My first exposure to medical knowledge was watching my mother, a nurse, tend to my brother and I. Illness, injuries, and mishaps. She handled it all. As I grew up, I took basic and then advanced first aid classes through school and Boy Scouts.
I soon realized that the world was is a very dangerous place with the potential to get much worse. I sought out trauma-oriented classes. Several years of prepping, and many TCCC classes later, I finally caught on to then need for a properly stocked first aid kit.
The boo-boo kit you toss into your glove box won’t be sufficient to get you through the rough patches. Let’s take look at stocking up a serious kit for your home or Bug Out Location (BOL)
First Aid for Home and Bug Out Locations
If things go sideways, you will need to be your own first responder as well as your own medical supply station. The knowledge is best gained through hands-on, in-person classes. Medical supplies are much easier to come by. Make sure to purchase equipment sized and scoped to your home or BOL. The first step is knowing what and how much store.
How Much First Aid Supplies Do I Need?
Start with what you know and what you are qualified to treat. As your skills increase so should your supplies. As “cool” as nasal pharyngeal airways and suture kits are if you don’t know how to use them you are risking further injury to your family or group. The only exception to this rule is if you are purchasing medical supplies in support of a qualified member of your group.
Your kit should start with basic Over the Counter (OTC) medications. Include any prescription medications that you take regularly and add foundational first aid supplies including bandages, dressings, and orthopedic supplies as you can. Finally, add trauma gear.
At our BOL we are the first responders and cell phone coverage is several miles away. Medical assistance is several miles beyond that. This dictates we must prepare for a broad spectrum of events, from splinters to heatstroke, and eyewash to electrolytes. We have to cover it all.
Once you have coverage add depth. A good rule of thumb is to cover each treatment for two weeks. If you have an injury that requires dressing changes, plan on three changes per day for two weeks. Illness? Have enough to support your patient for two weeks. This includes any medications, specialty foods/drinks (e.g. electrolytes), and materials.
Finally, consider storage. You must keep your med kit safe and dry. At your home or BOL, you can’t risk waste. Ripped sterile packaging or wet medications are useless. The container(s) you store your gear in must be both protective and easily accessible.
DIY Versus Commercial First Aid Kits
There are numerous commercial first aid kits on the market. Some good. Some not worth the expense. Before you select a kit, make sure it contains no misleading contents. Many advertise an incredible number of contents, but in reality, they are counting each band-aid and alcohol wipe.
Review the contents with this in mind and with attention given to the care you expect to provide. Ask a few questions. Are orthopedic injuries covered with splints and wraps? Are there suitable dressings in type and quantity? Will they be suitable for major lacerations? Will you have access to life-saving equipment like a tourniquet?
If you are unable to find a kit that meets your needs then put together your own. All the supplies you need are available from multiple stores. CVS, Walgreens, Amazon, and FSAstore are only a few of the hundreds of options available.
Medical supplies aren’t cheap. They add up quickly and put a dent in any wallet. Where possible find cost savings in bulk. From the right outlets, you can buy a box of 4×4 dressings for the cost of four at the local brick and mortar.
One method I have used is my Flexible Savings Account (FSA). I add a little extra each year, and at the end of the year I use it as a medical Christmas account. Many online web stores cater to FSA spending. Using your pre-tax which makes filling a kit a little more palatable to the pocketbook.
What are the Top 10 Items for a First Aid Kit?
It’s hard to identify only a few items for a home or BOL first aid kit. At some point, you need to prioritize. Please take this section in combination with the next and fit to your particular situation. Likewise, while there is some overlap, this is a first aid kit and not a trauma kit. We will cover that in a separate article.
A major arterial bleed can lead to unconsciousness in seconds and death in minutes. There is no substitute for a quality tourniquet. Keep one in your first aid kit. Keep one in your trauma kit. Keep one on your person during all risky activities (shooting, working with an ax or chainsaw, etc.). Get two as the first one might not be sufficient to stop the bleed.
If you are currently on critical medications it is best to keep a spare supply with your kit at home or your BOL (specifically at your BOL). You’ll then be covered if you need to leave in a hurry. If you have to shelter in place without an opportunity to re-stock, they will be a critical component to survival.
You are more likely to have a headache than to have an EMP pop off. Planning for the probable headaches in life dictates you should stock up for the small things. Acetaminophen, ibuprofen, aspirin, Benadryl, and Imodium take the edge of the rough patches in life.
When you have to expose a wound through torn pants or shirts a pocket knife won’t do. Further, a knife may slip and make matters worse. A quality set of trauma shears will make quick work of pants, jackets, or shirts. They are also efficient at cutting down gauze, band-aids, or dressings.
A well-lived life is measured in scraped knees and scabbed elbows. You can do without band-aids as even duct tape will do. However, nothing is as convenient as a band-aid. Stack them high and deep for your well-lived life. Don’t forget Ironman and Princess band-aids for the kiddos.
When life’s scrapes are too big for a band-aid it’s time to pull out a 2×2 or a 4×4 gauze dressing. It doesn’t take much to overwhelm a band-aid. So, be prepared for life’s bigger bumps.
Ace Bandages and Coban Wraps
Sprained ankles and wrists are best handled with an immobilizing wrap. Ace bandages, even better Coban self-adhesive wraps, can support a weak joint long enough to heal. They are also perfect for holding an ice pack on a serious bump.
When you have to immobilize a joint or broken bone a simple wrap won’t do. You need something to stabilize the area. The Structural Aluminum Malleable (SAM) splint is perfect for the job. Bend and shape it onto the affected area and wrap it with Coban. This delivers a perfect solution until you can get to a higher level of care.
Before you apply a band-aid or gauze dressing to a wound you will need to clean a disinfect it. Alcohol wipes will do both, albeit with a little sting.
Oral Rehydration Salts
Overexertion and dehydration will take you out of the fight before you know it. Gatorade or other sports drinks are fine, yet, as liquids their shelf life is limited. A pack of rehydration salts lasts forever.
Ok, one for the road. There’s little worse than not being able to see at the best of times. It’s unforgivable when there is an emergency. If your EDC flashlight is MIA or fails, have a ready spare in your first aid kit.
What Should be in a First Aid Kit – Everything Else?
There is a host of potential supplies to include in your first aid kit. Each is different. Contents will vary based on your proximity to higher levels of care as well as your skillset. Use this list as a start to your research and not the end of it.
❑ S/M/L Band-Aids
❑ 2×2 Non-Sterile Gauze
❑ 4×4 Non-Sterile Gauze
❑ 2×2 Sterile Telfa Pads
❑ 4×4 Sterile Telfa Pads
❑ Rolled Gauze
❑ Hemostatic Bandages
❑ Compression Bandages
❑ Tape (Paper, Cloth, Duct)
❑ Tincture of Benzoin
❑ Saline Wash
❑ Eye Bandage
❑ Triangular Bandage
❑ CPR Mask
❑ Benadryl Lotion
❑ Bug Spray
❑ Sun Screen
❑ Poison Ivy Soap
❑ Burn Cream
❑ Magnifying Glass
❑ Ammonia Inhalants
❑ Cold Pack
❑ Mylar Blanket
❑ Nitrile Gloves
❑ Protective Goggles
❑ Hand Sanitizer
First Aid Expiration Dates – How to Manage Inventory
As with any supplies you need to regularly review and rotate. This not only ensures that overall quality is preserved but more importantly manages expiration dates. Like any other perishables, medications and medical supplies don’t last forever.
First to Review
The first expiration dates to review are liquid medications. These dates must be adhered to. Where possible, buy tablet options (e.g. don’t get liquid Tylenol, buy pills). However, for some medications, you are restricted to liquid forms. Create a rotation plan ensuring that all of your liquids are up to date.
Second to Review
The second segment of expiration dates is for tablets and capsule medications. For the most part, you can extend these dates if you are storing them in a cool and dry location AND the seals are good. There have been several studies that have examined the efficacy of medications beyond their expiration dates. If in doubt, purchase new medications each year and move the old ones to reserve stock.
Third to Review
The third expiration dates to be aware of are for sterile materials. This includes dressings and utensils (e.g. scalpels, forceps, tweezers, etc.). The expiration date is targeted at the integrity of the packaging seal more than the contents. Even if the seals are good, it is best to replace them. You don’t want a non-sterile dressing or tool in contact with a wound.
The good news is, even if the packaging has been violated you can still use these dressings as non-sterile coverings (albeit expensive ones) as long as they are clean and dry.
Final to Review
Your final category is non-sterile dressings. As long as the packaging has not been opened, they are good for their intended purpose.
Check out Doom and Bloom Medical for Straight Talk About Expiration Dates.
For years I carried a small kit that included a few band-aids, a triangular bandage, a stretched-out ace wrap, and a few Tylenol. I was young, into contact sports, and bruised my ego as often as I sprained my ankles. This little kit did well for me.
Today I own a cute little BOL in the woods and God forbid I ever catch an ax in my shin. If so, my family needs to be prepared. In response to this, we have put together a crate of supplies. This took time and a little money. Not that I’m eager to test my shin against that ax, I do have faith I’ll make it out with a heck of a scar and a good story to tell.
I believe that will be the outcome as my family is trained and we have that well-stocked crate just inside the front door.