Thursday, December 08, 2005

First Aid Kits

Often, the “Best Things” are things we admire and collect; other times they’re things we need. Every car, house, and ideally every individual should have access to a first aid kit. First aid kits can come in handy in everyday life, or on that one day when someone’s life could change drastically.

When I started looking at first aid kits for my family, I was fairly discouraged. I have had some first aid training in the military and in my youth, so I had some idea of what I might want to include in my first aid kit. Commercial kits from stores, pharmacies, and warehouse stores seemed to be lacking – collections of large numbers of inconsequential items included solely so the retailer could claim “255 ITEMS” on the box top.

I spoke with EMTs, nurses, and doctors, both in person and via the net. I also followed forums, websites, and bulletin boards where people who take first aid seriously hang out. I picked up quite a bit of info, and learned that there are many ways to approach the problem of having a well built first aid kit.

The most vital piece of information is this: having a first aid kit for your family is not enough – knowing how to use the contents is mandatory as well. If you want to care for yourself or an injured family member, you can only ethically do so to the extent that your training allows. The information I provide here is for informational purposes only, and assumes that the responsibility for acquiring adequate training lies on the reader. Truly, if you have children or loved ones, taking a Red Cross or Community College First Aid Course is well-spent time.

There are two approaches to obtaining a first aid kit: buying one pre-packaged, or building one yourself. The problem with building one on your own is that many of the items you might include are packaged in large quantities when your kit might only require a few. The drawback to pre-packaged kits is that you pay a premium for the convenience, and they may lack items you feel are important.

The middle way to approach the problem is to buy a basic kit, and add or subtract items as necessary.

The size of kit you build also depends on the number of people whom might use it, and what degree of portability is desired. I will consider two approaches, the personal kit, and the family home or car kit.

The Personal Kit

Here are some items you might include in an personal kit:

Gauze – The main purpose for gauze is covering a wound and absorbing fluids and dress the wound.

  • Trauma Bandage – A Blood Stopper™, or military style compression bandage is at home in every kit. They generally consist of a thick pad of gauze sponge attached to a long gauze bandage. They can be used for a variety of types of wounds, and can also be used as a sling, etc. if necessary.
  • 5” x 9” Abdominal Combine pads or Surgipads – These are large gauze sponges, with a non-stick side for large wounds.
  • 4”x4” Gauze Sponges – Useful size for many wounds. Many kits also include gauze of other sizes, but this size works well for most applications. Larger gauze can always be cut or fol;ded for smaller wounds.
  • priMED or bulkee Gauze – This is gauze that is bulk vacuum packed to save space, a consideration for keeping kit size down.
  • Petrolatum (Vaseline) Gauze – some kits include this for burns, other kits include burn gel instead

Bandages – Bandages can hold gauze dressings in place, or both act as dressing and bandage, like a band-aid.

  • Triangular Bandage – Large cloth bandage which can be folded in a variety of ways to hold gauze in place, apply pressure to a wound, or serve as a sling.
  • Adhesive bandages – Band-Aid™ or similar bandages, this is the item that is way overdone in many commercial kits.
  • ACE™ Elastic bandage – helpful for joint injuries
  • Co-Flex bandage – A sort of gauze-ish bandage that is tacky enough to adhere to itself – great for bandaging without tape.
  • Butterfly closures – Not bandages per se, but used for wound closure, like a temporary suture.
  • Cloth First Aid Tape – Can be used to secure gauze.

Medications – Kits usually contain aspirin for pain relief in adults and heart attack, Tylenol™ or ibuprofen for pain relief, and Benadryl™ for allergic reaction. Some kits add Immodium AD™ for diarrhea, cold medications, and antacids. Families with children may include Ipecac. Additionally, you will want to include any prescription medications you take regularly. Don’t go overboard on medications – they get used regularly, and will probably expire before use. Remember to secure medications from children.

Antibiotic – Neosporin or similar antibiotic is common in kits, as are iodine and benzalkonium chloride wipes for wound cleaning.

Accessories – EMT shears, nitrile gloves.

The Car/Family Kit

The primary difference between individual and car or home kits is that there is space for additional bulky items, such as alcohol, saline eye wash, and the like – and that more people may use the kit, so quantities of items may be a bit higher. However, more isn’t always better, as medications and bandages may become too old to use before they are exhausted.

The Best Commercial Kits I’ve Found?

After some looking, these are the kits that I have bought, and have found to be what I consider reasonably priced and well stocked.

Personal Kit

The Tactical Operator’s Medical Kit from CountyComm. Don’t be put off by the name – if this kit is good enough for those that routinely go in harm’s way, it’s probably good enough for you.


This kit has most things you need, and not much you don’t. It comes in a durable case that can be slipped into a backpack, briefcase, or worn on a belt, which means it should be with you when you need it. I added some CO-FLEX which I had removed the cardboard spool from, some Ibuprofin and Benadryl, and called it good to go.

The Family Kit

The Standard Emergency Medical Kit from Swift First Aid, via Boss-Safety.com. This kit adds nice items like ice packs, saline, and a rescue blanket, without adding too much extraneous stuff you’ll have no need for.

Honorable Mention

Adventure Medical Kits puts out some nicely packaged, and well thought out kits, but you may pay for more items than you’ll need, and retailers often charge premium prices for the company’s kits.

Preparedness awareness goes in and out of the media focus, but is never a bad idea.



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