important, especially if it’s you and you’re losing consciousness.
Once you have assembled your components, examine the size and weight, and THEN choose a bag accordingly, not the other way around.
We should note that none of the information presented here by Cheaper Than Dirt! or any contributors should be construed in any way to constitute medical advice. Cheaper Than Dirt! and our contributors cannot be held for the use or misuse of any information presented here. You should seek out professional training and medical advice when putting together and learning how to use your first aid kit.
Having a well stocked first aid kit is just the beginning. Most states have “Good Samaritan” laws that partially protect individuals trying to render aid, but you should seek out training from the Red Cross or other organization and learn proper first aid procedures. Even if you have been trained in the past, it’s a good idea to seek out continuing education and refresher courses. Medical technology changes rapidly, and enrolling in a refresher course keeps you up to date on current modern practices.
Even if you have extensive training with your first aid kit, put a book on basic first aid in your kit. You never know who may be using it in an emergency, and you may be the one who is hurt. Depending on the injury, you may be unconscious or unable to communicate, making it impossible for you to instruct someone helping you. Go over the use of your kit with your family and members of your household. If you are out hunting, let your hunting partner know where your emergency kit is and how to use it. After all, the whole purpose of having one is to be prepared when emergencies happen, and you never know when the person who needs to be saved will be yourself.
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