There are a lot of pre-made first aid kits on the market. Some are good. Some aren’t so good. Unless you can actually get your hands on it and check expiration dates and contents, it can be somewhat difficult to pick out the right one for you.
Many of them will also have things that you either don’t want or don’t know how to use properly which could lead to further injury. More isn’t always better – a 110 piece first aid kit might only be 100 different types of band-aids and 10 rolls of medical tape. You can either pack your first aid items individually in your BOB or store them in a separate pouch/bag altogether.
If you plan on being with a group of people, it can be a larger bag that will contain enough supplies to accommodate your entire group a few times over, and one person can be your designated “medic.” If that is the case, it’s still good to carry a few basics in your own gear.
For your own first aid items, I suggest getting a small pouch that can be attached to your belt or bag. If you have a bag that is MOLLE (Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment) compatible such as my BOB made by Sandpiper of California, you can get a pouch that will securely fasten to the outside of your BOB. For example, this IFAK (Individual First Aid Kit) pouch is what I was issued when I joined the Army. If you find one stocked, it will contain a tourniquet, Israeli pressure bandage, nasopharyngeal airway tube, a package of gauze, rubber gloves, and 6′ of medical tape.
The Army IFAK was designed to aid in immediate lifesaving procedures on the battlefield and may not completely meet your bugging out needs. If you like the idea of having an outside pouch for easier and faster access to your first aid gear, check out this pouch by Maxpedition. Your local military surplus store is always a great option for gear like this as well.
Enough about what pouches to use – now you need to know what first aid items you need to have:
1. Controlling bleeding. I go into detail about methods to control severe bleeding here, but you want at least one of the following: a CAT (Combat Application Tourniquet), Quik Clot gauze, and an Israeli pressure dressing. If an artery gets cut by either an accident or attack, you need a quick way to stop the bleeding before you bleed out, and any of the above will do just that.
2. SAM Splint. A SAM splint is an extremely lightweight method to splint a broken bone. It’s very flexible and when curved properly and tied/taped down will hold a broken bone in place. Since it’s designed for the military, it’s “dummy-proofed” with pictures and directions right on the splint itself.
3. Cravats. Cravats are basically a specialized bandanna that have multiple applications in a survival situation. Sometimes they are simply called “triangular bandages.” They can be used to secure splints and other bandages, as slings, dust cover over your face, a make-shift tourniquet, and a filter for screening out particles in dirty water among other things.
4. Trauma shears. If your budget or space is limited, trauma shears could be left out and instead you can use a knife. In the heat of the moment with you or someone else gushing blood, however, I’d rather worry about one less thing by playing it safe and using a pair of safety shears to cut away clothing to expose a wound.
5. Medications. Any prescriptions you take need to be stocked in your first aid kit and rotated with new bottles as you use them. One way to do this could be to either keep the bottle in your BOB/first aid kit and take the medication as you need it, or keep half the bottle in your BOB and half on hand for daily use. Any pain medications, antibiotics, antihistamines, pain killers, etc, you can get your hands on should easily find their way into your BOB. I have not personally tested this yet, but I’ve seen multiple sources say that pet antibiotics are okay to use for yourself (amoxicillin is still amoxicillin whether it’s for you or an animal) and do not require a prescription to get them. I am not a doctor by any means, so check around and maybe talk to your doctor about how using pet antibiotics would affect you.
6. Rubbing alcohol. This can be used to clean and disinfect wounds. It can also be used to help start a fire or even as an emergency candle– multiple uses for an item is always a plus!
7. Miscellaneous. Duct/medical tape, rubber gloves, ointments, gauze, band-aids, potassium permanganate, instant ice/heat packs, tweezers, and nail clippers are all great additions to your first aid kit that don’t really need much explanation.
8. Knowledge. Last but definitely not least, knowledge is an intangible asset that should always be “packed” in your BOB/first aid kit. You can find cheap – and sometimes free – CPR/first aid classes offered by your local YMCA, community college or fire department that can be anywhere from 1 – 3 days depending on how in depth they go.
Having a basic understanding of what the human body is experiencing during a major trauma and how to treat it is just as important as having the right physical tools. The American Red Cross First Aid and Safety Handbook would also be a great investment to go in your BOB or just to read and learn from it in your free time. Depending on how long your survival situation lasts and how much medication you were able to pack, you will eventually run out of pills and ointments. The SAS Revised Edition Survival Handbook has several pages identifying medicinal plants and what they will help treat – an invaluable resource during an extended survival situation or just to supplement what supplies you have on you.
This is not the end-all be-all of first aid kit supplies, but just a guide to help you get started in packing your own first aid kit. Each person will have emphasis on different items and might even want to include things I haven’t mentioned here.