Importance of Your First Aid Kit
First aid is one of the most vital components for any preparedness situation, yet is often the most overlooked. People like to focus on the more "fun" items like tools, knives, electronics, firearms, etc., but none of the above will serve a purpose if you are not able to use them! Whether you are taking a day hike or preparing for the end of the world, a first aid kit is invaluable, and is a very personal item and needs to be customized for everyone's situation. The "one-size-fits-all" mentality cannot apply here.
Please note that for the purpose of keeping this as an article/blog (and not a book), I'm going to discuss a medical kit in a Backpacking/Bug Out/Evacuation scenario (or basically any scenario where you're not home and don't have an ambulance 5 minutes away). But please keep in mind that even if you are making a medical kit to store in your home, many of the same principles will apply.
Where to begin? There are many pre-made first aid kits available out there, and the variations amongst them depend not only on the brand, but the number of people intended to care for as well as the particular situation (i.e. day hike vs. mountain climbing). Many of these are a great basis for your first aid kit, just make sure you buy them from a reputable company that has decent turnover since everything in there will eventually expire, and you want something fresh - don't buy first aid items from a pile of year-end clearance items at a liquidation retailer. Generally speaking, it's usually more cost effective to start off with these kits because the contents will cost less as a package rather than purchasing them individually. However, as comprehensive as these kits may seem to be, you still must consider them to be nothing more than a foundation.
There are a few things you need to figure out first:
- How long do these supplies need to sustain you for?
- How many people are you caring for?
- What are any special medical needs of yourself or any persons you are caring for (medications, allergies, asthmatics, etc.)?
Based on the answers, you can start to determine what you'll need (and the volume/quantity of each item). Notice that I did not ask anything along the lines of "What potential hazards do you anticipate?" There's a reason for this: you simply do not know. You can never fully anticipate what potential risks and hazards lay ahead, and therefore must plan on the worst case scenario. It is absolutely a smart idea to be aware of specific hazards based on your experience/environment and plan accordingly, but if you start assessing what is and isn't possible, you're making assumptions and limiting yourself to what you are prepared for. Every single scenario and location can pose serious hazards and risks. You can slip and twist in all the wrong ways even in the most un-threatening environments, so don't assume. Ever trip on the sidewalk? Exactly.
Number 3 is by far the most important (assessing special medical needs). All the ointments and bandaids in the world won't save you if you don't address this. As an example, if you have a child who has a severe allergy to nuts, you may have unknowingly fed him/her something with nut extract and now they can't breathe, and you'll need that EpiPen. If you have a wife who has asthma and you have to cover some walking distance, you need her inhaler. If you have a husband who's a diabetic, you may need insulin. If your cousin has an anxiety/panic disorder, you'll need their medication to calm them down. The list goes on forever, but basically anything that is a personal medical precautionary item or is something that needs to be taken on a regular basis (except your stupid multi-vitamins) needs to be included, and in sustainable quantities.
So let's start with the basics and go from there. Quantities of each should be determined from questions 1 and 2. Every first aid kit should have:
- Bandaids of various sizes
- Gauze pads of various sizes
- Alcohol swabs
- Medical tape (several feet)
- Moleskin (walking with raw skin on your foot is the worst)
- Triple-antibiotic ointment
- Burn ointment/aloe vera
- Sunscreen (to try avoiding using #7)
- Ibuprofen pills
- Acetaminophen pills
- N95 respirator mask
- Small shears/scissors
- Ankle/wrist wraps
- Disposable poncho (may need to keep an ill/injured person dry)
- Emergency blanket (may need to keep them warm too)
- Hand/body warmers (same reason as above, could also prevent frostbite and hypothermia in extreme cold)
- Tweezers (metal)
- Safety pins
- Wet wipes
- Sutures/sewing needle and thread (pre-threaded, you don't want to try this in a panic)
- Cotton balls
- Hand sanitizer
- Duct tape
- Tampons (many uses, not just for the obvious, but your lady friend may consider you a hero)
- Unflavored dental floss (many uses again, including thread/cordage)
- Small pad of paper and pen
- Small flashlight (doesn't have to be in your medical kit, as long as you have one on you)
- Lighter (last resort of cauterizing wounds)
- Small towel
So that's the basics, but not everything you should carry. The reason I listed the above separately is because these are the items that are generally found in most pre-made first aid kits or commonly found items that can be added to it. The list following are things that are less likely to be inclusive in a kit and may have to be purchased separately, but could be invaluable in the right scenario (or is it "wrong scenario"?):
- Fiber pills/laxatives (constipation can be a serious issue, yes really)
- Anti-diarrheal pills (for the opposite problem, but this can cause you to dehydrate quickly and be fatal)
- Clotrimazole (you may develop fungal/skin infections which can cause serious pain and hinder you)
- Gold Bond powder (many uses, but you may need to dry your skin and stop itching/infection)
- Benadryl (can also help you sleep)
- Ginger pills (for stomach/digestive issues)
- Sterile lancets (often used for blood sugar testing, but has many uses including popping blisters)
- CPR mask
- Tourniquet (able to be operated by one hand)
- Superglue (quickly close a wound, other uses as well)
- Decompression needle
- Chemical filtering escape mask
- Earplugs (can help drown out noise during severe headaches)
- Potassium iodide pills
- First aid manual/guide
You'll notice there's a lot of attention to stomach/digestive issues and infections. Stomach issues can be very common because in an emergency situation because you will likely not be eating what you're accustomed to eating. Your body will react to different kinds of bacteria, chemicals, preservatives, and even tastes! Do not underestimate the hindrance that your stomach can cause (it can also lead to other symptoms like headaches, fatigue, dehydration, nausea, delirium, etc.). Severe diarrhea causes rapid dehydration, and if you're not at home, water may not be at your limitless disposal. Constipation can also cause pain and hinder you when you feel like you're carrying another backpack inside your stomach. Infections can cause a myriad of problems, and ultimately lead to any of the aforementioned problems, including excruciating pain and fevers if not treated - another thing to never underestimate.
The chemical filtering escape mask is a nice thing to have in the event that there is a chemical outbreak or attack, or if you need to escape a fire. Also along the same lines of the unlikely, potassium iodide pills prevent the most radiation-sensitive part of the body, your thyroid, from being damaged if you are exposed to high amounts of radiation. Not a bad thing to keep around for little-to-no weight. The rest should be pretty self-explanatory.
In addition to everything mentioned above, you obviously need to have some food and water. Nutrition and hydration can be one of the best recovery methods, and without it, it may prevent or prolong recovery. The food you carry with you should have some nutritional value, so try to avoid junk food.
As much as I have here, keep in mind that this is not everything YOU may need. Everyone needs to evaluate their kit over and over, and this entire article should be viewed as a guideline, not a set of rules. The more experience you have in the field, the more you'll refine your kit. On a side note, many campers/backpackers/preppers are very cognizant of weight. Your first aid kit should be the one and only item where weight is not scrutinized. It is generally light-weight as it is (shouldn't end up being more than 24 ounces or so) and there aren't many "lighter alternatives" since most of the items are pretty cookie-cutter standard. And since this could be the most important item you carry, you do not want to sacrifice your safety for a couple ounces. Remember to always UPDATE YOUR CONTENTS WHEN THEY EXPIRE, you don't want to be stuck with expired medical items that end up being useless.
Most importantly, the biggest part of your first aid is YOU. You can stock all the supplies in the world, but if you don't know how and when to use them, then some items mind as well be used as tinder. Per the last item on the list, you'll want a guide or manual on first aid. Even if you train yourself, you may forget some things, or simply run into a situation that you have not encountered before. There are many classes available out there on a plethora of first aid subjects, some of which are completely free. Learn CPR, learn how to sew a wound, and know what to use when the situation calls for it. Be safe, be prepared, and think ahead. Hope you all enjoyed this, best of luck!