What should you carry in a medical kit?
Lately I've had some people ask my opinion on what a quality first aid kit should contain. Med kits can be as diverse and dynamic as any BOB and I guess the first question one needs to ask themselves is what do I intend to accomplish when stocking my kit? Other questions to ask when assessing your needs could include: Do I want a small generic kit to keep in a vehicle for treatment of minor ailments and injuries? Do I spend a lot of time outdoors with no quick access to emergency services? What region specific threats might I face? Do you live in the high desert of the southwest or in the wooded coastal plains of the east coast? What are my enviornmental concerns in regards to weather, plants, and animals? Finally, you must analyze your personal level of training and comfort in performing "emergency medicine", especially with no formal training. Of course life and death scenarios seem to bring out the best in everyone and the necessity of delivering emergency medical field treatment usually prevails over any reservations about skills and performance. Last but not least, and probably most important is HOW MUCH gear are you willing to carry? Do you go off solo on wilderness walkabouts (you should always have at least one buddy!), or do you go out and groups and have the option of splitting up med gear among all parties?
In this article we will take a look at some gear that I personally carry and I will list some basic components of a quality basic kit along with some suggested numbers of each to include in your gear. Take from this what you will. Tailor it to your needs. Add or remove what you want. Again, this is your gear and it needs to work for whatever application you desire. Personally I keep different sized kits with my gear matched to the activity I'm involved with at the time. I keep a "personal kit" in my backpacks that includes very basic and limited supplies. I stock my bags according to threats I'm most likely to encounter such as bleeding emergencies of various degrees, burns, and enviornmental exposures such as bug bites, poison oak, etc. These bags are all set up the same and are updated from time to time as I see fit. I also keep larger bags in both of my vehicles to handle larger emergencies and they can be used to provide care until emergency services arrives should I roll up on a car accident or the like. (I live in a city of 400,000+ so Fire and EMS is usually onscene pretty quick.) Finally, I keep what I call the "group bag" that contains some advanced life support gear (ALS). I will probably cover this in a seperate article as this gear contains equipment for airway / intubations, IV access / fluid delivery, suture kits, bag valve masks for artificial ventilations, various meds (some OTC, some not so OTC - shhhhhhhhhhhh.), fracture immobilization, etc. DISCLAIMER - I'm a paramedic and I feel comfortable with performing ALS skills should the need arise. I do NOT recommend starting IV's or intubating without proper training! This gear can get you in trouble for practicing medicine without a license and could bring serious consequences! (Myself included. I always say I'd rather be tried by 12 than carried by 6 though!) This is a large bag that isnt very practical to carry in addition to my other gear and when we go out it tends to stay in a vehicle, a base camp, or somewhere reasonably nearby just in case we need it.
Lets take a look at one of small kits that I carry in BOB's and normal hiking bags. (I like 3 day packs for short trips and ALICE frame packs for longer trips so obviously size dictates how much gear and weight I want to carry.) Here is a small personal kit in a 3 day pack.
You can see it fits nicely in the outer compartment, however it is still pretty large and takes up a considerable amount of space. Im sort of a gear head though and dont mind sacrificing the space. Lets take a look at the contents now.
So being that this is just a basic personal kit, the contents are fairly limited as to what I can handle, however for 99% of field injuries this bag is a good start. Supplies contained in this kit include:
- Sterile 2"x2" (8)
- Sterile 4"x4" (4)
- Burn Dressing (Water Jel - 4"x4" (1))
- Multipack of Sterile Gauze 4"x4" (1)
- Petroleum Gauze 4"x4" (2)
- Sterile Abdominal Pad 5"x9" (1)
- Alcohol Prep Pads (4)
- Iodine Prep Pads (4)
- First Aid Ointment (2 packs)
- Bee Sting Swabs (3)
- Hand Sanitizer (1)
- Various Bandaids
- Trauma Shears (1)
- Penlight (1)
Again, this is a very basic kit to carry in my gear. I admit that it needs some more supplies and I will need a bigger bag to carry it in. I would like to add a snake bite kit, a suture kit, cling wrap, and a small tourniquet. Like I said, these bags always seem to be works in progress. Overall I feel comfortable having this with me and it's served it's purpose a few times. Now lets take a look at my larger "vehicle based" kit. I was fortunate to score a few of these bags when my agency upgraded our jumpkits. I would estimate that the bags alone saved me at least $300! Stocking quality bags in not a cheap endeavor but it seems to be overlooked more than it should be. $40,000 of well thought out preps are useless if you bleed to death! Anyways, lets take a look at the bag.
Heres the bag. The little yellow thing on the key ring is just a little rescue tool. It contains a seatbelt cutter and a spring loaded window punch. (FYI, if you ever need to break tempered vehicle glass, you should always depress the punch in the corner of the window and not the middle.)
Here you can see into the bag from the top with the main compartment unzipped. MRE, pistol and AR mags are optional! The bag has some elastic loops to secure gear. You can see the trauma shears (those things are beasts and you'd be surprised what they can cut.) I also have a few penlghts. The pupil gauges arent important if you dont know what ur looking for, just remember that unequal pupils and altered mental status can indicate a severe head injury. This bag is set up in a semi modular fashion and does not contain ALS gear. Lets continue the tour.
Here you can see the various modules laid out along with some other stuff I keep in the bag. Again, the MRE is optional but I like to eat so I keep it in there just in case since I have the room. The bottles up top (left to right) are: regular bottled water (2), 500mL sterile water (1), hand sanitizer (1), and bug spray (1). The blue thing with the black straps is a disposable fracture kit that can be configured for the ankle, wrist, elbow, etc. Working back to the left are (2) large trauma dressings. I believe the dimensions are 10"x30". There is also (1) emergeny foil blanket and (1) cheap plastic poncho. We will look at the other modules in greater detail later.
Here are the contents of the long slender modular pouch. I apologize for the resolution of the pics. These are just some common OTC meds that I picked up at Walgreens. They include:
- Mydol (for the ladies. Trust me fellas, this can score you "thoughtful sweetheart points." We can never have enough of those right??
- Cold / Flu meds (day and night time formulas)
- Allergy Relief (Benadryl)
- Motion Sickness Meds
- Pepto Bismol Tabs
- Alka Selzer
- Chapstick (Dont ever underestimate the importance of this!!!)
I think in the near future I'd like to add some water purification tabs to this module since theyre small and dont take up much room. If you take prescription medications for any health issues its a good idea to keep a good supply on hand in your bags. Whether you use your kit for the outdoors or just at the house in case of a natural disaster it's a good idea to have at least a 5 day supply (minimum) for each prescription you take. Also consider your pets needs. Do they need any meds? Probably not a bad idea to keep some on hand just in case. Be sure to label any pet meds as such to avoid accidental ingestion by someone not familiar with your gear. Multivitamins are good to have as well. Keep in mind that medications have expiration dates and you should try to be mindful of replacing them as needed. Lets continue with the tour.
In the yellow module I keep various first aid supplies. (Duh!) Clockwise from the top left they include:
- Burn Jel (1)
- Sterile Eye Wash (2)
- Chewable Baby Aspirin (1) (For cardiac / chest pain.) Each pill is 81mg. Give 4 (324mg) for chest pain. Thats about all you can do in the field without ALS gear.
- Sting Relief (1)
- Sunblock (1)
- First Aid Ointment (1)
- Iodine (1)
- Hand Sanitizer
- Glucose 15gm (2) for hypoglycemic events. (Low blood sugar.)
- Assorted safety pins
- Tape (1 shown, I have more in another compartment - not shown.)
- Tweezers (1)
- Snake Bite Kit (1)
- BC Powder (1)
- Alcohol Wipes (Box of 12)
- Sting Relief Swabs (Box of 10)
I will be adding some cotton balls and Q-tips to this module soon. Lets take a look at the last module.
I previously stated that there seems to be inattention or lack of interest in regards to putting a med kit together. Often times people seem to neglect personal hygiene with their kit. While this isn't necessarily a requirement, I consider it to be a creature comfort. Being able to clean up and brush your teeth will most certainly make life more tolerable during an emergency. This kit is pretty self explanatory so I wont go into detail about this. Next time you stay at a hotel, raid the maid cart. It's one stop shopping! I will note that the 12 sanitizing wipes are LIFESAVERS! They can be used for impromtu showers, disinfecting tools / gear, wiping down tables, cleaning dishes, and even for toilet paper. I recommend keeping some of these somewhere in ALL your gear. The sewing kit is nice too so you have the ability to repair clothes, but they can also be used as a suture kit if necessary. Just remember to take a Gerber tool or something and bend the needle into a "C shape" and disinfect it with iodine or your handy dandy sanitizing wipes before sewing your buddys finger back together!
Now we begin to work around the outer compartments of the blue bag. There isnt much to it being that this is just a BLS bag. Here we have various clings and wraps in 3", 4", and 6" sizes. Some are sterile and some are not. Pretty straight forward. It probably wouldnt hurt to add a few more in here since theres room.
The end compartment just contains 2 ice packs. Ice packs are notorious for breaking before you'll need them so be mindful of that. You can store them in tupperware but that takes up a little more room. You can check them by feeling over the bag with your fingers. You should feel a small lump somewhere in the bag. That is the chemical activator. If you feel it youre good to go, if you dont feel it or you arent sure, I'd say replace them.
These are the contents of the other side compartment. It's set up for bleeding control. I keep all these in a gallon size ziplock bag to keep them dry. Contents are similar to the small red bag and include:
- Various assorted bandaids
- Tampons (Dont laugh, remember the sweetheart brownie points?) Also can be used for small puncture wounds if necessary. I dont recommend inserting anything into extra holes in the body but sometimes ya gotta do what ya gotta do!
- Petroleum Gauze
- Abdominal Pads
- Burn Jel
- Assorted 4"x4"s and 2"x2"s.
Heres a look at some of the contents of the top pouch. This is a good place to store what I call "randoms." I keep an extra pack of smokes, mags, paracord, pens, notepad, etc here. Probably wouldnt be bad to keep some extra lighters / fire starting capabilities as well. Other items could include paper maps, compass, signaling mirror, GPS, flashlights, multitools, knives, etc. Notepads are great to have for obvious reasons but if you decide to carry one let me suggest keeping one regular and one thats waterproof with an appropriate writing tool.
The last compartment contains my BSI / PPE gear. (Body Substance Isolation / Personal Protective Equipment) Contained in here are:
- Gloves - Large and Small. Labeled and Seperated. (4 pair of each)
- Mechanix Gloves
- Eye / Splash Protection
- Small Hand Sanitizers
I've been meaning to add some respiratory protection in here too just in case. N-95 masks are pretty cool but they technically require you to be fit tested to use them. (Rules were made to be broken right?) Cheapo Home Depot dust masks wouldnt be bad to have either. Theres a rule of thumb that I was taught years ago on my first day of EMT school. "If its wet and it's not yours DONT touch it!" Thats pretty sound advice so for me having gloves is mandatory. HIV has been shown to die in approx 30 seconds after contact with air. Hepatitis has survived for 7 days on stainless steel at 45 degrees F. Food for thought!!!
Well, that was intended to be a quick look at my setup but it turned into a rather long article. I hope some of the information in here was useful to someone. Like I said before, the primary factors to consider are what do you intend to treat, and how comfortable are you with treating it? From there the sky is the limit. I know this seems like a lot of gear to some of you but I still feel like theres plenty of improvements I can still make, even for a BLS kit. Adapt your kit to your needs and have fun with it. I would also encourage everyone to at the minimum take a CPR / first aid class. I'd strongly suggest anyone active with the outdoors or prepping to take the EMT Basic course. You can usually find these at any Community College. I think they're about 4-6 months long now and you'll go once or twice a week for a few hours a night. Personally I feel like it's an excellent tool to add to your "toolbox!" My kits are by no means all inclusive and I welcome your feedback. I learn from other people everyday so if you have any ideas, throw them out there. There will probably be an ALS bag review in the future so be on the lookout. Til then, stay safe friends!
Here is a good list of basic items to keep in your kits. Most are available at either a drug store or a medical supply company. Most are also able to be purchased individually or in bulk and they really arent that expensive. Again, this is my opinion, take it for what its worth. The following list will make you a pretty sweet med kit for about $100. Thanks for reading.
(10) Sterile Gauze (4" x 4")
(10) Sterile Gauze (2" x 2")
(2) Burn Jel (4" x 4")
(1) Burn Jel (4" x 16")
(5) Burn Jel (Small Packets)
(2) Cling Wrap (3")
(2) Cling Wrap (6")
(2) ACE Wrap (3")
(2) Ace Wrap (6")
(4) Sterile Abdominal Pads (5" x 9")
(2) Sterile Trauma Dressings (10" x 30")
(4) Sterile Non Adhering Pads (3" x 4")
(4) Sterile Petroleum / Adaptic Dressings (4" x 4")
(2-4) Quick Clot
(2) Triangular Bandages
Various Rolls of Tape
Tampons / Maxi Pads
(1) Suture Kit
(2-4) Sterile Water (250mL or 500mL)
(2) Short Splint Boards or Commerical Disposable "Frac-Pac"
Tongue Depressors or Popsicle Sticks (Can be used to apply ointment or splinting fingers)
(1) Trauma Shears
(1) Multi Tool
(1) Rescue Multi Tool (Seatbelt Cutter, Window Punch)
(2) Flashlights / Penlights
Assorted Safety Pins
(1) Sewing Kit
Pens / Pencils / Sharpie / Note Pad
(1-2) Emergency "Foil Blankets"
(1-2) Disposable Emergency Ponchos
(1) Magil Forceps (For airway obstructions. If you see it, grab it. NO BLIND SWEEPS!)
This is up to you. I'll list what I carry.
Cold / Flu Meds (Day and Night Formulas)
Motion Sickness Meds
Chewable Baby Aspirin
First Aid Ointment (Neosporin)
Hydrogen Peroxide (If you transfer it to a smaller bottle make sure its dark or taped up. Sunlight affects it's potency over time.)
Epinephrine Auto Injector
Hand Sanitizer Gel
Snake Bite Kit
Bee Sting Swabs
Tick / Splinter Kit (Credit Cards and Alcohol Wipes Work Good For Ticks)
Alcohol Prep Pads
Water Purification Tabs?
(2) Ice Packs
(2) Hot Packs
(1) CPR Barrier Device
Gloves (EMS and Mechanix) / Eye / Hearing / Respiratory Protection
Various Trash Bags - Can be used for soiled / bloody clothes, belongings, shelter, trash (duh!), storage, ponchos, and water collection.
Quality First Aid Field Guide
(1) Bag Valve Mask?
(1) Cervical Collars / Spinal Immobilization? (Pediatric and Adult)
Survival Gear? (Maps, Compass, GPS, Signal Mirror, Fire Starters, Ponchos, Communications, Food, Water, Extra Cash, Ammo / Mags, Extra Socks / Underwear (Life Savers!), Extra Weather Appropriate Clothing, Spare Batteries For Gadgets)
This list is not all inclusive but I feel its a pretty good start to anyone thinking about stocking a kit. Some of the items listed can be costly and might be viewed as unnecessary. Let me hear your feedback. Thanks again for reading everyone! Happy St Paddddddddys!
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