15 Essential First Aid Kit Contents

Use This Checklist to Ensure Your First Aid Box Contents Are Adequate

15 Essential First Aid Kit Contents

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Though we know we should carry a first aid kit, contents can vary box by box. Should you purchase ones sold on department store endcaps or build your own? Whether buying pre-made or assembling your own first aid kit, contents should be verified and chosen with care.

First of all, what’s the difference between a trauma pack, EDC bag, and a first aid kit? Contents can be similar in each, but the three have different purposes.

Trauma packs care for immediate, life-threatening injuries such as lacerations. Police and EMT crews carry full-sized trauma packs, but they are also available to the public in waterproof, pocket-sized bags. They contain nitrile gloves, sterile dressings and tape, antiseptic wipes, and triangular bandages. Some contain duct tape and clotting agents. Most also have instructions for managing traumatic injuries. Pocket trauma packs can be valuable additions to your first aid kit contents or within your glove compartment.

EDC, or Every Day Carry, bags contain lightweight items necessary to get you out of an immediate emergency, medical or otherwise. Though fully packed EDC bags house small first aid kits, contents also include medications, emergency phone numbers, and a multi-tool. EDC bags can also hold a phone charger, flashlight, pen and paper, a way to start fires, and survival bandanas that can be used as triangular bandages. Though they won’t get you through TEOTWAWKI (the end of the world as we know it) they are designed to get you to a safe place.

First aid kit contents may cover everything included within trauma packs and EDC bags but also care for a wider range of medical emergencies. They have cold packs for sprains and burns, splints for broken limbs, tweezers for removing splinters, breathing barriers for administering CPR, and finger bandages for the most minor injuries. First aid kits for allergic families may also have Epi-pens or allergy medicine.

If you have a kit for you, how about one for your animals? A good first aid kit contents list and their uses for livestock mirrors those for humans. Disposable gloves and sterile dressings care for human wounds as well as bumblefoot or infected hooves. First aid kits for animals may also include evaporated milk for orphaned lambs or penicillin administered specifically to livestock.

Photo by Shelley DeDauw.

Checklist: Do You Have These First Aid Kit Contents?

Do you trust that plastic case made by the baby shampoo people? How do you know if your first aid kit contents are adequate?

Both the Department of Homeland Security and the Red Cross have published online guides for checking and filling first aid kits. The Red Cross website also lists how much you need of each item for a four-person family. Compare ready-made kits, or prepare your own, based on this list.

  1. Adhesive Bandages: Little cuts may become infected if they’re not properly covered. Plastic bandages are more water resistant while the cloth ones tend to stay on better. Include different sizes, from fingertip bandages to larger strips.
  2. Antiseptic Wipes: Moist towelettes from barbeque restaurants come in handy but they don’t kill as many germs as alcohol wipes. Larger kits may include bottles of isopropyl alcohol and sterile paper towels.
  3. Blanket: Some websites suggest you carry rolled-up blankets in large plastic bags. Others admit large items are cumbersome and may be left behind. Space blankets, foil sheets which reflect heat, fold into tiny squares and take up almost no space. But they can save the life of a person in shock.
  4. Breathing Barrier: Performing CPR may be an unquestioned action when it’s a family member. But does that stranger have a disease which may endanger your health? Breathing barriers allow you to perform rescue breaths without coming in contact with saliva or other bodily fluids. One-way valves ensure you breathe out but vomit doesn’t come back through.
  5. Cold Compress: Look for the instant kind, which activates when an inner bag ruptures and chemicals mix with water. Cold compresses treat insect bites and stings, cool thermal burns and reduce swelling from sprains.
  6. Instructions and Information: How up-to-date is your CPR certification? What about everyone else in your family? Can they use first aid kit contents if the person with medical experience becomes incapacitated? Free instruction booklets are available online.
  7. Medications: Of course, include your own prescriptions. But an aspirin packet can save the life of someone with a heart condition. The Red Cross recommends including aspirin but the Department of Homeland Security also recommends anti-diarrhea medication, laxatives, antacid and non-aspirin pain relievers like ibuprofen.
  8. Ointment: Antibiotic ointment kills germs and avoids infection. Hydrocortisone reduces irritation from allergies, rashes or toxins. Burn ointment protects wounds and helps skin heal but doesn’t hold in the heat the way lotion or oil can.
  9. Oral Thermometer: When a child’s fever spikes on a camping trip, it’s important to know when to head back home. Carry non-glass and non-mercury thermometers, as both mercury and broken glass have their own hazards.
  10. Scissors: Whether you’re trimming gauze pads to fit small lacerations or cutting clothing away from serious injuries, small pairs of scissors can help save lives. EMTs carry angled scissors which give better accessibility.
  11. Sterile Dressings: These include compress dressings, gauze pads and roller bandages. Include several sizes, such as 3×3 and 4×4, and both thick and thin rolls of gauze.
  12. Sterile Gloves: Most sites recommend non-latex gloves, such as nitrile, because of latex allergies. Gloves protect you from bloodborne pathogens while you help someone else.
  13. Tape: Most first aid kit contents include adhesive tape, though stickiness can fail in dirty or wet environments. New kinds of stretchy, self-adhering athletic tape (the kind wrapped around your elbow after you give blood) sticks to itself and grips limbs and is reusable if you don’t wind it just right.
  14. Triangular Bandage: They suspend broken limbs or act as tourniquets for serious lacerations, but triangular bandages can have many more uses. Clean away dirt, use as a sunshade, wrap a sprained ankle, or even signal for help with this simple piece of cloth.
  15. Tweezers: Splinter removal seems like a minor issue. But tweezers can also remove ticks, bee stingers, or pieces of glass. They can grab tiny items such as the end of suture thread.

Other Items:

Special Needs: Depending on who is in your care, you may include glucose-monitoring and blood pressure monitoring equipment. Include inhalers for someone with asthma, prescribed nitroglycerine for cardiac patients. Glucose tablets are important for diabetics and epinephrine can save a person from anaphylaxis. Consider family or friends with specific psychiatric or emotional needs; ask them which pharmaceutical or natural treatments they use to maintain health. Always check expiration dates on medications and rotate periodically.

Tools: Though covering non-medical needs falls under EDC or bug out bags, adding a few tools can help in a crisis. They also add weight, so use discretion and try to predict where you may be using your kit. Consider flashlights, batteries, signal mirrors, radios and extra gloves.

Photo by Shelley DeDauw.

How Big Should First Aid Kits Be?

The list of first aid kit contents is lengthy. Sizes vary and should depend on your activities. Stationary kits within homes can contain heavy blankets while those designed for hiking should fit within a backpack without adding much weight. First aid kits within vehicles may focus on emergencies more likely to happen on the road, such as automobile accidents or engine failure in the middle of winter.

It’s wise to pack several kits. Keep one in the home, one in the vehicle, and one readily available in case you need to grab it and run. Pocket trauma packs are easy to carry in cargo pants while commercially sold first aid kits often have handles and lightweight, waterproof cases.

Be sure each person in your group or family is aware of the first aid kit’s contents, location and how to use it. Replenish items after they are used.

Have you ever needed to use your first aid kit contents? We’d love to hear your story.

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